My trip to Copenhagen allowed me to sample one of the top New Nordic Institutions in the world, Relae. While I am not a textbook food nerd, my trip to Relae was a great opportunity to understand what exactly is the New Nordic Revolution and why there are such big praises for it. Off the book its approach is the same like every other cuisine. It aims to create food that are fresh, seasonal and simple with the use of local produce.
Relae, in Copenhagen have some serious credentials to its name. This includes claiming the 45th position in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants List and a Michelin star. Walking in, I felt a sense of mystery. This overly casual restaurant was a joy yet I knew that beyond this bare facade is a journey into the unexpected.
As you would expect, the waitstaff was attentive as ever and once my order was placed, Relae presented me with my first appetiser. It was my nemesis, the cucumber. It was shocking to receive nothing but cucumbers and a dip because you can say or do will detract from that the fact that this is a cucumber, served in its most honest state. It ticked all criteria you would expect and a bit more where it packed some serious juiciness and sweetness compared to the supermarket ones.
But the part of this snack which I enjoyed most was its accompaniment of bread sauce salted by the anchovies. Prior to serving, the sauce is aerated to help the sauce stick more easily to the cucumbers. Creamy with a mild saltiness from the anchovy, it complemented the sweet cucumbers well!
Cucumber, w/ Bread, anchovy and cream sauce - aerated
The bread tasted like bread. It has a very yummy savoury crust but that was as far as it got for me. I did not really appreciate it too much. It has been slightly over 4 years now but someone has yet to topple the best bread in Australia from Tetsuyas and in the global food scene, Le Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
The next dish could not have looked any more pure. Seaweed wrapped in a thin slice of celeriac and topped with a slice of black olive before sitting these little “wantons” in the juice of the olives. Refreshing, and crisp but very “plain”. It left my tongue feeling slightly rubbery afterwards. Probably an overdose of olive flavours.
Celeriac, black olives and seaweed
The countries in Europe love for small forage fish is never-ending. After having the Herring at HanTing, I was presented with another fish course by Relae. Slight cured, the Mackerel yet still extremely fresh, it was surprisingly not as fishy as I had expected it to be. More importantly, the pairing with bergamot peel and a neutral cauliflower made it even nicer. Try let the Mackerel linger in your mouth and it was actually quite buttery!
Mackerel, cauliflower and Bergamot.
Course break - Brown and champignon mushroom broth with olive oil.
This course looked almost too pretty to eat. But what was hidden underneath the green pasture was a Danish Kimchee made from fermented Romaine lettuce. Comparing it to the regular Kimchee, it was equally yummy without the spiciness but had a better scent to it! Other than that, there was something unexplainable about the dish that made is special. Maybe its just plain visual pleasure!
Carrots are a must in every slow-cooked stew I make. But the chefs at Relae have decided that this is an understatement of the root vegetable and decided to make the carrot a star on its own. These perfectly roasted carrots looked so bare on the plate. Yet its soft-sweet flesh was wonderful to eat with the vinegary blackcurrant sauce. The contrast of flavours between, sweet, salty and sour made it an addictive pairing. Earlier, the waiter explained that the seaweed on the plate came from Iceland and carried a liquorice taste. Surprisingly, I did not get any peppery-aniseed flavour which is a blessing because I am not the biggest fan of it.
Carrots, söl and blackcurrants
My meat course was Relae’s Organic Chicken cooked sous vide. There is so little on the plate again. Which only means that the execution of every component had to be flawless. True enough, it was. Starting from the sous-vide chicken to the wilted cabbage and ending with a sensational crunch from the fine bits of chopped up chicken skin, it was safe to say that I was thoroughly impressed. I thought that this dish spoke a language which I was familiar with. It packed a load of flavour and everything complimented the chicken. Even the liver bits hidden underneath were to a certain extent a little “creamy”. Amazing.
Sødam Chicken. cabbage and lovage sauce.
With the savoury course done and dusted, it was time for the happy ending. And my anticipation was running at an all time high after that successful meal of sous vide chicken. The first dessert to come was an ice cream. Creamy, extremely milky. In some sense, if you dislike the strong flavours of “cow-y” you might be slightly turned off. But I loved every bit of this creamy delight. The toppings of very gently warned raspberries which accompanied desserts added a surprising touch when it exploded in my mouth upon first contact. Its as though, all the fibres inside the little berry had perished due to the slow heating! The grape seeds was a multi-functional element that not only the whole dessert texture, but a mild nuttiness too.
My last course came and it was a delicious serve of chocolate mouse, with apples and chanterelles mushrooms! Earthy flavours paired with a fruity yet mildly acidic apples were nice. Why no picture? Because I ate it too quickly LOL. I was THAT excited about the dessert course at Relae.
The Scandinavian landscape is rich and fertile but its harsh environment also means that harvest can be limited. To earn Michelin recognition and a spot in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants List is like making gold from lead. An act that is somewhat impossible. However, do not underestimate pure innovation for excellence. When experimenting with simplicity, the outcomes can be extremely rewarding. This is the amazing story of Relae by Christian Puglisi, an ex-alumni of top institutions like Noma and El Bulli. He has created a name for himself beyond his past. But beware, Relae is not for everyone. In fact, most who do not fine dine would consider Relae is an atrocity. Carrots, cucumbers, herring and cauliflower? Why would I pay for that they would think. But for me, it was worth it. The last 4 courses were exceptional.