How a Famed Danish Restaurant Brought Japanese Sensibilities to Their Tokyo Pop-Up

“I didn’t expect us to be so well received,” admits [Noma’s chef and co-owner René Redzepi]. “I didn’t expect us to be able to surprise the Japanese, and also guests that have been with us in Copenhagen. It’s wonderful being in a place where they cherish the sublime. They want to do everything in the best possible way, with the best possible tools, looking the best they can. Japanese society is like that, from the man sweeping the street upwards, so it’s easier to be here and to cook like this. At home it’s always about justification. ‘Why are you doing fine dining? Why aren’t you just serving a bowl of something simple?’ There’s always this corrosive cynicism. The Japanese have some of the most sophisticated palates that you can come across and they’re such kind people to cook for because they’re so appreciative of hard work. It’s been a joy.”

The Noma team has worked with 14 different Japanese artisan manufacturers on creating tableware – plates, bowls, serving vessels and utensils – especially for the run; it is being put up for sale online when they leave Tokyo. “I don’t want to tell you exactly how much we’ve spent,” says Redzepi, “but it’s cost us more than the 77 air tickets we’ve bought.”

He could have made his life easier by being less ambitious, but that’s not what Noma does. Instead, they’ve taken their strictly seasonal and regional agenda and applied it to the islands of Japan instead of the Nordic region. “I made seven trips here in the past year. I’ve been everywhere in Japan,” he explains. “We’ve done the same thing that we did when we opened Noma, a discovery journey followed by lots of reading of traditional ways, then remixing things the way we do. What strikes you about Japan when you travel around is the sheer diversity. You can go from near arctic to subtropical – it’s like going from northern Norway down to Barcelona.”

Joe Warwick writing in The Independent about Noma’s five-week stint in Tokyo. Noma is regularly rated as the world’s best restaurant.

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