Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Wanderlust: Sampling the New Nordic cuisine at Höst


Once merely a dot on the world's culinary map, Denmark is giving rise to a new style of cooking which is being heralded the world over for its use of unusual, locally-sourced and often foraged ingredients.

The New Nordic style of cooking blends complex flavours such as reindeer moss, soil and ants, usually sourced from restaurants' local areas. 

Denmark's new found status is, in part, thanks to the success of René Redzepi's two-Michelin star restaurant, Noma - awarded "best restaurant in the world" status four times between 2010 and 2014 by Restaurant Magazine -  which has helped to propel the Danish capital to the centre of the culinary world.

Thankfully, thanks to a new wave of New Nordic eateries, sampling this cuisine doesn't have to mean forking out for Michelin-star price tags - Noma's success has inspired a number of its former chefs and other established culinary masters from across Copenhagen to go it alone, launching a wonderful variety of eateries across the city to suit a wealth of budgets.

One such restaurant is Höst, founded in 2012 by Copenhagen Food Consulting (Cofoco), which has to date brought nine restaurants to the city and places emphasis on affordable, quality dining (indeed, the group first made a name for itself by launching the most affordable New Year menu in Copenhagen).

Assemblage visited Höst on a recent research trip to Copenhagen, and was bowled over by the value it offered, compared with its immediate New Nordic competitors.

Unusually for a New Nordic restaurant, prices are accessible - a three course evening menu is available for 295 Danish Krone (approximately £30 / $45 / 39), and also comes with complimentary appetizers and pre-desserts.

Making the New Nordic accessible to everyone is central to the restaurant's values, as manager Adam Bruun Christensen explains: "the idea is to create gastronomic experiences, for the average person with the Nordic flavours in mind."

This emphasis on accessibility is also reflected in the service, which is attentive, but refreshingly down to earth for a restaurant at the forefront of such a defined, fashionable cuisine. 

Service is attentive, but refreshingly down to earth for a restaurant at the forefront of such a defined, fashionable cuisine. 

Staff are friendly - even jovial, chatting and joking easily with diners - and, once the meals begin, bursting with pride for dishes they serve, painstakingly running through lists of ingredients, and - as Assemblage found when we revealed our distaste for mayonnaise - desperate to ensure dietary requirements do not spoil the intended flavours of dishes.

Dishes are masterminded by head chef Jonas Christensen, who, by the restaurant's own admission, cites "the forest floor" as his most recent inspiration. "Being that there is no recipe for New Nordic cooking, we strive to create the most natural and organic design on our plates," Bruun adds.

Signature dishes include seared lobster with juniper-pickled carrots, sea buckthorn, juniper cream, hazelnuts and browned butter - which, while Assemblage was there, arrived rather impressively on a bed of fired and smoking dried juniper.

"Besides [the lobster dish], we are quite proud of our birchbark iced cream [currently being served to diners with apple purée, herb chocolate, chervil and hazelnut sponge cake] which is made from shredded bark," Bruun explains. "Also, in the past, we have served a soup made from roasted and caramelized yeast."

The decor follows the same ethos - natural, local and sustainable. The walls are lined in whitewashed brick, tables are simple but sturdy, made of hardy wood, and not hard to imagine the chefs themselves having sawed and nailed together. The tough, utilitarian furniture is softened in the only way that is appropriate - with raw, natural touches. Furs line chairs, and lush green creepers climbing the walls. The only extravagance is the tableware, much of which is especially commissioned for the restaurant.

The overall impression is one of a restaurant without pretension, staffed by passionate people who are primarily driven by a love for the resources the natural environment can present, and a desire to bring the New Nordic dining experience to as many as possible. 

- Abigail

Images courtesy of Cofoco