Falstaff Magazine International Nr. 0/2021 - SixPack
Rejoice, a restaurant with a wholly fitting name: Noor, meaning “light” in Arabic, takes a deep dive into the historic food culture of Al-Andalus, Moorish medieval Spain. Noor illuminates with a contemporary culinary and visual lens how it still permeates Andalusian cuisine.
Noor’s chef-patron Paco Morales credits his time with Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli as giving him the confidence to be adventurously creative. A further five years as head chef of San Sebastian’s avant-garde Mugaritz further informs his trailblazing approach. It is a restaurant like no other in Andalusia and is now putting Cordoba on the contemporary world culinary map.
Entering Noor, a new building in the modest Canero district of Cordoba where Morales grew up and his family run a chicken takeaway shop, feels like being cosseted in a sanctuary to gourmet exploration. Guests are transported “outside in” to a serene riad style patio with modernist zellij inspired floor tiles and Mudejar motifs picked up on the walls, the open kitchen, even the tableware and cutlery rests. Many of the motifs repeated in the presentation of the food are also inspired by Medina Azahara, the ruins of an Arab Muslim medieval palace on the outskirts of the city.
By way of greeting, diners are offered a ritual hand wash with water poured from a copper vessel in a stone basin. It sets the tone for a menu of thoughtful beauty. Noor’s tasting menus over its first three years – when Morales gained 2 Michelin stars with startling alacrity – focused on exploring Moorish influences on Spanish cooking.
The latest menu introduces ingredients brought from the New World by the conquistadores: from tomatoes and avocado to myriad chilies, corn and cacao. It is a total visual feast: like eating time and history served with almost balletic, choreographed precision. To detail every dish would spoil the sense of wonderment. Among appetisers, Peruvian layered potato with Iberian pork and shrimp stands out for its delicacy and playful mixing of culinary cultures.
A series of small plates mix ingredients in exquisite dishes that play on texture as much as flavour and visual cues. There is a superlative, thrillingly different take on beef tartare served on fried corn polenta with pine nuts and saffron flowers; white prawns are marinated in carob and Cascabel chilli for a delicate sour-sweet-fruity flavour bomb. Roasted squab is presented dramatically with a 70% cacao ingot, its theatre enhanced by the punch of black Recado chili, the exoticism of persimmon fruit, the fresh lactic tang of labneh and, because it is a luxury restaurant after all, a scattering of caviar.
Desserts are a little less captivating, though Ceuta lemon with mint sponge cake, coriander snow and black pepper had a striking purity and beautifully refreshed the palate after the richness of the squab. Served with a local Montilla-Moriles Moscatel, it was elevated it to something special. Throughout, the drink pairings are very special, even provocative, with much emphasis on Cordoban fortified wines, top Alsace, Austrian, Spanish and Lebanese producers. Is Paco Morales’ cooking magical realism on a plate? It is certainly exceptional gastronomic escapism.
Paco Morales also opened El Bar two years ago for a more informal introduction to his innovative cooking. There he features dishes including nigiri Andalusi made with couscous rather than Japanese rice, combined with impeccable iterations of Andalusian classic tapas.
Reviewed by Sudi Pigott