René Redzepi has almost single-handedly revitalised a whole region’s cuisine. His Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is an easy contender for world’s best restaurant, having collected accolades like winning World’s Best Restaurant from Restaurant magazine a whopping four times and maintaining two Michelin stars for over a decade, just for starters.
Redzepi and Noma have become the standard bearers for modern Nordic cuisine, and haute cuisine more broadly. The Macedonian-Danish chef’s innovative approach to gastronomy, which champions foraging, hyper-local ingredients and seasonality, has transformed the popular conception of Nordic cuisine from dowdy to glamorous. Noma is one of the hardest restaurants to get a table at in the world.
Until now, that is. Like many restaurants, Noma had to close its doors temporarily due to coronavirus restrictions. As restrictions have eased in Denmark, Noma’s coming back with a radical new dining concept – swapping out molecular gastronomy for a burger and wine bar.
No reservations, burgers and booze only, outdoor dining… Before Noma fully reopens when things finally get back to normal, they’ve scaled things right back with only a two-item menu: a cheeseburger and a veggie burger, both costing 125 Danish krone (around 27 Aussie or 19 American dollars).
Not only is this a brilliant way to ease back into regular business as we’re still dealing with the pandemic, Redzepi’s giving more people a change to enjoy Noma’s world-class nosh. Sure, burgers aren’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think Danish cuisine, but you can bet your bottom dollar that those burgers would taste divine. Especially paired with a fine selection of vino from Noma’s acclaimed somm, Norwegian native Mads Kleppe.
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But what does this mean for the industry? It foreshadows a growing need for restaurants and other players in the high-end hospitality industry to think carefully about how they approach reopening post-COVID. Restrictions might be easing and many countries may be over the worst of the pandemic, but business is almost certainly going to be very different to how it was before.
People are still very hesitant to go out, and the economic crunch this pandemic’s brought about means people have less money to spend on luxuries like fine dining. Couple that with the business impact of social distancing – less tables, less staff, more time and money spent on sanitisation – and you potentially have a recipe for disaster.
This transitional reopening for Noma is testament to Redzepi’s genius. Not only will a pared-back, more accessible menu drive new business for Noma whilst they gear up for a more substantial opening, the smaller scale and operating costs will place Noma in good stead during these economically challenging times.
Other hospitality players around Australia and the world have demonstrated similarly innovative tendencies during this global pandemic. In the middle of the market, iconic Sydney rock-and-roll joint Frankie’s transformed itself from a rollicking pizza restaurant-cum-bar into a wholesale craft beer delivery service during the lockdown, and is now finally reopening its doors.
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Other venues should look to Noma and Frankie’s examples for inspiration. This pandemic doesn’t have to spell the end of your business – it can be an opportunity to innovate. Do things right, and you can do more than just bounce back.