Restaurant Relæ, #75 on the World’s 50Best list, announced itself as a place with a relaxed attitude and no airs and grace when the restaurant opened in 2010. But the being-down-to earth focus tends to get a bit pretentious.
There are no cloths on the humble wooden tables, you have to find your cutlery in a drawer underneath the table, the glasses are not of a very high standard and there are only a couple of waiters in the restaurant. It is obvious that the concept at Relæ is about cutting everything superfluous away so that they can focus on what it is foremost about: the food and wine. To me that is very commendable because it gives more people the chance to experience gastronomy on a higher level without loosing all their money. It is a big deal for the people behind the restaurant that Relæ is supposed to be relaxed and down to earth, a place where everybody can come along. Maybe they do a bit too much. I will come back to that later.
For a long time I had been curious about what was going on at Relæ, and my interest just got bigger when they received a Michelin star this year in March.
There are two menus: one with meat and one vegetarian. Both consist of four dishes and cost 355 DKK. Beside that, you can order cheese and snacks. My friend and I both chose the menu with meat and we started out with the snack serving. Two green bouquets of several different herbs were served. In the centre of the bouquet was a pesto of pistachios, which gave a nice richness to the juicy and flavourful herb bouquet with a lot of varied tastes. There has without any doubt been put some work into finding and tying the flowers, but to the price of 45 DKK I expected a bit more of that serving.
To follow the snack, we got a glass of sparkling Eureka 2009 from Coulée d’Ambrosia from Anjou in the Loire Valley made of Chenin Blanc grapes. It was decent but not impressing. The waiter said that it had a lot of acidity, which I like but did not find in this glass of wine, which had notes of nuts and ripened fruits.
The first dish was lamb from a Danish farm called Havervedgård, shrimps and dill. When the dish arrived the lamb, which was cut into rectangular, Carpaccio-like slices, was the only visual ingredient on the plate. Underneath were delicate rings of onion, dill and a powder of shrimps, which was made of fresh shrimps from Danish inlets. The shrimps were dehydrated and then blended to powder. It gave a deep, sweet taste of shrimps and it bonded the dish together beautifully. The lamb had a clean, delicate meat flavour, as you might know it from tartar. This was my favourite dish this evening because it had few but distinct flavours that fitted together perfectly.
We chose to have the wine menu (355 DKK) with the food. At Relæ they have decided only to serve natural wines without added sulfur, so in case you are not familiar with that type of wines you will definitely experience something different. With the lamb we had a glass of Pink Rabbit 2010 from Nicolas Testard in Beaujolais. With its label it would fit perfectly into Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. Like many other natural wines this one was unfiltered, which gives the wine a blurred look in the glass. This wine had distinct notes of straw and mulberries and a bit of sweetness in the mouth, which worked well with the shrimps and the sweet meat of lamb.
The next dish was vegetarian: green asparagus with sunflower seeds and mint. It stands clear that there is a tendency in the kitchen at Relæ to cover the dishes with just one ingredient. In this dish it was slices of the green asparagus that made the visual impression. Underneath were sunflower seeds that did not taste like they had been toasted, so the taste was mild and light. On the other hand there were puffed grains – maybe barley – which added crunch and toasted flavours that I would have liked to get from the sunflower seeds as well. In my view, the biggest problem with this dish was the mint, which drowned the other ingredients and added a bitterness that I did not like. It was a kind of strange dish where I could not find the common thread.
In the glass we got Bouchat 2010 from Guy Blanchard in Mâcon, Burgundy. Once again it was obviously an unfiltered wine and this time it was a typical example of the characteristics of white natural wines – apple juice. I do not have a problem with that in general, but on the face of this particular wine I did not find aromas on the nose or in the taste of those appearing in the dish.
