So, where do I begin?
After scoring, quite literally, a meal ticket to Noma which had temporarily relocated to Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo for a two month stint, I managed to convince my best friend for a hedonistic sojourn to Tokyo. What better way to celebrate our big 3-0 in the city that we’ve never been in (Well I had as a wee child, but that doesn’t really count). Although Noma had been crowned as the best restaurant in the world three times thus far, I still wasn’t quite sure what the expect. It would probably be excellent, but nothing prepared me for what was undoubtedly the culinary journey of a lifetime.
Anyway, let’s get to the good part!
I reckon a few may have seen this dish online. It’s Botanebi, which is a sort of langoustine served raw and topped with wood ants, presumably from the Nagano forest. This is probably the first time I’ve consciously ate ants, and kept an open mind about it. Not particularly fond of eating insects, but what the hey, as long as it makes sense and tastes good.
Upon first bite, the Botenebi was amazingly fresh and pristine beyond measure, whilst the wood ants were redolent of sea salt with a citrusy element. This was definitely a statement, and fantastic way to start the meal!
Next, was five different Japanese citruses served with sliced long peppers and seaweed oil. Despite the simplicity of it, I was flabbergasted by the complexity and depth of this dish. The citruses were amazing, but the seaweed oil took it over the top, which coats your tongue, giving a luxuriously smooth mouthfeel to the dish.
Just I thought that the meal couldn’t get any better, they hit us with this dish. Shaved monkfish liver which was frozen and smoked, served on top of sourdough toast with kelp oil and kelp water. I never ever had monkfish liver before, but if it was served this way, I could just bathe in it. The monkfish liver just melts in your mouth, with the right hit of salt, coupled with the perfectly crisp sourdough toast. This was quite honestly my favourite course of the meal. Bloody amazing!
Next was a play on soba, which was actually cuttlefish sliced in a soba noodle like fashion. This was smothered with fermented cuttlefish, which we’ll then dip in pine broth with rose petals. Yes, you heard me right. Rose Petals. I never knew fermented cuttlefish would have tasted this good! The rose petals were amazingly aromatic as well, which balanced well with the flavour punch from the fermented cuttlefish.
The subsequent dish was sea urchin served with wild kiwi on a seaweed toast. The sea urchin was blindingly fresh, and the dish was an interesting balance between the savoury and sweet elements. The dish fluctuated in between, redolent of some sort of kiwi pie, then the sea urchin kicks in and brings you back to the savoury side. Definitely a challenge for my taste buds, but in a pleasant sort of way.
I do love tofu, which is quite a versatile component when executed properly. According to the chef, they took awhile to perfect this dish. And trying to make tofu in the motherland of tofu is definitely a challenge, or just downright foolhardy. And yet, they pulled it off. Tofu was steamed in wild cabbage, which was covered in chopped walnuts and yuzu. Perfect balance of textures and flavours, with the tofu flavourful, sweet, and oh-so-delicate.
The next dish was a honeycomb of sorts, made from scallops which were dried for two days, beech nuts and kelp. The texture was almost ethereal, hitting you with a myriad of flavours that were both sweet and savoury, then immediately dissipating into smoke that lingered in your mouth. It’s like the best candy floss you’ve ever had, which I would happily snack on many times over. Ridiculously good.
Subsequently, we had Hokkori pumpkin with cherry wood oil and salted cherry blossoms. A nice warm dish redolent of “bubur chacha” from Malaysia, which is a sweet dish typically made with sweet potatoes or pumpkin, served with a hot milk like broth. A warm and comforting dish, with the right amount of salt elements to balance the sweet pumpkin.
As a brief interlude, we were served a black garlic flower. It was surprisingly sweet and pleasantly chewy, and couldn’t stop savouring this dish. Even as I write this, I could still imagine the flavour and texture of this dish.
Next dish was roots and starches with ginger and salted egg yolk. This was a rather wintry dish and definitely suitable with the cold weather outside. The yolk was luxuriously smooth and the roots had a nice crunch to it, but the preserved ginger gave a brightness to the dish that made us keep going at it. Not the most flavourful of dishes, but complex and comforting.
Finally, we’ve reached the main dish which was whole duck from Anjou that was lightly marinated and barbequed, served with a matsubusa berry sauce reminiscent of cranberry sauce.
I’ve never had duck done this way. It was cooked to perfection, but what surprised me was that each piece of the duck had a distinct flavour to it. Although by this stage I was at the brim and happily soused by the immaculate wine pairing, I carefully chewed and considered each individual element, trying to figure out their individual the flavour profiles. And I particularly enjoyed the smooth and luxurious brains, which made me squeal like Hannibal Lecter soon after.
Before proceeding to dessert, we had yeast and turnip cooked with shiitake. Didn’t quite get this dish, but it definitely cleared my palate.
The first dessert was dubbed Rice, which eloquently describes the essence of this dish. Shards of rice crisp served with sake ice cream, sticky rice and with sorrel juice. A very successful dessert with various textures to it, but my favourite element was the sorrel juice which imparted a green and slightly citrus-like flavour to the dish.
And it keeps on going! Next was sweet potato cooked all day in raw sugar. Probably the best sweet potato I’ve ever had, luxurious with the right amount of sweetness to it.
Oh my lord, I almost thought they were serving us magic mushrooms! Not quite like those in Amsterdam, but still rather magical. Fermented cep mushrooms coated in chocolate and wild cinnamon. The bite of wild cinnamon was lovely, and the mushroom was strangely delicious with the chocolate and a chewy center. Bizarre, and like all that came before him, successful.
We ended an amazing meal with Danish Schnapps and whiskey, which was carried to Japan by the Noma staff members. I particularly enjoyed the Apple whiskey, which as the name implied, distilled in the style of whiskey. It was lovely, and I’ll definitely need to smuggle some next time I’m in Denmark.
There’s no reference point for this meal, and quite unlike anything I’ve ever had. No specific definition would do this meal justice. But one thing I do know, that it’s the best meal of my life. Period. Yes, you heard me right. If I had to fly back to Kuala Lumpur after this meal and cut my Tokyo trip short, I would have blindingly agreed in a state of absolute bliss.
And just to seal the deal, we took a picture with Rene Redzepi, the mastermind of it all. We had a chat and he seemed like a genuine down to Earth guy. And behind all that, is a genius at work who keeps on challenging our beliefs about food and what it should be.