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.
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.
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.
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.
As some of you who read the blog regularly may recognize, it’s also worth noting that I have mid-level lactose intolerance. This makes dining out a little more complicated and can create a surprising amount of confusion. Especially since I’m not always clear on what is going to be lactose free and…well…neither are a lot of restaurants. It’s also complicated by the fact that I’m in the mid-level category, so I can handle light butter, aged cheeses and dairy used in bread. I just can’t handle young cheese, soft cheese, heavy cream, most cream, or – the food fairies protect me – a cheesecake. This also means that there’s usually a slightly custom menu for me, as the chefs whip up lactose free creations to delight me, but it also means I’m not always 100% sure what I’m eating since it may not be on the menu.
Introduction: The Snacks
Our introduction to the meal was a multi-dish combination of bite-sized delicacies. The most creative of the mixture were the onion snacks capped by what looked like small contact lenses, but where in fact gelatinized pickle juice. They were sweet, tangy, and completely delicious. I have to admit, I was so caught up in devouring them, I’m not sure if it was a slice of apple, small scallop, or clam that sat between pickled delight and sweet onion base. These were accompanied by a Nordic classic – dried fish skins. When in the right amount and properly balanced, I always find these enjoyable and full of flavor. When not done right, or out of balance the particularly strong fish flavor or aroma reminds me of when I forgot to properly clean my fishing gear a few days after a fishing trip down in Mexico. Kroun’s were perfectly balanced with just the right amount of aroma, flavor, and zing without over-doing it. The raw scallops had the wonderful sweet and mild but pronounced flavor of fresh scallops pulled straight from the fisherman’s bucket. These flavors were very subtly enhanced by a combination of what I believe was a very mild apple puree. In the past, one of the areas that consistently disappointed me is how local restaurants have handled scallops. Far too often they completely overpower them or pair them with something such as, say, burned cucumber, that not only clashes but distracts from the raw taste of the scallops.
Alongside the sea-based snacks, we were greeted by a far more earthly mixture of munchies. My favorites were the lightly steamed and mildly salted broccoli paired with the sweet but not overpowering flavors of an artistically presented shortbread. The accompanying crackers had a rich flavor and served as an excellent palate transitioner in addition to pairing well with the champagne and white wine.
The final dish was a lactose-free substitution. As the first platter included a potent cheese, the kitchen presented me with this beautiful oyster seated on what I believe was a bed of hazelnut. As with the scallops, the oyster was fresh, full of flavor and beautifully balanced.
First Course: Clams – Cabbage – Buttermilk
Next to arrive was, initially, a bit of a mystery. As our plates were served, but before they were introduced, I nearly buried my nose in my plate inhaling deeply. The slight, but fresh, scent of the sea drifted up to meet me, paired with the aroma of fresh greens. While the others had a buttermilk vinaigrette added to the mix, mine remained lactose and buttermilk vinaigrette free. This actually better suited my palate as it let me enjoy the combination of greens, cabbage, and fresh clams with just the mildest hint of sea salt, in a more complete and non-distracted way. Again, the dish was defined by its balance, by its freshness, and by its clean elegance.
Paired with a Samuel Billaud Les Grands Terroirs Chablis (2014).
Second Course: Lumpfish Roe – Potato Puree – Chips
Continuing with flavors from the sea, paired with subtle hints drawn from the land, was one of my all-time favorites: lumpfish roe. There’s just something about fresh lumpfish roe that I find delightful. It reminds me of the delicious and delightful texture (without the crunch, of course) of crushed ice on a hot summer day, while blending the mild but sweet taste of the sea, with fish roe, another flavor I find pleasant and refreshing…at least, when fresh. The lumpfish roe as served was, perhaps, the best I’ve ever had. I was so impressed by it, I asked our host what might be the point of differentiation from other roe I’d had elsewhere and other types of roe which often vary widely in flavor – even among like-kind varieties. Was it simply freshness, or something more? Of course, freshness is a key factor. But, beyond that, the other key differentiator is apparently the pasteurization process. The cleanest, freshest, and best flavor comes from extremely fresh roe which has not been pasteurized. This, of course, makes perfect sense, but the pasteurization of fish roe was something that, I have to admit, had never crossed my mind.
The pairing with crushed chips and a potato puree was one I’d had before, but which also serves as the perfect blend and counter to the roe. The puree in particular was excellent and taken to the point that I initially mistook it for a heavy cream. The flavor was, however, still light, rich and ideal for combining in varying doses with the roe and the crushed chips turning each bite into a minor experiment in flavor and balance.
Paired with a Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge (2014).
