An inviting atmosphere reigns at Hærværk (Danish for “vandalism”), where the smiling waiters provide impeccable hospitality from the start. There is always time for an informed talk about food and wine, presented without a hitch. And speaking of wine: Hærværk is renowned as a standard-bearer for natural wines, though the establishment has loosened up a bit and toned down the fundamentalism with a list that now features other interesting and less acidic combinations. This evolution has only raised the bar for the restaurant and its cuisine. We start with a round of snacks: exquisitely delicate profiteroles with pickled asparagus, celeriac ravioli and fried horseradish, superbly paired with a wonderfully complex Danish cider from Kvist og Vitus. Next up on the bill is cured halibut on white cabbage marinated in bladderwrack with black sesame and a Belgian waffle with a generous heap of dill. Perfect in technique and taste, the crisp and soft textures go beautifully hand in hand with the fresh flavours and the rich waffle. Unfortunately, the somewhat bland colombard grape behind Andiran's Vain de Rû from Gascony can't live up to the dish. The highlight of the evening, in all its simplicity, is a piece of fried celeriac in breadcrumbs with a sauce of buttermilk whey and sheep’s cheese. It’s unsurprisingly delectable, as celeriac and buttermilk are a perfect match. Next is a heavenly combination of fried pasta, cabbage and shredded beef heart with a sauce blanquette, which impresses and seduces, although the appurtenant wine is on the fresh and overly sweet side for the dish. The intense main course is a well-prepared cut from a leg of venison with dukkah, sweet Jerusalem artichokes and a garlic confit sauce, perfectly paired with the alluring succulence of grenache, syrah and merlot in a 2015 Les Grelots from Sylvain Bock. The fact that this excellent but rather ordinary dish could be considered the evening’s weakest serving says a lot about the veritable showcase of culinary aptitude we are treated to this evening. The cheese plate once again sweeps us off our feet as we are served a sweet slice of butter-fried beetroot bread and 24-month Comté with crème fraîche. It’s nothing short of brilliant with a robust Jura wine that turns velvety smooth with the cheese. We round off the evening nicely with crepes with cardamom ice cream, pickled cherries and salted caramel sauce: a delicious composition. At Hærværk, the perfect craftsmanship of the innovative and playful kitchen is followed every step of the way by attentiveness and professionalism on the floor. It’s a consummate experience that offers genuine surprises and suspenseful curiosity about each subsequent dish.
Behind the three chefs dressed in white is a row of coat hooks left over from the time when the whole house was a theatre. But the show that goes on here today may be filled with even more artistry and craftsmanship. Imouto is an experience for all the senses where you and seven other guests sit in front row seats and experience a spectacle in almost 20 acts. You are served from the wooden shelf that surrounds the bar and constitutes all of Imouto. You are waited on from behind by an efficient and professional service staff. The beverages are expertly recommended – riesling, sake and Japanese beer are all quite right. From the first serving of Japanese snacks, pickled eggs and cream made from fermented garlic, you are ushered into Sayan Isaksson’s world of flavour. It continues with a sublime mini bowl of dried cod skins stuffed with monkfish liver and topped with seaweed meringue. With the next serving, a mini-bundle of dried soy milk skin with black roe and smoked crabmeat, the taste sensation is complete. And it mostly continues in this vein. Not least, the spectacular serving of langoustine in different contexts that is tonight’s showstopper. First, it is killed with a direct stab of the knife, and then the ultra-fresh meat is threaded onto sticks. In the final serving it lies seared on rice with red wine vinegar, browned beef tallow and smoked salt on top. Even if Sayan Isaksson disagrees, this is a signature dish. The display of nigiri pieces offers only the best seafood from Scandinavian waters: perch, zander, char, rainbow trout, octopus, eel, redfish, turbot, mackerel... The zander is the most impressive, only brushed with smoked soy; the farmed eel, flash-grilled; and the charcoal-grilled turbot served with white seaweed and ramson oil. The leftover fish heads from the zander and redfish are roasted while the next course is served. From cheeks and chin the meat is plucked, then mixed with innards from the langoustines into a refined blend served in a temaki cone with ramson oil and salmon roe. When a few delicious profiteroles stuffed with ice cream made from bean paste and caramel sauce are served, three hours have passed. All in a seamless performance where everyone leaves the premises smiling happily.
Restaurant Jordnær (which means “down-to-earth” in Danish) is housed in the historic, 350-year-old Gentofte Hotel, where the duo of Chef Eric Kragh Vildgaard and Restaurant Manager Tina Kragh Vildgaard bring forth new tones rooted in French traditions and Danish ingredients. The atmosphere is warm in the modernised “inn” with attractive plank floors, Nordic designer furniture and the impressive beam ceiling, while the service is professional and attentive. Eric knows what he wants and no compromise is accepted with ingredients, as evidenced by our first snack, brilliant in all its simplicity: Osietra caviar filled in a cylinder of carved cucumber with a lightly acidic cream in the bottom. The bittersweet cucumber plays up to the caviar’s elegant nut notes followed by deep umami, while the acidic interplay with the light cream at the bottom ties it all together into a delicious mouthful. This is followed by an immaculately fresh Gillardeau oyster with kohlrabi spheres, freshly harvested beach plants and horseradish to give it all a little punch. The snacks conclude with creamy crab on an “æbleskive” base (traditional Danish doughnut-like cake) that could have been a bit more interesting. A champagne from Robert Barbichon with fresh bread notes and wonderful acidity pairs nicely with the snacks and their recurrent taste of the sea. The first starter, an alluring composition of marinated raw langoustine with green strawberries, oysters and granité, is intense and mineral, while the acidity of the granité and the young riesling provide elegant and fresh balance – a dream for sushi lovers. The next starter is crisp and purely delightful with its touches of sea and nuttiness: white asparagus and fresh foam with a hint of acidity, watercress and Baerii caviar. The wine from Veneto made from the garganega grape is a bit opulent with this dish. A starter with zander wrapped in pointed cabbage in a green jus with ramson fills the palate with the goodness of succulent mild fish, the bit of cabbage and light spices bound together by the ramsons. The light fruitiness of the wine, made with a blend of varieties including spätburgunder, is a sublime vinous pairing on the full-bodied side. The main dish of perfectly roasted pink lamb, green asparagus, morel and truffle rises above traditional as Vildgaard spoons an incredibly elegant sauce over the lamb. The Barolo from Oberto in Piedmont is a perfect match, given its somewhat tight but sweet-bodied character. The first dessert of almonds, vanilla and rhubarb ice cream operates in the realm of delicate nuances, while the cake bottom could have been a bit lighter. The final dessert of hay-milk ice cream, bolstered by French sorrel and oxalis, and split with a cold pressed rapeseed oil, is immaculately well balanced.
