Review: Den Vandrette Georgian-Inspired Khachapuri & Natural Wine

The natural wine bar and eatery Den Vandrette is a favorite industry hangout in Copenhagen. It’s frequented by Noma staff, so don’t be surprised if you bump into René Redzepi himself. The cozy underground space is the perfect place to hole up on a rainy day, but if the weather is nice you can sit outside at the waterfront looking over towards Christianshavn. Søren Grunnet Løvenlund (of GASTROunika caviar) and wine importer Rosforth & Rosforth (a.k.a. Under the Bridge) own Den Vandrette, so you can expect the wine list to include only natural, organic, and biodynamic producers. We’ve enjoyed many a glass of wine here on previous visits to Copenhagen, but we’ve never paid much attention to the food – until now. American chef Dave Harrison (previously of Au Passage in Paris) took over the kitchen at Den Vandrette a couple years ago, and the menu has been improving ever since. All his dishes focus on local, seasonal produce from Scandinavia, and some are inspired by traditional Georgian fare. At the moment, Den Vandrette is making the absolute best food at any wine bar in Copenhagen.

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DEN VANDRETTE

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Havnegade 53A, Copenhagen, Denmark
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The Best Bar Food in Copenhagen

We first noticed a big improvement to the food at Den Vandrette when we visited this January – the potato mille-feuille (layered potato fries) with lovage and a Worcestershire sauce was absolutely delicious. Every time we drop in, the food is better than the last time; lately, Den Vandrette has become part of our weekly rotation. It’s so good, in fact, that we have even been coming in just to eat and not order any wine! That’s when you know…

We are blessed to live in a place where many restaurants champion the use of seasonal, local ingredients. But, unfortunately, this can also mean that at times you’ll find variations of the same dish on many menus around the city. (At one point this summer we had a dessert of strawberries, rhubarb, and white chocolate cream five times in one week.) What we love about Den Vandrette is that they’re doing something completely different from the other great restaurants in town. Their dishes are unique and unlike anything else that’s available in Copenhagen right now.

Chef Dave Harrison previously worked at Au Passage in Paris.
Chef Dave Harrison previously worked at Au Passage in Paris.
Slices of watermelon with hot chili oil and sea salt.
Slices of watermelon with hot chili oil and sea salt.
Confit chicken of the woods mushrooms with raw cream and caviar.
Confit chicken of the woods mushrooms with raw cream and caviar.

Georgian-Inspired Fare with Nordic Ingredients

After a recent trip to the country of Georgia, chef Dave Harrison was inspired to add some Georgian-influenced dishes to his menu. One signature this summer is the khachapuri: a Georgian cheese bread filled with three types of cheese (gouda, cottage cheese, and brined goat cheese). The first version of the dish was filled only with cheese, but over the summer has evolved to include some spring onions and herbs as well. At first, we were resistant to the new variation (why change a good thing?), but, we have to say, we’ve grown to appreciate the freshness of the herbs to balance out the creamy, salty cheese. Unlike the more popular open-faced khachapuri from Adjara that resembles an oval-shaped pizza, Den Vandrette’s take on the dish is based on the Imeretian style, which is like a stuffed bread – golden and crispy on the outside, with a soft, doughy center that reminds us of a bagel. The bread is served with a serrated knife; cut it in half to reveal the gloriously cheesy filling. We recommend ordering one khachapuri per person – you’re not going to want to share. (So far this summer, we’ve eaten ten khachapuris, but we’re confident we can get that number to twenty before autumn sets in.)

That being said, you should save room for the other exciting dishes on chef Dave’s menu. One simple dish that surprised us was a plate of sliced fresh watermelon served with chili oil and sea salt. Perfect for summer, these flavors paired together extremely well. But be warned: the chili oil packs some serious heat! Another small plate that impressed us was the confit chicken of the woods mushroom served with raw cream and a generous dollop of GASTROunika caviar. This unique mushroom is so meaty in flavor and texture it’s hard to believe it’s a vegetable! Of course, there’s the fact that it’s cooked in duck fat…

The new version of the khachapuri has spring onions inside.
The new version of the khachapuri has spring onions inside.
Crispy potato dumplings with sheep's cheese and lovage.
Crispy potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese and lovage.
Raw Norwegian scallops with sea buckthorn, fig leaf oil, and habanero.
Raw Norwegian scallops with sea buckthorn, fig leaf oil, and habanero.
Danish new potatoes with garlic cream, ricotta, and coffee oil.
Danish new potatoes with garlic cream, ricotta, and coffee oil.

Den Vandrette gets their sourdough bread from Hart Bageri, but it’s much darker in color and richer in flavor than Hart’s signature “City Loaf” – perhaps it’s made with more whole wheat. It has slightly less of a crispy crust, and the inside is spongier and with smaller air pockets than its white flour sibling. We have to say, we prefer this style of sourdough; in fact, it’s the best bread from Hart that we’ve tried. A few slices of this toothsome bread come served with fresh cheese drenched in a cold pressed sunflower seed oil.

Norwegian scallops are the best in the world. Knowing this, chef Dave serves them raw in a sauce of sea buckthorn kombucha, fig leaf oil, and habanero. The result is a fantastic Nordic ceviche – fresh and acidic, with just a dash of heat that makes those scallops sing. The next umami bomb that needs to be on your table is the lobster arancini, a fried saffron rice ball filled with Danish lobster and served with a lobster coral aioli (made from the lobster roe). Sometimes saffron can be an overpowering flavor, but this was really balanced and a great use of the spice. The deep-fried rice ball is extremely light, not too dense and heavy like other arancini we’ve tried.

Lobster arancini with lobster coral aioli.
Lobster arancini with lobster coral aioli.
One of the best arancini we've tried!
One of the best arancini we’ve tried!
We enjoyed a bottle of Kuku Yodel from La Sorga.
We enjoyed a bottle of Kuku Yodel from La Sorga.
Den Vandrette is one of the coolest natural wine bars in Copenhagen.
Den Vandrette is one of the coolest natural wine bars in Copenhagen.

Earlier this summer, Den Vandrette had a serving of crispy potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese and lovage. While we liked the fun texture of these dumplings (similar to a fried gnocchi), we preferred the potato serving the next time we visited. The new and improved dish was comprised of Danish new potatoes, garlic cream, ricotta, and coffee oil. It might sound like a crazy combination, but the sweet and salty flavors actually blend together really well.

Save room for dessert – on the current menu is a Romanian-inspired papanași, a lightly fried doughnut made with salted sheep ricotta, that comes topped with sour cream and rose/rhubarb jam. It’s warm and fluffy and not too sweet – the perfect way to end the meal. Throughout the evening, the lovely Devina Devine is sure to keep your glasses full with all the best juice – perhaps a glass of nutty, caramelized Tissot to pair with your caviar, or maybe a bottle of Manon or La Sorga if you’re looking for something fresher. The cellar is well-stocked with wines of all shapes and sizes, from bubbles to whites to oranges to reds.

Next week, Den Vandrette is hosting a Georgian feast, a dinner pop-up at Birkemosegaard, a small farm located in Nordsjælland (North Zealand). We’ve heard rumors of family-style khachapuris and celebratory drinking horns as vessels for the Georgian wine – maybe we’ll see you there?

Papanași, a lightly fried doughnut with sour cream and rose rhubarb jam.
Papanași, a lightly fried doughnut with sour cream and rose rhubarb jam.
The level at Den Vandrette has never been higher!
The level at Den Vandrette has never been higher!

Have you been to Den Vandrette? Let us know in a comment below.

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