Business travel; a necessary evil but one that is, every so often, peppered with a rare treat. Take Elldrew’s recent trip to Copenhagen – a city so renowned for it’s gastronomy that even with a mere 3 days notice we were sure we could do better than the hotel restaurant. Elldrew tried all the corporate strings they could pluck but despite the recent Norovirus scandal we failed to secure a last minute table at Noma, instead settling for Relae – awarded a Michelin star in 2012 and, allegedly, where Noma’s chefs go to eat. It had to be good? So Elldrew boarded the flight hoping for no delays so they could make the reservation.
Relae turned out to be a rather unassuming restaurant in a rather unassuming part of town (my Danish colleagues, the following day, went as far as suggesting that this part of town is known for shootings and gangs, although we saw none). We were instructed to hang our own coats, then shown to a starkly bare table. Elldrew and colleague sat and made small talk. 10 minutes later we were asked if we preferred still or sparkling water. Water was served in unassuming water glasses but despite 10 more minutes of small talk we had no menu nor wine list. Neither of us wanted to look naïve so we continued with the small talk until the waiter came over and pointed out that the menu, wine list and cutlery for the meal was stashed away in a secret drawer under the table. Finally progress!
The choice was a meat or vegetarian set menu; 4 courses and no further choices unless you wanted the 7 course tasting menu. Actually, I lie, we could choose to have the accompanying wine…or not. We chose to have it – far easier than trying to find the wine menu which could have been hidden anywhere in that place.
Course 1; Lumpfish roe, daikon and almonds. Would I have chosen this…of course not. Regular readers will know that fish isn’t Elldrew’s food of choice. But the daikon sounded good, and the small loaf of hearty danish bread on the side was fresh, warm and luxurious. The glass of Rien que Muscadel served with it was a light and refreshing white, well chosen to cut through the acidity of the roe and cleanse the fish taste from the palette. The dish itself was surprisingly good – no avoiding the Nordic influence with roe and pickle but it was charming, balanced and rustic – the roe tasted far less fishy and felt more elegant than clichéd black caviar.
The roe was followed by Course 2; potato puree with dried fruit citrus. Hunting in the secret drawer for the correct cutlery my colleague remarked that the puree likely had more butter in it than potato, but this was no bad thing in a portion small enough to be tasted but not overwhelmed by. An extra sweet, extra delicious mashed potato.
Course 3; pork and Jerusalem artichokes, looked more like some sort of alien armour. The dish was served, accompanied by a brief lecture on the heritage of the pork (in our case it had liked straw, being tickled and Danish grass) was served with a surprisingly nutty white Beaujolais. The pork itself was wafer thin and definitely tasted like it had enjoyed its life, the artichoke was white, blanched and, well, artichokey really. But they worked.
Course 4; a dessert of milk, seaweed and caramel, was approached with a certain amount of caution. In fact, it turned out to be a milky ice cream (posh Mr Whippy per my colleague), with a swirl of caramel and a delicate sprinkling of caramelised seaweed. Again surprisingly good although its Nordic heritage rung through. This was accompanied by a Danish Cider; unique and refreshing and a far nicer way to end the meal than with an overly sweet dessert wine.
So, did Elldrew enjoy Relae? Well, we did. It was nice to stretch a little bit beyond one’s comfort zone and have a meal that felt less familiar but more local, and it was nice to go beyond the usual business traveller’s hotel restaurant. But would I go back – probably not; been there, done it now and nothing special enough to repeat. Would I recommend it; definitely yes, especially if you can’t get into Noma but still want some good local food. For a Michelin starred restaurant (Copenhagen awarded 14 stars in 2012) the price was surprisingly reasonable and the atmosphere unpretentious.
Go there and let Elldrew know if you agree (and, remember, the menu is in the drawer)!