Juur’s roots reach deep into… coffee. In the cold Nordic climate, coffee is an important beverage. The more important something is, the harder people work to improve it. Juur, which means roots in Estonian, is owned by Gourmet Coffee, a leader of the country’s new wave-coffee scene; the first company to source rare coffee beans at auctions, and the first to roast them in-house. Now, they have taken it even further: Gourmet Coffee teaches coffee farmers in developing countries to grow precious beans, they also buy their first crops. This background information is necessary to understand that Juur is more than just a restaurant. Juur is a way of life. It’s the flagship restaurant at Ülemiste City, the Silicon Valley of Northern Europe, a breeding ground for innovation. And while lunch here is more than just something that eases hunger, dinnertime is when you really want to pay a visit. The newly opened restaurant offers a truly ambitious fine dining experience, focused on developing the definitive version of New Estonian Cuisine. It gets its produce from its own farm in Southern Estonia and is currently developing an urban farm right next door. Juur’s food is different––you’ll understand what we mean as soon as bread is brought to the table. This is hemp bread, it looks and tastes different than any other bread in Estonia. There is something unique and boldly unprecedented about everything that Juur does, from said hemp bread to pinecone tea. Juur has its roots in the kind of soil where others do not dare to tread. Growing local produce is a skill that was lost during the Soviet period, the tradition was broken and recovery doesn’t happen overnight, so even the most ambitious restaurants tend to be overly respectful to local ingredients. Juur is not. It’s also not ashamed of being a bit green and making mistakes. Though these don’t end up on the plates, guests’ limits are nonetheless tested when traditional main ingredient are combined with unexpected flourishes and techniques like making jelly from classic bread soup. Traditional rye porridge gets an update with goat cheese, crispy groats, quince and salted lemon, making for a completely new interpretation. At Juur, you can see that local Estonian beverages are starting to recover the ground lost to foreign drinks. Craft beers and ciders are already old hat; now it is time for the berry wines, which until now have been only served with desserts. But of course you can’t leave Juur without trying the coffee.
For more than 20 years, Rikke Brockstedt and her consort Kristian Evensen-Smidt have run Restaurant Karoline Amalie in Virklund near Silkeborg. Although a quarter of a century is a long time to maintain a constant level of excellence, the restaurant is still outstanding. Its dishes express rare precision, reflecting the careful handling of ingredients, and the service staff have a Zenlike attentiveness. The hostess provides a warm welcome and later presents every dish in the elegant dining room, which has just four or five tables in a spacious, exclusive and classic setting with crisply ironed tablecloths, silver candlesticks and rococo chairs. The restaurant is currently operating with one set menu, which you should combine with the superb and exclusively Austrian wine pairings, featuring both established stars and exciting, young up-and-coming producers. Standing out in the first salvo of snacks is a deconstruction of the Danish classic “æbleflæsk” (pork belly in applesauce) – a small bird’s nest of puffed pork rind with a tart apple purée as a counterweight to the lard. This is soon followed by an elegant vignette of scallops, freshly harvested and crunchy fresh Jerusalem artichoke, caviar and buerre blanc. Here, the fresh raw food elements and salty caviar perfectly balance the rich and the smooth textures. The palate-cleansing acidity and character of the wines proves a delight throughout the evening. This also applies to a 2001 pinot noir from Graf Hardegg, with structure and acidity that make it a well-chosen pairing with a perfect turbot meunière with shaved truffle and onion in three textures. The light red currant notes of the pinot drown neither the delicate turbot nor the wondrous truffle flavour. You should primarily visit Karoline Amalie for the savoury dishes, because although the deserts are tasty, presentable and prepared with the finest ingredients, we are left with an unmistakable sense of “autopilot” when a chocolate-covered scoop of blackcurrant ice cream arrives as one of the last items on the itinerary. But this is a microscopic bump in an evening during which our gastronomic cup hath runneth over.
Young Chef Erik Mansikka decided that he had seen it all, worked at the best restaurants, won competitions, and gained fame on TV. He was reluctant ever again to leave his home town of Turku. Together with two friends, Topi Pekkanen and Simo Raisio, he set his eyes on a rather shabby old fish restaurant in Turku. They took over the place with its some 20 seats and kept the ascetic interior with its plywood walls. Only a devoted customer would notice the changes over the years. There are still no frills here, but the soundproofing and ventilation have improved. Though only in its fourth year, Kaskis has already become a legend. It is still immensely popular. The kitchen’s philosophy is to keep it simple and local. Often the meal is made of ingredients that an ordinary homeowner with a backyard garden and a fishing rod could produce. There are now more staff. The chefs have a busy time in the kitchen and do not make an effort to socialize with their guests, but our two talkative young waitresses with a brilliant knowledge of wine make up for it. The starter is local whitefish cured with salt and sugar, then scorched to make the skin fantastically crisp while the meat stays almost raw. The sauce consists of crème fraîche sharpened with juice from green tomatoes, jalapeño and, as a sign that summer is around the corner, elderflower. Two cuts from a Mangalitza pig are prepared in two ways, fillet and neck. The pungent sauce gets its aroma from sherry vinegar, as do the pickled shallots. The wine pairing is a South African chenin blanc. Beef comes from the Åland isles in the form of both cheek and flank. Celeriac and red beet are prepared in different ways with an unusual and quite dominating amount of allspice. The dessert consists of the traditional treasure of midwinter, blood oranges. Together with meringue and Crema Catalana, it is a simple but inventive treat served with a sparkling Limoux. The Kaskis team has great plans. Kakola is a dark-sounding name that every Finn recognises, but this former prison on a hill in central Turku will now be used for a different purpose. The Kaskis owners plan to open a big restaurant there in 2018 and experiment with a pop-up in 2017. Friends of Kaskis are happy that the original little restaurant will stay where it is.
