Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Noor: Haute Al-Andalus Cuisine of Chef Paco Morales

One of Andalusia’s most exciting restaurants, Michelin-starred Noor is a tribute to the food and traditions of Al-Andalus, the Islamic empire of the Middle Ages that made Córdoba its capital. From the geometric, medina-like design 
to dishes that seamlessly balance ancient flavours and modernist techniques, Noor celebrates the sensuality of Andalusia — the patterned tiles, the voluptuous curves, the notes of cinnamon, the stain of saffron. Having built his career at Mugaritz in the Basque Country, and El Bulli under Ferran Adria, who called him “one of the most exciting chefs in the world,” Michelin star chef Paco Morales returned to his home of Córdoba, to launch Noor. One of Spain’s brightest culinary stars, Chef Morales conjures up dishes from Andalucia's long multicultural history — cocina andalusi. His passion is the region's forgotten gastronomic heritage, focusing on the Arab period in the 10th-century when Cordoban caliphate was at the peak of its power. Meaning ‘light’ in Arabic, Noor is something of a cultural project for Morales who joined forces with food writer Rosa Tovar, a Spanish cookbook author and food scholar, as well as a team of culinary historians to access centuries-old recipes, which he incorporates into three tasting menus of varying lengths that are a stunning bargain at €70, €90 and €130. As a result, he has collated all the information necessary to bring the refined aromas and flavours of Al-Andalus into the 21st Century and give them the modern avant-garde twist which has always been his trademark.

“We don’t use any produce from the new world, but instead create modern dishes according to recipes from this magnificent period. My concern is not only retrieving the fantastic variety of Al Andalusia cuisine, at Noor we also revive materials and crafts that have mostly ceased to exist.” 
To accomplish this, architects designed Noor as a tribute to the province's Arabic heritage through a contemporary lens, using bold geometric shapes which draw upon traditional patterns, to create a space inspired by Medina Azahara, the ruins of an Arab Muslim medieval palace on the outskirts of Córdoba. All the furnishings were custom deigned, as well as the tableware, cutlery, glassware and ceramics, while artfully designed lighting creates a futuristic mood, further reinforced by the waiters, who are outfitted in uniforms designed by directional Spanish brand X-Adnan. With just eight tables, it's imperative to book well in advance. Each new season unveils the evolution, century by century, of the culinary art of Al-Andalus, which has a great influence on Andalusian cuisine today. With three tasting menus from which to choose, 2018 is dedicated to the enlightened decadence of the 11th-century Taifa kingdoms: Taifa Andalusí, Taifa Berber and Taifa Eslava Menus. The three recreate the snacks of what was then eaten in the most refined houses. In the soothing silence of the dining room, where the kitchen occupies the visual horizon, we arrive promptly for our much anticipated lunch reservation and the parade begins. 

Choosing the Taifa Bereber menu with wine pairings, the 14-course meal started with Saffron Bread with garlic and cured ox, followed by Endive, Asafoetida and Tamarind; Khann of Cod, orange and green olive juice; Karim of Pistachio, green apple, bottarga, and fresh oregano; followed by Vegetable Stew served in a Kazbra emulsion and lemon in brine; Creamy Boletus Mushroom, almonds and albaqdunis; Steamed Hake with herb pesto, spinach and smen; Roasted Fallow Deer, aubergine with kamun dressed with egg yolks and sun-dried mushrooms; Furniyya of Pumpkin with bitter orange and vinegar; and finished with Dulce de Leche, carob and sheeps milk iced cream with ras al-hanout.

