It’s impossible not to talk about the elephant in the room. The room is the elephant! We’re sitting in the historic dining hall of restaurant Noma – the birthplace of the New Nordic philosophy that has spread its culinary ideas throughout Scandinavia and around the world. Barr is the third sister restaurant of Noma, or should we say the first brother? Looking at their style, it feels like both Hija de Sanchez and restaurant 108 are the more feminine little sisters, while Barr is the masculine, rough, and unpolished little brother. This is the kind of place where you get a Bayer and a schnitzel to enjoy in the bar (literally, it is, but more about that later).
I always thought, and maybe René Redzepi and his team did too, that 108 would be a casual eatery. But dammit, they got a Michelin star the first year! Now, it has become almost impossible to score a booking there on short notice. I still find it a very relaxed place, although, that seems to be a trademark of the Noma family. Let us for a moment pretend, however, that Barr is not located in Strandgade 93 with all the expectations such a location naturally invokes. Let’s imagine, that this is just another new restaurant in Copenhagen.
Food From the European Beer Belt
Thorsten Schmidt, the former chef and owner of restaurant Malling & Schmidt in Aarhus, has opened restaurant Barr in Christianshavn – right across the bridge Inderhavnsbroen from Nyhavn in Copenhagen. His goal is to draw on the eating and drinking traditions of the European beer belt – in particular Scandinavia, the British Isles, and the Benelux countries, and unite that with New Nordic techniques and innovations. Barr is a casual eatery, open for dinner seven days a week (with lunch on Fridays and Saturdays) and the menu is à la carte. There’s a four-course tasting menu priced at DKK 600, but that’s only mandatory for larger bookings. Beer is also the main focus on the drink list, mostly from independent craft breweries, in addition to a large selection of aquavit and spirits. The waiters will help you pair beer with any dish. Have no fear, though, if you still prefer wine or other drinks to go with your food – Barr still has your back.
Everything Your Grandmother Would Have Served
In line with most modern Nordic restaurants, the menu will change according to the seasons. The current menu features classic frikadeller (Danish pork meatballs), and schnitzels, which are common in both Denmark and Germany, but it’s Austria who has the original Schnitzel Wiener Art – Viennese style schnitzel made from free-range pork. Both were so simple and tasty, but my personal favorite was frikadeller. I could easily have had one more plate of those. When we dined here back in August, we also had tasty sourdough pancakes with caviar (and ants!), mussel sauce, and cress, but the latest menu has swapped them for Belgian waffles with smoked løjrom (vendace roe) and sour cream. A wonderful union of Belgium and Sweden.
There was the softest and most delicate hot-smoked salmon you can imagine, with baby cucumbers, rygeost (smoked fresh cheese), and a homemade glazing called barrmite – inspired by the savory British Marmite spread, made from yeast extracts that are leftovers from the beer production. And, a whole baked cod’s tail (also glazed with barrmite) served on a sourdough bread, topped with smoked bacon and whey sauce. In case you’re in doubt, you can order potatoes as a side dish to whatever you want. A dinner at Barr is everything your grandmother would have served, but more balanced and modernized. All orchestrated by the steady hands of chef Thorsten Schmidt – who’s half Danish and half German, by the way, in case you didn’t guess that from his name already.
Perfected Versions of Old Classics
We ended the meal with three desserts, which all looked delicious. Unfortunately, the sweet cake and old-fashioned ice cream were rather forgettable. Bonus points for using proper blueberries, though, and for printing just that on the menu. My favorite dessert was the Southern Jutland waffles called Gode Råd, mainly due to the irresistible flavor of plum kernel oil that was added to the cream. It tastes like marzipan, which I love, but better. A flavor I haven’t had since my first visit to … a certain two Michelin-starred New Nordic fine dining restaurant (spoiler: it was Rosio Sanchez’ famous dessert of potato cream, plum compote, and cream with plum kernel oil). The petits fours ended our food feast. Served on a traditional tiered cake stand, just like your grandmother would have done, packed with cookies of all sorts and, of course, Danish flødeboller (chocolate-coated marshmallows). Barr is all about making perfected versions of old classics.
Back to the elephant. It’s kind of hard not to think about the famous venue you’re sitting in – but to be honest, I am surprised at how fast I accepted the fact that this room now belongs to Barr. Especially considering that Noma 2.0 hasn’t opened yet. Snøhetta has done a good job at altering and redecorating the space, making it, if possible, even more relaxed and homely than before. Noma was never a typical fancy fine dining restaurant anyway, but small adjustments matter, like the amount of seating space. The main room can now seat 60 people (compared to 40 in Noma’s time), and there’s a dedicated bar area (Noma’s old lounge) with an additional 30 seats. I will address the beer selection and bar menu in a separate article later on. What Barr can’t shake off, and which I am glad to say, is that friendly service-style that I know from Noma. The waiters manage to create an illusion that you’re just over for dinner at a friend’s place. Yet, they’re knowledgeable, attentive, and always professional to the bone. I’ve been to Barr twice already, dropping by during both of my recent visits to Copenhagen, and I know this will be a place I return to as often as I get a chance.
Which classic dishes do you hope Barr will make their interpretation of? Share your suggestions in a comment below.