Thai-spiced Kiin Kiin is the flagship restaurant of the ever-expanding pan-Asian empire created by gastro-entrepreneur Henrik Yde. Ten years in the game and the place hasn't lost the ambiance of a warm and welcoming exotic adventure land. Although the once so far-from-it-all location on a Nørrebro backstreet has become a bit more gentrified and polished since then. Most importantly: Chef Dak Laddaporn still manages to surprise us. Nowadays Kiin Kiin also offers a shorter theatre menu, but if you choose that your priorities are all wrong as the theatrics provided by the nine-course menu easily rival that of the stage. One of Kiin Kiin's claims to fame is the street-food-inspired snack section. A salty-sweet soy-cashew meringue paired with a potent but fruity wasabi cream is a tantalizing bite, and the miang kam salad, whipped together tableside and served in a spinach leaf, is just as fresh, tangy and hot as it should be. Chicken satay gets a modern twist where the peanut sauce is packaged as an intensely flavoured ice cream atop a crunchy piece of chicken skin. When the crispy pork comes in on its portable barbecue and the cloche over the signature dish of Chiang Mai sausages is opened releasing “street fumes” from Bangkok, the scene is definitely set for the nine courses still to come. Tom yam is another signature dish, and the clear broth doesn't look like much – but it’s the flavour that paints the picture here, deeply satisfying and conveying a distinct seafood and galangal aroma with a hot kick at the end. We get a small syringe with which we fashion our own noodles; though fun, the soup could easily have stood on its own. Sommelier Henrik Yde insists on well thought-out wine pairings (no beer to be seen here) and the grüner veltliner from Zillinger is pitch-perfect in augmenting the lobster aromas. This kitchen loves to play around with the concept of Thai food, but the fun and games never trump flavour. The twisted red curry, for example, is served granita-style. It slowly melts over an asparagus mousse and seared langoustine tail, adding both texture and temperature variation to the dish. One dish arrives under a ball of cotton candy, then they blend a spicy dressing at the table to pour over it and as the cotton candy melts it reveals a perfectly poached piece of cod. The aromatic experience is almost as satisfying as the dish itself with its light herbaceous notes mingling elegantly with the Peter Lauer riesling. The entertaining and utterly charming service staff definitely add to the draw of Kiin Kiin. Most of them are recruited from Thailand (where Yde also has a restaurant) and the pride in and knowledge of the food being served is a pleasure to experience. The “petits fours” are a real achievement in trompe l'oeil: many bowls arrive, one with real chillies alongside their chocolate replicas, and one similarly filled with both mock and real cinnamon sticks. One wrong move and you could easily bite down on a fiery chilli instead of chocolate one. Kiin Kiin truly entertains.
If you turn off at the bend in Kräklingbo, just around the corner and opposite the church you’ll find Gotland’s best restaurant. As well as Gotland’s best alcoholic beverages. Ulrika Karlsson is the sun that Krakas Krog spins around and in addition to brilliant service and a dazzling smile she offers red-hot gastronomy. After more than a decade at Krakas she seems more energised than ever. There have been a few years of slightly restrained cooking, but now Krakas is once again springing to the front and running in the same heat with the other leaders in green gastronomy. This is evident even in Ulrika’s entertaining commentaries about the dishes: Krakas is more confident, more personal, more daring than ever. The featherweight, chlorophyll flavours have a bit more complexity now, accompanied by deftly portioned amounts of proteins from the sea and pasture. A dish like baked beet with lamb liver, yarrow and blueberry butter is flat-out ingenious, yes, even sexual – a word never before associated with Krakas. When the liver, marinated in its own fat, meets the blueberries, it revives something wild from deep inside, to which the beet adds its earthy sweetness. The matching 2013 La Guindalera Viña Almate tempranillo is perfectly at home with this orgy of flavours. Ulrika is a sommelier of the highest rank and her pairings often make the already delightful dishes even more praiseworthy. The steamed beans are nice, in mint and herb salt with cream of dried peas and fresh garlic, but they take flight in the company of a carefully selected Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc from 2014. Then Ulrika gets a feeling and she pulls out a Chassange-Montrachet 2011 that does not belong to the wine pairings, just because she can’t help herself and she loves wine and loves Burgundy and because she has never been as on fire as she is now and she knows it. The delightful beverage buttresses the roasted cauliflower and the juniper-cured cod with its grated roe, its grilled butter and its pickled juniper with pride. And it’s this pride that makes Krakas by far the best choice on the island right now. With the role that wine plays at Krakas, forget about driving afterwards and instead arrange one of the few rooms upstairs. Pity those poor souls who pass by the bend in the road, and miss out on this experience.
Tired of pared-down Nordic design? Then make your way to Lyon. The restaurant opposite the Opera is like a time capsule: nothing has changed since it opened in 1966 – and even then the place was über French with cafe curtains on brass bars, wall-to-wall carpeting, sconces and Piaff tunes streaming from the speakers. We are met and shown to our table by the almost stern, black-uniformed waitress (who turns out to be kind, knowledgable and attentive to our needs). Then we put our evening entirely in the hands of Chef Tuomas Vierelä and his colleagues. While the decor might be perceived as dated, the kitchen delivers contemporary, technique-driven cuisine that digs deeply into the Finnish soil – but Vierelä is not afraid of carefully selected Asian elements. Soon the snacks come flying across the table: a dense, chartreuse-coloured turmeric-cucumber soup with delicious herby oregano oil; a beautiful creation consisting of chicken liver under thin slices of fermented kohlrabi on small papery meringue bottoms; pike roe and cream of roasted yeast... The flavors are intense and acid-driven with umami as the underlying mantra. Everything whirls along at a high pace and soon our waitress starts filling our glasses at the same rate. No natural wines here, but well-made French vintages – what else? With a small tartlet with pumpkin, kombu and homemade goat’s cheese we enjoy a mineral Les Perles Rares from Laurent Vogt. The same producer’s pinot gris is served later with the restaurant’s most famous dish: foie gras with red beets, raspberry and hazelnuts. The dish is stylish and well-composed, but we miss a little of the funkier notes that Vierelä lets shine through now and then. Like when he scatters the ashes of dried Japanese shiso leaves over a cream flavored with wasabi. After sweetbreads with an umami-laced chicken broth enriched with black garlic, mustard seeds and oxalis, things begin to calm down a tad with a sheer white meringue tuile, pollen and sea buckthorn. A Coteaux du Layon is paired with a construction of smoked white chocolate with rhubarb and a citrus-scented gelée cap. Can we really manage another dish – peppermint ice cream with flakes of dried milk and fir tree powder? But of course we can. Then we go dazed out into the night, along with the other, surprisingly young, hip diners.
Just as a journey begins the moment you’ve booked it, with high expectations, an experience at Lyran begins once you call and secure a table. On social media they lists the day’s ingredients – though you do not know exactly what will be paired with what until you sit at the table. Spoiler alert: it’s done really well. Crispy Danish rye bread with lingonberries and herbs is a small bite off the edge of the forest. After that, a variation on a recurring house favourite – wafer-thin carpaccio of portobello with an emulsion of roasted poppy seeds and Scottish cheese aged 36 months. You fold the panels into a mini taco and slip it down in a flash. Then things get exciting – carrots poached in carrot juice, glazed with fermented carrot juice and garnished with sesame seeds, cumin and dill flowers is an original smash hit, regardless of whether or not this is accompanied by Norwegian king crab. Though it’s a fun and bold way to address the slightly tricky crustacean, and the wine embraces it without restraint. In this case, the match is almost flawless, even in colour: a glass of orange wine (except it’s white) from the Pyrenees producer Matassa draws toward acidity and crunch. Most the wines are natural, subtle rather than garish – and good. This also applies to the long line of homemade, pressed and fermented beverages, flavoured with the joy of discovery. One exception is Frank Cornelissen’s Contadino from Etna’s volcanic soils, which is more interesting than good. But if you should drink it with something, it is probably with this: tartare from a Swedish Red Polled cow resting under a blanket of beets along with sour cream, fermented elderberries and crispy buckwheat marinated in the cow’s browned fat. The smokiness and fat balance each other somewhat, but not entirely. The dishes are, with few exceptions, safer on their feet than a gymnast and the many house-made broths make us philosophize about whether that might be what separates a good kitchen from a fantastic one. It becomes interesting and original again when we are offered a glass of sweet hawthorn liqueur – in fact considerably sweeter than the only dessert, which is on the refreshing side: raw and intense blueberry sorbet under a blanket of fluffy cream, and a liquorice powder so light that it is mostly a sensation. Jorgen Lloyd and Melissa Gardarsdottir together with their team create, in all simplicity, an experience in multiple dimensions.