Third Course: Cod – Butter Sauce – Roe
I find it’s usually hard to go wrong with a nice piece of cod and a good butter sauce but it’s also usually something that kitchens tend to muck up fairly frequently. Far too often the fish just isn’t quite as fresh as it could be or has been ever-so-slightly overcooked. Given how finicky fish is in general, I can only imagine the art form that goes into the perfect timing that makes for an exceptional piece of cod. So, it was with pure delight that I cut through the thick butter sauce (this was well worth the lactose risk!) and flaked off bite after incredible bite of perfectly cooked, beautifully moist, sea-fresh cod. The sauce that went with it was a beautifully rich butter sauce dotted with a mixture of salmon roe, sturgeon caviar and a third type of roe from a small Swedish whitefish whose name escapes me. The roe added an exciting texture to each bite as well as small explosions of added flavor while mild potato chips made a second cameo (following up on the lumpfish roe appearance) to add some additional salt, crunch, and additional contrast to the butter where desired.
Paired with a Stuhlmuller Vineyards Alexander Valley Gold Reserve Estate Chardonnay (2013).
Fourth Course: Sweetbreads – Lobster – Onion – Bouillon
One of my favorite things about the Nordic culinary scene is their near obsession with sweetbreads. As with lumpfish roe, sweetbreads have quickly become one of my favorites. However, where lumpfish roe is all about freshness and not overpowering the flavor, sweetbreads are a flavor and fat-filled delight that demand they’re properly cooked, tender, and seasoned in a way that brings out the taste of the meat without overpowering it. Often sweetbreads are confused for some sort of actual bread due to the name (they’re not) or avoided because of their texture or the general thought of what they are. However, like many other heirloom meats such as bull’s testicles or cod head, when properly cooked these tender bits end up being absolutely divine.
For this course the sweetbreads were paired with fresh onions, delicious pieces of lobster, and a red bouillon sauce that was absolutely to die for. The sweet rich flavors mixed together in a brilliant surf and turf mixture which was the absolute perfect match for the red wine pairing. While, throughout the meal, the pairings were fantastic and added to the flavors of the food, this was one of my favorite combinations.
Paired with Domaine Denis Mortet Bourgogne Cuvee de Noble Souche Rouge (Year ?).
Intermission: Squab Legs & Liver Pâté
With squab set to be our main dish, we were greeted by a surprise snack to get us in the mood. Legs and liver. As with sweetbreads, various feet are increasingly an exotic part of Nordic meals. They add some fun to the meal, push your boundaries, and provide an interesting challenge for the chefs. The most famous of these is Host in the city center which has a signature chicken foot and lobster tail combo plate. While it’s a bit unfair to compare squab to chicken, I use this as the benchmark. Where Host served a mildly seasoned, dry and overly crisped foot that was as much bone as skin, the Kroun’s squab was tender, meaty (for a bird’s foot) and flavorful. Over the years I’ve probably had fowl feet about five or six times in various incarnations and these squab legs were by far the best of the lot.
The squab legs were accompanied by a liver pâté, which is a cornerstone of the Danish diet and one of the traditional must-eats in Denmark (alongside licorice and smørrebrød). It’s also one of the constants I enjoy at work every day and comes in a variety of different forms. Unfortunately, in this instance, the liver was the one item out of the entire meal that was a miss for me. Incredibly rich, it also had too strong a flavor which was excessively sweet but also slightly tart. I believe it’s actually a specific type of liver, as I’ll periodically run into the same issue at work as they rotate through the wide range of different Danish liver pâté variations.
Fifth Course: Squab – Beetroot – Balsamico
Next up was the evening’s main. It was a beautiful piece of perfectly cooked squab deftly drizzled with balsamico and accompanied by beets. The preserved beets had a tartness to them that ignited a range of flavors across your tongue, opening it and preparing it for the sweet richness of the balsamico and balanced by the intense flavors of the squab. For those familiar with Italian balsamics, the balsamico teased the senses and is guaranteed to trigger memories of Emilia Romagna and northern Italy. The squab itself was rich in flavor, wonderfully cooked, and a lovely burgundy color accentuated by the beets and balsamico.
Paired with a Dominio de Pingus PSI (2013).
Sixth Course: Comte – Nuts – Blue Cheese – Quince
As this dish was primarily cheeses, I have to admit I neglected photographing it. However, while I opted out of the cote and blue cheese, the quince was sweet, delicious and the perfect warm-up for the multiple-rounds of desert they had in store for us. The nuts, which I had initially mistaken for ground cheese, also ended up being a delicious macadamia nut powder that blended perfectly with the quince and sweet flavors of the Château Cantegril Sauternes it was paired with.
Paired with a Château Cantegril Sauternes (2012).
