RESTAURANT reviewers are often asked to name the best restaurant in Dublin, Ireland or the world. Such a question is impossible to answer definitively, but at least we can assert that Noma in Copenhagen is probably the best in the world.
There used to be a beer that made a similar claim (also from Denmark), but Noma has the awards to prove it, having been voted the best for three years running by the industry professionals who subscribe to Restaurant magazine.
Of course, such a claim is also slightly ludicrous, given that many of those who voted for Noma had never eaten there, but it is true that Noma is at the cutting edge of food trends, many of which have already made it to your local cafe.
Noma is the leading light in new Nordic cuisine which has taken over from molecular gastronomy (as exemplified by Spain's El Bulli) as the current food trend. The emphasis is on pure flavours, and locally sourced and foraged ingredients, cooked and presented in innovative ways.
This cooking style is best expressed here by Mickael Viljanen of Greenhouse on Dawson Street and Enda McEvoy of Aniar, in Galway, who worked at Noma.
Last week I had a great opportunity to sample some of Noma's Nordic cuisine, as Yannick Van Aeken and Louise Bannon -- a former sous chef and pastry chef at Noma -- opened their first pop-up restaurant in Urban Cafe in Cabinteely, since they settled here a few months back.
There were too many flavours to mention, but highlights would have to include the pulled pork croquettes with bacon mayonnaise and the two-year-cured tartar steak, served with roast buckwheat kernels and pungent, foraged scurvy grass, which is related to horseradish.
Brussels sprouts with semi-cooked oysters and a vinaigrette enriched with bone marrow almost made me like that evil little vegetable, but not quite -- I was quite happy to move on to the roast white cabbage with egg yolk and a smoked kipper foam.
The egg yolk was surprisingly my highlight of the evening as this simple thing we eat every day had been transformed by long, slow cooking into an unctuous and intensely flavoured eggy cream, suspended somewhere between raw and cooked.
Slow-cooked lamb breast had excellent flavour, but was perhaps a little fatty, despite the creamy hazelnut milk sauce, which was the best part of the dish.
Great cooking is all about the saucing and here the kitchen was faultless -- thankfully we were each given a small loaf of warm, crusty bread which proved essential for mopping up our plates to extract every last particle of flavour.
Douglas fir-flavoured sorbet with creamy and slightly sour buttermilk ice-cream was perhaps the highlight of the desserts followed by the rum cream and slightly bitter cranberry ice served with Christmas pudding.
We finished the evening with a mulled wine chocolate liqueur and a crumbly chocolate-chip cookie served with one of the most intensely flavoured espressos I have tasted from Urban Cafe's award-winning barista Vini Arruda
The foodie couple at our neighbouring table were a little disappointed at having paid almost €80 per person for such simple ingredients, but artists like this deserve to be paid well. I urge you to log on to Yannick and Louise's Facebook page (see above) so you will get to hear about their next pop-up in the spring, when (thankfully) Brussels sprouts will be out of season.