I’ve always had a soft spot for Denmark – a fondness that started with family holidays and, in more recent times, the discovery of its wonderful dining scene, the only drawback of which is the hefty price tag. Den Rode Cottage (Danish for ‘the red cottage’) is just about to re-open after a two month hiatus and if my visit last autumn is anything to go by then it certainly still deserves its place on the international culinary map. Located just north of Copenhagen in the little village of Klampenborg on the coast, it is a mere 15 minute ride by regional train (the ‘S-Tog’ from Copenhagen Central Station), followed by another 5 minute taxi ride or a 15 minute walk through the woods. Alternatively you can get a taxi the whole way door to door from central Copenhagen for around £25.
The woods surrounding the cottage feel very Twin Peaks, very Scandi-noir murder mystery, but don’t let that put you off (personally I love that kind of thing – the fresh air, the trees, the mystique, the tranquillity).
Despite feeling like it’s in the middle of nowhere the restaurant was at full capacity on my visit. The cottage is small, comprising two floors (no bar, alas). On my visit there was a rather raucous party having exclusive occupancy of the first floor – where all the people came from I don’t know – whilst on the ground floor it was a more sedate affair. Tables are spaced apart comfortably, it is candlelit and there’s a calming view of the forest through the window as the sun sets. For the ladies there are little toadstools beside each table for parking their handbags. I noted Clare Smyth adopted the same quirk at Core, and some unkind online critics have called this pretentious, but these little stands surely come in very handy for women who want to reach their bags easily and not have them dirtied by the floor.
the food is really rather impressive, and I hope this standard continues
Ambience-wise, Den Rode Cottage would be just about bang-on perfect were it not for the damn automatic door by the kitchen audibly opening and closing like a 1960s sci-fi film set (if I’d known this would be so irritating I would’ve asked to move tables). Maybe in the new iteration of this restaurant they will dispense with the kitchen door. I hope they do.
The staff are attired in black and white – not the stuffy white shirt, bow ties and waistcoats of yore, but rather the kind of funky printed shirts that you might see modelled in the windows of Topman. The photography on the walls is similarly modern and monochrome, each picture on matte or fabric surfaces so there is no shine and you can absorb the artwork – artiness which flows through to the cooking too (and, fortunately, is not monochrome).
Yes, it is another one of those high-end neo-nordic places where there is no choice in the menu, and they will be retaining this model in Den Rode Cottage 2.0. But at least you’re not forced to have 17 courses. You can indeed just have 3 if you so desire. Despite this, rather like a university exam paper, there is at least one compulsory dish everyone has to have, whilst the others remain optional. The wines are generally matched well but overpriced, some amounting to £20 for a glass of something really rather mundane and pedestrian. And a shot of espresso at £8 is also daylight robbery, whichever way you look at it. I understand that the new team will be bringing in ingredients from New Zealand from March 2018 onwards, so it’s entirely possible that the prices will go up even further. Even with such skilled cookery and interesting ingredients, for which you expect to pay a high price, it still seems a bit too expensive.
The qualms about value aside, the food itself is really rather impressive, and I hope this standard continues. To begin with I’m presented with a small bowl of salt, a chopping board and a knife – presumably for further refining your own salt – though I failed to see the need for this at all as the accompanying bread was already rather salty. A solitary oyster was then placed in front of me, occupying about a sixteenth of the size of a large wooden board (classic Nordic negative spacing right there).
the turbot was magnificent, and indeed a contender for my favourite dish of the year
Then came poussin, oddly just luke-warm, with a fair drizzling of oil, crunchy buckwheat, slightly sour celeriac and blackcurrant all coming together harmoniously, which I wasn’t quite expecting. As I’m not as sweet-toothed as I used to be in my youth, I found the blackcurrant a little cloying, almost like pellets of Ribena.
As for the compulsory exam question of the meal – in this case their turbot – this was magnificent, and indeed a contender for my favourite dish of the year. The sweetcorn had an al dente bite, the chanterelles a woody earthiness, and the brown butter sauce added just enough jus to bring the dish together. Overall it seemed more French than Danish to me, but there you go. We’re all international now.
The dessert was another standout dish and finished the meal on a high. ‘Rødgrød’ is a classic Danish dessert that is, frankly, a bit boring. It is essentially a clumpy red fruit soup with semolina. Ugh. The Den Rode version however transported rødgrød to places I didn’t know it could go, with lemon verbena, white chocolate, crispy meringue and sorrel powder. A simple dish turned up to 11. It was a delight.
And a final word about the service. In the main it is faultless. My only issue is, at times, it needs to slow down a little. After all, you’ve ventured out here in the sticks, haven’t been stabbed in the woods, and paying a small fortune, so you should be able to savour every moment.
If staying in Copenhagen for a few days, a jaunt to Den Rode Cottage is recommended. Just check with your bank manager first.
by J A Smith