It’s not often that you find yourself sitting in a restaurant staring at the menu and feeling like you’re proof reading the description for a porno. I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater but I quickly realized that my meal at BROR was going to strip me of more than one type of virginity. With bull’s balls, mackerel sperm, cod’s lips, cod’s cheeks, and all sorts of special sauces it was clear that I was in for what, as with any first time, was bound to either be a delightfully pleasurably undertaking or an awkwardly memorable and unpleasant experience.
BROR, which translates to brother in Danish, is a charming two level restaurant sandwiched into an old building along Sankt Peders Stræde in the heart of Copenhagen’s historic core. BROR was founded by Victor Wågman and Sam Nutter who have a long history of working around the world in top-ranked restaurants. Before founding BROR the two spent time as part of the Noma family as Sous Chefs. If you’re a foodie you may recognize Noma as the Danish restaurant that played a pivotal role in launching the New Nordic movement and which, as of the writing of this post, was named the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Building upon their experiences at Noma, Victor and Sam split off to leave their own mark on the Danish food scene. The result, BROR, is a restaurant that adheres to the core principles of the New Nordic movement – freshness, locally sourced food, seasonal dishes, a special care and focus in crafting the meals, sustainability, innovation, and a deeply Danish sincerity. Yet, lest you assume as I did initially that all New Nordic might blend together, BROR boldly embraces its own special flavor and approach.
The restaurant has a homely charm that is deeply Danish in its humbleness and relaxed hygge (Danish coziness). Despite serving some of the best food in Copenhagen the dress code is casual, the decorations are basic, and the cutlery a mish-mash reminiscent of the plates you’d find at your grandmother’s house. This combination provides a calm elegance and deep warmth which carries over into the food and which lives up to the restaurant’s namesake. Indeed, a meal at BROR not only makes you feel like you’re eating with a sibling, it makes you feel as though you’ve somehow landed at a family meal…except that your crazy aunt’s strange turnip stew is replaced by a beautifully displayed culinary adventure.
The BROR approach focuses on what I call heirloom foods. Which is to say, those cuts and foods which our great grandparents ate but which have fallen out of fashion or been neglected by modern trends in food preparation. With a delicate hand Victor and Sam bring to life plates that rely on meat, fish, vegetables and preparation techniques which make it clear that in neglecting these heirloom foods we’ve done ourselves a great disadvantage.
While not cheap, BROR is surprisingly affordable by Danish standards. The restaurant offers a set four course menu which costs 375 DKK (roughly 70 USD) and includes two starters, a main, and a dessert. This menu changes daily based on seasonal availability and Victor and Sam prefer to keep it a bit of a mystery – they’ll tell you what you’ve got ahead of you if you insist, but prefer you discover each dish as it arrives. That said, they’re flexible in what they offer and can accommodate vegetarians and various food allergies (such as my lactose intolerance) easily without sacrificing flavor or quality. They also offer a very well paired four course wine menu for a not-unreasonable 350 DKK (65 USD). In addition to the fixed four course, they also provide what they call “snacks”. These snacks are where the more exotic foods come into play and where adventurous spirits can satisfy their curiosity. The snacks cost 40 DKK a plate (7 USD). Additionally, you can add several extra courses such as cheese plates or things like beef hearts and marrow for between 50-75 DKK a plate (9-14 USD).
I loved the four course meal but was definitely the most excited by the snacks which are where BROR’s dedication to heirloom foods really shines. If your budget mandates that you choose between wine or snacks, skip the wine and opt for three or four of the snack plates instead. But, enough generalities – let’s talk foodie specifics.
As our first snack arrived it looked innocent enough. Greens. Fish. Berries. However, as our host explained the meal I quickly realized it was my first test. Before me sat an enticing serving of mackerel liver on a bed of grilled cabbage leaves. Fair enough I thought. I love cabbage and while I haven’t had much fish liver I am overall a big fan of properly cooked liver. However, that wasn’t the end of it. No, the innocent enough looking appetizer was topped by mackerel sperm accompanied by fermented lingonberries. While I’m also a big fan of fish eggs and caviar I was, up until my visit to BROR, a sperm virgin. As a guy it is just one of those things that we’re hardwired and culturally programmed to have an aversion to. I can’t say I’ve ever cooked up a meal, or served up a sandwich, paused, and thought to myself…you know what this needs? More sperm. Definitely, more sperm. As I stared down the portion sitting in front of me I asked myself, “is fish sperm really the ‘icing’ on the flavor cake that this dish needed?”
