Alchemist is a restaurant unlike anything you have seen before. Located in Copenhagen, and run by head chef and co-owner, Rasmus Munk, the current restaurant has 16 exclusive seats and will serve you a 45-course tasting menu. You can expect lots of molecular fun, a theatrical show, and wonderful flavors, but also odd ingredients and sometimes stomach-revolting presentations. Earlier this year, news broke that businessman Lars Seier, who already owns restaurant Geranium, is now the main stakeholder in restaurant Alchemist. Soon after, it was announced that Alchemist would permanently shut its doors at the current location in Århusgade 22, in the district of Østerbro in Copenhagen. Rumor has it, that Rasmus Munk will reopen Alchemist 2.0 sometime next year. The last day on which you can experience this version of Alchemist is on the 22nd of December 2017.
A Michelin Star in 2018?
Michelin Guide UK tweeted about Alchemist on October 26th, saying: «Fun theatrics but also some standout dishes.» Judging from last year’s tweets about Sabi Omakase, this could be a good sign of a star in the guide next year. Both me and Rasmus Palsgård, aka feinschmeckeren.dk, predicted that to happen already this year. Now, it should be an even safer bet for 2018, but what if they don’t manage to reopen fast enough? I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
My story below was originally published in the Norwegian industry magazine Hotell & Restaurantmagasinet based on my visit to the Alchemist last year.
The Alchemist Will Shock You With Insects and Innards
The Alchemist in Copenhagen will play with your mind and may even make you unwell at times, but, ultimately, seduces you with good flavors. 25-year-old Rasmus Munk has done more in a short time period than most chefs will achieve through an entire cooking career. In addition to opening his own restaurant, he has been named Young Talent of the Year by the White Guide in 2014 and The Breakthrough of the Year by The Danish Dining Guide the same year. Last autumn, he received a bronze in the competition Chef of the Year, and this year he was one of the nine nominees in the OAD’s Best New Restaurant award.
The concept of restaurant Alchemist is unique, not only in Scandinavia – but the world. During the three to four hours which the meal lasts (mostly dependent on your own pace), you are served no less than 45 courses. While that may sound extreme, most of the servings are not bigger than a mouthful. Many of them also come in liquid forms, such as soups, cocktails, or served in steaming reagent glass – as if straight out of a research laboratory. Most restaurants around the world have moved away from the molecular gastronomy, which became popular after El Bulli’s time, but Rasmus Munk has chosen to go in the opposite direction. Inside his kitchen, an entire wall is covered in shelves stacked with boxes of various content that could as well belong in a chemistry classroom.
Alchemist is Not For Everyone
Nevertheless, Alchemist is not for everyone. Before entering the door, you should know that you will get crawling insects and a bowl with a live goldfish placed in front of you. The meal starts with a beautiful granita of apples which, by means of molecular techniques, are made as light as air. On top, there are flowers and crispy ants that gives the dish more acidity. A few (seemingly normal) seafood dishes follow. For instance, the king crab and langoustine are both delightful. Although a favorite of mine, the sea urchins with their sweet, slightly bitter taste of the ocean, might put someone’s palate to the test again.
– Now, we are entering the part of the meal where it’s all about offals and organs, says our waiter.
You better brace yourself, not to mention your stomach – because what follows may be revolting to some. A tartar made of lamb heart is presented inside another whole lamb heart that is sliced open. A bloody sauce is poured over the dish from a hospital-like intravenous bag (later on, Munk has started making a political point out of this serving, giving each guest a donor card and urging them to sign up). Next, the lamb brain arrives at the table – in the shape of a mousse mixed with foie gras placed inside a sheep skull. The decor consists of roasted mealworms and more ants. If it weren’t for the flowers to make it pretty, you might get associations to spoiled, rotten meat. The flavor, however, is impeccable.
Woodlice Crawling on Your Plate
By now, ants in the food will feel normal to you – and in any case, I certainly prefer them to some other insects that were about to be served. In an empty bowl, four or five woodlice crawls around. They look desperate to get out and away, but, obviously, know nothing of the faith that awaits them. A hot broth is poured over them and instantly kills the poor creeps. Benkebiterne, as the Danes call them, have been transformed into crispy croutons in a soup. Bon appétit! On the side, are some thin crisps that get a noodle-like texture when we put them in the hot soup. I eat one of the pasta-chips and some of the soup, trying my best to avoid the woodlice, when our waiter tells me the chips are also made from the same insects. Mic drop! The Alchemist wins again.
To be honest, I knew these little vermins would be on the menu. It’s almost impossible not to know what awaits you in these Instagram-days. I had plenty of time to man up for the woodlice. Believe it or not, but they weren’t the worst part of this meal for me. Ten dishes prior, I ate cow udder for the first time in my life. It was served with a milk foam (oh the irony), truffle, and a shaving of some more dried cow udder (it’s even better than truffle, our waiter tried to convince us). Despite the fact that the umami flavor and consistency reminded me of sweetbreads – which I love – my mind could not stop thinking about what I was actually eating.
The milk organs of the cow were the hardest dish to swallow for me (literally) – despite the fact that it tasted good! You see, they actually have skilled chefs in the kitchen of Alchemist, and the flavor combinations and techniques are at times flawless. What Rasmus Munk does better than anyone, is to challenge his guests on what they consider as food in our time and age – and in this part of the world. The experience will set you back DKK 3000 including food and alcoholic wine pairings – a price tag that may scare certain customers more than the insects. Judging from the clientele around the bar this night, however, it sure seems like Rasmus Munk and the Alchemist has succeeded. We talked with guests who had flown in from all over the world, only to experience this remarkable dining show. Some of them refused to eat the earthworms in the end, though! Go figure.
Did my story make you more or less likely to visit Alchemist when they reopen? Please, leave a comment below and let me know.