Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to claim that no one talks about restaurant AOC, but it’s certainly less talked about than a lot of the other two- and three-Michelin-starred restaurants in Scandinavia. Aarø & Co. sure don’t scream the loudest. It may well be a conscious strategy from the owners, head sommelier Christian Aarø and head chef Søren Selin, to not seek as much attention, but instead, focus on pleasing their regular returning guests. Or maybe it’s their guests who like to keep it a secret? In that regard, they succeed very well. At least, I had to ask myself after this visit: why on earth have I not been to AOC before? And, how soon can I go back? Perhaps, judging from the 17th-century vaulted cellar and white, linen tablecloths, I thought it would be closer to a classical French restaurant like Kong Hans Kælder in Copenhagen or Statholdergaarden in Oslo. It turned out, however, that the cooking leans way more towards a modern New Nordic style. Looks can indeed be deceiving.
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The AOC Restaurant Group
Restaurant AOC opened in 2004 under the name Prémisse. In 2009, they changed their name to AOC. The first Michelin star came the following year, in 2010, and was upgraded to a second star in 2015. Today, the successful restaurateurs also run two sister establishments. Their second restaurant is a slightly more casual Nordic bistro and simply called No. 2, while the third, which recently opened in a spectacular location at the top of Axel Towers, is named Trio. Rumor has it, that Trio might be aiming for a star of their own, with a total of three floors dedicated to a private dining room, a sky bar, and a restaurant. This night, was all about the mothership, however.
Dining Extravaganza at AOC
We began our dining extravaganza in the lounge of AOC, where a series of snacks came rapidly in good company with Champagne. Restaurant manager Aleks Magnus Møller introduced himself as our host. Luckily, this charming, witty, and highly professional gentleman would follow us all throughout the dinner. Already at this point, we could tell that the food was going to be contemporary in style and made with top quality, locally sourced ingredients. We had to move into the main dining room, though, before the proper taste explosions would reveal themselves.
Hay-baked celeriac came with a brown butter emulsion and løyrom (vendace roe). New Nordic flavors at its best. A delicate Danish witch flounder, topped with burnt hollandaise followed. Beautiful presentation and a divine taste. The next highlight was finely sliced strips of scallop with a fermented asparagus sauce. This time, we were even equipped with two steamed and fried buns to scoop up every drop. Smart! In the glass was an Alvarinho from Quinta de Soalheiro in the Vinho Verde region – a Portuguese wine house that I happened to visit in the very year this wine was produced (2015).
Møller placed a tray next to our table. Using a knife and a spoon, he cut the top of a steaming hot onion and scooped out the inside which he placed on a purée made of onion. On top, he put a good chunk of caviar, before each plate got a final foamy sauce of elderflower. This might have been my favorite dish of the evening, but it’s a close call against the one that followed: lobster with coral sauce. Strikingly simple and delightful. What’s great with the cooking of Søren Selin, is that he uses every part of the animal – or crustacean in this case. Thus, the meat from the claws and other parts of the lobster came next, wrapped in lardo like a dumpling, and topped with a seaweed dashi.
A delicious main course of pigeon breast was accompanied by grilled cherries and a smoked bone marrow sauce. Salt, umami, acidity, and sweetness in perfect harmony. Again, we got the innards of the pigeon in the next dish, together with cherry chutney, wrapped in a pancake. That concluded the savory part of the meal. My favorite from the sweet servings was without a doubt the hazelnut cream, with salted caramel and a wafer-thin crust of burnt Jerusalem artichoke (which I am a sucker for), but I also found the Nordic vanilla interesting. The faux vanilla pods were actually made of salsify.
After such a splendid meal, we walked out happy, but soon had the restaurant manager chasing behind us. He had almost forgotten to give us the parting gift: two bottles of Carlsberg pilsner for the road home.
– We may be a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, but we can still enjoy the pleasure of a simple beer, said Møller.
Have you been to restaurant AOC? Feel free to share your experience below.
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Anders Husa & Kaitlin Orr