The Great Food Escape Series: Copenhagen
Part One: Tasting menus
What to do between Christmas and New Year? Eat and drink your way around a new city, of course. And while the home of Noma has of course long piqued our interest, the three days and three nights we spent in the Danish capital far exceeded all gourmet expectations. Saying that, we did decide against heading to Rene Redzepi’s modern Nordic mecca months before booking our flights and room at Ibsens Hotel – accommodation we would recommend for its great location close to Norreport metro/train stations (about 15 minutes direct from the airport), minimal but perfectly functional Scandi-chic rooms and winter season ‘cosy hour’. Yep, welcome to the wonderful world of hygge: as Danish as pork roast, the phrase goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, it means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the meaning of life. So from 5-6pm every evening, the guests at this friendly hotel got together in the café/bar space on the ground floor for a free glass of beer or wine and a chill-out session in front of the roaring fire. So refreshing, and so glaringly obvious that we simply have not got this winter wonderland thing sorted in London.
Back to Noma. We discounted it for a few reasons – primarily the cost – it’s eye-wateringly expensive and, just as we haven’t gone to The Fat Duck in Bray (or dropped in while it graced Melbourne for six months in 2014-5), we felt deeply uncomfortable about committing that amount of money to one dining experience. Other than that, I can’t really articulate the reasons – but mainly – I guess we wanted to try out what the generation of post-Noma chefs are achieving more than what the world-renowned king of wild Danish mallard eggs, citrusy roasted ants and edible soil has to offer. We wanted to sample the spoils of the Noma offspring. Then we read Chris Pople’s excellently honest review and felt utterly justified in our decision.
So for tasting menus, we ended up here:
The creation of design company Menu and Norm Architects, this place oozes Scandi eye candy appeal and, since opening in 2012, has secured its spot on a number of Copenhagen ‘best eat’ lists. The award-winning décor is stripped back and minimalist: split over two floors there is room for up to 100 diners and the grey spaces are filled with raw wooden furniture and specially commissioned tableware. There’s the Höst Menu (three courses for 325kr (£32.50) with matched wines at 195kr (19.50)) and the Höst Signature Menu (three courses for 425kr with matched wines at 295kr) and by ordering one menu each, you get to try out the whole a la carte menu.
And if you were hoping for a longer journey than that offered by the three courses, do not fear – with various amuse bouche and mid-course extras we saw seven plates grace our table in the course of the evening. Starting with light as a feather deep-pink beetroot meringues with a curd / labne smear. Such a simple and refreshing start and insanely it survived the three-day holiday as one of my favourite dishes of the trip.
Cod with smoked fish fumé, sunflower seeds and cauliflower
Veal brisket (almost like a floss) and veal tongue with green kale, celeriac, hazelnuts and truffle
Sea buckthorn ice with liquorice meringue and the slightest touch of popping candy
Norwegian lobster and chicken foot with lobster cream, carrots, liquorice, juniper and hazelnuts (this dish is served on fire – a great spectacle if you are sitting next to the panes of glass that allow you to look into the kitchen) – the accompanying sauce had a great Asian tinge.
Tenderloin from Grambogård with salted lingon berries, beetroot and sauce with marrow and tarragon
Birchbark ice cream with quince, herbs chocolate, truffle and crispy malt
Duck hearts in cheese soup served alongside blue cheese tarts with truffle and lingonberry on a bed of fir and hay
Bones stuffed with a bone marrow and sea salty oyster cream concoction
A pre-dessert of dehydrated raspberries with sour milk yoghurt
…and a couple of bread dishes that deserve a mention in their own right: first off little muffin-type treacle-roasted offering studded with rolled outs and a wheatgrass butter, and then bite-sized savoury doughnut things with labne. Sorry for the vague detail – we were overwhelmed with the amount of extras and had trouble keeping up!
We always knew this would be special, but when we pulled up on the bikes having huffed and puffed our way to one of the city’s outer, industrial islands we were met by a chef cooking over a Big Green Egg barbecue. Yep, there was a reason the roads leading to chef and owner Matt Orlando’s (Per Se, The Fat Duck and, of course, Noma alumni) out-of-way warehouse-meets-restaurant-meets-garden was a power cut affecting the whole island. Testament to the kitchen and front of house teams’ enthusiasm, they decided to go ahead with the evening service… at no cost to the diners. With apologies that the tasting menu wouldn’t be quite the same, and assurances that they would do what they could (no mean feat as the kitchen relies on induction cooking) we were told that as we were not seeing them at their best then they wouldn’t be charging. All I can say is – if this wasn’t their best, I can’t wait to go back one day and catch them at full throttle.