During this last year Lysverket has seen several changes: The nightclub concept is gone, lunch is back on the menu, and the front of house team has been strengthened. But even if the DJ is gone, the dining experience is as rough and informal as ever. Rough and informal are two words that also describe the premises. The restaurant is dark and stylish with handmade Danish wooden furniture, industrial ceilings and rough concrete floors. The museum is one of Bergen’s most stylish buildings, and once produced the city’s power. Lysverket is still pumping out energy to this day. With its neo-fjordic concept they have moved the boundaries of traditional Western Norwegian cooking and put Bergen on the international gastronomic map. The meal starts the same way as on our last visit, with a classic succession of small homages to tradition: a warm fish pudding, a taste of mackerel cream on rye bread, and a miniature Nordic kebab made with pickled salted herring. The last nibble before we commence with the menu is a classic Bergen-style fish soup. In keeping with tradition the soup is creamy and acidic with tiny bits of vegetables, but without the characteristic fish balls. The soup is served in a small bowl so you can slurp it up – this is not a place for the prim and proper. The Lysverket menu is a natural result of the restaurant’s location in Western Norway. Instead of writing a menu of ingredients that then need to be sourced, the kitchen works in the opposite way. The natural fauna and the soil of the supplying farms dictates what meat and produce they receive. The first course on the menu is grilled shiitake from Trondheim, layered with raw scallops from Øygarden. Last summer’s salted plums from Hardanger are strewn on top, adding acidity to the smoked, toasted mushroom and the sweet and pure scallop. Hake from the Osterfjord is served with flowersprouts and sea belt seaweed. The restaurant staff pick up fish on the quay in order to get the freshest fish, enabling them to serve it 24 hours earlier than they otherwise would be able to. The result is fish that melts in your mouth like fresh cream. With the exception of the Chablis Premier Cru from Billaud-Simon, the recommended wines harmonise well with the food. The wine menu is good value for money and follows a classic but not very exciting theme. For a more stirring experience, request some input from the knowledgable bar staff. As a non-alcoholic alternative pairing with the Mangalitsa pork, we are offered a crisp drink of celery, ginger and pear juice with fresh flavours to fight this rich dish. It is an interesting experience to taste how this drink and a deep pinot noir with tannins both lift the pork in very different ways. As a part of the KODE art museum, the restaurant has a lunch menu that interprets the present art show, and a dinner menu that is defined by the best produce from the local flora and fauna of the west coast of Norway. Lysverket continues to develop towards an even more defined identity than before.
Hotel d'Angleterre, Kongens Nytorv 34, 1050 Copenhagen
Want to try Copenhagen’s most luxurious version of carbonara? Head for Hotel d’Angleterre and Marchal where Chef Andreas Bagh serves up squid tagliatelle-style in champagne butter sauce with oysters, cucumber, and of course, a generous dollop of Rossini Gold Selection Caviar to top it all off. It is quite simply a divine dish, where the oyster’s minerality and the umami in the sauce are elegantly balanced by the bright cucumber and the briny caviar. The texture of the squid is silky but still has a little bite to it, and together with the popping caviar provides an intriguing mouthfeel. It is a dish made for champagne, and the wine list here gives you every opportunity to splurge on a bottle. Marchal is doubtless the poshest place in Copenhagen to dine, and all the trimmings are certainly in place: spotless service, knowledgeable sommeliers, plush décor, and panorama windows that face the heart of Copenhagen: Kongens Nytorv. Though there’s a seemingly never-ending construction project going on in the square, obscuring any view, we still enjoy the steady stream of exclusive sports cars gliding up to the curb outside the hotel, providing ample fuel for who’s-who gossip between the courses. Posh, yes, but thanks to the fact that Marchal caters to a hotel clientele, the menu is all à la carte, so the curious gastro-traveller can actually slip in for a couple of dishes without having to order a complete tasting menu. While we wouldn’t call it affordable (mid-size servings start at DKK 200) it is certainly more accessible than many other restaurants in this range – and it’s even open for lunch. All other things aside, the food is worth a visit in its own right. This is a very self confident kitchen, well grounded in the French culinary tradition, but doubtlessly influenced by modern Nordic cooking – complemented with a pinch of spice here and there from all over the world. Two of Bagh’s other top scorers this year are the intensely flavoured confited sweetbreads with morels and sherry, seamlessly matched with an aged Brunello, and an Iberico secreto with walnuts and velvety sandalwood flavours from a seasoning with black cardamom. The desserts are lavish, with portions as large as the savoury dishes, and a tad less sophisticated. Like the signature “Gold bar” where a hazelnut, coffee and truffle bar is covered in gold leaf flakes and served with calvados ice cream. It’s intense and packed with flavour, but on the heavy side after a large dinner – although we wouldn’t mind at all popping in and devouring it with a coffee as an indulgent afternoon treat.
Grand Hôtel, S Blasieholmshamnen 6, 103 27 Stockholm
“No, no, you should not drink red wine with the flank steak tartare, it might turn metallic”. The waiter is so determined that you do not dare to order anything other than the suggested Trebbiano Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. And of course it glides very smoothly down with the macadamia nuts and the birch sap emulsion that bottoms the ceramic plate, which in and of itself is rather flavourless. A beautiful light oak paneling embraces Matbaren. The menu is lined with a nice, sprawling selection of dishes. How many should we get? “Get one at a time, there’s no rush, order when you’re hungry. This is endearing. Yes, the style here is relaxed, and it’s nice to be able to choose freely. Leaves, shoots and herbs from Ugglarp, for example. It may look like just a salad, but the diversity of beautiful leaves, mandolin-planed beets, carrots, delicate radish shoots and finely layered daikon is a recipe for happiness in chlorophyll. You dress it yourself; three bottles are placed on the table – olive and rapeseed oil and a chardonnay vinegar. The house-churned butter accompanying the flatbread has a vivifying air of maturity. Together with a fresh, orange, and slightly cloudy apple juice from Naess in Flen, the salad soars. So does the saithe, which is broiled like no saithe from Lofoten ever has been before. It is crispy and crunchy, with a sublime note of lemon, but is unfortunately pulled down by a heap of hazelnuts and broccoli that have slightly burnt notes. Maybe the new restaurant next door has made the kitchen here a little unfocused. The uncooked green dishes are generally best; a salad of red, mild endive comes with tiny orange pieces, crushed walnut and a soft goat's cheese cream. It’s really lovely. Randy Crawford’s Street Life is on the playlist and the clientele is on average about the same age – i.e., born around 1979. Both Stockholmers and travellers who have journeyed here from the countryside and abroad sit at the tastefully put together tables, and at the main bar. It’s quite cosy. Some diners are seated in front of the large windows, with the quay and the castle as a backdrop across the water, while some look into the open kitchen and talk to the staff, and still others have eyes mostly for each other. And they are all attended to by the throng of smiling and rapid waiters and waitresses, not all of who have had time to read up on the menu in the way we are used to here. No matter. That Matbaren endures makes us very happy.
