Noma Restaurant
Copenhagen's Noma has been called the “world’s best restaurant" for three years running, but a Norovirus outbreak that left 63 diners sick last month could shake up the culinary hierarchy. Reuters

Esteemed Danish restaurant Noma has been crowned the “world’s best restaurant” by Restaurant magazine for three years running, but it won’t be winning a hygiene award anytime soon. Danish food inspectors have confirmed that 63 diners who ate there Feb. 12 through Feb. 16 fell ill with varying strains of norovirus.

The blemished Copenhagen staple, located in the city’s Christianshavn neighborhood, claims some 435 guests visited its 12-seat dining room over the time period in question, and, Fødevarestyrelsen, Denmark’s food agency, believes members of the restaurant’s staff were responsible for spreading the illness to some 7 percent of patrons. A failure to disinfect the kitchen quickly enough caused the virus to spread, authorities allege.

“The inspection visit was due to guests complaining of vomiting and diarrhea,” Fødevarestyrelsen wrote in its Feb. 20 report, which noted that Noma failed to react in time to emails from dinner guests and the illness of a kitchen worker.

Authorities issued an official warning to the popular two Michelin-starred restaurant last month and downgraded its “smiley rating” for food safety from a broad smiley to a smaller smiley.

Known for popularizing “New Nordic” cuisine and its strict adherence to local ingredients, Noma has dreamt up everything from powdered cucumber to poached sea urchin and fermented grasshoppers. Its kitchen is chockablock with exotic equipment like a Thermomix (which combines certain ingredients at designated temperatures) and a Pacojet (which allows chefs to “micro-puree” deep-frozen foods into ultra-light mousse, cream or sauce), but Fødevarestyrelsen found that there was no hot water tap for employees to properly clean their hands.

Noma co-owner Rene Redzepi countered that just one of the restaurant’s four sinks spread across two kitchens was functioning improperly at the time of inspection, but said he sincerely regretted what happened to guests over the five days in February.

“Since receiving the news, we have been working closely with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to find the source of the problem,” Redzepi stated over the weekend. “As a result of our collaborations, we have determined the most likely cause of the illness was norovirus, which may have been brought in by a member of staff who was symptom-free.

“As a precaution, the kitchen and restaurant have been deep cleaned several times following health inspection guidelines. This has been done on top of the overall cleaning, which takes place several times a day.”

Redzepi added that all food that was on the premises during the week in question was destroyed and all affected costumers have been contacted. The sink without hot water has been fixed, he said, and internal communication policies have been reviewed and changed.

Despite the health scare, Noma won’t have to worry about a lack of customers. The restaurant, which charges up to 2,500 kroner ($440) for a 20-course menu with wine pairing, receives about 100,000 booking enquiries each month and is fully booked through June. The reservations calendar will open up again on April 6 for bookings through September.

Norovirus, the restaurant has assured guests, will not be on the menu.