I was in Copenhagen the other day, on a gorgeous pinky-stormy evening, to eat with a friend at the city's most anticipated new restaurant, Relæ, which recently opened on a notoriously dodgy, drug dealer-ey street, Jægersborggade, in Nørrebro.
Behind the restaurant are several ex-Noma staff, including Sicily-born Christian F. Puglisi who is head chef (in fact, it was Noma's head chef and co-owner René Redzepi who first recommended it to me: like all great chefs, René is always keen to help his alumni).
But people aren't just talking about Relæ because of the provenance of its kitchen brigade or their choice of an infamous drug dealers' street as their address, or even their admirable emphasis on vegetables in their menu. There has also been a bit of a ding-dong in one of Denmark's leading newspapers, Berlingske Tidende, after two of its most esteemed lazy, pissed-up, old farts restaurant critics toddled by, stuffed themselves silly with booze and food, and dashed off a review.
Turns out their copy contained quite a few mistakes, basic factual errors which proper, right thinking, professional, experienced journalists such as myself would never make, oh no (although there was that time...).
Despite them giving Relæ an impressive five stars, or plates, or whatever, out of six, chef Puglisi still felt the need to add a lengthy, point-by-point comment at the bottom of the online version of the review detailing just how inept the paper's critics were (mistaking fennel for celery was one of my favourites). Wow. Now that takes some guts. Hats off to Christian on that one. Love to see it start a trend. Although, personally, he does come out of it as a bit of a nit-picker. But then, I guess that's one of character traits you look for in a great chef...
In fact, I wonder why more chefs and restaurateurs don't do the same when provoked by some of the sloppier pronouncements of those towards the, let's say, more solipsistic, self-consumed end of the UK restaurant critic spectrum.
Anyhoo, on to the food. Which was interesting, provocative, original, sometimes not very nice, and ultimately not quite filling enough for me considering the outlay (and what that would get you in, say, London, New York or Paris), but definitely compelling enough to make me want to come back to see what they are up to in a month or so - which, ultimately, is the true test of a restaurant as far as I am concerned.
There are two menus - vegetarian and, as the Indians would say, 'non-veg.' Although the celeriac and seaweed rolls were intriguing, I chose the main menu, lured by the first course which was - and I had better get my facts straight, hadn't I? - a brined, pickled piece of mackerel with cauliflower purée and thinly sliced cauliflower, resting on a bed of puréed lemon peel.
Stunning. Best dish of the meal. Simple, clever combination of flavours and textures. The mackerel tasted fishy without being skanky. If, say, cod is the chicken of the sea, this was kind of like how well hung game is to chicken, if you get my meaning.
Next course: fascinating disaster. Half an onion - undoubtedly a very good onion - caramelised on one side, and steamed on the other, with an onion purée and some kind of onion/elderberry jus with tapioca. Think the leaves were sorrel. The problem was, for me, the onion was under-seasoned, under-cooked and under-flavoured. Crunchy onion is just not something I want to eat in a restaurant, or ever come to that. The Canadian chef working in front of us in the kitchen seemed a little dismayed that neither of us finished this dish - and it takes a lot for me not to finish food I've paid for: I even eat up at Wagammamas - and tried to explain what they were trying to achieve with the dish. But, well, no. Sorry. But kudos for trying. I'm all for experimentation, playing around, and I even don't mind paying for it. So in no way would this put me off returning. In fact, as I said, quite the opposite. Shock me! Bring it on!
Also fascinating, but more tasty, was this organic, mature chicken from southern Jutland, cooked sous vide, so still pink but beautifully tender and flavourful, with bottarga, its own heart (that'll teach it), and baby sweet corn.
Baby sweet corn has no place on a proper restaurant plate, but we'll let that pass. This was a wonderful dish. And refreshing to see defiantly non-Nordic ingredients like bottarga on a restaurant run by Noma alumni.
Dessert brought a complex mix of bitter, toasted, nutty and fruity flavours with a sharp, clean milk ice cream, rapeseed oil powder, and I think they were actual rapeseeds - blanched and toasted - coating the ice cream. Plus really vigorous raspberries, uber raspberries. The most raspberry-ish raspberries I think I have ever tasted.
When I eat out I want food I would never or could never make at home. I want flavour and texture combinations which I have never tried before. Of course, most of the time I want them to work and be enjoyable, but if occasionally they aren't, then I see that as a fair price to pay for having my jaded, gluttonous, knackered old palate stimulated. I don't mind being shocked and challenged, and I consider it a good thing for a meal to stick in my memory for a while afterwards.
I do, however, want to feel reasonably full for 325kr - nearly forty quid - which I didn't after Relæ, but, again, I am an unconscionable glutton, so I may not be entirely representative of Relæ's sophisticated, health-conscious clientele.
I was thrilled to hear this week that my latest book, Sushi and Beyond, is to be translated into Japanese by Tokyo-based publisher, Aki Shobo.
It is slightly nerve wracking to think that a wider Japanese public is going to get a chance to assess the accuracy of some of my research, but I hope they are pleased by my descriptions about their homeland.
More importantly, publication - which will probably be later next year - ought to give me an excuse to visit Japan again...
(If you are wondering why this nigiri and maki looks kinda squiffy - that's because I made it).