Copenhagen: Part One

I haven’t posted in a while… time to catch up on a few things…

I occasionally have to travel for work which I don’t really enjoy as much as I used to. I miss Mrs W. and C. terribly when I am away and I hate the BS and boredom that now comes with air travel (especially as travelling anywhere from Belfast usually requires two flights). However there are some compensations. When I have to travel it is an opportunity to indulge myself by sampling more experimental cuisine than normal as I don’t have to accommodate anyone else in my plans.

As soon as I had confirmed my travel dates to Copenhagen I put some thought into what and where I might like to eat. My schedule was an early arrival on Monday and to fly home on the Wednesday afternoon. I had been to Copenhagen previously and I had enjoyed the city which is clean, stylish and cycle friendly. I had also loved the food. From the hot dog stands which are on almost every street corner, marinated herring, smørrebrød and the ubiquitous pastries to the lovely Vietnamese meal I had in Lê Lê. Now that I was returning I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Noma was at the top of my list. This iconic restaurant has come to symbolise all that is exciting about Nordic cuisine. I had read and heard so much about its unique approach that if I could possibly secure a table I was going. I immediately put myself on the waiting list and was delighted when they called to offer a lunch reservation on Wednesday. So with a business dinner with my hosts scheduled on the Tuesday evening I wanted to find somewhere interesting to go for dinner on Monday. I started to research where might be a good option as I wanted to go somewhere interesting but somewhat less extravagant than Noma.

My search led me to verygoodfood. This beautifully written and illustrated blog written by Trine Lai is a love letter to gastronomy in general and the Copenhagen food scene in particular. It is a must read if you are planning a visit and having read some posts I made a reservation at Aamanns Establishment for Monday dinner.

One of the nice features of Copenhagen restaurants is that many of them offer online reservations (Noma and Aamanns Establishment included). This is a great feature for those travelling as tables can be booked at any time of the day or night without having to make expensive phone calls or worry about language (not that this is a problem in Denmark as almost everybody speaks excellent English).

Noma is world famous and booked solid months in advance (bookings are allowed three months ahead so if you can plan that far in advance simply book a table using the online system at midnight three months before you wish to eat and your chances are good….no interminable waiting on the phone required!) If you register on the waiting list there is a good chance you will get a cancellation if you can be flexible with timings.

I arrived into Copenhagen and it was COLD with lots of snow (-10°C as I got off the plane). After sorting myself out at the hotel and a meeting with my business hosts it was soon dinnertime and I walked the sort distance from my hotel (the Scandic Palace Hotel located in Rådhuspladsen which was pleasant but dull in a corporate way) to Aamanns Establishment. The restaurant is unfussy, relaxed and tastefully decorated (image from the Aamanns Establishment website).

The dinner menu offered a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts. For me this is a good sign, I want to eat what the chef thinks is good and in season. One could also choose both starters and/or both desserts to make a 4 or 5 course meal. A nice touch was the wide selection of wine offered by the glass, with a paired choice for each course. This is great for those dining alone as a whole bottle is often too much for one and it is nice to sample a selection of wines. The service was excellent with the waitress happy to patiently translate the Danish menu (she found an English one later) and explain the dishes.

Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so there are no photos of my dishes but Trine has posted an illustrated review which gives a flavour of the food served at Aamanns.

My starter of marinated scallops with brussels sprouts, almonds and a herb cream was a surprising, lovely start to the meal. Brussels sprouts aren’t usually my cup of tea, (the waitress translated them as greens) but in this dish the sprout leaves were charred to give a nice bitterness which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the thinly sliced scallops and the acidity from the orange ceviche style marinade. The toasted almonds and herb cream added a lovely richness to the dish. This was paired with a nice white from Beaune (Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, Fanny Sabre).

My main course of braised ox cheek was always going to be a big hit with me and this did not disappoint. The wonderfully tender ox cheek, served with braised salsify, was melt in the mouth soft and glazed with a moreish sticky jus. However the accompaniments were even better. A savoury trio of onions comprising sticky caramelised onions, crispy onion rings and baby pickled onions gave sharp contrasts of taste. The dish was served on a bed of spelt grain which had a nutty taste and lovely toothsome texture similar to a very al dente risotto but with the bite on the outside of the grain. To compliment the rich beef I was served a pinot noir from Austria (2007, Schloss Halbturn) which had lovely soft rich flavours.

This was very accomplished cooking and I was not alone in my appreciation as I overheard gushing comments in English from two young guys at the next table. We got chatting and it transpired that they were chefs one of whom was en route to a Swedish relocation, the other was working at St John in London (another place I want to try!).

Dessert comprised pear compote with a scoop of chestnut ice cream topped with a chestnut foam which was rich and flavoursome whilst remaining light on the palate. Drinking wine by the glass allowed me to treat myself to a delicious sweet chenin blanc (2006,  Domaine Bablut).

I was full after three courses so I decided against a second desert or cheese and spent the remainder of the evening chatting to the two English chefs (one was called George and quite embarrassingly I cannot recall the name of the other) and the staff. The food was perhaps better than any meal I have eaten in London, innovative and good value at £60 for three courses with some really interesting wine choices  (Copenhagen is a very expensive city so prices should be compared to London).

My appetite had been whetted for Noma… to be continued!

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