Believe it or not, but my first visit to Denmark’s capital was as late as in 2011. I still remember heading over to Øster Farimagsgade one of the days, to visit Aamanns Etablissement with my dad. We both love classic Danish open-faced sandwiches and had to check out the word on the street about Copenhagen’s uncrowned smørrebrød king. The sandwiches we devoured this day were the most spectacular and extravagant versions of a slice of bread with topping that we had ever come across. Adam Aamann actually has two eateries on this street, with Aamanns Etablissement being the more formal sit-down restaurant, while Aamanns Deli & Take Away is the casual café. Later on, I’ve been back to check out the latter as well, not to mention his eatery at Kastrup airport. I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve eaten Aamann’s sandwiches while waiting for my flight back to Oslo. Thus, I felt obliged to check out the king’s new castle in the inner city of Copenhagen – Aamanns 1921.
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Max Surdu is the Head Chef at Aamanns 1921
At Aamanns 1921, head chef Maxim Max Surdu serves modernized versions of classic Danish open-faced sandwiches for lunch and does a take on traditional Danish everyday dishes in the evening. Chef Surdu came from the position as head chef of the now-closed restaurant Umami, a French-Japanese fusion and sushi restaurant, and spent some time working at Noma in-between. Both Max and Adam was present in the restaurant this afternoon and changed on serving and explaining each dish. My dining companion was Frederik Galskov who has developed a restaurant app called Smakk (check it out in the App Store). Aamanns 1921 offers two set menus, one priced at DKK 350 (6 courses) and another at DKK 390 (7 courses). However, since we were two, we figured we could taste a whole lot more if we ventured into the à la carte options and just shared everything.
The first round featured two different herring sandwiches, one with fried and pickled herring, onion compote and potatoes, and the other one with sherry-marinated herring, fried egg, and crispy onions. Flavor-wise, I preferred the first one, but in terms of presentation, the second was admittedly more appealing. I found the cold-smoked salmon sandwich to be rather dull-looking compared to the Aamann standard I have come to know, but it made up for a bad display with a great taste. The roasted almonds and cress mayo, as well as the bitter greens, paired exceptionally well with the pink fish. A combination I might just have to copy at home. However, I wouldn’t be the first to get my sandwich influence from Mr. Adam Aamann. I think both Renaa Matbaren in Stavanger and Theatercaféen in Oslo may have looked to their Danish neighbor for some inspiration, which, by the way, is a great thing to do.
Elevating a Classic Danish Food Icon to Art
It was in the second round that Surdu brought out my definite favorite sandwich of the meal – a toasted brioche bread with boiled eggs, hand-peeled shrimps, and lumpfish roe. Served with a sauce of crème fraîche and chives on the side. Despite having eaten lumpfish roe at literally every restaurant in Copenhagen on this trip, I hadn’t grown tired of it. This cheaper vendace roe alternative is not a bad replacement at all, adding more texture to each bite than its luxurious cousin.
We continued with a great vegetarian option topped with brown-butter-fried cauliflower, semi-dried tomatoes, lovage mayo, pickled onions, and hazelnuts. Light and easy, before heading in the complete opposite direction, rich and heavy, with liver paté, celeriac and ceps purée, pickled mushrooms, and bacon. Plus some red beets pickled in pine vinegar. Perhaps the winning sandwich when it comes to presentation. The creation looked like a forest floor in the autumn, with little leave and twigs laying on the ground. This is what Adam Aamann has done better than anyone. He’s taken a classic Danish food icon and elevated it to art, where the slices of rye bread act as his canvas for the various strokes of paint, or toppings if you will. Luckily, he has found a great painter in Max Surdu as well.
Finally, we had a dish that wasn’t a sandwich at all, but a classic Danish fish cake with pickled root vegetables, curry and mussels sauce. It did come with bread and butter (and pork and duck fat) on the side, though. The fiskefrikadelle was juicy with a great texture, and the sauce was rich, warm and delicious. Lastly, we tried Aamann’s twist on a classic Danish dessert – Øllebrød. Literally translated to beer-bread, this dessert came about as an attempt not to waste bread back in the days. Traditionally, a porridge made of old rye bread mixed with beer, but Aamann’s version is far more extravagant and delicious. A brownie-like cake made with organic rye bread, brown butter, chocolate, and dark beer from Harslev. The sweet treat was served with blood orange sorbet, candied walnuts, and a spuma buttermilk cream. I could have eaten a second one, but it was only lunch-time after all. Next time, I plan to check out the evening dinner menu.
Where do you satisfy your smørrebrød cravings? Please share in a comment below.
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Anders Husa & Kaitlin Orr