Kong Hans Kaelder

Vingårdstræde 6, Copenhagen, 1070, Denmark

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This restaurant, whose name in English means King John’s Cellar, opened in 1976 and was the first restaurant in Copenhagen to win a Michelin star in 1983.  It lost this in 2014, but won the star back in the 2016 Michelin guide. The restaurant is located in a merchant’s house dating back over 700 years (built during the reign of King Hans) that was originally the site of a vineyard. The dining room is in the gothic white-washed basement, a few steps down from the street level entrance. 

The executive chef is Mark Lungaard Nielsen, who was not in the kitchen tonight (he was apparently at a Bruce Springsteen concert). Fortunately the kitchen was in the capable hands of his chef de cuisine Niall Keating, who was previously sous chef at Benu and before that worked at Sat Bains and at Gidleigh Park. There was a tasting menu at DKK 1,500 (£154) as well as a full a la carte choice.

The wine list was very extensive, with around 3,000 separate labels on offer. There was plenty of depth not just in the great regions of France, but in Italy, Germany and the USA too. Examples were Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Riesling 2013 at DKK 450 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for DKK 134, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2015 at DKK 795 compared to a retail price of DKK 219, and Yarra Yerring Chardonnay 2011 at DKK 1,100 for a wine that will set you back DKK 546 in a shop. If you wanted to splurge then there was plenty of fine white Burgundy, such as Etienne Sauzet Bienvenue Batard Montrachet 2013 at DKK 3,995 for a wine with a current market value of DKK 2,827. 

The dining room is a few steps down from the street, with gothic arches. The lighting in the room was rather murky, hence the matching photos. The meal began with a flurry of nibbles. There was a quail egg soft boiled and topped with white sturgeon, a tart of mayonnaise with little shrimps, a puff pastry of snail, croustade of salmon tartare and summer truffle, pickled pearl onion with tartare of deer, brandade of cod, cream cheese with avocado and rye (the least interesting to me), and hen egg with why asparagus cream. I particularly liked the snail on its bed of comforting puff pastry, as well as the croustade of salmon (16/20 average). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a choice of brioche or mini baguette. Both were excellent, the brioche not too sweet and the baguette having very good texture (16/20).

Asparagus from Denmark came with golden caviar and an olive sauce. The asparagus had excellent flavour and the olive flavour worked nicely with it, the saltiness of the caviar adding an extra flavour dimension (16/20).

This was followed by monkfish tail that was roasted on the bone and then filleted at the table, glazed with lobster sauce and spring onions. On the side was pommes puree with garlic and a sauce of lobster, mussel and fava beans. The fish had lovely flavour and was precisely cooked, the potatoes had a good kick of garlic and the sauce had plenty of depth of flavour (17/20).

The main course was venison with chanterelles, green asparagus, spring onions and cabbage shoots, accompanied by a spiced venison jus with cumin. This was a fine dish, the deer served medium rare and having excellent flavour. The cooking of the vegetables was particularly precise, the cabbage and onions an earthy foil to the richness of the meat (easily 17/20).

A large cheese trolley was extensively stocked with French cheeses in impeccable condition, such as Munster, Morbiere and Brie de Meaux, along with a host of condiments. The dessert was red berry compote, a modern take on a traditional Danish family summer dessert. This version had rhubarb, strawberries, creme anglaise and pieces of white chocolate that had been caramelised in the oven, giving a textural contrast to the fruit, which itself had enough acidity to cut through the richness of the chocolate. This was enjoyable and nicely balanced (16/20).

Coffee was from a local supplier called Coffee Collective, and was rich yet with good acidity. The petit fours that came with it were the only low point of the meal. A fruit tart was reasonable, but a lemon meringue pie needed more lemon and pate de fruits were rather soggy and needed more fruit flavour (average 13/20).

Service was excellent with friendly and knowledgable staff, though the savoury dishes certainly came at a canter (I was finished with my main course within an hour of arriving). The bill came to DKK 2,610 (£268) per person, with a few glasses of wine. This is obviously a lot of money, though even if you went a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then you would struggle to get away for less than £200 a head. However this is Scandinavia, where nothing is cheap, and this is one of the poshest restaurants in town. Apart from the size of the bill I really enjoyed the meal, and in a city not short of Noma knock-offs it is nice to see somewhere ploughing its own furrow and sticking to classical cooking based on high-grade ingredients. 

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