Restaurant MeMu in Vejle is an establishment in rapid development. After having moved to a larger location just one year ago, they are already in need of another expansion. In late summer 2017 the gourmet restaurant will move to a smaller, more intimate location, and the current restaurant will be converted into a brasserie. MeMu is well attended on this visit, and the clientele are in high spirits. White tiles line the walls around the semi-open kitchen. The light furniture and vibrant atmosphere will be a good match for the coming brasserie, and the gourmet kitchen will benefit from additional room for the contemplation and full concentration that Michael Munk’s exquisite creations deserve. The menu begins with a cured scallop, whose sweetness provides a base for the dish, while cucumber, mint and ramsons add pleasant and familiar aromatic nuances. The flavours are all distinctive, but the mint and ramsons add a particularly scintillating edge that works beautifully in the overall composition. Precise dollops of yoghurt support the scallop’s creamy and rich texture, while hazelnuts add a bit of crunch to the canvas. Sommelier and co-owner Mette Derdau presents an excellent pairing from Tenerife. Made with the listán blanco grape, which is also used for sherry, the wine has a complex and slightly oxidised character that captures both the herbs and nuts of the dish. The wine list features many interesting bottles, but we recommend choosing one of Derdau’s two curated sets of wine pairings. The glasses are poured generously and the knowledgeable service staff are masters of their profession, providing the excellent hospitality characteristic of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. The kitchen shines with delicious dishes, all of which feature a small culinary twist. In a dish with pork breast, the meat is swathed in bergamot, which penetrates the grilled meat with an acidic and bitter touch in a new and welcome flavour combination, promoting the complexity of the succulent pork, slightly bitter bok choy and crisp fried salsify. The dessert unites caramel, Jerusalem artichokes, vanilla ice cream and a warm sauce of browned butter and brown sugar over a slice of grilled sourdough bread. It’s simple and delicious, and the sourdough’s grainy depth and slight acidity give the dish unique character. With masterful flavour composition in the kitchen, superb service and world-class wines, it is really no surprise that MeMu faces another impending expansion.
It’s a bitterly cold February day as we fight our way along muddy paths through Vilhelmsborg Forest. Then we catch a glimpse of the light and warmth of the former dairy. A beautiful room with whitewashed walls and arches awaits us, where we find comfortable seating in designer chairs at tables with thick damask tablecloths. At the controls in the kitchen is a distinct gastronomic personality, Allan Poulsen, whose résumé includes stints at Henne Kirkeby Kro and Bagatelle in Oslo. The meal begins with six savoury snacks and we are served three good petits fours as a finale. From end to end the dishes are prepared with pinpoint precision. Two of the starters stand out: the small celeriac ravioli filled with Rømø shrimp is a treat for the palate, as is the complex crisp biscuit with truffle cream and pickled pearl onion with shavings of dried veal heart. It's an orgy of umami, acidity, saltiness and a certain interesting funky taste – exactly the kind of dish you expect from Allan Poulsen. The same goes for the sweet black lobster with chives, garnished with a layer of whitefish roe, wood sorrel and turnip sprouts. This is the first of the dishes on the eight-course menu. Poulsen is able and willing to experiment with the jewels of the sea. Most striking and memorable is the long strip of Danish octopus with gelled beads of green tomato and crisp slices of raw Jerusalem artichoke, served with a split Jerusalem artichoke cream and a small, intense chlorophyll bomb of puréed dill. The acidity, slight liquorice flavour and nutty Jerusalem artichokes are wonderfully paired with the limestone and fruity notes of the white wine from southern French Côtes Catalanes. The wines, like the food, are exquisite and ingeniously paired with the dishes. The list is fondly focused on France, with classics and newcomers alike, but other European bottles also make an appearance. Two of the three richest dishes are based on mushrooms: the fried skate wing comes with porcini flakes and sauce blanquette, wonderfully harmonized with a spätburgunder from Pfalz, while the mushroom-infused sago porridge with a sauce made from mallard gizzards and hearts is served with a heavenly 2012 Barolo from Mauro Molino, La Morra. Our highly attentive waiter professionally and discreetly ensures that we are well informed and supplied with food and drink throughout the evening. Among the sweet dishes, the winner is the signature desert: a white chocolate sphere filled with pickled late-summer raspberries, milk chocolate with coffee and burnt hazelnut in a crisp croustade (harking back to the starter of crisp biscuit with truffle), a pickled plum with dark chocolate ganache and crispy wood sorrel salad, and lastly a small trio of all three chocolates on their own. Even after the extensive eight-course menu with many small snacks and sweets in between, we leave Mejeriet in high spirits and in awe of their impressive surgical craftsmanship.
What a difference a year makes. 365 little days. Last time we dined at Monte Pacis, it was memorable enough, the restaurant, housed in a functioning monastery complex, and left a solid, serious impression, just like a monastery should. The food was tasty, though the service was a little distant. Vowing to try it again we returned a year later to find it just as we remembered, the same monastery, with the same atmosphere. Yet when the waiter brought the menu and placed a basket of irresistibly fragrant, freshly baked bread on the table we noticed the first big change: ebullience and an eagerness to communicate with the guests. All distance gone, the waiter recommended cocktails and chatted up the drinks menu, which features a few rare monastery wines and some more familiar monastery brews; local berry wines, and craft beers. At night, the restaurant now offers a three- or nine-course surprise menu. “Surprise” meaning that the guests won’t know what is served until the food lands on the table. During the day, however, there is a prix fix menu with three- or four courses as well as a short à la carte selection. The restaurant has clearly taken a very long step forward in the past year. Perhaps even a leap! A dish modestly named Mushroom consists of boletus, chanterelle and marinated mushroom purée. You can order it as an appetizer, or you can add mushroom broth and the solid starter turns into a soup. This playful element is entertaining enough, the real leap though, is in the flavors. Bread and Carrots is an inventive dessert with a starter dough cream, carrot sorbet and foam, and apples; note that pastry chefs are not common in this country. The establishment’s previous sous chef, Rokas Vasiliauskas, has graduated to head toque, bringing about noticeable change. Monte Pacis’ beverage pairings have also bounced forward. The top-notch prosecco from Cartizze mountain grapes harmonizes perfectly with the dessert’s caramel notes. It’s presented in a goblet! If you’re lucky, the sommelier will regal you with an apple ice wine from Lithuanian wine master Gintaras Sinas. In 1968, the American athlete Robert Beamon shook the world by jumping 55 centimeters beyond the previous world record. As a restaurant, Monte Pacis has achieved something similar compared to our previous experiences here. Impressive!
