Outrage as Noma fails to get third star

Despite its standing as the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’, Copenhagen’s finest will have to wait at least another year for the Michelin Guide’s top honour

The Michelin Guide has been criticised in Denmark for declining to grant a third star to the Copenhagen restaurant Noma. Many believed the restaurant would win the elusive honour this year. “Noma snubbed out of third star,” public broadcaster DR and Berlingske newspaper both wrote on their websites. “Noma should have had three stars,” business newspaper Børsen concurred.

‘The World's 50 Best Restaurants’, a Michelin rival, ranked Noma the world's number one in both 2010 and 2011. “Noma is best known for its fanatical approach to foraging,” it wrote on its website. “It's the entire package, from its ingredient ingenuity to flawless execution, that makes it a beacon of excellence and which leads to an emotive, intense, liberating way of eating, unlike any other.”

Ole Troelsø, a food critic at Børsen, accused the guide of being political.

“This is a statement saying that no matter what ‘50 Best’ says, Michelin makes its own decision,” Troelsø told The Copenhagen Post. “I’ve been to three-star restaurants before. Last month I was in Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, and it might be like comparing a Mercedes with a Jaguar, but Noma was much better. Michelin clearly crossed the line by not giving that third star.”

Noma’s chef, Rene Redzepi, declined to comment on the decision. “We are very happy with the two stars. We are not going to make any more comments," a Noma spokesman said.

According to Michelin, three stars represent “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”, two are for “excellent cooking, worth a detour”, and one denotes “a very good restaurant in its category”. A three-star Michelin ranking is rare; the 2012 guide shows that only 15 restaurants in Europe were rewarded with three stars, of which 11 are in France.

In an interview with American media group Bloomberg, Michelin justified its decision by saying that Noma was measured against the breadth of other world-class restaurants.

"We were one of the first guides to recognise Noma and the talent of Rene Redzepi," said Rebecca Burr, the guide's editor. "But Noma is measured against other restaurants across the world. We've made visits this year and I've been myself, and we are confident in our decision."

The new Michelin edition did, however, recognise ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ – ‘Noma’ is a conflation of the Danish words for ‘Nordic’ and ‘food’ – as a force in world gastronomy, granting stars to four new restaurants in Copenhagen: Den Røde Cottage, Geranium, Grønbech & Churchill and Relæ.

“Despite all this, thumbs up for crowning Relæ,” Troelsø said. “Last year I suggested that they should have a star. It shows that Michelin can appreciate new and experimental cuisine.”

Some 11 percent of tourists’ total expenditure is spent at restaurants, representing an 8.1 billion kroner turnover per year.

"Denmark is perceived as a gastronomic hub in northern Europe, and the extra Michelin stars for a number of restaurants in Copenhagen help to underline this valuable image,” Maria Haugaard Christensen, the international project manager at Visit Denmark, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “There is no doubt that the crowning of Noma as the world's best restaurant attracts tourists.”

Christensen has in recent years noticed significant interest from international media in New Nordic Cuisine. “Gastronomy is high on the agenda when foreign journalists visit Denmark, and their reports are helping to raise awareness of particularly Copenhagen.”

But according to Troelsø, the Michelin Guide isn’t there to help the restaurants or the tourist industry. “It is simply a guide designed to be used by the traveller looking for a restaurant to dine at.” 

Redzepi, who will be on next week’s cover of Time magazine (see above), will learn on April 30 if he has retained his best restaurant award for a third year at a ceremony in London. Noma is still the only restaurant in Denmark with two Michelin stars.