What do you get when you order a 24-course lunch at one of the best restaurants in the world? Ants, grasshopper paste, bee larvae – and the experience of a lifetime.
 
My BFF and I take a foodie trip every fall, and this year we chose Copenhagen, Denmark specifically because of René Redzepi’s Noma, which was ranked the No. 1 restaurant in the world three years in a row (it currently sits at No. 2). But a visit to Noma is not for the weak of heart – or the light of wallet.
 
Nabbing a table is famously difficult; their online booking system is only accessible one day a month, and the entire month fills up in a matter of minutes. Our reservation window landed on a Monday morning at 10 a.m. local time, which meant we were frantically refreshing our browsers at 4 a.m. Toronto time. Luckily, we scored a table easily enough (pro tip: avoid dinner and try to book a lunch instead, which seemed easier to get into and features the same menu).
 
Noma has captured the culinary world’s imagination thanks to Redzepi’s insistence on foraging for local ingredients – no easy task in an agriculturally limited environment like Denmark. The results are an impressively local, fiercely creative menu that is largely sourced from within 60km of the restaurant. It’s not just about harvesting in-season plants, berries, animals, fish, produce and insects; Noma is also famous for its gastronomic experimentation. In a lab housed in houseboat across from the restaurant, food is air-dried, pickled, fermented, infused, smoked or cured, often ending up on diner’s plates years after being harvested.
Noma Denmark kitchen 
It all sounds very fussy and pretentious, but it’s not until you bite into one of Redzepi’s dishes that you realize what he’s managed to accomplish. He’s not serving you insects and wild grass because he can; he’s serving it to you because it’s DELICIOUS. Some courses may be challenging, but nothing ever feels like a stunt. Though every dish looks like a work of art, the suspicion that the meal will be mostly theatre quickly melts away as you get swept up in the flavours. Course after course left us surprised, intrigued and giddy.
 
It’s hard to pick favourites from our 3-plus hour lunch (click on the photos above to see each course), but a few dishes still stand out in our minds. The fresh walnuts served with the rosehip berry course were unlike anything we’ve ever tasted (which pleased our server, who told us getting the nuts out of their shell is one of the hardest jobs in the kitchen). The currant berries wrapped in wild rose petals offered an incredible burst of flavour. The charred leeks were as meaty and satisfying as steak. The potatoes in the dessert course somehow tasted as sweet as the plums next to them. And incredibly, one of our favourite dishes was fried reindeer moss – yes, moss! – which was light, crispy, and totally worth the 20 man hours it required to prepare.
 Noma duck pear
The whole experience is designed to remind you of nature and your surroundings. Even the waterfront restaurant doesn’t have the stuffy aura of Michelin-stars (of which Noma has two). Instead of linen table cloths and crystal stemware, you get rustic wood beams and animal pelts thrown over the back of your chair. The service is impeccable but relaxed; many courses are served by the chefs who made them, and the chatty front of house staff even offered to give us a tour of the kitchens before we left.
Noma René Redzepi Denmark
The entire meal was a once in a lifetime experience – mostly because we can’t afford a repeat performance. Lunch for two costs almost the equivalent of one month’s rent (though we opted for wine pairings, which accounted for about half of our bill). Plus, the restaurant is an incubator for talent, so it’s impossible to visit Noma without also trying one of the many restaurants that have been spun off by former Noma chefs (we recommend Manfreds & Vins and Amass). Though our wallets are still feeling the pain, our stomachs couldn’t be happier. Consider it a culinary investment.

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We started with “Nordic coconuts” (kohlrabi) that we drank from using a dill straw. It was served alongside an edible bouquet of greens.

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Next up was a dish of rosehip berries with edible flowers and fresh walnuts that were unlike any nut we'd ever tasted.

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Here are bites of elderflower and currant made from the juices of last year's currant harvest and wrapped in wild roses that have been soaked in vinegar for two years.

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This is fried reindeer moss from Sweden sprinkled with mushroom powder from last year's harvest. We dipped them in creme fraishe. Weird but delicious!

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A nice break from the bizarre came in the form of cheese puree crackers from Sweden, topped with minced rocket.

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This looked like a showstopper when it arrived smoking at our table: smoked quail eggs with apple vinegar. They were actually cooked in the hay.

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Here is cod liver smoked with kelp and served with caramelized milk. We loved the cracker, which tasted caramelized and offset the fishiness of the cod.

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Noma’s twist on a traditional Danish holiday donut (ableskiver) is to stuff it with parsley and bee larvae and top it with fermented grasshopper paste and angelica flowers.

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Here’s sea urchin from the Faroe Islands, served on burnt toast and topped with duck sauce. We didn’t love the texture of the urchin, but the crispy duck topping was sublime!

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This meaty and delicious heart of leek with cod roe and blueberry was served inside a charred leak and scooped out with a spoon. A highlight of the meal!

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We adored the texture of this squid, which was served with broccoli stems, black currant leaves and oil in a cool (literally!) ice bowl.

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This shrimp, harvested in the waters between Denmark and Sweden, was served between nasturtium leaves with sweet rhubarb root and roasted yeast broth.

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This was our least favourite dish – and not because of the ants. We were surprisingly bored by the onions with pear, buttermilk broth and salt made out of wood ants.

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We were won over again by this leathery beet root served with unripe sloe berries pickled in apple vinegar and poached beets, in an oil of fennel and rose.

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This delicate cauliflower was cooked with fresh pine and served with whey yogurt and horseradish broth. Yum!

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Another twist on a traditional Danish dish came in the form of potatoes served with fish roe, fermented barley and kelp oil.

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Here’s wild duck with pear kelp puree and pistachios. The knife they give you for this course makes you feel like you’re going hunting!

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Nasturtium leaves made yet another appearance, this time with ant paste and blueberries.

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We’re finally ready to move on to dessert, starting with a sour green juniper ice cream sandwich made with sorrel and wild blueberries.

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This dessert was our favourite: compote of potatoes, plums and cream with plum syrup. Eaten together, it tasted like marzipan!

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Then came caramel toast (which was nougat-y and delicious) served with elderflower salt.

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The Danish certainly know their way around their namesake pastry. We were stuffed, but still couldn’t resist this!

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We topped it all off with this crispy pork skin, which was covered in chocolate and freeze-dried blackberries.

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