John Walsh: How Danish squid with green strawberries won first place once again

  • @johnhenrywalsh

What are the qualities that, for the third year running, have put a former salted-herring warehouse on the Copenhagen waterfront at the top of the world's best restaurants?

The frontage itself offers a clue – its worn flagstones, distressed plaster and 200-year-old brickwork on which the word "noma" sits in a stark, sans-serif typeface. The owner, René Redzepi, combines a passion for using wholly natural, regional, seasonal and deeply obscure Nordic ingredients with a passion for employing the most sophisticated cooking techniques in the world.

The 34-year-old Redzepi's father, an Albanian cab driver, introduced him to foraging for berries in Macedonian forests as a child. Today, all his staff forage for obscure ingredients – ramson leaves, fiddlehead ferns, lingonberries – in the woods an hour's drive from Copenhagen. Redzepi prides himself on having discovered 54 types of edible berries. He studies botany and meteorology. "If Noma weren't called Noma," he told me, "it would be called The Weather Restaurant, because we cook what the weather brings. Who interprets the weather? Farmers. They say, the rains are coming, let's plant this. Now it's hot, let's put that in the ground. And the foragers know that, if it rained yesterday, the chanterelles will be out tomorrow..."

His staff, whom he calls "gastronomic explorers", then perform astonishing feats of transformation in the kitchen and the "research and development centre", which is a houseboat moored 100 yards from the restaurant. Employing state-of-the-art equipment (Thermojet, Pacomix, dehydrators, thermal immersion circulators) they produce dishes that look like nothing on earth. That spoonful of white granite beside a smear of green liquid? That's Danish Squid with Green Strawberries and Verbena Oil. Diners are told to eat certain dishes with their hands. They're given a hunting knife to cut into the roast deer. They're expected to cook their own egg for the Egg-in-hay-oil-with-spinach-leaves-and-herb-flowers dish. And though I'm sure you're longing to, there's now little chance of booking a table and sampling Noma for yourself, before... ooh, about 2016.