When I eat out I want things I would never make at home. I want new flavours, textures and combinations to try, inspiration and ideas. Mostly I want a meal to stick in my memory for a while so that I can some way justify travelling to a foreign country for a dinner.
Relæ in Copenhagen was our latest culinary jaunt and I must say it delivered on all fronts. Opened by ex Noma alumni (only the best restaurant in the world, darling), this place has been turning up regularly in the design, food and travel magazines that gather in our house, and having treated ourselves to a weekend away sans children, we were curious to find out for ourselves what all the hype was about.
Housed in an understated basement room in a seemingly down at heel (but really rather trendy) neighbourhood, your menu and cutlery can be found in a little pull-out drawer under the table. They serve only two set menus here; one for vegetarians, the other for ‘omnivores’. Homemade rye sourdough bread comes to the table tucked into a cloth in a ceramic bowl. It comes with a small spouted pot full of the fruitiest of olive oils.
Starters were white asparagus and anchovies for me and sheep's milk yogurt, pea shoots and pea & pinenut 'snow' for Ray who was 'taste driving' the vegetarian menu. The white asparagus which is forced and keep in the dark to stop it turning green was blanched for the briefest time and sliced finely. Multiple preparations of the same ingredient being a bit of a theme here, here was a white asparagus puree dotted in a pool of salty anchovy broth. It was beautiful on the plate and full of flavour.
Ray's sheep's milk yogurt & pea was simply stunning. A buzzy combination of flavors and textures and the vermillion pea and pine nut snow that drifted across the surface of the unexpectedly icy cold yogurt went a large way to making it the best dish of the meal for both of us (Ray previously hated both sheep milk and peas!).
Next up for us both a plate of the tiniest new potatoes, nutty and each no bigger than a thumb nail, generously dusted in powdered seaweed. There were warm forced strawberries, white and tart, smelling and tasting almost identical to early season rhubarb. These sat in a zingy rocket emulsion. Personally I found the strawberries a bit 'design over substance', they seemed to add nothing but novelty value, but that's a small gripe.
Ray's vegetarian main of grilled onions and puree duly arrived. Yes, onions. Seriously. A plate of very young onion shoots, gridled, and a deep dark caramelized onion puree on the side. It looked awful (thus not pictured), tasted divine and not a scrap was left. My havervadgård lamb, with turnip and samphire was outstanding. The charming waiter spoke eloquently of the wild lambs that feed on the samphire and forage the Danish seaside for their fodder, with no supplementary feeding, they are wild and organic. The supplier then scoops up both the lamb and the samphire for the good people of Denmark to feast on. This is some amazing meat! Our waiter continued to wax lyrical about the slow poaching of the lamb, (here I imagine that ‘poached’ translates into ‘sous vide’, as it was just perfectly rare and tender as could be) What they called a turnip was what we would call a swede. Paper thin and delicately flavored, it was soft enough that you knew it had been cooked but firm enough that it could not have been for long. The samphire was the only the tender tips, not the woody stems so often encountered elsewhere. The entire dish sat in the deepest lamb jus imaginable. It was ridiculously good.
We passed on the optional course of fresh goats cheese although it looked great on our neighbouring diners tables and moved on to dessert. This was indeed a dish served at the end of the meal, but no other dessert rules seemed to apply here. Described simply as herbs and warm sabayon on the menu, the bright green herb 'ice-cream' was not sweet but intensively flavoured with thyme, mint, rosemary and other garden herbs, the warm sabayon sweet, lemony and peppered with tiny herb flowers. The thinnest toasted rye bread slivers were added for crunch. It was a light and refreshing end to a truly lovely meal.
Dining at Relæ is a sensory experience and locality and seasonality are a religion. Simple, good ingredients are combined for innovation, mostly very successfully. The front of house staff are interested and enthusiastic and have the most amazing leather aprons for a uniform to boot! If you stay away from the biodynamic wines, the food is very affordable, alas we did not. But most importantly this is a meal which will most definitely stick in my memory for a while. A long while.