At the little sister to the finer AOC, Christian Aarø and crew have found a style with quality and craftsmanship of the same high standards at a very reasonable price, executed with greater simplicity and less prestigious ingredients. On this winter evening, sitting by the restaurant’s large-windowed facade, Copenhagen is mirrored in the adjacent waters of Christians-havn. In summer you can enjoy the same view in sunlight, sometimes from the outdoor terrace. The view adds an extra dimension to the meal, and fortunately the restaurant is not short on window tables. Aarø is among Denmark’s best sommeliers, as evidenced in the wine list. The wine pairings (DKK 325 for four glasses), as well as the many glasses and extravagant bottles on the wine list, have all been selected with the greatest of care. We are served a glass of young chardonnay from Hamilton Russel on the Western Cape of South Africa, whose minerality and fresh notes of pear and lime balance a brilliant dish of salted pollock. The fish comes in green robes of lightly smoked Tuscan kale and cod roe cream with pickled elderflowers. Several dishes during our meal employ this discreet use of smoke and richness to add an edge to the creamy flavour, including the boneless rib-eye in a jacket of beets with marrow and slightly bitter parsley emulsion. This subtle smokiness is at its best in the tender lamb belly with large, mild Brussels sprout leaves, parsley root and smoked butter sauce. The smoke, nutty butter and bitter Brussels sprouts are all elevated by a fantastic glass of pinot noir 2012 from Pro Bono from the central coast of California: a velvety, fresh wine with notes of red berries and mushrooms. The menu is smart and edgy from beginning to end, and Chef Nikolai Køster also has a flair for desserts. “Lemon mousse” with caramel and frozen yoghurt has fresh acidity, while mocha foam with chestnut and salted caramel ice cream is sweet, salty and slightly bitter. Both hit the bull’s-eye with few frills. The service is attentive, impeccable and informal (guests fetch their own cutlery, for example). But the food is served hot and often by a team of servers. Our total indulgence of the palate ends with well-brewed mocha and a reasonable bill of less than 2,000 DKK for two.
If you continue along the quay, so far that the indistinct signage makes you think you made a wrong turn, you will soon find yourself at the epicentre of Finland’s wild flavours. It’s a rather unexpected location for such an extraordinary restaurant experience, a stone’s throw from the moored cruise liners with their giant smorgasbords. At Nokka they make it clear early on that the kitchen adheres exactly to seasonal variations and is dependent on what they receive from small-scale suppliers, both in terms of animals and vegetables. This sets the tone for the two set menus, one of which is vegan. The first courses look confusingly similar. The omnivore’s dish, smoked pike with its roe, has a strangely delicious saltiness under pickled radishes, brightened up by a bowl of tarragon-laced cucumber salad as ice cold as the ocean outside. On the vegan dish the fish has been replaced by pieces of porcini. The pairing of a six-year-old, oak-barrel-aged, cognac-scented and white grenache from Montsant is more interesting than good. But the non-alcoholic pairing is perfectly on point: a lightly spiced sparkling beverage made of black currant leaves meets a small caramelized onion with browned butter and crispy “muesli”. At Nokka they are proud to have their own fisherman, who has provided the pike for the main course, which has been pan-fried with honour and comes with vegetable “cannelloni” and a potato croquette to suck up the creamy and tart sauce. The passion-fruit-flavoured sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is a fresh exception to the wine list that is primarily dominated by the Old World. Though the food is finely nuanced it’s never pretentious in this former warehouse on the harbour. It’s warm and inviting here, between the brick walls, with a full view of the kitchen where the happy cooks have eschewed knitted hats in favour of baseball caps. The staff are in a really good mood when the dining room is filled with tourists from far away, often from Japan and the United States, sitting side by side with jubilant large family gatherings. Over elderflower granite served in the restaurant’s obligatory carved wooden box we discuss how rare it is at a restaurant of this calibre to find the kind of generosity they exhibit in switching out dishes on the fixed menus. The food odyssey is rounded off with riches from “the land of a thousand lakes” in the form of a milk chocolate with gooseberres.
Not much has changed at Chef Jari Vesivalo’s little gourmet temple near the harbour, minimalistically decorated in sober shades. As on previous visits, the bread is placed on the table to rise while the initial imaginative snacks appear at a rapid pace: small crackers hidden in pine boughs, a lettuce leaf from Lindroth Nursery with a razor shell clam, and a small roll of finely sliced potatoes hiding under a piece of herring. But not until we get to the brilliant chicken trilogy does the kitchen really start to show off. A hard ball conceals almost-liquid chicken liver ingeniously flavoured with sweet-sour blueberries, served with a heart-warming umami-tinged broth made from the bones and sheer chips of chicken skin. So beautiful! Soon it’s time for the sweet porridge of emmer, which has become something of a signature dish at Olo. “This is a memory from my childhood in north-eastern Finland,” says Vesivalo, presenting it himself at the table. The little plate of creamy porridge floats on a mild mushroom broth and is topped with flakes of dried venison heart and malt crisp. It’s a perfect composition and in some ways the culmination of the tasting menu – the only option here – even though we are far from halfway through it yet. After a fun serving of the bread that has been baked in the kitchen, with a big pat of country butter that we almost lick off the paper, and a rustic stewed lamb with celeriac foam to dip it into on the side, it’s as if the kitchen changes its stripes. We get a young fresh riesling from Fritz Haag with a mosaic of zander blanketed in gelée and resting on horseradish cream; it’s a dish that in spite of the fried fish scales feels fastidious and more like classic fine dining. The king crab with Carelian caviar and fennel is along the same lines, as is a tender lamb tartare adorned with rose petals. Everything is skilfully prepared and on the mark, but we lack some of the cocky self-assurance that characterized the initial dishes. The cod in a smooth sauce characterized by brown butter notes even comes with such classic eye candy as a nest of fried potatoes. A recommended glass of wine made from the odd pelaverga grape from Burlotto feels a bit too rustic in this context. But perhaps we only have ourselves to blame for not choosing the much more expensive pairings of prestigious wines. But enough with the whining, because when our lively waitress starts bringing in the sweets, it immediately puts us in a good mood again. A mouth-watering sorrel sorbet with apple, vinegar and white chocolate is followed by a sweet-sour combo of lemon verbena, apple and small bits of salt liquorice. We can only surrender, and leave with the lovely memory of the porridge preserved deep in our hearts.
