I tried to get a seat at noma.
For those who don’t know, noma is restaurant in Copenhagen run by Rene Rezepi. Together with his team, Redzepi put Nordic cuisine on the map through foraging ingredients and re-imagining of the dishes. Restaurant magazine named noma the “Best Restaurant in The World” in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Supposedly, it is still pretty good in 2016.
On April 25th, when I was still in Durban and before I even booked a flight to Copenhagen, I signed into the noma reservation page ready to test my luck. Reservations would open at 10AM and I started watching the site like a hawk around 9:45. At 9:59:50 I was shown a “Sorry the reservations are currently closed… please try again in 10 seconds” message. In 10 seconds, I hit refresh and found myself redirected to queue-it.com where I was #1468 in line to make my reservation. After 1,467 luckier individuals (or those with faster internet connections) had made their reservations, I was allowed into the booking page where each time slot for the month of August was blocked out. Nevertheless, I requested to be put on the waiting list for a 12PM seating on August 12th 2016 at and was notified that if all those in front of me on the waiting list cancelled, I would have my reservation.
Fast forward a few months and several thousand miles of travel and I am in Copenhagen walking to noma, just before noon, on August 12th. I never heard back from them and knew there was very little chance I could get a seat. There was actually a much larger chance that they would laugh me away or spit in my face. But I was going through a breakup and I wasn’t in a big rush to be going anywhere. Besides, noma was on the way to Christiania and I was looking forward to seeing that as well. I made my way across the bridge, walked up to the maître d’ and said, “Hi there, I’m sorry to bother you. I attempted to make a reservation back in April but only made it as far as the waiting list. I never heard back and assume that it is still fully booked today. However, I did come all this way to Copenhagen and I would feel completely silly for being this close and not asking if there was any chance that someone may have cancelled today and there is an open seat.” He smiled, told me that it was not silly, but sorry, we are still fully booked for today. He did also go inside and double check the list. I said “thank you” and made my way to Christiania happy that I tried. He may have laughed about me after I left but it really didn’t matter. I enjoyed Christiania in the afternoon and then took a seat back outside of noma to write in my journal for a while. While I was sitting there, I happened to look up to the second floor and see Rene Redzepi standing at the window looking down at the harbor. Kind of shocked, I gave the goofiest wave which he returned. I grinned like a goon, finished writing, and went back to Nørrebro for the evening.
On Saturday, I tried again. New maître d’. “Hi there, I’m sorry to bother you. I attempted to make a reservation back in April but only made it as far as the waiting list. I never heard back and assume that it is still fully booked today. However, I did come all this way to Copenhagen and I would feel completely silly for being this close and not asking if there was any chance that someone may have cancelled today and there is an open seat.” She smiled, told me that it was not silly, but sorry, we are still fully booked for today. She then said, “you know it does happen sometimes though. I don’t want to get your hopes up but 3 people have not confirmed yet. We have to give them until 12:30 but if you want to grab a coffee at 108, you can come back around then and try again.” I did just that. Had a fantastic coffee there and talked with another patron who was reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (which I had also just finished). I made my way back to noma to check in… but rats, everyone with a reservation did show up. Who would give up their reservation at noma?
Even after they had everyone on the list, the maître d’ and a waitress told me they were rooting for me and wished they could do something. They recommended I try Amass at 6PM – they are booked for the month but there are 5 tall chairs by the window that are first come, first serve.
I had not investigated Amass but knew that there was a multitude of restaurants-where-a-chef-who-used-to-work-at-noma-works-now all over the city. Matt Orlando left his job as Chef de Cuisine under Redzepi to open Amass in 2013. As described by their own website:
“What is the food like at Amass?”
Spontaneity. In the hunt for the perfect ingredient, we realize we’re in a race against time. What’s the perfect ingredient today might not be tomorrow and that is why our kitchen is constantly changing on a daily basis. It’s a small price to pay for asking our purveyors for products at the peak of their deliciousness – and we celebrate the challenge every day here at Amass.
When I made it to Amass at 5:55, I prepared myself for the disappointment of not getting a seat here either. However, within seconds of walking into the building, I was being led to my seat. I was jazzed. I ordered the nine course extended menu and made buddies with the other early bird on the high seats. The dinner lasted a little over four and half hours and was spectacular. We were given three extra courses to make a total of twelve exquisite plates.
Leaving the restaurant close to 11PM, I was filled up. After a tough few days, the attempt at noma and unexpected reward at Amass was exactly what I needed to let me know I’m still on the right path. I biked back to Nørrebro but then the evening brought me back to Christiania where I spent the night. There was a lot on my mind at that point: the excitement of my last meal, the breakup I was going through, the decisions I’d make from here, and what I’m meant to do with my life. But sometimes the big questions do not have immediate answers. So I did what all of my other Christiania friends did and started dancing.