With that, I cut the portion in half, scooped it up, and unceremoniously plopped it into my mouth. The cabbage was just crisp enough, the liver well flavored but not too dry, and the mixture of fermented lingonberries and mackerel sperm a ball of flavor that birthed an excess of added flavor. As I sat savoring what I’d just eaten I soon found myself doing something I’d end up doing repeatedly over the course of the meal. I cut the remaining portion in half, eager to make the experience last as long as I could and to get as much flavor as humanely possible. I’d survived my first run in with fish sperm and loved every moment of it. How’s that for a byline?
Next up was my second big test. For years I’ve heard mixed things about what we affectionately call Rocky Mountain Oysters back in the southwestern US. If you’re thinking to yourself that the three fried items on the plate in the above photo don’t look like oysters, you’d be right. That’s because Rocky Mountain Oysters are actually Bull’s testicles. All of my reservations about fish semen were also true for Bull’s balls which, I have to admit, I’ve been trying to get myself to try for years but have just never gotten around to tracking down and lining up for a meal date. Of concern was not only the taste and the mental barrier to a fork-full of Bull juevos. I was also more than a bit concerned by the texture. Would they be tough? Chewy? Stringy? Gooey? So, with a wince I drew my knife across what looked a bit like a fried chicken tender and, to my relief, realized that the texture was just that of a chicken tender. These were not not large testicles cut in half, fried, and then served up on a plate. They’d been carefully prepared and pureed. I’m sure the relief on my face was visible.
Then, the moment of truth. Done with hesitation I mouthed the slice I’d cut, tested it with my tongue, and bit into it more completely. Unsure what to expect both because of what I was eating and the fact that it was fried and breaded I was pleasantly surprised by the taste that greeted me. It most definitely did not taste like a chicken tender or the greasy wreckage of flavorless meat-paste battered and obscured into blandness by fried bread crumbs. No, what greeted me was a tender and yet distinctly flavored meat that I lack the words to explain. It was fresh, clean tasting, and had a mild sweetness to it. The closest thing I can compare it to is perfectly cooked scallops. For the second bite I sampled a bit of the tartar sauce, but then decided I was enjoying the unaccompanied flavor so much that for the third and fourth bites I’d skip the sauce and enjoy the flavor of the dish by itself.
Having mastered the first two challenges, my third and final challenge came in the form of the last snack we’d decided to try. This held its own surprises, some of which were expected, others of which came out of the blue. This dish consisted of Cod cheeks basted in browned butter and served in the Cod’s head with nasturtium salt on a bed of croutons. As a kid I had two unfortunate run ins that, combined with a strong gag reflex, have made certain foods hard to eat. These consisted of a fish bone incident and another-similar incident with a rotisserie chicken and the texture and feel of joint cartilage. Even the thought of fish bones in my mouth makes me want to gag. So, when the Cod head arrived I felt on the cusp of disgust and began waging an internal mind over matter war. It’s also safe to say that the Cod head, which turned out to be delicious, is absolutely disgusting looking and would fit in perfectly as an extra for the Walking Dead series or in the Resident Evil movies. As the three of us stared it down, debating how to approach it, I assumed that there was relatively little meat to be had. Ordinarily I’d have removed the cod cheeks from the head, downed the soft white flaky meat, and then considered the dish done.