Alex Cabino, the sushi master and the mastermind behind the once prestigious sushi restaurants bearing his name (Alex Sushi), has jumped ship. He is finally free from the confines of the California maki and tempura regimen that has plagued Oslo's “raw fish in the Japanese style” restaurants for the last decade. With new and exciting quality-driven places like Babylon Surøl/Sushi and Restaurant Fangst revitalizing the sushi scene, it is about time Chef Cabino upped his game. Joined by his new Padawan, Mark Jayson Subia, Alex is back in the ring, and he has the right setting to perform in, as this restaurant has a lot of theatrics. The door opens at the exact time of your booking, and the front of house staff declares that they won’t open it again until the show, sorry, the dinner is over. It does indeed feel like a pre-paid performance, with tickets bought in advance, and if you don’t pre-order (and pre-pay) for any of the suggested drink menus, you’ll get a phone call recommending that you pre-order your wine – for the sake of your experience. All this machinery aside, the food Alex and Mark prepare in front of you is magical. It is a tour de force in terms of quality, where each pearl of seafood is followed by another. We start off with Norwegian oysters, elegantly matched with a sparkling wine from Nyetimber in West Sussex, England. The first part of the meal arrives – turbot sashimi followed by shellfish soup – and then the nigiri servings start. This is Alex’s strength – preparing every little bite of nigiri with such ease and routine, just as he has trained most of Norway’s sushi chefs over the past 20 years. We sample halibut, rose fish, some amazingly tasty Norwegian scallops and mouthwatering Scottish lobster, salmon toro, tuna, raw shrimps and salmon caviar. The most delightful morsels are a piece of Kamchatka crab and a serving of smoked eel with ginger. The nigiri round concludes with raw Minke whale and slightly grilled pieces of grade A5 Wagyu beef. Some of the presentations are a bit sloppy, but the quality of each bite is worthy of praise. As Chef Alex has a rather quiet persona, the sommelier and restaurant manager Aleksander Iversen does most of the presenting. He also naturally pours the wines this evening, and even if the price of the set wine menu surpasses the price of the food, it is a generous pairing, offering very good value for money. We are treated to gems like Krug Grande Cuvée and de Montille’s Volnay 1er Cru in a 2013 Les Taillepieds, along with Norwegian-made cider from the excellent producer Ulvik Frukt & Cideri. The non-alcoholic pairings, on the other hand, lack a bit of focus. With the serving of freshly tapped birch sap as the only highlight, the package is overpriced and not fully thought out. The difference between the sister establishment, Sabi Omakase in Stavanger, is that Omakase by Alex Cabiao lacks an X factor. This restaurant feels less exciting than Alex’s previous apprenticeship, Roger Asakil Joya’s more avant-garde and highly decorated version. But while Roger rules the west coast of Norway, we can only sit back and enjoy Chef Alex’s show.
The national treasure in the Opera House lives on, trying to find the right balance between past and present, formal and relaxed. This is clearly illustrated in the beautiful fin de siècle interior by the architect trio Claesson Koivisto Rune, whose large angled brass screens, displayed all around, reflect Oscar Björck’s famous frescoed ceilings. Elegant frivolities are also plentiful at the table, not least in the lightly gracious service. In a time where downshifting to casual dining has become the norm, we are thankful that the Main Dining Room stubbornly protects classic restaurant culture. The champagne trolley, one of several magnificent carriages that roll up during the evening, tempts with around ten treats by the glass – like Initial, the first champagne of the evening, from cult producer Jacques Selosse, which was disgorged in January 2016. The house champagne by André Jacquard would make anyone happy. The wine selection here is consistently among the best in Sweden. Restaurateur Carl Frosterud’s whole performance actually outshines by a broad margin that which comes from the kitchen. The parade of amuse-bouches has difficulty engaging us, though the best is a baked egg from Sanda farm in a mushroom cream broken by herb oil and topped with tarragon-rolled matchstick fries – a nice contrast in textures. A lot of greenery pops up here and there in the meal and gets in the way. Coriander takes command over a Belon oyster served in the shell with a cucumber granita. And a seared scallop is totally out of sync with the ferocious chervil oil, which kills the heap of Périgord truffles on top. The menus, which change monthly, are structured modularly. A number of classic main ingredients in traditional preparations are varied with familiar sides and sauces and the always reliable and delicious oyster beurre blanc can elevate any sea creature whatsoever, especially in the company of a hefty scoop of Oscietra caviar, as on the pan-fried Atlantic cod. The foie gras is perfectly seared and challenging in the odd company of liquorice root, lingonberry and almond cream. Pigeon from Bresse is a beloved classic in Catenacci’s kitchen and the delicately seared bird bleeds nicely into its green pepper sauce with pickled elderberry capers. The skillets are at full capacity in the kitchen and the fifth pan-fried item in a row is beef tenderloin, served with its marrow and a composition of onions. The cheese dish is real rock ’n’ roll: a Roquefort with Jerusalem artichoke foam, caramelised hazelnuts and maple syrup, bright, full flavours in fine balance. Getting to roast the marshmallows at the table yourself is now a foregone conclusion here, as is the thimble-full of the house’s “own” calvados, Coeur de Lion.
In the early 90s fine dining in Oslo was a stuffy affair, with predictable menus and besuited waiters. Palace Grill changed all that when it opened in 1994. You got great cooking with high-end ingredients, but it was all presented in a way that was both rebellious and delicious. The “rockekokk” – the “rock and roll chef” – was born. The great food combined with the no-booking policy soon meant that queues of diners formed, with a separate line of young chefs wanting a chance to work in the kitchen. Most of Norway’s celebrity chefs have had a stint at Palace Grill. Twenty-three years on, a lot has changed in the restaurant world, while at Palace Grill much has stayed the same – from the brown decor and the empty bottles on the wall to the background rock music and the mischievous attitude. But that doesn’t mean Palace Grill is outdated: Rock and roll will never die. As we’re seated, our glasses are filled with a Pouilly Fumé, “Triptyque” from Alain Cailbourdin. The compulsory ten-course set menu kicks off with a soup of halibut, shore crabs and miso, a punchy taste of the sea. Crispy chicken skin with lamb tartare and shiso give a quick jab of umami. The meal progresses through a bountiful selection of seafood and shellfish, featuring scallops, langoustines, oysters, and skate wings. A dish of mussels with bone marrow is delicious, in which the marrow offers an interesting contrast to the briny mussels, both in flavour and texture. But the high point of the meal is the pan-fried crispy-skinned mackerel with browned butter, white asparagus and hollandaise. On first tasting the buttery mackerel, one expects the composition to be too rich, but a beautifully balanced hollandaise with plenty of acidity counters the fat, and the toasted quinoa adds crunch. The volume is turned all the way up for this classic rock anthem of a dish, but the execution is of such a high standard that every note is clear. A subsequent dish of pan-fried duck breast with foie gras is classic French cooking at its best, and the rich sauce makes us want to lick the plate clean. The dessert is a fun and delicious interpretation of the chocolate-covered popsicles from childhood. The wines are traditional and of a high standard, with an emphasis on France and Spain. Service is professional, but with a rowdy attitude that only sometimes seems feigned. They want you to leave gorged and inebriated at Palace Grill. After all, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
Where to go for the ultimate smørrebrød? The answer can only be Palægade. The prolific team behind formel B brought in Simon Olesen and Karina Pedersen from the classic smørrebrød establishment Schønnemann, and together they have given rise to a fantastic mix of classics and innovative versions of smørrebrød. This is not only evident on the plates, but also among the clientele of all ages and the decor, which features classic furniture and late modern touches in a well-lit, dark brown room. The spirit of service permeates every iota of the restaurant. Palægade is begotten of the preeminent smørrebrød purveyors of yore, delivering proper yet unpretentious service. The guests are a good mix of smørrebrød connoisseurs, businesspeople, young couples, celebrities and designer types, all swooping in quickly to relieve vacant tables of their empty chairs. The unfiltered beer in our glasses and the many interesting aquavit choices on the menu are merely the opening act for the gastronomic crown jewel of Denmark: the smørrebrød. We order a variety of toppings for our open-faced sandwiches, including a classic breaded plaice fillet with mayonnaise and shrimp, and an innovative signature dish with tartare of lobster, pickled pearl onions and a breaded poached egg. All the ingredients are of the finest quality and everything is homemade. Each of these dishes make a deep impression in our culinary memory as being perfectly fresh, soft, sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy. Once again we choose two different slices: a by-the-book chicken salad with crisp bacon and toasted wheat bread, and a re-interpreted tartare with semidried slices of tomato on dark rye bread with pepper mayo. The tartare is hand-chopped, and we enjoy the excellent contrast from the pepper and solid umami from the tomato. It’s a fitting choice for those looking for something new, while the chicken salad once again underscores this immortal classic’s permanent status in the pantheon of smørrebrød; its creamy delectability and crisp bite make it one of the most pleasing options on the menu. Yet another iconic representative of Danish lunch classics is the potato smørrebrød: it may well be the most proletarian of them all, served here with slices of Skagen ham and ramson mayo. Should your hunger remain insatiable, you can conclude the meal with a Danish layer cake or a rich, crunchy biscuit cake with a wisely innovative and refreshing orange twist. Good French press coffee rounds out our lunch. Palægade is the Parnassus of classic and innovative smørrebrød – and what’s more, it’s pleasantly cosy.
Step down into Pjoltergeist on any given day and you’ll find a bustling little bar filled with everything from tattooed youngsters to suit-clad businessmen. There’s hip-hop on the stereo and staff in hooded sweatshirts or ironic printed t-shirts, serving the best wines known to humanity. This is not your average fine dining establishment. The name “Pjoltergeist” is derived from the classic Norwegian name for a drink of brandy or whiskey and soda (a “pjolter”) but wine takes centre stage here. We’re looking for something orange to drink and the friendly but busy waiter suggests a South African bottle of Testalonga Sweet Cheeks to go with our order of “zuper pakki” – a seven course set menu, which is compulsory if you’ve booked a table. The food is an eclectic mix of Icelandic, Korean, Japanese, classic European and Mexican. To start with we share a bowl of puffed pork rinds with smoky bacon mayonnaise. It’s followed by the best dish of the evening, the house classic of takoyaki, fried balls of octopus in batter, with spring onions and mayonnaise. A dish of battered cod tongues with chive mayonnaise and seaweed is crunchy, juicy and delicious. The next course is white asparagus with hollandaise and fried grasshoppers brought back from a recent trip to Mexico. The grasshoppers are crispy and nutty, but the tiny legs get stuck between our teeth and make the insect-eating experience more of a novelty than a pleasure. The service is more laid-back and the presentation less sophisticated than on earlier visits, but Pjoltergeist is still one of the best places in town for great atmosphere, exciting wines and fun food.
Christian Puglisi has perfected his simple idea, rooted in a deep commitment to sustainability and organics, by going to creatively daring new heights. Bringing his inner Italian more clearly to the fore has only resulted in even more delicious fare. The room is still minimalist but filled with a diversity of guests, creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The service is also informal but extremely correct, as we are clearly in the company of purveyors of elite Nordic gastronomy. Vegetables play the leading role here. Many of the first dishes on the experience menu exemplify Relæ’s interpretation of Mies Van der Rohe: less is more. The year’s first radishes with a cod roe cream, perfectly poached Zittauer onion in birch juice with spruce shoots and oil, and large, wonderful mussels in their own jus with ramsons. Fresh baked sourdough bread also arrives at the table, further appeasing our appetites – but this is just the beginning. The menu offers wine pairings, but with excellent guidance from the knowledgeable staff, it’s worth exploring whether bottles could be an option at the same or an even lower price. La Matta is a fresh spumante with low alcohol content and it goes brilliantly with many of the first dishes, including the memorable Limfjord oyster in yoghurt, packed in various green spring shoots and cabbage from Birkemosegård: the bitterness and cream are enhanced by a perfect edge of lemon and juniper berry. The kitchen uses as much as possible from the restaurant’s own farm or other nearby organic producers, but avoids being fanatically Nordic with its embrace of dazzling lemons and olives from warmer lands to the south, as well as an array of techniques and flavours from Italian cuisine. This approach is manifest in the next innovative and alluring dish: rehydrated potato as a kind of cacio e pepe. The potatoes are prepared like the Peruvian Chuño. This makes it possible to cook the potato al dente, and with a little sprinkling of lemon peel. It is the evening’s greatest masterpiece. We have red grapes in our glass from Selva Dolce in Bordighera, and on the recommendation of our waiter we choose to share a single glass of orange wine, “Vej 2010” vintage 2015, as a pairing with the Hindholm Farm pork. The wine has a surprising amount of body and is excellent, while the serving of slightly bland slices of pork with broccoli shoots is the evening’s only mediocre dish. But the all-out flavour returns with the desserts, where the cheese is virtually a cannoli with homemade ricotta, olive and blueberry, laying the groundwork for two inventive desserts. A base of grapefruit with frozen yoghurt ice cream on top of a lemon-mandarin-orange gratiné replicates the wonderful flavour of a classic Danish ice cream on a stick known as the Copenhagen Bar. After freshening us up with acidity, the menu goes umami with a mushroom parfait, glazed mushrooms, chanterelle powder and a caramel of mushroom soy sauce, with crunch from a crispy croissant. On departure, our palates are satiated and satisfied by Relæ’s diverse simplicity.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.