Return to Glory; Relæ, Copenhagen

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The biggest highlight of my trip to Copenhagen last September was dinner at Relæ, it was my first introduction to new Nordic cooking and I can honestly say that I was pretty much blown away by it all. So much so that I actually liked it more than my subsequent visit to Noma the following day. So upon going back to Copenhagen this time, I was very keen to go back to Relæ, curious to see if they’ve managed to maintain the high standard.

In a nutshell, yes they have. We did have a few issues service-wise with them (but let’s put that down to being busy) and we were left waiting an awfully long time for our taxi (with a driver who gave us his life story and mentioned that his brother-in-law was a cock – he meant cook). But when it comes to food, it was just as sensational as on the previous visit and I agree with Renè Redzepi’s statement to us last September that he thinks that Relæ are producing some of the most exciting food in all of Scandinavia;

Opening the cutlery drawer on the table, we pulled out the menu to see what delights awaited us. I did momentarily ponder going for the vegetarian menu but as always, the carnivore in me won over – Especially when I read the menu! So, menu choice decided, we opted for a glass of bubbly and a snack whilst we sat back and waited to be fed. And what a snack it was! Simply named Herbs and pistachio, an immaculate finger-held bouquet of edible herbs and flowers, with a smattering of pistachio paste smeared somewhere inside, held together with a ribbon of chard was presented to us and like something akin to Japanese cuisine where it’s almost too pretty to eat. And whilst it looked fantastic, it tasted even better. The freshness of the herbs and flowers with the deep savouriness of the pistachio paste (which also provided a textural crunch).. Just sensational.

Start: Herbs and pistachio Start detail: Herbs and pistachio Start detail: Herbs and pistachio Start: Herbs and pistachio

Then, they brought out the bread, which could be your nemesis should you eat at Relæ – Mainly because not only is the bread so utterly delicious (I think it’s better than Hedone and it’s no secret how much I love the bread there), but the oil in which you get to dip it in is so fruity and delicious. You can’t stop yourself eating the bread because it’s so nice but you eat too much at your own peril – We had 4 more courses to eat!

Bread and oil bread detail: bread detail: bread and oil

Kicking things off was a plate of Cooked and burnt cabbage, raw beef (and green strawberries). Essentially beef carpaccio with some charred and burnt cabbage. Visually, it was quite stunning with the red of the carpaccio contrasting with the brown and green of the cabbage and whilst you may pull a bit of a face at them serving burnt cabbage, it completely made sense in this dish; it added not only a textural crunch to contrast the sweet, soft carpaccio, but the charred flavour also added immeasurably to the whole dish, it sounds weird but them were like tasty cabbage crisps – with a sour tang coming from the green strawberries. Again, who’d have thunk burnt cabbage would be so tasty?

Cooked and burnt cabbage, raw beef detail: Cooked and burnt cabbage, raw beef detail: Cooked and burnt cabbage, raw beef detail: Cooked and burnt cabbage, raw beef

If I thought that first dish was good, I was blown away by technique and process in the next dish of Sunflower seeds, kornly and pine. A serving of something which wasn’t too dissimilar to oat porridge in appearance topped with young pines and shaved pecorino (I think) was presented to us. Then they told us how the sunflower seeds were cooked in a pressure cooker, before being added to a beurre blanc and plated up – topped with pecorino and young pine shoots. The result is something sharp from the beurre blanc (with a hint of pecorino) and the sunflower seeds themselves were so soft – you could be mistaken for eating pine nuts because they were so rich. I was just amazed that the chefs even thought about doing things like cooking sunflower seeds in a pressure cooker, let alone combine it with such delicious things like a beurre blanc. This was the equivalent to my last visit when I ate the celeriac taco with a shaved egg yolk, but in no way any less delicious. This was the kind of dish that to me, is very new Nordic and so very exciting – And perfectly exemplified why Renè Redzepi proclaimed Relæ to be cooking some of the most exciting food in all of Scandinavia.

Sunflower seeds, kornly and pine detail: Sunflower seeds, kornly and pine

Next up was pork from Hindshölm, nettles and cucumber; a thick tranche of piggy – served pink to the point where less confident people would send it back – with a creamy coloured layer of enticing fat on the outside, was served with some ribbons of cucumber and a deep green sauce from the nettles. The sauce was quite tart and it made M’s face pucker a bit, but it was right up my alley. I mean, pickled cucumber with some of the most tender, juicy and tastiest pork I’ve eaten in a long time. It’s funny how when you eat food that actually tastes like it’s supposed to that you realise just how tasteless some of the mass-produced crap you can buy these days really is. What’s more, it may have been a really thin layer, but the outside skin/crackling was cooked to perfection so whilst we didn’t get a really satisfying deep crunch as when you bite into crackling, it was enough on the outside of this piece of piggy to not only give you the texture, but the flavour carried right the way through. As for that jewels of fat sandwiched between the crackling and the meat, it was just utterly divine. I mean, it was both soft yet had a bit of texture to it, and the flavour of the pig was deeply encased within it. Relæ may be the only place which has me eulogising about pork fat…

Pork from Hindsholm, nettles and cucumber served pink! detail: Pork from Hindsholm, nettles and cucumber detail: Pork from Hindsholm, nettles and cucumber

Feeling quite full, we decided to share one plate of cheese. I had great memories of the cheese course last time when something like a Jackson Pollack painting of a white liquid with a violent deep green splurge on a plate was served to us. It was no less different this time when a plate of what at first looked like breadcrumbs with a few micro-leaves in it was served to us. It was Blå kornblomst and green herbs and some technique had been applied here – I think it was dehydrated and then grated down over the green herbs. It did however mean having to eat yet more of the delicious bread to go with the cheese so by the end of this plate, we had eaten very well but were seriously about to burst.

Cheese: Blå kornblomst and green herbs Cheese: Blå kornblomst and green herbs

The dessert of Rhubarb, buttermilk and potato got mixed reactions from us all; it was the weakest dish of the night, but I personally wasn’t too offended by it. It looked really fabulous and you could see there was a lot of technique which went into the dish, but I think the flavour combinations didn’t work for everyone.

Rhubarb, buttermilk and potato detail: Rhubarb, buttermilk and potato

So there you go, yet another absolutely stellar meal at Relæ and I would say that it’s one of the best places to eat in Copenhagen. I love the whole concept of the place and they produce some absolutely stellar food. I was really excited to go back to Relæ and it was so good to see that they were every bit as brilliant as my previous visit last September. So if you do ever find yourself in Copenhagen and get a table at Relæ, you’re in for an absolute treat. If I were local, this is the kind of place I’d want to eat in at least once a fortnight. The fact that I’m not a local is prolly good for my wallet and waistline, but you really shouldn’t miss out on trying out Relæ if ever given the chance.

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