More people asked me “Will you go to Noma?” when I announced I was heading to Copenhagen than I can even count. After I came back, only the tense of that question changed, as everyone I told about my trip was curious to know if I “got in”. I’ll say it here one last time: no, I did not. In truth, I didn’t even try. The reservation system for a given month opens three months ahead and I skipped it. To me, Noma is now one of those El Bulli-like elusive culinary destinations: you know it’s the best, but you’ll only ever get to read about it, except if your name is David Chang. I never even considered I would even stand a chance to snag a booking (waiting lists are 1,000+ names long every day) so no, I did not plan for a frustrating game of who’s-the-quickest-to-click on reservation D-Day.
Instead, I researched who else is cooking great food in Copenhagen these days. The short answer is: LOTS of people. It feels like the whole city’s culinary scene has been lifted by Noma’s success. A whole generation of ex-Noma chefs or Noma-inspired chefs has opened restaurants that serve an inventive Danish cuisine in more casual settings. Their dishes are fresh, seasonal, colorful and flavorful, and they are plated with a level of refinement that I’ve never experienced in such a citywide fashion before. Even bistros and cafés serve their food in a creative and modern way. If you thought Scandinavian cuisine was still stews and meatballs, think again.
Of course, there are also many other excellent gastronomic restaurants in Copenhagen, where 14 Michelin stars have been awarded in 2012. Formel B, Relæ and Kokkeriet were all on my list, but we chose to have lunch at Geranium, which has just been admitted into The World’s 50 Best Restaurants at position no. 49. The restaurant’s chef, Rasmus Kofoed, has also won the world’s toughest culinary competition, the Bocuse d’Or, in 2011, bringing gold home after winning bronze and silver in 2005 and 2007.
Lunch at Geranium is just as complex and elegant as dinner certainly is – but I loved it even better because daylight allowed us to enjoy all the intricate details each course featured as well as the beautiful view surrounding the restaurant, which is perched at the top of a building overlooking Copenhagen’s Fælledparken.
The restaurant’s décor features all the characteristics of world-renowned Danish design: clean lines, minimal ornamentation, modern furniture and a monochrome palette all seem to have been thought to keep the guests’ attention on the plates.
The kitchen is partially closed by a glass wall, which allowed us to peek inside at will. Seeing the team moving in such fluid ways, working in silence in their immaculate chef whites and tall chef’s hats was nothing short of impressive. I was also quick to spot Chef Kofoed at the pass, which made me so happy that I had to pause and reflect as to why I was surprised to see a world-renowned chef actually working in his kitchen. Not only was he there, but he himself served and presented many of the courses. This enhanced our experience exponentially – and I concluded that this magical period of time when a chef reaches international recognition but not yet stardom may be the very best to taste his cuisine. He still leads the team, creates each and every one of the courses, manages unforeseen problems, wipes the plates and pours the bouillon over the deconstructed soup components of your plate. I understand that a chef’s job is to train his team so well that they can keep up even when he’s not there, but the deeply personal experience that meeting a chef provides can’t be equaled.
Chef Rasmus Kofoed at the helm of his kitchen.
The 14-course tasting menu we enjoyed at Geranium was the best meal we ever had. Service was impeccable – efficient and courteous with just the right touch of informality. The composition of each dish provided a wow effect, while the approachability of their flavors delivered a deep satisfaction. Although the creativity of presentations was perfectly on trend, it didn’t feel overdone. Modern cuisine can often feel cold or too driven by techniques, but the flavors and references at Geranium were recognizable and easy to understand.
Left: 1st course, Seaweed Potato Chips / Right: 2nd course, Candied Carrot Shell Filled with Seabuckthorn Foam
3rd course: Seasalt cheese & ramson covered in shoots, with a tree trunk-shaped cheese cracker
4th course: Mushrooms in foam
5th course: “Razor Clams” in a look-alike edible shell
6th course: Jerusalem artichoke “tree” with walnut oil (only the pale golden branches and leaves were edible)
7th course: Jellied ham, tomato water and radish flowers
8th course: “The Perfect Scallop” (a scallop mixture was actually inside a translucent edible gelatin container that looks like a whole scallop)
9th course: Hake, horseradish juice and herb stems
Even the bread was outstanding: perfect little warm nuggets, crunchy on the outside and a moist and airy choux-like texture on the inside
10th course: A new take on French onion soup: Clear cheese broth with candied onions and roasted rye bread
11th course: Deer, beetroot, berries and stems
Just as we thought our meal couldn’t get any better, we were asked if we would please follow our server to enjoy a pre-dessert in the kitchen. There’s a special table at the back of the room, facing the stoves and workstations, where guests are asked to sit on stools and observe the kitchen action at their leisure. Chefs greeted us with warm smiles and hellos and we enjoyed our Elderflower Soda besides Chef Kofoed’s three Bocuse d’Or statuettes.
The view from inside the kitchen
Hangin’ with the Bocuses
We went back to our table for dessert, and were then offered to enjoy mignardises and coffee in the restaurant’s lounge, an offer we promptly agreed to. We reflected on our incredible culinary experience at Geranium, all too conscious that it would take a very long time for any other meal to top the one we just had.
13th course: Frosty flowers, rhubarb and thyme
14th course: Mignardises (carrot leaves and green tea, chocolate and caramel eggs) with coffee in the lounge
The restaurant’s lounge
Per Henrik Lings Allé 4, 8.
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