During the dinner we got excellent bread with a moist, elastic crumb and a crisp crust. Instead of the almost – at least in Denmark – obligatory butter Relæ serves olive oil with the bread, which might be due to the fact that co-owner and chef Christian Puglisi comes from Sicily. It was definitely good quality oil but I get an incontrollable desire for butter when I have nice bread in front of me – so incontrollable that I had to ask Christian Puglisi, who had just served two dishes at the table next to us, if we could have a bit of butter to follow the bread. To that he answered “No”, looked me seriously in the eyes and left. That more or less direct reprimand was uncomfortable and it did not give me a feeling that the guest is of importance. I fully respect if a restaurant has a concept based on some specific foundations – which in this case apparently includes olive oil along with the bread; but you should be able to speak nicely to your guests anyway. I did not feel that welcome after Puglisi’s reaction, which was derived from a humble request for some butter. If he had explained that it could not be done because of this and that, I could have understood it better. It is a shame and a bit weird, that they answer their guests in that way when they talk about being down to earth.
Back on track, where we fortunately got a very good dish. Chicken with white asparagus, a classic Danish combination, was twisted, in this case with meat from the wings, blanched hearts and seared liver. This dish was of course covered as well, this time with the white asparagus in thin slices, which were tender but without loosing its crispiness. The meat of the wings was tender like butter, and the pieces of heart and liver gave, together with bits of anchovy, depth and umami to the dish. All of the delicacies were lying in a lemon beurre blanc, which added richness and acidity to the meat and the asparagus. A perfect example of how cheap cuts are able to beat the more popular ones when it comes to savour an richness.
The wine to follow the chicken was Panier de Fruits 2009, once again from La Coulée d’Ambrosia in Anjou in the Loire Valley. This was made of Chenin Blanc as well and had elegant, distinct flavors of citrus that acted well with the lemon beurre blanc, while the wine had flavours of ripened fruit, which worked well with the different parts of the chicken.
After this great dish we chose to split a cheese serving (85 DKK) with cream cheese of goats milk from the Swedish farm Hagelstad with parsely puree. It was a very different cheese serving because the cream cheese was very liquid and the puree was stirred into the mix like an abstract painting. It was a refreshing cheese serving that did not make you full before the dessert. Along with the cheese we got a glass of Sauvageonne 2009 from Les Grittes in Anjou (95 DKK) – an almost brown wine with nutty aromas but fresh and fruity acids as well which fit the sour cream cheese.
Now it was time for the dessert, “Elderflower and rhubarb. A beautiful dish with a mouthwatering granita of elderflower with a perfect balance between acidity and sweetness, peaces of sweet rhubard, which had turned a bit guwey (in a good way) and finally bits of pale, crisp cookie that were lying under the granita. The elements of elderflower and rhubarb were spot on while the pieces of cookie ruined the experience. They were very salty with actual flakes of salt in them. The idea was probably to create a balance in relation to the acidity and sweetness and at the same time provoke the guests a bit. Unfortunately, the taste of salt was too dominating, and in its whole I found the dish as salty as it was sweet, and I did not like that.
The dessert wine was better balanced. Blonde 2011 from Andrea Calek, Alba la Romaine in Ardèche, France was a not very sweet sparkling white wine, which worked well with the fruity elements in the dessert, while the lively bobbles were as refreshing as the granita.
All in all it was a dinner with ups and downs. We ended up paying 1,037,50 DKK per person, which is not expensive though we we not that impressed. The food at Relæ is not top-level gourmet, and that is fair because they have not announced it to be, and I would characterize the food as gourmet light. Relæ is using the local ingredients of the seasons, without being enslaved to only using Nordic ingredients. The ambition was not to get a Michelin star, and even though I am happy for Relæ, I am wondering about from where that star came down. I respect their choice about only serving natural wines, and it gives new and differing wine experiences to a lot of the guests. So does the food, but I would like to experience a bit more savour along with the more challenging tastes. When it comes to the attitude I would like to see some improvements as well. I discovered several situations where I felt that the staff was teaching us instead of just presenting their philosophy. And when the waiters regularly need to tell how down to earth Relæ is, it unfortunately falls – well – a bit to the ground.
2200 København N
Tel:+ 45 3696 6609