- Menu: starters 75-155 Danish kroner, medium-sized courses 90-150 kroner, larger courses (mostly fish) 210-235 kroner – my meal, with 3 glasses of wine included, came to approximately £80 / $130
- For the full set of photos from this meal, please visit my Flickr page
Feeling fishy in the meatpacking district
Where do you eat the night before you’re having lunch at the best restaurant in the world? That was the question.
After asking some trusted sources, the answer (or answers) seemed to be pretty straightforward. I should either go to Ralæ, a recently-opened venture by an ex-noma chef quite definitely trying not to copy noma’s formula; Geranium, although some felt it didn’t yet live up to the hype surrounding it (and this was even before their chef won this year’s Bocuse d’Or); The Paul, which was meant to be fun; or Søllerød Kro, a classic restaurant that was a little bit out of town and a lot expensive. Unfortunately, the first and third were shut, and the second and fourth were a bit too formal and expensive, plus one was out of town.
Instead, I was directed to a rather new restaurant in Copenhagen’s ‘meatpacking’ (‘kødbyens’) neighborhood, which has also received its fair share of positive press since opening in June 2009. Enter Kødbyens Fiskebar, the casual yet stylized seafood-centric restaurant whose kitchen is also – lo and behold – run by (yet) an(other) ex-noma chef.
It was within a 15-minute walk of my hotel, though it seemed a bit longer than this due to the well below-freezing mid-January temperature. If you don’t look closely, you might miss the restaurant completely, as the façade looks like some low-rise concrete monstrosity with a large blue sign that says something other than the restaurant’s name. Thank goodness for Google streetview and the free WiFi offered at my hotel.
When I walked in, the bar stood immediately before me, and there were a number of staff members ready and waiting to greet me. Unfortunately, I had a slightly embarrassing thing to say. I told them that I had a reservation…for one. They asked me for my name, which I gave, and they all suddenly proclaimed in unison, “Oh, you’re [INSERT REAL NAME HERE]!!!” I almost burst out laughing as they were all smiling and it was a possibly a bit ridiculous to have booked…but hey, you never know with popular restaurants, right? The guy who appeared to be the main waiter asked if I had heard about them in Canada (where they apparently thought I was from for some unknown reason) and I explained to him that a friend from the US had been recently and really enjoyed it, etc.
I thought that my friends @mathildecuisine and @dewilded might join me later for dessert as they were arriving that evening, so he gave me a table for four people, which meant I had plenty of space for all of the food I intended to order. 🙂
As the name indicates, the order of the day is mostly piscatorial, and one if the main design features of the place is a ginormous fish tank around which you can sit on stools if you so wish.
I had a great view of the fish tank and the main bar, and proceeded to plunge myself into studying the menu. The same waiter noticed my studious concentration and came by to explain each dish to me in full (in English), which was much appreciated.
From sea-food to sea-buckthorn
I had a look through the wine list and immediately noticed that there was a Danish white wine on the list. Yes, a Danish wine. I asked if it was any good, and the waiter rambled off some long story (okay, it wasn’t that long), which I now cannot recall, and won me over to trying it.
Good thing too. The wine was wonderfully refreshing, and was composed of Sauvignon Blanc as well as another (I want to say local) grape. Perhaps wishfully thinking, my tasting notes reveal that it had “a slight saline taste, perhaps from the sea” – though I doubt some people would agree with that rationale for the slightly salty taste. Anyway, I really enjoyed it.
Soon thereafter a pretty large loaf of sourdough bread was lopped down before me, along with an upside down cone of organic Danish butter with buttermilk. As with most of the bread I sampled in Copenhagen on this trip, it was excellent…as was the butter, once it had a chance to get warm and soften up a little bit. 8/10.
On my friend’s recommendation, I decided to stick mostly with the small plates, which turned out to be a good plan, especially as I was now definitely dining solo given Mathilde and David’s flight was delayed.
First to arrive was a plate of three Danish oysters. Readers of the blog will know that I am not the world’s greatest expert on bivalve molluscs, but expert or not, these were friggin’ huge. To my untrained tongue, they were truly excellent: meaty and only slightly tasting of the sea, served with a great punchy vinaigrette. I would have had three more if my next plates didn’t arrive just as I was finishing, to use the parlance of our times. The aforementioned Danish wine was excellent with the oysters too, by the way. 9/10.