If I had, I would have sorely under-enjoyed the dish’s full bounty. While the cheeks were delicious and some of the most tender, flavorful, and tasty fish I’ve had in years the entirety of the head held much more meat than I anticipated. The process of disassembling it was a bit rough but the rich flavor of the meat and the incredible sauce the entire head was bathed in made it impossible to stop until every last spec of meat had been stripped from the bone. The bed of croutons soaked up part of the sauce from the head and quickly became ever-so-slightly crispy mounds of flavor. It was unlike any sweet butter or garlic sauce I’ve ever tasted and was so good that even long after the meat and croutons were gone, I was left wiping up every stray bit of sauce with bread while wishing I could lift the bowl to my lips and lick it clean.
As the head neared what I thought was complete obliteration our waiter returned to check in on us. With a smile that was a mixture of challenge and hospitable host he nodded to the Cod’s head and suggest that if we were feeling bold and adventurous we also try the Cod’s lips. Short of having to plop one of the the fish’s eyeballs into my mouth (something I couldn’t have stomached) I can’t think of many things that would have struck me as less appetizing. But, tell me something is a delicacy, toss in a hint of challenge, and my fate is sealed. So, burying every ounce of my aversion to fish bones I attempted to surgically strip the fish’s lips from delicate bones lined with row upon row of sharp teeth. Then, having failed, I separated half of the Cod’s upper lip, lifted it to my lips, and stripped the fatty meat off the bone with my teeth. What greeted me was a texture that was as soft and tender as melted butter and which, particularly due to the sauce, had a similar sweet and slightly fatty flavor. My suspicions set to rest, I slowly finished the remainder of the jaw bone before continuing on to the other side as my companions split the bottom jaw and underwent a similar conversion from suspicion to surprised delight.
Having finally worked our way through the entirety of the Cod’s head, I finally set down my fork and knife as we waited for our four-course fixed menu to commence. To fill the small gap between snack and meal I decided to try the freshly baked bread and unusual looking butter that had arrived with the snacks. The butter was sweet and creamy with a richness to it that initially surprised me. As it turned out, that richness came from a combination of pine salt and smoked bone marrow which were blended smoothly into the butter. I have no clue how they do it, but it was some of the best butter I’ve tasted. Luckily, before I could start on my third piece of buttered bread and ruin my appetite our first course arrived.
While the photo doesn’t do justice to how beautiful the plate was, the first course was lightly salted mackerel which was either gently cured or raw. It was accompanied by white strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, red and green strawberry snow, tomato water and beach mustard (another heirloom item, this time a plant often overlooked as a weed). The Mackerel had a fresh mild taste reminiscent of Sashimi, but the real show stealer was the strawberry snow. This delicate ice shave was a beautiful addition to the plate and quite literally melted upon contact with my tongue while releasing the naturally sweet flavors of the strawberry water it was made out of. This combined nicely with the light tomato water which ever-so-slightly covered the bottom of the plate and reinforced the flavor of the white strawberry slices and heirloom tomatoes. The beach weed/mustard balanced the sweetness and subtly sour hints from the fruit with its own naturally grounded and earthy bitterness. The blend was refreshing, tasty, and an all around hit.
The second course was beautiful. A purely vegetarian dish it was anything but a lazy asparagus salad. No, instead it was a wonderful blend of roasted white asparagus that had been marinated in buckwheat oil, shaved green asparagus with caramelized sour milk cream all served with grated fresh horseradish crumbs and several other mixed greens. The asparagus was crisp and felt as though it had substance to it. There were slightly bitter undertones, but in an entirely positive way which further brought out the taste. I can be quite apathetic about my greens, but once again I found myself taking special care to slow down and enjoy the dish by both experimenting with the flavor piecemeal before later blending the assortment of greens on my fork for a more inclusive tasting.
The third course was the main and I was pleasantly surprised by its size as far too often during fine dining experiences, particularly in Europe, I feel as though the main looks more like an appetizer than the cornerstone of the meal. Served on a naked plate all of the dish’s decorations were reserved for the flavorful assortment of flowers and vegetables which encrusted the top of the meat. Here again BROR dipped into Denmark’s rich history serving up a braised pork neck. Hardly the type of luxury cut you’d expect to find as part of a meal of this caliber. Yet, as a traditional cut that also paid homage to Denmark’s heritage as a nation of pork farmers and exporters, it was the perfect choice for what was shaping up to be an amazing New Nordic meal. The pork neck was beautifully tender and cooked with crispy pork fat, spring onions (grilled ramps), sorrel, Spanish chervil, and wild garlic ramp sauce.
