Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

[Review] Relae, Copenhagen

Sometimes you come across a district that is achingly cool, in a genuine way and not in a "trying too hard" way. This was the feeling we encountered as we got out of our taxi on the quiet street of Jaegersborggade in the Copenhagen district of Nørrebro. 

Relæe comes from two Noma alumni, Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen. To be honest, having Noma alumni in your kitchen is pretty much de rigeur for any self-respecting Copenhagen restaurant. At the time of writing, the restaurant is ranked No 53 in the World's Best 50 Restaurants. Located on a corner, the interior is deceptively simple with an open kitchen, white walls and plain wooden tables. But as always, the devil is in the details and we find that our cutlery, napkin and menu are located in clever drawers concealed within the table. This is self-service, Scandi-Michelin style.

What makes Relæ even more unique, in a country of unique cooking, is that practically all of the ingredients are organic, while all the wines are natural. The topic of natural wines is causing some strong debate in the wine world right now, so the offering of an all-natural wine menu is a strong statement.
The menu at Relæ
Table drawer with cutlery, menu and napery
The menu offers a 4 course omnivore or herbivore tasting menu for 440 DKK each, rising to 725 DKK for a 7 course tasting menu. All options include filtered water, sourdough bread and olive oil. We choose the 7 course option, but paired with the tasting wines from the 4 course menu (395 DKK). 

The courses started to arrive: fried salsify with a mushroom juice for dipping, an intense aromatic broth with bright green drops of pine oil, dense and chewy sourdough with a vibrant olive oil. So far, so good. This was followed by a stellar combination of bergamot ice, lumpfish roe over which was poured a green ransom broth. 
Salsify with mushroom broth
Broth with pine oil
Sourdough bread with olive oil
Bergamot ice, lumpfish roe and ramson broth
Next up was a simple plate of shredded sunchoke, mushroom and walnut. This looked somewhat like a hedgehog on the plate, but in the mouth, I found flavours emerging and blending together in a way I could not have predicted.  Baked, pureed potato was served with brown butter and citrus, yet another combination that surprised and amazed me. 
Sunchoke, mushroom and walnut
Baked pureed potato with brown butter and citrus
All was going very well so far, but then we were served two dishes which drastically changed my perception of Relæ. First up was a dish of celeriac with local havgus cheese and coffee. My first impression was of whiteness, and this didn't really improve upon tasting. Eating the bland ribbons of celeriac was simply tedious. However, the dish of slow-cooked Sødam chicken which followed has taken the crown of worst dish I've ever tasted. After just one forkful, I found myself pushing the plate away. For me, there is nothing attractive about boiled chicken, especially when it has been deliberately cooked in such a way as to retain the textures of raw chicken. The colour is wrong, the texture is wrong and when combined with insipid parsnip, it was all just too much of the wrong stuff. 
Celeriac with havgus cheese and coffee
Sødam chicken with parsnip and sesame
Goats cheese and wine
Our waiter warned us that our first dessert of frozen yogurt contained a hidden surprise. Underneath the grated egg yolk, we found an incredible salted egg yolk. In contrast to the nadir of the slow-cooked chicken dish, this was the zenith of desserts. This was followed by another excellent little stone bowl of almonds and marscapone, enhanced by black olive bits. 
Frozen yogurt dessert with salted egg yolk
Almond, marscapone and olives
In my mind, Relæ has the distinction of serving one of the singularly most unpalatable dishes I've ever tasted. But the meal also showcased simple ingredients with a laser-like intensity. The memory of the lumpfish roe and potato dishes will linger with me for a long while, not to mention the egg yolk dessert. 

It was also quite fun to enjoy a natural wine tasting alongside our meal. I must admit that I didn't particularly take to most of the wines served. There were some good glasses that I would happily drink again, but unfortunately, I didn't get to write down their  details. For the most part though, I'll stick with wines produced through modern techniques. I think I'm just not quite ready for the musty, even manure-like aromas of natural wines just yet. 

Sometimes you need to be reminded that Michelin dining is not always about enjoyable fine food. Sometimes it should make you think, it should make you react (good or bad), it should educate you and it should make you form an opinion.  Relæ gave me a good shaking, challenging me with regard to what I liked. It is creative, it is modern and it is well worth a visit. 

Restaurant Relae, Jægersborggade 41, 2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark
Tel: + 45 3696 6609

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