Eating in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen many of the restaurants that are of a more traditional style are open only at lunch time whilst many of the more modern restaurants are open only in the evening. We pre-booked lunch at Amalie  http://restaurantamalie.dk/ in the fashionable Amaliegarde 11 Street. It was agood job that we’d booked – the place was packed. Amalie is in the quarter where the embassies are to be found and Royal Palace guards in traditional blue uniforms with bearskin hats, patrol.

Amalie is a small, intimate restaurant with panelled walls, crisp linen and an old pine dresser near the entrance crowded with dozens of bottles of schnapps. There were delicate, tall stemmed shot glasses of Schnapps and large glasses of dark beer on every table, it was snowing outside and people were clearly settled in for a long lunch. We opted for Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris by the glass and the set menu. Herrings with rough brown bread, capers and onions was followed by gravadlax with honey treacle, then grilled plaice, eggs in curried mayonnaise, soft white bread, creamy butter and after that came pork with sweated onions and cucumber pickle and finally three cheeses with marinated walnuts. The traditional fare here was thoroughly enjoyable, service was friendly and the place had a convivial atmosphere.

In the evening we took a taxi out into a semi industrial zone to Amass. Amass  A converted industrial building, the restaurant is starkly modern, minimalistic and idimly lit. Primal music thumps away in the background, ten chefs can be seen in the open plan kitchen and a similar number of waiters in black jeans and denim shirts marched back and forth around the room. There’s no shortage of testosterone in the atmosphere. We were met at the bottom of the steel steps that led into the restaurant by Kim Sander, one of the managers, who chatted with us before introducing us to Henry, who was from Oxford and was going to “look after us”.

We opted for the six course tasting menu for 595DKK and we bolted onto this a recommended charcuterie plate with duck, chorizo, venison, bacon, lardo, goose rillet, pork blood crisps and fantastic pickled green baby tomatoes. The meats, dried and aged by Amass were good but the first course of beetroot, black pepper and bergamot did nothing for either of us. The beetroot had been de-hydrated and then re-hydrated and had the consistency of toughened licorice and tasted of… well… certainly not of beetroot, which seemed a pity. Bread, made from fourteen day fermented potato, and served with kale butter and caraway was hot, doughy and reminiscent of a tattie scone. I liked the kale butter. A squid course which came next was served with Judas Ear mushroom, watermelon radish, scurvy grass and linseed. A carrot course with a good brown butter sauce, some delicate curd cheese and walnuts, followed. Icelandic braised lamb neck with smoked mussels and parsley was next up and the meal finished with grains with dried berries and mushroom oil. It was a dessert that my partner likened to breakfast cereal with ice cream on top.

We drank a natural Chenin Blanc from Escoda Sanahuja from Conca de Barbera, (425DKK) made by Jon Ramon, which was excellent. The colour of old cider, the wine was dry, full bodied, slightly petillant at the start and had a mouth filling apple flavour with a strong, long finish. A biodynamic red from Jura, Le Jaja du Bon from Jean Francois Greneat was also good. Indigo no.1 Teauben, Liebe and Zeit, Blauen Wildbacher from Stiererland, Austria was interesting but its sweet perfume too intrusive for me. The wine list makes for fascinating reading, the focus is on natural and biodynamic wines and there are many unusual but skilfully chosen wines to be had.

Amass, in addition to its 595DKK menu also offers an extended menu for 795DKK or a “simplicity” three course menu at £650DKK if you opt for 75 day dry-aged beef from Varde Adal or 595DKK if you take the whole roasted monkfish menu. I’d gone to Amass with high expectations: Matt Orlando, who drives the kitchen had been previously at Noma and brings with him an impressive c.v. The food was certainly imaginative and bold but, personally, I just didn’t get flavours that pleased. Amass struck me as very well choreographed, right down to the chefs all chorusing “Yes Chef!”, but just a bit too self-conscious. There has been a lot of thought and effort put into the product but I sensed an underlying stress which is a pity.

I choose the Design Museum  http://designmuseum.dk/en for a lunch because it offered simple classic Danish dishes served in a casual, café environment. The museum itself, by the way, is really good and worth a visit, its in old buildings ranged around a quadrangle off Bredgade 68. My partner opted for mushrooms on toast and I had a smorbrod of fried cod. The fish was great, the batter excellent, the tartare sauce delicious and generous. We drank sparkling mineral water and strong, local beer. The bill was just 235DKK – a veritable bargain.

On our last evening in Copenhagen we went to Kjobenhavn Bistro  http://www.kjobenhavn.dk/ which isn’t in Michelin but is just a few doors down the road from the two Michelin star a,o,c restaurant. And significantly Rasmus Lund Jonasson the chef at Kjobenhavn Bistro used to work in a,o,c. The bistro is small but they have somehow packed in about forty seats. The tiny, open plan kitchen is just about big enough for a chef to swing a herring and there were three guys squeezed into it; two chefs and a washer-up, by my reckoning. The bistro was packed and lively and dominated by cheery, young people. The tables were managed by Jacob and Cecilie; young, very casually dressed and really friendly, they handled the restaurant – I counted thirty four diners – with a seeming effortlessness.

There are three menus on offer at 300DKK, 400DKK and 500DKK or if you find no choice disconcerting then they’ve created an a la carte from the dishes on the set menus so you can pick and mix. The restaurant has been going for three years but in its present format they’ve been trading only for one year. Previously, Jacob told me, they’d tried all day options with breakfast, lunch and everything else, before thinking that it might be better just to focus on one thing: dinner.

I’m not a fan of small, cramped tables and I was immediately irritated by the absence of a down heater over the front door, as it was freezing outside and every time someone came in icy air washed around my feet. I like atmospherically lit restaurants but the place was so dimly lit and the print on the wine list so small, I could barely see what to order. Okay, so that’s the negatives out of the way.

We opted for the 5 course menu and a bottle of Elena Wach “Ludwig” Pinot Noir from the Alto Adige. It was 500DKK and like all Wach’s wines, it was good. The first course was smoked halibut: thin slices with Romanesco, wheat crisps and chilled sauce: delicious. Next up was a tartare of veal with malt crumble and smoked cream cheese: more delciousness. Turbot followed, perfectly cooked, hidden under one large cabbage leaf, in a classic butter sauce with shards of hazelnuts. The cooking showed excellent precision and after the turbot I made an excuse of heading to the loo so that I could stroll past the kitchen. Two guys, one in a woollen hat. No stress and more plates of neatly presented, terrific food leaving the kitchen, whisked, with nonchalance, to the tables by the unflappable Jacob and Cecilie. If I’d had a woollen hat, I’d have taken it off then and there to this team. By now I’d forgotten the door, forgotten how small our table was and had settled back and was enjoying a dinner and service that far exceeded what I had expected. Fried chicken came next, with kale and bacon, it was a plump, ballotine like creation, encased in a wafer thin crumb shell; it was perfectly cooked and lusciously moist. Doing something as simple as fried chicken and elevating it to serious cooking  is no mean feat and after the meal was concluded with pear purée, rosemary oiled meringues and apple sorbet, I was left full of admiration for what such a small team had achieved.

I’d go straight back Kjobenhavn Bistro if it was only a bit closer to home; the prices are keen, the staff are lovely and the cooking is very accomplished. The food guides should take note of this place. For the price, this is a very strong product and next time I’m back in Copenhagen, I’ll be straight back there for dinner.