The pork neck was dished with a side of spinach accompanied by white onions, radishes, and baby potatoes cooked with a blend of butter and mint. The pork was moist, tender, and yet the exterior still had a crispness to it that when combined with the freshness of the vegetables left the taste feeling light and layered. Each fork-full had a slightly different taste as the blend of ingredients came together in different potencies. This dense blend of multi-layered flavors left the pork-neck looking ever-so-slightly like a quiche though that visual appearance in no-way reflected the rich flavors of the dish.
I have to confess I have no clue what my final dish was. For dessert they prepared a sweet lactose free alternative to the ice cream and rhubarb compote my companions enjoyed. It was tangy, sweet, and a flavorful conclusion to an inspiring meal. I believe the dish I enjoyed may have been a rhubarb compote in sweet rhubarb juice (snow?) accompanied by tarragon oil with perfectly delicate and fluffy tarragon meringue. The meringue somehow managed to survive the rhubarb snow long enough to melt completely upon contact with my tongue. It served as an ideal capstone to the meal and left us all relaxed and immersed in conversation as we slowly closed down the restaurant.
This was my first proper New Nordic meal. I’m a fan of fine dining but tend to be in the camp that finds fancy-portions extremely annoying. If I have to eat a kebab after eating at your restaurant then you’ve missed the foundational point of a meal to begin with no matter how pretty or tasty the portions are. This has always made me a bit suspicious about the New Nordic movement. Yet, after having eaten at BROR I can say that I was not only extremely happy with the taste of the food, I was also reasonably full. This was no doubt in part due to the three starters we had, but still meant that BROR did a satisfactory job balancing presentation with taste.
I was also somewhat skeptical about the whole foraged/locally sources/heirloom side of things. Were these ingredients actually tasty, or was it all a glorified gimmick that added little/nothing to the actual meal? My take away? That while there may be a sliver of gimmick to it, these ingredients really do exude flavor, freshness, and creative tastes which are well worth the praise that has been heaped on them over the last few years.
So, as such, I consider myself a New Nordic convert. An experience and conclusion that was re-affirmed with a follow up meal at Radio (also based here in Copenhagen) which I’ll dive into in another post.
Beyond New Nordic, I was also extremely impressed by the BROR staff and the Danish New Nordic food scene. One of our waiters was a lovely American woman who had also previously worked at Noma before switching over to BROR. She helped shed light on the highly congenial and supportive environment that exists in Copenhagen and made it clear that even though the majority of the New Nordic restaurants that have popped up in Copenhagen are founded by ex-Noma disciples, there is no bad blood or sense of cutthroat competition. Rather, they support each-other, even filling in on shifts where necessary, and maintain a very tight-knit community. I think that’s also something that adds to the essence of the New Nordic cuisine and experience. It is food with deep roots in the local community, prepared in a way that embraces that community in a positive and engaged way.
I absolutely loved my meal at BROR and cannot recommend it highly enough. I owe a special thank you to my hosts Paula and Edward who treated me to the meal. Both are experienced foodies who were full of wonderful insights into what makes a good restaurant, the character of the food, and some of the particularly interesting things the chefs at BROR were doing to set their food apart. I also owe Paula a huge thank you for letting me raid her notes on the specific ingredients used in each course.
The menu at BROR is always in flux so while this post may give you an idea of what to expect the specifics of your culinary expedition will no doubt be quite different. You can check out what they’re up at on their website at Restaurauntbror.dk. Which, as I look at it now, features a photo of a refrigerator full of seasoned lamb’s heads (looks like BROR has much more to teach me).
So, how was my first time at BROR? Memorable. Pleasurable. Highly desirable and something I’m eager to repeat.
**Disclaimer** This is an independent review which is in no way endorsed by the owners of BROR. I did not receive any compensation for the publication of this post and the views expressed are mine and mine alone.