The next two plates arrived simultaneously, and I opted to tackle the razor clams first. Although a simple and visually appealing dish, I wasn’t quite certain of the best way to go about eating it. I managed, though, and thought the clams themselves were very good. The herb cream – which seemed to contain tarragon and garlic – was an interesting flavour to pair with these slivery discs, but I felt that it dominated the clams and wasn’t wholly balanced, even though there were only small dabs of the cream. The standout component of this plate for me was the salad, which had the most amazing dressing that was sweet but acidic and spicy too. Overall this dish was good but not my favourite of the evening. 6/10.
Last of my small plates was a beautifully presented little bowl of bleak row that was matched with fairly traditional Scandinavian accompaniments of onions and sour cream – with a few pea shoots and chives thrown in for good measure. I decided to taste these together on their own before spreading it on the crisp breads, which had been provided in a cute little metal bucket on the side. The roe itself was excellent, and the other ingredients worked harmoniously with its saltiness, providing sharpness, herbaceousness and creaminess.
I enjoyed the three thin ‘breads’ both on their own and with a bit of the roe. There was a razor-thin slice of fried ciabatta, as well as a delightfully light potato crisp which was well salted (this was my favourite – basically a posh potato chip) and a normal Danish flatbread with tons of different seeds stuck to the top. 7/10 for the dish as a whole.
As a side-note, I had ordered a second glass of wine (2009 Picpoul de Pinet, Croix Gratiot, Coteaux de Languedoc), which I really didn’t like very much and didn’t seem to go too well with the clams despite the suggestion from one of the waitresses.
For my one medium-sized plate, I went for the cod roe. And I was glad I did, because it was a total triumph. The roe itself had been smoked and seared perfectly. Served alongside the golden phallice were pickled vegetables of all sorts – carrots, celery, kohlrabi, plus many others that didn’t start with ‘c’ or ‘k’ – and all tied together with a rich but deftly portioned brown butter sauce. There were also a few dabs of buttery mashed potatoes and some fresh cress to finish it off. The dish as a whole had a great variety of textures and was an amazing combination of sweet, salty and smoky. It was one of the best things I ate in Copenhagen during my short stay. 9/10.
I was head-over-heels in love with my orange and yellow dessert too. It consisted of frozen and shaved sea-buckthorn (or ‘havtorn’ in Danish), lemon cream, tonka bean and white chocolate, as well as little gel capsules of sea-buckthorn and a few green leaves placed delicately beside each disc of jelly. The icy texture of the grainté melted into the truly luscious cream and the chewy gel reiterated the somewhat bracing acidity that accompanies the bittersweet berry. The heat, which I believe emanated from the tonka, was also a nice surprise. This was one of my favorite desserts in a long time and, even though it was a very generous portion, I really could have had another bowl. 10/10.
The sweet Riesling I ordered went very well with the desert, and actually mirrored it perfectly – luscious sweetness kept in check by a steely acidity.
The thing I liked overall about this restaurant was that the formula seemed to have been thoughtfully calibrated to make the diner’s experience just right. It has an unassuming façade; a rustic yet stylish interior design; a menu that is simple, focused and straightforward; helpful and friendly service; and well executed, clean, exciting food.
I immediately felt at home, and was welcomed warmly. While there was one brief lapse in service – when I sat with an empty wine glass for more than a little while – it was soon rectified by another waitress who spotted the situation. Everyone I interacted with was knowledgeable and eager (but not too eager) to explain something as and when I showed interest. While they do take their enterprise seriously, they do not take themselves too seriously. They know what they’re doing and they’re good at it – nothing more, nothing less.
I wish more restaurants could be like this. Too often, very good food is accompanied by an annoyingly cutesy, smug and/or a condescending attitude (did you read my review of ko?). And all too often, so is not very good food. I think the Danes have a good model going: they know what they do well, are proud to offer it to you and let you enjoy it…and they know how to do this without showing off. That’s what I experienced on my trip at least.
Suffice to say, if you are in Copenhagen, whether you have the good fortune of going to noma or not, please try out Fiskebar – it was a gem of a find for me, and I hope it will stay that way for you.
Wine: I only looked at the by-the-glass list, which had a red and white house wine at 50 kroner per glass, plus 4 whites, 3 reds, and 2 sweet wines priced between 70 – 120 kroner per glass. The producers were well-chosen but the prices did seem expensive…maybe this is just the Copenhagen factor, though.
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have dined at Kødbyens Fiskebar once, and it was for dinner*