Relæ is one of many gems in the street Jægersborggade in Copenhagen. The Italian chef Christian Puglisi, with background from Noma, has a different approach to new Nordic cooking. Each dish has very few ingredients and the presentations look extremely simple – especially for a Michelin-starred restaurant. There is more to the food than meets the eye, though. I was at Relæ for lunch with Vinstudinen Linn Johnsen and a friend of hers way too many months ago. The kitchen was kind enough to share an insight into how all of the dishes are made. This detailed explanation of their cooking really shows all the work that goes into each plate, and I am happy to share the story. Fortunately, I am also going back to Relæ very soon to experience the new menu, now that Jonathan Tam has been appointed head chef.
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The Good Neighbors of Jægersborggade
The neighbors in Jægersborggade take care of each other. In this marvelous street in the area of Nørrebro you find designers, artists, ceramists, ice cream makers, bakers, baristas, sommeliers and carpenters. There’s a liquor store, a chocolate store, a donut store and a combined caramel store and production facility, amongst other things. Relæ is particularly good at supporting their neighbors. On the walls you find paintings from the art shop CMYKkld, in the windows are ceramics from Keramiker Inge Vincents and most of the plates and cups are made by Uh la la Ceramics.
The Puglisi Restaurant Family
In addition to the one Michelin-starred restaurant Relæ, chef Christian Puglisi and front of house manager Kim Rossen also run a more casual eatery and wine bar in Jægersborggade called Manfreds. This vegetarian-focused restaurant is, ironically, especially famous for their tartare. Furthermore, Puglisi and Rossen own another of my favorite restaurants in Copenhagen: the authentic Italian pizzeria Bæst. Next door is their sourdough bakery, coffee shop and pasta restaurant Mirabelle. The latest rumor is that Puglisi is involved in the projects of a new ramen restaurant together with the guys of Hrímnir. I can imagine that to easily become the best ramen shop in town.
Organic Food, Sustainability, and Natural Wine
Relæ was voted the 40th best restaurant in the world in 2016 (up from no. 45 in 2015) on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. They also won the Sustainable Restaurant Award both this and last year. As the only Michelin-starred certified organic restaurant in Denmark – which, by the way, also have its own organic farm – Relæ is all about natural wines. We got some great pairings to go with this lunch. The Buteo 12 is from the same producer as the wonderful bottle of “Flora” which we enjoyed at the 108 pop-up at Noma: Michael Gindl of the ancient vineyard SOL in Austria. I also remember drinking his “SOL” at restaurant Volt in Stockholm. Some producers just leave a mark, I guess. A porter from the small Danish brewery Kølster was used as a pairing for one of the desserts. I met the guys of Kølster at Copenhagen Cooking & Food Festival this year if you want to read more about them.
Leeks in Many Variations with Raw Oyster
To make this simple looking, yet complex dish the team of chefs at Relæ roast the green leaves of the leeks in the oven at a low temperature – around 140 degrees C. The next step is to make a sort of herb oil of the roasted leeks, which is also used to make an emulsion together with egg yolks. Raw Danish oysters from Limfjorden are placed on a plate, gets a spoon of the emulsion over, are topped with steamed leek stems that have been cut into sheets and finally gets a drizzle of the leek oil. Voila!
Celeriac Flowers in Almond Milk
I watched the chefs individually wrap these small flower-looking creations, and I’m still not sure I could copy it. The flowers are actually ultra-thin slices of celeriac, which are blanched for a few seconds. Inside each of them is one nasturtium leaf. Poured on top is an almond milk made by soaking almonds overnight and making a purée of them, which is then sifted through a filter to make a clear milk.
Potatoes and Buttermilk United
My favorite dish, similar to the previous ones, had only three main ingredients: potato, buttermilk, and olives. The potato purée is made by baking whole potatoes. The skins are removed and saved for the next step, where they are roasted in the oven and then used to infuse the milk with flavor overnight. This milk is in turn used to adjust the flavor of the purée, but is also served directly on the plate tableside. Buttermilk is cooked with more butter and reduced to about 20% when it starts to caramelize, and then dried on paper to remove the fat. These crumbs serve as crunch in the dish along with black olives, which has been dehydrated during the night at 50 degrees C.
Relæ Knows How to Utilize the Entire Chicken
Sustainability is about maximum utilization of all resources. Let Relæ exemplify with a chicken. First, the bones are removed from the chicken legs and the meat is placed in a salt brine (3%) for 24 hours. In the next step, the meat is vacuumed together with chicken fat and cooked sous vide at 62 degrees C for 2,5 hours. Meanwhile, the bones and some more fat are used to cook a broth, which is served as a savory palate cleanser before the main dish. Now, the chicken meat is perfectly cooked and can be topped with crisp made from the chicken skin, cabbage leaves cooked in a butter emulsion, fresh fennel and a green purée of fennel and spinach. Relæ demonstrates such a respect towards the organic chicken’s life here that even vegetarians should be pleased.
Who Needs Beef When They Have Beets?
If vegetarians weren’t happy enough with the previous dish, they should be celebrating this next one. Relæ makes beets look like beef and with a resembling flavor and texture. Monster red beets (3-5 kg) are baked in the oven overnight at 120 degrees C. Then, they are cut down to beef sizes and dehydrated in the oven at 90 degrees C for 4-5 hours to obtain a meat-like consistency. Just before serving they are fried in a pan on high temperature in lots of butter with garlic and thyme – exactly like you would do with a good piece of meat. Finally, to make an umami-rich sauce, red wine is reduced together with onion, garlic, thyme, and parsley. It’s then flavored with the water from mushrooms that have been salted, packed down overnight and sifted. Lastly, the sauce is infused with the Icelandic seaweed “søl” for the ultimate meaty taste. On the side, they serve fried leaves of the red beet.
The Nordic and the Not so Nordic dessert
Relæ is definitely a new Nordic restaurant, but Christian Puglisi is Italian after all and some ingredients have traveled from the Mediterranean. The first dessert demonstrates that, with a tart filled with lemon cream and topped with dehydrated oranges, clementines and grapefruits. The kitchen team brings us straight back to our wooden landscapes, though, with an ice cream that has been infused with flavors from firewood and coal.
The last desserts leave you in no doubt of which region of the world you are in. An ice cream is made by mixing crème anglaise with Jerusalem artichoke purée. The skins of the Jerusalem artichokes are removed from the meat inside, dipped in a syrup and baked in the oven until crispy. A final touch is the day-old bread which is shredded to small pieces and dipped in a malt oil.
What’s your best experience at Relæ? Please share in a comment below.
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Anders Husa & Kaitlin Orr