The Restaurant by Kroun – Exciting Nordic Cuisine in Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s culinary scene grows increasingly exciting with each passing month.  The once somewhat one-dimensional Nordic culinary landscape has been revolutionized over the last 15 years. While this renaissance has been most visible at the higher echelons of the local food scene, the diversity, depth, and breadth of culinary options in Copenhagen has gradually grown. The team at Noma which is most often credited for launching the New Nordic movement, now more commonly just referenced simply as Nordic Cuisine, deserves a large part of the credit. However, there have been other long-standing bastions generating fine food, excellent chefs, and fantastic Sommeliers for years such as Kong Hans’ Kælder, which has served as Copenhagen’s culinary benchmark since the 80s. Many of the most exciting new restaurants in Copenhagen are those which pull expertise from a variety of sources to craft an exciting new fusion that wonderfully walks the delicate line between too traditional and too creative, too artistic and too utilitarian, too complex or too simple, and overly formal or casual to the point of utterly lacking service.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

Recently, the Restaurant by Kroun, which is the newly opened restaurant (March 2016) launched at Kurhotel Skodsborg, invited me to join them for dinner. The restaurant is a collaboration between head chef and namesake Erik Kroun, who honed his craft at Michelin-starred restaurants, including Kong Hans’ Kælder, Søllerød Kro and Sletten Kro, and Martin Troelsen who previously served as Restaurant Manager at Michelin-starred Marchal, situated in Copenhagen’s five star Hotel D’Angleterre and is a well recognized Sommelier.  The meal and overall experience lived up to their pedigree, making it easily one of the best meals I’ve had in Copenhagen.  Based on the experience I had during my visit, the quality of the food, flavor, and overall experience, I suspect that Restaurant by Kroun will be thundering onto the local culinary scene and you’ll quickly be hearing a lot about it.

Kurhotel Skodsborg

The restaurant itself is situated in a cozy carpeted room decorated with grand old deer antlers that pay homage to the hotel’s long-standing heritage as a spa and lodge. Kurhotel Skodsborg, where the Restaurant is located, is situated just off the northeast corner of the recently christened UNESCO World Heritage Dyrehaven (Deer Park) and previously served as a royal residence. Situated as it is, nestled between Copenhagen’s greatest green space and the calm waters of the Øresund sea, I was initially concerned that it would be somewhat inconvenient to access from Central Copenhagen.  As it turns out, the hotel and restaurant are perfectly situated. The sea is a 30-second walk from the hotel, the Dyrehaven just a minute away, and the Skodsborg train station is just a three- minute walk and a brief 15-minute ride from Norreport station in Central Copenhagen.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

We left dinner in our host’s hands. This meant that we’d be doing their “Full On” menu – champagne, a signature eight course meal, full wine pairing, water, coffee and then an extensive selection of sweets. Before diving into the specifics, I want to reiterate how incredibly impressed I was by the wine pairing. In total, there were four of us at our table and every single one of us loved every single wine. The champagne was good, the whites great, the reds fantastic, and the sweet desert wines a treat for the senses. The wines were beautifully aromatic and none had the strong taste of new wood which I often find sours the wine. I also have a small quirk, where I like to keep a small portion of wine from the previous pairing in reserve from serving to serving  which I can use to compare and contrast. I’m sure some find it utterly ridiculous, but I find having the two side by side lets me compare their aromas and brings to life entirely fresh scents, nuances and flavors as I finish one round of wine and transition into the next pairing.

Dear Restaurateur Your Fancy Sorbet Sucks

Based in Copenhagen, I’ve found myself seated in one of the world’s hotbeds for culinary innovation and inspiration over the last few years. The rise of first New Nordic and later Nordic Cuisine has been swift, powerful, and delicious. The farm-to-table movement and the re-discovery and integration of traditional ways of preserving foods, cuts of meats, and greens has also been a delightful infusion of fresh flavors and diverse culinary footprints.

It’s great. It’s delicious. I love it.

Except, that is. That high end restaurants: Nordic, New Nordic, or otherwise, continue to all make the same tongue abusing, mouth assaulting mistake.

I’m lactose intolerant. It’s annoying. It’s not severe, which means I can handle butter and milk when it is used to cook baked goods. What I can’t handle is ice cream, many cheeses, cheesecake or anything slathered in lots of cream. I’m not alone. There are a ton of us (25% in the US, 65% of people globally). Especially in the millennial generation where, perhaps thanks to our own choices or those of our parents who embraced alternatives to milk in our teens, the problem is particularly prevalent.We’re the silent majority. One largely ignored, perhaps because it’s inconvenient and a bit embarrassing to say, “No, I won’t get hives and no my throat isn’t likely to block off my breathing – I’ll just get explosive diarrhea so nauseatingly painful that I may also vomit in the process”.

Of course, there are pills. They help. But they’re far from reliable. They’re also inconvenient.

What does this have to do with fine dining?

Nordic Eats – Digesting Uformel, BROR, Marv and Ben

There are foods that our eyes tell us must certainly be mouth-wateringly delicious. They are beautiful, they are aromatic, and the ingredients are a collection of meats, vegetables, and spices that are familiar and nonthreatening.  Then, there are other dishes assembled with ingredients or in a fashion that leaves even the most stalwart culinary adventurer skeptical.

My favorite is the Icelandic dish, Hákarl. It is fermented shark that has been buried to slowly rot for at least six months before being dug up for preparation and consumption. I always chuckle thinking about the long road of experimentation that led to that discovery. After all, there had to be some folks that dug up the shark at 2 months, 4 months, or 24 months to give it a go.  The horror and comedy of it gives me goosebumps.

I have to admit that I haven’t tried Hákarl but, quite often I find that many of the New Nordic dishes end up embracing many of the same principles that led those early pioneers to sample Hákarl.

I’ve mentioned New Nordic, though now that more than a decade has passed since Noma launched the New Nordic movement, there is pressure to move away from the term simply embracing “Nordic” or even more specific niche terminology invented by a plethora of restaurants, many of which have been founded by Noma disciples. Each of these restaurants shares some common traits and approaches – a focus on local ingredients, freshness, a head nod to fusions, historic dishes, ways of prep, or hyper-local foods. Yet, each has distinctly unique approaches to how they assemble their menu, the meals they seek to inspire, and how they prepare dishes.

One other compelling hallmark of the Nordic culinary scene is its sense of camaraderie and collaboration.  In an era where most chefs are glorified for being overly flamboyant hyper-competitive petulant tantrum-prone assholes, the Danish food scene is, as far as I can tell, extremely supportive, nurturing, and widely collaborative.  Traits I find mirrors the organic and healthy nature of the food and which makes me feel good about supporting the chefs and their undertakings.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to sample three of Copenhagen’s Nordic restaurants. One of these visits was for work, one upon the invitation of Visit Denmark, and the third, a celebratory birthday dinner with a friend at a restaurant of my own choosing.  These restaurants were Uformel (the new sibling to Formel B, Marv & Ben (Marrow and Bone…not two men’s names), and BROR (which means brother in Danish).

Given the focus of each of these restaurants on seasonal ingredients, it was interesting to see and experience commonalities between many of the plates. Things that stood out in particular were the use of burned cucumber and mushrooms. The burned cucumber was tasty and good across the board with a fairly similar taste, though each had their own unique way of preparing the cucumber.

My New Nordic Conversion at BROR

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.