Noma, René Redzepi’s groundbreaking destination restaurant, reopened earlier this year in Copenhagen, Denmark. The space features impressive Danish craftsmanship through its complex design details, however the overall aesthetic is more akin to that of a chic farmhouse than hospitality venue.
Along the shore of a city lake is the “hippie” anarchist community of Freetown Christiania, a village populated by a modest one thousand in Copenhagen, Denmark. Just by the border of this alternative district sits a converted naval fortification, now home to an experimental, biodynamic farm with 11 individual buildings. These buildings comprise the new location of Noma; arguably the most influential and iconic restaurant of this decade.
Earlier this year the Nordic establishment reopened after a year-long renovation hiatus. For chef and co-owner of the restaurant, René Redzepi, the most important consideration of Noma’s redesign was for everything to have a sense of place; to feel salubrious, handmade, and not superfluous. Thus, Redzepi entrusted the project to the experienced hands of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, head of BIG Architects, to create a sprawling site of prep kitchens, a bakery, fermentation labs, a staff dining room, greenhouses, and gardens. Redzepi explained in an interview, that they form a “village that breathes and lives”. The site has the rustic charm of a Danish urban farm, and here up to 15 percent of the ingredients on the menu are grown.
Noma’s interior design was led by Copenhagen architect David Thulstrup, of Studio David Thulstrup, in collaboration with BIG. The design encompassed multiple tasks: selecting materials and treatments for all floors, walls and ceilings; designing bespoke cabinetry and furniture (such as the 6.5 meter oak table in the private dining room, and an entire restaurant’s worth of wood-smoked chairs); commissioning art works, and even creating a terrazzo floor of large river stones. Thulstrup points out that the design drew more on residential than hospitality, with a strong emphasis on materials as the decoration. “The overall mood is Scandinavian, without any Nordic cliches”, he explains. It’s “honest, simple and not over-designed”.
Further conveying the sense of home, there is no typical reservation desk at the entrance—only wardrobes for guests’ coats. Moreover, on the opposite side of the village a lounge exists with a fireplace, handmade brick walls and a stepped oak roof, where guests can relax after their meal. Noma’s interior exemplifies that beauty doesn’t require cutting-edge innovation to be impressive; it lies in the attention to detail in craft and execution. “Everything is carefully selected, curated or designed and nothing screams more than the other”, asserts Thulstrup. “The whole thing has this sense of coherence and a very 360 degrees holistic approach”.
It’s this essence of modest invention that has led Noma to hold the world’s best restaurant title for four non-consecutive years. Since its conception in 2003, Noma’s importance is such that it revolutionized what it means to be a high-end, destination restaurant, putting Nordic food on the global haute cuisine map by foraging for local ingredients and then championing them in up to 20-course meals.
Food writer James Hansen contends that Noma has defined certain parameters for how restaurants work for over a decade. “Critics have flown in as far as 4,000 miles to eat at the nigh-on unbookable, totally reinvented expression of a culinary philosophy”, he says. The restaurant year is divided into three seasons, during which the menu changes dramatically: currently Noma is in ‘Vegetable Season’ (June to September 2018). The restaurant reopened with ‘Seafood Season’ in winter, and will round out the year with ‘Game & Forest Season’ (October to December 2018). The novelty of Redzepi’s food, and by extension the concept itself, lies not just in the originality of its conception, but in the extravagance of its simplicity and the perfection of its details.