Seventh Course: Sheep Milk Sorbet – Caramel – Tarragon
As we entered the home stretch, it was as if the earth cracked open, spilling forth a mixture of crystalline delicacies. The combination of tarragon and caramel reminded me of my childhood and pop-rocks, while the rich green looked like the embodiment of edible gemstones. As regular readers will know, I have a long-standing annoyance with the most common sorbet choices served as part of most quality meals (read the rant here). So, it was with some curiosity that I was met by Kroun’s sheep milk sorbet. Tarragon’s flavor profile which I find often dances between anise and citrus is often something I find triggers unpleasant memories of drinking in Greece and Croatia. This is where, once again, Kroun’s finesse and delicate ability to balance otherwise strong flavors showed itself. The tarragon was just mild enough that it brought flavor, balanced by the sorbet which had hints of tartness without being overly aggressive and which paired nicely with the caramel and light biscuit topping. Further sweetening the dish was the wine pairing which was a beautifully sweet Jurancon. The end result? A lovely sorbet experience that captured exactly what a sorbet can contribute to a meal.
Paired with a Domaine Cauhape Symphonie de Novembre (2012).
The final dish of the evening was simple, elegant and wonderfully sweet. I’m not exactly sure how the three primary ingredients were drawn together, but the mixture was sweet, creamy and pleasantly crunchy. It served as a lovely textural contrast to the 7th course and balanced the tartness with its own sweet and creamy profile.
Conclusion: Sweets, Coffee and Tea
As the meal came to a close, my dinner companions and I found ourselves basking in the pleasant glow of just the right amount of wine, nearly completely stuffed, and thoroughly enchanted by the evening. But, to help round out and finish off the night the kitchen had one final challenge for us: sweets and an ever-so-important decision. We were offered the choice between fresh tea (note that glass pot of greens – yes THAT is the tea, making it one of the coolest teas I’ve ever seen served – and a selection of two lovely coffees.
While I opted for a coffee, one of my companions chose the tea. Somewhat fascinated I sampled the scent of the tea, which was a light red color and had a lovely earthy aroma to it that had subtle hints of beets but without the rich iron and earth hints you’d normally get. Meanwhile the tea and coffee was accompanied by a nearly endless mixture of chocolates, pastries and treats. The final artistic and ever-so-Danish touch was the inclusion of four iconic licorice pipes. These pipes are in many ways a core part of Danish culture and, while somewhat hotly debated due to their nature emulating a tobacco product, remain one of Denmark’s most famous and beloved sweets.
Writing this post and re-living the meal reminds me just what a pleasant experience it was. From the exceptional level of service – the staff fielded my questions about everything from the lumpfish roe, to even more odd inquiries about the nearby Deer Park, with a smile, knowledge and absolute grace. Their attention to detail was excellent, from fresh napkins to sliding in our chairs as we returned to our seats. It’s a quality of service which is fairly uncommon in Denmark and highlights the staff’s high level of training.
Our waitress was absolutely lovely and both she and Martin artfully evaluated how interested we were in engaging, chatting, and discussing and then met us at that point. They were warm, obviously very passionate about what they do, deeply knowledgeable, and also comfortable engaging with us in light discussion and a guessing game about the evening’s soundtrack which stretched throughout the latter half of the evening.
The venue and space is cozy and perfectly fits the meal you get. The wine pairing is probably the best I’ve had out of the various meals I’ve had in Denmark and the quality and freshness of the food – particularly the seafood – left me in a culinary state of bliss. I also left absolutely stuffed, which satisfies my – “did I need to eat a kebab before this meal to get full” criteria.
For another take on the evening head on over to The Copenhagen Tales where fellow Copenhagen-based blogger, Laura, with whom I shared the table, documents her impressions and experience.
The price-point as I write this for the full experience we enjoyed is 2,000 DKK with full wine pairing, a meal of 8 courses, snacks, water, coffee or tea, sweets and champagne. This makes it about a mid-level cost dining destinations in the Copenhagen area. The venue is cozy and intimate, so I suspect that in addition to hearing about the Restaurant by Kroun quite a bit over the next couple of years as the local and international culinary scene discovers them, you’ll also see the restaurant quickly become difficult to book making it a great opportunity to discover one of Denmark’s exciting up and coming restaurants. The Kurhotel Skodsborg also presents an interesting backdrop for visitors interested in the spa experience or a destination hotel that provides convenient access to Copenhagen’s urban nature without being immersed in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Want to check it out for yourself? View opening hours and book on their website.
*I was invited as a guest to sample the newly opened Restaurant by Kraun. However, this review is purely my own and at the time of publishing has not been seen, influenced, contributed to or reviewed by the Kurhotel Skodsborg and Restauraunt by Kroun staff*