The modern Arabic-inspired exterior of Noor in Cordoba 

Copper kettles with cool rose scented water welcome guests as they enter Noor, 
to wash ones hands before eating

From the geometric, medina-like design 
to dishes that seamlessly balance ancient flavours and modernist techniques, Noor celebrates the sensuality of Andalusia

Detail of the ceiling dome installation

All of the furnishings were customized for Noor, such as the tables with white top and golden legs; chairs with customized legs, upholstered in gray

The tableware, cutlery and glassware were also all designed by artisans and goldsmiths in materials from the arab period, such as these beautiful ceramic plates on which Chef Morales serves his dishes

Moroccan-style lantern at Noor with detailed fretwork reflects Andalusia's Arabic heritage

The gold finished leather-bound wine book at Noor

Partial selection of the wine for pairing with each of the testing menus 

Chef Morales presents the first wine paring, a Fino Solera Fina de Maria del Valle by Gracia

Dark yellow in colour with aromas of prickly pear, almonds, green olives, hay and straw

Noir sous chef plating the Saffron Bread with garlic and cured ox

Fresh cold water is poured into copper jugs and served very discretely at each table

Copper keeps the water ice cold

A quartet of small dishes are the first four dishes on the Bereber Tasting Menu 

Khann of Cod, Orange and Green Olive Juice

Saffron Bread with garlic and cured ox

White Turnip with Lamb Tartar and Berber spices

Endive, Asafoetida and Tamarind

The second wine pairing 

A light and delicious Spanish white wine

Chef Paco Morales in the kitchen at Noor 

Pickled Aubergine Juice with razor-shell clams, squid, mushrooms, coral vegetal and mint-orange

Fresh baked Taifa-style breads presented on an antique wooden inset tray

Arabic-style breads

Different sets of handmade cutlery are presented for each course

Karim of Pistachio, green apple, bottarga and fresh oregano

La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca, our third wine pairing

A highly aromatic wine with green fruit aromas and citrus with some spicy nuances

Vegetable Stew cooked in a Kazba emulsion and lemon in brine

All of the servers are outfitted in futuristic-style uniforms designed by Spanish brand X-Adnan

Naturally cooked shrimp on a bed of anchovy and blue caviar

Our fourth wine pairing, a 2012 Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling

An outstanding dry Riesling, the wine was superbly balanced and delicately smooth 

Creamy Boletus, mushroom, almonds and albaqdunis

New cutlery for the 10th course of the tasting menu

Roger Coulon Champagne Brut Reserve de L'Homme 1er Cru

A fresh, floral, full-bodied Champagne

The sous chefs plating our next course in the open kitchen

Steamed Hake with herbal pesto, spinach and smen

A new set of cutlery for the Roast Pigeon course

Dominio do Bibei Ribeira Sacra Lalama, our sixth wine pairing

A rich, dense and delicious red wine from the Bibei Valley in Northwest Spain

Roast Pigeon and rested with its mirkas and turnips

Another set of cutlery for the first of the 3 dessert courses

A medium sweet Barbeito Madeira

The Barbeito family of Madeiras are almost unique in their total non use of caramel 
to colour these fabulous wines

Furniyya of Pumpkin with bitter orange and vinegar

Dulce de Leche, Carob and Sheep's Milk Iced Cream with Ras Al Hanout

Pedro Ximénez Lagar Blanco Montilla, is a fortified wine from the region of Montilla-Moriles and made from 100% Pedro Ximenez grapes 

Our smartly dressed server pouring the Pedro Ximénez Lagar Blanco

Made from grapes that are partially dried in the sun before pressing, 
this classic Madeira was rich and raisiny in flavour

The spoon and fork setting for our last of three deserts 

Autumn Pear, Mastik and Citrus Fruit with sheeps milk iced cream

Sweet milky Horchata de Chufa, made from tiger nuts, water, and sugar

I was pleased to know that I wasn't the only one taking photos

After 14 courses, a tower of mignardises arrive in all its red regal splendour 

French inspired Canelés De Bordeaux, filled with carob

Fruit-Shaped Pistachio Marzipan

Beet flavoured Andalusi macarons

Marshmallows with pistachio dust

Al-Andalus-style Turkish delight

The bill for the meal arrives in a beautiful inlaid box

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