World's best restaurant comes to town... and it's serving ants

As René Redzepi, chef at the famed Noma in Denmark, brings experimental cuisine to Claridge's, Lisa Markwell takes a seat at the top table

"Do you need an antacid?" quips Bill, one of my dining companions. I've just eaten my second helping of live ants. Yes, ants. That are alive. This is Noma, named for the past three years as the world's best restaurant, decamped from Copenhagen to London for a 10-day pop-up at the fabled hotel Claridge's.

The "real" Noma gets about 100,000 booking enquiries a month, such is its reputation; the place seats just 40. Chefs battle to serve a stint in its kitchens to learn at the elbow of René Redzepi. He is seen by many as a food visionary, using foraged ingredients and borderline bonkers presentation (pots of edible soil, anyone?) So I'd been expecting a hushed reverence and po-faced foodies (after all, the £195-a-head event sold out in two hours). But the hotel ballroom thrums with chatter, led by Noma's main man himself. Instead of hiding away in the kitchen, marshalling the 110 staff that will cook for and serve 178 guests per sitting, Redzepi, 34, is strolling around the room, clad in a crisp brown apron and answering our questions about, yes, ants.

The creation, listed, sensibly enough, as "Ants" on the menu – has become the talked-about dish. Redzepi tells me his ant-hunter, who has already brought in 27,000 insects for the pop-up, is heading back to Denmark today for more. Gathering them is laborious: he finds the four anthills in which this particular species lives, then sucks them gently with a straw into a tiny net at the end. They're flown to London to be served in a glass kilner jar as they scramble over cabbage leaves dressed with crème fraîche.

If this sounds like so much gastronomic claptrap, a dish designed to make headlines, not excite palates, that might be 50 per cent true. Everyone in the room either giggles or grimaces, but everyone I can see gives it a go. The overwhelming flavour is lemongrass, there's no texture to speak of, and once you've chewed once, the ants are no more. I can report that there's no wriggling.

But there's so much more to experience at A Taste of Noma (the real thing is much more intimate). If last Friday's big talking point was Isles of Wonder, this is Plates of Wonder. A miniature tea and scones comes with caviar atop the clotted cream; what looks like a baked potato (is this the reinvention of a student supper special?) turns out to be a roasted celeriac on a slick of black truffle cream. Beef tartare with sorrel, juniper salt and tarragon cream was, head chef Matt explains, all made by hand. "And so we want you to eat it by hand." We've already been told to "dig in and get dirty" with a pot of crudités in that soil. I didn't expect finger-licking dining. Luckily, hot towels are at hand. The standout dish is perhaps the most traditional – 48-hour-cooked neck of lamb (seen as a humble cut) is served on smoking hay, accompanied by vegetables that have been barbecued on the roof of Claridge's – how cool is that? We pick and suck the very bones of it, so delicious and melting is the meat. Where are those hot towels when you need them? We finish with a plate heaped with dark red, white and beige powders. This tricksy ensemble is a delectable combination of dried berries, frozen yoghurt and crisped ground oats, with walnut ice cream.

And then it's over. I'm given a hand-drawn map of Great Britain (with corners of Denmark and France) that illustrates where each ingredient has come from. My head is spinning, my belly is full – it has been a feast for all the senses. And, unusually for a celebrated restaurant, the pace is brisk; Japan's biggest pop star is in one corner, apparently, but there's barely been time to rubberneck. The place is thick with London's own star chefs (for whom is trade is down, thanks to the Olympics). Stephen Hawking and Jamie Oliver have already been in; alas, not together. And Stella McCartney is visiting tomorrow, I'm told. She'll be having the veggie menu. Without ants, I assume. Shame, everyone should try ants once …

Archipelago's chocolate scorpions

The central London restaurant does a fine line in edible insects, including chilli and garlic locusts and crickets, but for the truly brave the chef can also serve up a tasty chocolate scorpion.

Heston's meat fruit

It looks like a ripe tangerine, but stick a fork in to discover chicken liver parfait – one of Heston Blumenthal's many exotic creations.

Edible stones at Mugaritz

The Basque restaurant, ever-present in lists of top dining experiences, serves edible stones made from Cherie potatoes coated in kaolin and salt.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones