If you go to the world’s best restaurant* you may think in terms of downing an expensive bottle of Champagne. Think again! The best match for Nordic food is a Nordic drink . . .
We didn’t actually plan to drink beer, admittedly but I remembered from my previous visit 3 years ago that chef Ren Redzepi was really into it and when we found that the restaurant now had its own pilsner, brewed with birch sap and nettles it was a no-brainer.
It was so refreshing and went so well with the onslaught of little dishes with which we were bombarded at the beginning of the meal that we decided to carry on with beer - despite the fact that we were a group of girls (satisfyingly demolishing the stereotypical prejudice that women wouldn’t dream of downing such a blokey drink!)
Stand-out pairings with the Noma beer were with crunchy fresh bullrushes with a dip of yoghurt and hazelnuts, an ‘amuse’ of smoked quails eggs pickled in apple vinegar and a spread of pork fat and aquavit which came with delicious homemade bread. It would have been hard to have found a wine that would have worked as well.
Other beers we tried were Herslev Pilsner, a fresh hoppy pilsner made by the Herslev Bryghus or brewery (good with a dishes of beets and sorrel, dried scallops and fresh grains with a wild watercress pure, a tartare of beef and sorrel) and oysters and beach plants and flowers; a beer brewed with asparagus (yes, really) from the same brewery which was fantastic with a dish of roast white asparagus in a green asparagus and pine sauce served with young spruce shoots; a big hoppy IPA called Indian Tribute from the Oppigards brewery in Sweden which went really well with a dish called the Hen and the Egg (in fact a duck’s egg fried at table with hay oil, thyme butter and wild garlic and other foraged leaves) and a fascinating rare porter called Bgedol no 117 from a brewer who only makes limited edition beers and never repeats them. Smooth dark and malty it was the perfect match for a dish of roast summer deer with woodruff sauce, snails and girolles.
The only combinations that didn’t quite work for me were a steam beer called Fur from Jutland which too powerful for the delicate dish of langoustines and fresh oysters it was paired with and a strong dry cider - the 2010 Klster Cider No. 2 - too dry for one of the Noma classics, a dessert of sheeps milk mousse with sorrel granita and fennel seeds
We also had a homemade elderflower juice from the juice menu with a dessert of strawberries with hay-infused parfait, camomile and elderflowers which was just perfect. (I’ll come back to Noma’s juices another time)
All this is not to say that wine isn’t a good option at Noma. They have a strong wine list, the majority of which are ‘natural’, organic and biodynamic. They also have a champagne menu - for the sound reason that it’s a versatile match with so many different dishes and flavours but at 895 krner (just over £100) it’s not a cheap option - though cheaper than it would be in many 3 star Michelin restaurants.
More to the point, I don’t think it would go as well as beer. Most champagnes have a touch of sweetness that would I think be intrusive with Redzepi’s clean flavours although it would work well with his umami-rich dishes. But his use of wild plants introduces bitter and woody flavours that are particularly well suited to beer as is his use of beer-friendly pickled and smoked ingredients.
More importantly it fits in with his overall sourcing philosophy. It is the local drink.
To read in more detail what we ate at Noma check out this post on my blog Food and Wine Finds.
* Noma was voted the World’s Best Restaurant in this year’s S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards.