With just over a year under its belt, The Balcony is already firmly established as more than a passing fad with delusions of grandeur. We begin a spring evening in March with a glass of champagne blanc de blancs from Henri Mandois and a rain of snacks. The most memorable ones include the caramelly Jerusalem artichoke purée in its own crisp, fried skin, elegantly presented on a platter of fresh Jerusalem artichokes, and a couple of citrusy oysters with Havgus cheese, served on nitrogen-steaming beach stones. The bar is hereby set for the rest of the evening. A portion of eminently fresh lumpfish roe is joined by a salad of red sorrel and beetroot as crudité, gelée and juice, paired with an archetypical Austrian riesling from Stagård, whose crisp acidity and touch of white pepper make it a perfect partner for the menu’s first course. The flame-grilled halibut of the subsequent course is outshined by its own garnish, which is so brilliant in all its simplicity that it could carry the dish all by itself: sweet, raw Greenlandic shrimp on one side, poached leek from Funen with dill and pickling brine gelée on the other, and a rich fish fumet with dill oil and light liquorice notes, uplifted by a floral vino bianco from Malvirà in Piedmont. The choice of the wine pairings has proven to be a good decision. The wines are sublimely paired and the service is top-notch with Restaurant Manager Kasper Winther at the controls. His deep experience, cultivated through many years at Molskroen and Falsled Kro, is palpable and remarkable. The parade of delectable flavours continues with a fermented cabbage packet with umami-rich mushroom soy sauce, browned butter with hazelnuts, diced apple and a bright green, slightly acidic purée of Granny Smith apple. This vegetarian dish is nicely supported by a delicate orange sauvignon blanc from La Grange aux Belles, Anjou. The ambition is sky-high, and with the skilled Peter Steen Hansen and Anders Jensen in the kitchen at the thermomixer, tweezers and burners, the gourmet quality shines through clearly and precisely. Having enjoyed flawlessly executed luxury from beginning to end, our elation following an evening at The Balcony in Odense comes as no surprise.
For more than 100 years, the crisp white palace in Skodsborg by the sea has housed a wellness centre for the upper class and delicate artistic souls seeking to uplift their wellbeing. With last year’s opening of a new gourmet restaurant named after Head Chef Erik Kroun, the spa hotel’s proud traditions have undergone a striking gastronomic overhaul. We sense this immediately as we tread inside on the soft carpet of the elegantly decorated pavilion with just seven tables and a fabulous view over the waters of Øresund. We are escorted to our seats by the evening’s competent waiter duo, headed by Restaurant Manager Martin Troelsen, who provides superb service – equal parts responsive, knowledgeable and highly attentive. The evening opens with Billecart-Salmon bubbling on our palates, and the Bee Gees in our ears, as we admire the magnificent wooden chandeliers hovering high above our heads. We choose the full menu, whose tongue-in-cheek Danish name is akin to “full blast”. First comes the obligatory salvo of starters. The last one, an onion soup that is to die for, has so much umami and intense poultry flavour that it almost runs circles around the first course, a small and round beauty in New Nordic robes: cured pollock topped with crisp slices of black radish and small dabs of lemon and dill on top. The lemon encroaches on the delicate richness of the fish, amplifying the taste of the sea. A little sprinkling of toasted oats adds complexity with delicious dry firmness, while a young, flinty chablis perfectly flanks the dish’s discrete notes with citrus aroma and succulent acidity. A truly elegant opening. Kroun’s tribute to Danish classics – a theme throughout the evening – continues with the next dish. A freshly caught female lumpfish arrives at the table, opened wide to reveal the year’s first mild, saltwatery lumpfish roe, arranged directly from the fish onto potato blinis with homemade crème fraîche, chopped red onion and chives: an ode to simplicity and sublime ingredients. White Burgundy from Leflaive is just about to out-manoeuvre the taste of the delicate roe, but the butter-fried blini grabs hold of the wine’s buttery notes at the last moment, saving the day for a perfect landing. The quality of the wine pairing menu with the food is outstanding throughout the evening, so we decide to stick with the pairings rather than venturing on our own through the otherwise extensive and impressive wine list. Another example is a mineral Chassange-Montrachet with smoked butter in the nose, served with a smoked scallop in beurre blanc with Baerii caviar: a perfect pairing with yet another creamy and refined dish, accentuating Kroun’s seasonal hotel cuisine as one of Greater Copenhagen’s leading culinary comfort zones. It’s cuisine that never goes against the grain, liberated from technical grandstanding and strict dogma; in almost Italian-like fashion, it pays homage to simplicity and delicious flavour with sublime ingredients, while delivering with great precision. The Restaurant By Kroun is not overwhelmingly avant-garde, but it is top-class neoclassical retro fare.
With wide balconies stretching up the multi-storey facade, Vejle’s Hotel Munkebjerg most of all resembles an Austrian guesthouse where you could expect watered-down bier vom fass and Wiener Schnitzel the size of manhole covers, but make no mistake: the hotel’s ambitious Tree Top restaurant is headed by Columbian-born Bryan Francisco – crowned by White Guide as the 2016-17 Rising Star – with his acclaimed fusion cuisine, where distinct Asian flavours and techniques meet European classics. A well-established tradition at Tree Top is washing down the first wave of snacks under the vaulted ceilings of the wine cellar with Munkebjerg’s house champagne from Charles Gardet. The highlight of this opening heat is the puffed rice crisps with saffron dust, served on a bonsai tree and accompanied by bakskuld mayo – a serving whose eclectic components and fine balance of richness, fish, smoke, crunch and saffron aroma exemplify Francisco’s crossover philosophy. Upon arrival at the restaurant’s dining room, we are delighted by the freshness of the air and the peaceful, almost recording-studio-like calm that only occasionally is interrupted by a couple of crackling chirps from the flames of the open fireplace in the corner. We are served throughout the evening by a team of five waiters who take turns presenting the drinks and food in an informative and welcoming, but predominantly formal tone. The strongest dishes of the evening are the maritime and innovative servings rooted in fusion cuisine. A slider on a corn flour bun filled with succulent pulled duck and kimchi is a superb manifestation of respect for ingredients where less is more. The mini-burger is accompanied by a young, dry Mosel riesling from Weingut Schmitges; the pairing is a delicate reminder that riesling and fermented foods dance in unison like Fred and Ginger. The fusion spectacle continues with raw tuna, marinated in various citrus juices, with yuzu, sesame and freshly picked coriander: a transparent ceviche-inspired dish where each element comes through clearly on its own, yet accentuates and supports each other. We make a brief descent to Earth with a cut of beef tenderloin wrapped in various beetroot textures, accompanied by a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a little age. It is an intensely violet-coloured dish, and although the earthy tone of the beetroot variations mesh nicely with the wine’s oaked notes and the crisp Maillard symphony of the beef, the innovation altimeter falls to more ordinary heights here. But, overall, Tree Top impresses.
Do you know what uoksas means? If not, you may initially find the restaurant confusing. Lights dimmed, night and day. Red brick walls accentuated with plenty of tree branches, moss, and other organics. Bird nest lamps in the ceiling. But when you find out that uoksasis the Lithuanian word for burrow, everything falls into place. While it stands above the ground, it’s a plenty convincing place to settle down andeye the proceedings in the open kitchen. The chef welcomes the guests to his den with chunky pulled beef tartar served on a potato chip, sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts and freckled with creamed pumpkin. The welcome bite combines with the surroundings to activate your imagination. This is an earthy bite indeed...it hints at rich and fertile soil. Uoksas isnot a carnivore’s abode. Ingredients other than meat are in preponderance. The autumn cucumber with pureed peasand onion gel is a juicy dish, where various techniques are used to present the clear and natural flavour of each ingredient to its best advantage. We are surprised by the trout: the fish displays neither the pinkish shade of farmed trout nor the grey of wild fish. Itis milky white! Smoked, then poached in cow’s milk, the fish tastes half of trout, half of flounder. Coffee is accompanied by the local digestif Suktinis – a mead brewed of grain, honey, andwater distilled into strong liquor. Uoksas is a stylish, natural, rustic streetside den, where excellent cooking brings out the clean flavours of simple ingredients in a way fit for a feast.
The concept at Vendia brewery’s gourmet restaurant shifts annually. This year the restaurant marks its ten-year anniversary with a series of greatest hits from the hand of Chef Kristian Rise. Our snacks begin with an item from the 2014 menu, whose theme was Danish smørrebrød. The most interesting snack is the “egg sandwich” – Vendia's new interpretation – comprised of thin slices of scallop and avocado, brushed with nut oil and topped with caviar. It’s a far cry from the traditional serving, but the fine salty sea notes are elegantly supported by the richness of the dish, while the combination of flavours and textures is spot-on. The first course is brown crab under a thin layer of cauliflower panna cotta, while the edges of the plate are adorned with a colourful array of cauliflower crudité, green cabbage leaves and small romanesco bouquets. The flavours are nicely balanced between the crab and the slightly bittersweet cabbage, but the latter rather overwhelms the smaller portion of crab. The kitchen’s creations are all exacting in precision and thoroughly aesthetic, showing technical expertise in preparation and seasoning, while the service upholds an equally high standard of professionalism. Each dish is accompanied by a short explanation of the idea and source, and the wines are presented with well-chosen and precise words. One of the evening’s highlights, dubbed “infantile”, is a collection of baby ingredients. Miniature carrots and baby corn shoot up from the base of the dish, which is comprised of carrot purée, barely warm langoustine and roe of lumpfish, herring and vendace. A multitude of interesting textures entertain the palate: the soft bite of langoustine, the effervescent roe and the crisp, light crunch of the baby vegetables. A rich lobster sauce gives the dish excellent depth to go along with the immature ingredients. A German riesling trocken in our glasses has the residual sweetness needed to embrace the langoustine and carrots, and its fresh acidity exquisitely brings the flavours together. The gourmet restaurant, which is only a small part of the brewery’s facility, is housed in a small room without windows. Although the ethanol fireplace lights the place up and jazz plays in the background, the surroundings lack the aesthetic details to keep up with the high level of the kitchen and service staff. After ten years at the top of northern Jutland gastronomy, Kristian Rise’s razor-sharp cuisine shows no signs of fatigue.
This is among the first lacto-vegetarian restaurants in Denmark, and it is rare to see a top-level restaurant that does not serve meat or eggs. Sound boring or self-righteous? Well, not when a master of interpretation and restaurant entrepreneurship such as Henrik Yde is behind the venture. Much as his Kiin Kiin took Thai street food to gastronomic heights more than a decade ago, Yde has set up shop in the new Langelinie district with plans of doing the same for vegetarian fare. Veve is housed in a raw but inviting room with soft chairs. It’s a thoroughly classic serving style with new creations in vegetarian cuisine, making guests feel that they are amongst the upper echelons of gastronomic excellence. Both the kitchen and the floor are staffed with competent and experienced professionals, but this is not necessarily evident in the prices, which are rock bottom considering the restaurant’s level. Yde is known for his creative snacks, a reputation he solidifies at Veve. We are treated to wonderful onion skin chips, vegetarian “meringue” with chickpea/soybean water, and nutty balls filled with lemongrass cream that taste like a crispy bite of Asia. Four dishes stand out: the Waldorf salad is an elegant crossover between Danish, Asian and American. Crisp flakes of Danish apples, sugar-baked walnuts and celery are topped with a sharp and mild sweet and sour chilli sauce, apple granité, crème fraîche, apples and celery. A blissful pairing of Peter Lauer’s riesling from Saar in our glasses touches on the same apple notes. Salt-baked celeriac is fashionably carved at the table and is perfectly al dente with uninhibited loads of herb butter: a fantastic dish full of salt and herbs. The aroma of Provence succeeds the celeriac, as the kitchen evokes magical tomato intensity from a baked tomato perforated with rosemary and completed by a bold glass of rojal from Bernabé. The wine list is generally more narrative than dogmatic, with many excellent pairings, including the pinot noir served with mushroom soup, which delivers a full blast of umami to mark the meal’s turning point. After that, diners are served a soft and pleasant applesauce with cream and crisp topping, which leads to the final act, featuring amusing petits fours resembling spices with a good, fruity coffee. We leave satiated, both in body and soul. The common thread at Veve is vegetable-based cuisine without fanatic devotion to any one corner of the globe, putting Yde once again at the trendsetting forefront. Veve heralds a fascinating new green era in Danish gastronomy.
Villa Vest is exactly where it always has been: right on the edge of the North Sea with a view that is equal parts heavens and sea. Few places does one feel so close to the sea as when sitting in the bright restaurant and taking in the undisturbed, endless expanse stretching to the horizon. As the sun shines through the windows, the first snacks land on our table. Among these are a dried, razor-thin and crispy cabbage leaf that crunches between the teeth and serves as a resting spot for dollops of acidic herb mayo, and slices of dried lamb from owner Kim Møller-Kjær’s own herd. Symphonic mouthfuls delight with the sweetness of the cabbage, acidity of the mayo and umami from the lamb. The snacks are followed by an appetiser with slices of white asparagus resting in the juices of a sourdough, providing a distinctively complex acidity and depth from the grain. The asparagus cuts through the dish as a crunchy and fresh contrast, while rosehip oil delivers faint aromatic nuances. The menu changes according to the seasonal ingredients in supply; on this visit, oysters are part of the starter. The plate is adorned with a circular blanched leaf of pointed cabbage, brushed with a parsley paste in an attractive green colour scheme. Hiding beneath the leaf is an oyster mayo, gooseberry compote and fine bites of grilled oysters. It’s an excellent, well-balanced dish, where the mayo and the freshness of gooseberries buttress the consistency and fresh sea flavour of the oysters. The cabbage leaf has the right texture to give the dish fullness and character, while a dashi-inspired cabbage juice with seaweed adds additional deep and complementary taste notes. The dish is accompanied by an eminent oyster wine made from the German gutedel grape, whose sturdy acidity and distinctive minerality mesh pleasantly with the light metallic notes of the oyster. Kim Møller-Kjær has consistently chosen good, harmonious wines for the pairings, and he masters the role of restaurant host with effortless elegance. He pays a visit to every table throughout the evening, reciting anecdotes with his warm, infectious humour, which permeates the atmosphere of the room. The main course is a slow-grilled pork breast with variations of beetroot. The pickled beet has a penetrating acidity that would be too biting on its own, but in combination with the rich and fatty pork it finds a nice balance. The pork also comes from Møller-Kjær’s own herd, taking the trend of local ingredients to a new level with an owner who brings his own animals to work. With a kitchen that presents subtle innovation featuring Northern Jutlandic ingredients, the villa by the sea is in top form from the very start of the season.
The Vincents has reached an iconic status in Latvia. You’d be hard pressed to find a Riga local who has never been to this 25-year-old restaurant. And even those who haven’t would hardly dare to admit it. Getting caught in a lie is easy, though, since nothing but details have changed over time. Say, the collection of pictures of famous visitors is taking ever more space on the wall. Some of the elements of the interior design get refreshers... A visitor will be quick to notice that the servers, dressed in all black, do their work on the background, nearly imperceptibly. This is done on purpose to let the star of the show - the food - shine brighter. Introducing the goods starts off low-key, too. Meat cuts and fish are rolled upon a special side table. Next up, a glass-lidded boxof truffles. The clients can personally choose their food and decide whether and how much truffle to have grated on their dishes. If the client doesn't like this old-school system, the alternative is its opposite - a degustation menu, where each new course is revealed at the moment of serving. This menu surprises with special effects, such as a dish served inside an ice ball. The ice ispartially melted with a blowtorch on the table to allow access to the food. The biggest recent change to take place at the Vincents was granting the wines equal status with the food. The manager, Raimonds Tomsons, is a winner of the European sommelier championship himself. The drinks selection for the tasting menu features only rare wines, starting from the house champagne. Other drinks donot pretend to compete with the wines. Only the acoustics leave something tobe desired and some of the interesting information and perhaps even the enjoyment can get lost in the din. But this provides a good reason tocome back to the Vincents in a while. To see what itis like to change while remaining unchanged.
This austere little locale houses some of Sweden’s most defiant cooking. Both the flavours and the colours of the dishes tend toward the earthy, doing full justice to natural wines. It is easy to be impressed by the many uncompromising experiences, like a dish where topside, from a cow from Bjällansås farm, plays the main role. Under the thin raw meat lies a delicious blend of ramson cream with chips made from maple peas and the crunch of hazelnut. Eaten all together, it’s a funky flavour-enhancer in which the herb cream and nuttiness meet iron, fleshy notes. The wine, a juicy, raspberry-ish nerello mascalese from Vino di Anna on Etna, grows in the experience along with the topside. The most attractive dish, however, is a plate with Jerusalem artichoke cream flavoured with smoky notes of sugar-salted char roe on which beautiful strips of thick and pickled green rhubarb make a fanciful, impressionistic effect. An elegant flavour combo with acidity, smokiness and a deep creamy taste. A pinot gris from Pierre Frick in Alsace lived up to the dish’s acidity. The celeriac dish with cultivated mushrooms from Torna Hällestad in Skåne is no beauty, with its snake-like dumplings of celery cream winding around the pale mushrooms. But the taste – packed with maximum umami – makes us forgive the transgression. The reddish-black, slow-baked beet has been grilled with a birch sap glaze and plated on a grey dish with an airy hollandaise that’s flavoured with woodruff vinegar and dusted with powders made from beef brisket and beets. It is stylish and surprising with fatty, herby, earthy flavours that take flight with help from the wine, a cabernet franc Les Tailles from Jean-Christophe Garnier. The grilled, red pointed cabbage is an odd beauty. It covers pieces of thinly sliced lamb from Ällmora farm with naked barley and smoked mayonnaise. The meatiness and the bitter notes work well with a syrah from Saint Joseph in Rhône. It’s nice to fall into a dialogue about the dishes with all the knowledgeable people in the dining room – and they impart their passionate knowledge more than happily.
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.