Radical change to world’s best restaurant suggests imminent gastronomic overhaul



René Redzepi has almost single-handedly revitalized the cuisine of an entire region. His Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is an easy contender for the world’s best restaurant, having garnered accolades like winning Best restaurant in the world of Restaurant magazine four times and now two Michelin stars for over a decade, just to start.

Redzepi and Noma have become the standard bearers of modern Nordic cuisine, and more broadly of haute cuisine. The Macedonian-Danish chef’s innovative approach to gastronomy, which promotes foraging, hyper-local ingredients and seasonality, has transformed popular conception of Nordic cuisine from drab to glamorous. Noma is one of the most difficult restaurants in the world to find a table.

So far, that is. Like many restaurants, Noma has had to temporarily close its doors due to coronavirus restrictions. As restrictions have eased in Denmark, Noma returns with a radical new restaurant concept – swapping molecular gastronomy for a burger and wine bar.

No reservations, burgers and booze only, alfresco dining … Before Noma fully reopened when things finally got back to normal, they cut things down right away with just a two-item menu: a cheeseburger and a veggie burger, both costing DKK 125 (around A $ 27 or US $ 19).

Not only is this a great way to get back to normal activity while we are still grappling with the pandemic, but Redzepi is giving more people a change to enjoy Noma’s world-class food. Of course, burgers aren’t exactly the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Danish cuisine, but you can bet your last dollar that these burgers would taste heavenly. Particularly accompanied by a fine selection of wine from the famous Noma summit, Mads Kleppe, originally from Norway.

But what does this mean for the industry? This foreshadows a growing need for restaurants and other players in the upscale hospitality industry to think carefully about how they are approaching the post-COVID reopening. Restrictions could ease and many countries could be on top of the worst of the pandemic, but business will almost certainly be very different from what it was before.

People are still very hesitant to go out, and the economic crisis brought on by this pandemic means people have less money to spend on luxuries like fine dining. Add to that the business impact of social distancing – fewer tables, fewer staff, more time and money spent sanitizing – and you potentially have a recipe for disaster.

This transitional reopening for Noma testifies to the genius of Redzepi. Not only will a simplified, more accessible menu lead to new business for Noma as they prepare for a more substantial opening, but the smaller scale and operating costs will put Noma in good stead during this economically difficult time.

Other hospitality players in Australia and around the world have demonstrated equally innovative trends during this global pandemic. In the middle of the market, Sydney’s iconic rock-and-roll joint Frankie’s has transformed from a bustling pizza restaurant and bar into a wholesale craft beer delivery service during the lockdown, and is finally reopening.

Other places should be inspired by the examples of Noma and Frankie. This pandemic doesn’t have to mean the end of your business – it can be an opportunity to innovate. Get it right and you can do more than just bounce back.

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