The cavernous industrial space is simply decorated – tables are generously spaced out and only a large graffiti mural adds colour to the monotone dining space. You enter via the first floor and descend down a flight of stairs to be seated – it’s all very impressive – and looks stunning bathed in candlelight with a couple of roaring bonfires outside the floor-to-ceiling windows adding to the warm, flickering light on the (dark) evening we visit.
What is also impressive is the teams’ approach to sustainability. The 500sqm garden at Amass is situated right in front of the restaurant, and a variety of herbs, flowers and vegetables are fertilised with food waste and brown cardboard, while used coffee grounds provide food for the worms and even feature in a marshmallow meets biscuit post-dessert treat. Through the team’s recycling, conservation and composting initiatives, they have cut waste output by 80%.
Back to the evening and a note on price – the normal is 595kr (£59.50) with wine pairing at 395kr (£39.50) for 4 glasses, an extended menu featuring nine courses comes in at 795kr plus 595kr for six matched glasses of wine. If we went back, I would opt for the nine courses no question – insanely good value for money. In the half-light we feasted on:
Deliciously dense potato bread with a kale spread
Candied beetroot with a citrus labne dip
Sea trout, spicy herbs, vinegar
Perfectly tender but toothsome squid, with egg yolk, black garlic and plums
Carrots that have been dehydrated and then cook in their own juices, served with pickled orpin flowers and sour curd
Amazingly creamy wild duck, pumpkin, coffee and grilled parsley
Wheat ice cream, grain crumble, dried berries, mushroom oil (as the lights in the kitchen came back on a couple of courses ago – the pastry chef is relieved to find his ice cream machine is back in action) – thankfully, the staff opted to keep the dining room illuminated only by candle
Mini malt bread loaf with apple jam and those coffee ground biscuits I mentioned earlier
One more thing we loved – the magnums of organic wine that are bought to the table when you order by the glass. It feels very decadent!
Situated in ex-industrial premises in the meatpacking district of Vesterbro, this huge place was more hipster than the previous two restaurants (not that the other two weren’t very down to earth) – loud, bold and very busy. As a result, the service is a bit frenetic, but the food just as great.
A bit of background: the two guys behind Gorilla, Rasmus Oubæk and Jesper Marcussen, already started Retour Steak together (and Rasmus is also the brains behind Barbie). The deal here is 10 servings for 375kr while 15 servings are 45kr. Ordering the smaller tasting menu sees five snacks fly out the kitchen is quick succession, including:
Bacon rice crackers
Beef tartar, mushrooms, sorrel, hazelnut
Terrine of boar, chestnut, pistachio
Deep-red slices of Iberico Bellota
Before settling into a course-by-course journey through highlights of the a la carte menu:
Ravioli, pumpkin, mushrooms
Organic pork, bitter salad, vandouvan
…before coming to a halt at passionfruit pie. A word to the wise, spend the 200kr extra for a stunning bottle off the long wine list, we fell hard for the Blanc (viognier-chardonnay blend) from Andrea Calek in the Ardèche department of southern France (2013 vintage).
Buzzing come lunchtime thanks to the Paris-inspired five-course menu for a steal at 175kr and served from Tuesday to Friday, the sister restaurant to Relæ is a natural wine bar and veggie-focused restaurant (that’s strangely famous for its raw meat) in Shoreditch-esque Nørrebro on a strip that’s lined with great little shops perfect for an afternoon’s wandering.
If 2015 had a defining moment for me, it is the rise of excellent veggie dishes that are so good they stand up to their meaty counterparts and often outshine them. Here, charred onions are served with green strawberries, elderflower and Havgus cheese, slices of melt-in-your-mouth baked pumpkin are sprinkled with with roasted seeds and smothered with a smooth beurre blanc.
This are organic and biodynamic vegetables at their very best, and something for the die-hard carnivores comes in the form of beef tartar. Plus a scattering of meat dishes, such as the roast Havervadgaard lamb on a bed of tart kale that came with our tasting menu.
You might also be interested in our other Copenhagen features:
- 9 Things You Need To Know Before You Visit Copenhagen.
- The Great Food Escape Series: Copenhagen – Part 1 – Tasting Menus.
- The Great Food Escape Series: Copenhagen – Part 2 – Casual Dining.
- The Great Food Escape Series: Copenhagen – Part 3 – Drinking and (not) Driving.
- Our curated Copenhagen Dining + Drink Google Map.