Review: Koan x Empirical Kristian Baumann’s New Pop-Up Restaurant

Only a week after closing restaurant 108 in Christianshavn, chef Kristian Baumann was ready for his next project. On October 8th, he opened his new restaurant Koan as a temporary pop-up inside the Empirical distillery on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen (in the previous venue of Broaden & Build). Koan serves an 11-course tasting menu, inspired by Baumann’s South Korean roots and the Nordic ingredients available to him. Small sweets (petits fours) come in addition, as well as a gift bag for each guest. The price for all of this is only 650 DKK. A wine pairing, non-alcoholic pairing, and a cocktail pairing crafted by Empirical are also available. The pop-up only lasts until the end of 2020, but Baumann hopes to continue in a permanent location next year.

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Koan is located inside the Empirical distillery on Refshaleøen.
Koan is located inside the Empirical distillery on Refshaleøen.
KOAN X EMPIRICAL

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Baumann’s Back, Baby!

“When people tell me they like Koan better than 108, that doesn’t make me sad – it makes me happy!” Baumann confided when talking with us about his new project. His team (most of which followed him from 108) was all smiles and excitement when introducing us to their new endeavor – they wasted no time being sad about the old restaurant closing, and instead jumped headfirst into Baumann’s next idea. After months of fearing for our industry and being heartbroken at every restaurant closure, this meal was exactly what we needed. It feels so good to have something coming to life in Copenhagen again! Our dinner at Koan showed us that this pandemic might close some restaurants we love, but it will not kill this industry. It can’t stop chefs from creating, and it can’t stop people coming together to share food.

The Koan and Empirical teams have created a beautiful dining room in the middle of the distillery.
The Koan and Empirical teams have created a beautiful dining room in the middle of the distillery.

11-Course Tasting Menu

The meal started with a trio of raw fish resting in a sweet and acidic broth. This dish reminded us of a deconstructed ceviche – the mussel and coriander broth was reminiscent of leche de tigre, and each piece of fresh seafood had a few condiments there to elevate the flavors of the amazing produce. The sweet flavor of the Norwegian scallop was lifted up by rose and seaweed, the zander was balanced with rowan berry jelly and smoked zander roe, and the Norwegian king crab was paired with strawberry and chili. The clean and fresh seafood flavors went really well with the herbal, tropical pineappleweed drink from Empirical’s cocktail pairing.

Baumann continued with a buttery, creamy bowl of smoked sturgeon and cauliflower, topped with compressed chestnut shavings, almond oil, and lemon zest. We wouldn’t have even guessed there was fish in the cream since the flavor was so subtle – the cauliflower was the most obvious ingredient in this dish, and the lemon zest added a nice pop of acidity. The drizzle of almond oil matched perfectly with the next cocktail, which was based on Empirical’s “The Plum, I Suppose” – a plum kernel spirit with nutty, marzipan notes.

King crab, scallop and zander.
King crab, scallop and zander.
Barrels line the walls of the Empirical distillery.
Barrels line the walls of the Empirical distillery.
Smoked sturgeon, cauliflower, and chestnuts.
Smoked sturgeon, cauliflower, and chestnuts.

Cocktail Parings by Empirical

Next up, came a pear, poached in elderflower and gooseberry, and served in a pear, pine, and fennel juice. Simple, fresh autumn vibes. This was served with Empirical’s Can 01, which is made with oolong tea, toasted birch, and green gooseberry. Another great match!

It’s no secret that 108’s sourdough (made with Danish whole wheat) was our favorite bread in town. We miss it dearly. Luckily, Baumann has found a worthy replacement – a donut! A savory milk donut, served hot alongside salted whipped cream. This light and airy ring of fried dough reminded Anders of warm Norwegian smultring because of it’s slightly crispy, fried edge, but the shape is 100% Krispy Kreme, just without the sweet sugar glaze. What a legendary bread serving! We may have asked for seconds… and thirds… but can you blame us?

The further into the meal we progressed, the more delicious and satisfying the dishes became. The next one combined steamed blue mussels, aromatic herbs, and aged cheese. The result was like a mussel “cacio e pepe” – cheesy and delicious, with no fishy flavor. This was obviously a development of the mussel serving from the Korean menu at 108 this past summer, which combined mussels with pesto. In our opinion, the addition of the cheese sauce and pepper really improved this dish, and made it more Italian in style. This dish paired well with the Vieilles Vignes Poulsard 2018 from Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot that we selected off Koan’s wine list.

Steamed blue mussels, aromatic herbs, and aged cheese.
Steamed blue mussels, aromatic herbs, and aged cheese.
Kate Kumada from Empirical presents the cocktail pairing.
Kate Kumada from Empirical presents the cocktail pairing.
Cured squid with Empirical hot sauce, shiitake mushrooms, and brown butter.
Cured squid with Empirical hot sauce, shiitake mushrooms, and brown butter.

Baumann turned the heat up a bit with the following serving – cured squid with Empirical hot sauce, shiitake mushrooms, and brown butter. The warm, savory flavors were enhanced by the smoky, acidic hot sauce from Empirical, which is made from spent Pasilla Mixe chili left over from the distillation of their Ayuuk spirit. The thin noodle-like pieces of squid had some bite (but not in a chewy way), and the brown butter absolutely melted in our mouths. To bring it all together, Empirical served a cocktail made with hibiscus kombucha, an acidic Andaliman pepper, and their Fuck Trump habanero spirit. Boom, baby!

The tasting menu continued with a dish of steamed pumpkin with pickled gooseberries, pickled rose, and rose hip seeds, in a sauce of cep mushrooms and butter. The dominant flavor here was rose petal – a wonderfully elegant and floral note that kept this buttery dish from being too rich. The only other time we’ve had rose and pumpkin together was in Noma’s dish of Faroese sea urchin, Hokkaido pumpkin, hazelnuts, kelp seaweed, fresh cream, and rose oil. We hope to see more of this mouthwatering combination – the flavors of pumpkin and rose pair so well together. With this serving, we enjoyed a naturally effervescent apple cider from Cidrerie du Vulcain.

Next came a dumpling duo – two duck leg dumplings served with dark berries, spicy bell peppers, caramelized onions, and a sauce of garlic and chili oil. Wow! There were so many delicious elements in this one – a sweet and salty umami explosion from the caramelized onions, a hint of acidity from the dark berries, and a warm, lingering taste of garlic left in your mouth. If Baumann opened a donut and dumpling take-away window, we’d be there every day! The rest of the duck (the breast of the duck) came as the main course of the meal. The meat was served with quince, caramelized onions, and elderberries. On the cocktail pairing, Empirical served their signature Can 02 – the hot pink, Instagram-famous can, with notes of sour cherry, black currant buds, young pine cones, and walnut wood. This drink added some nice, fresh acidity to the savory main course.

Steamed pumpkin, cep mushrooms, and rose hip seeds.
Steamed pumpkin, cep mushrooms, and rose hip seeds.
Empirical's Can 02 – with sour cherry, black currant buds, young pine cones, and walnut wood.
Empirical’s Can 02 – with sour cherry, black currant buds, young pine cones, and walnut wood.
Duck dumplings, dark berries, and spicy bell peppers.
Duck dumplings, dark berries, and spicy bell peppers.
Lacquered duck breast, elderberries, and caramelized onions.
Lacquered duck breast, elderberries, and caramelized onions.

The 108 Desserts in a New Wrapping

One thing we have been missing the most from 108 are the fantastic desserts from chef Kristian Baumann. Luckily, some of them are back in slightly different versions at Koan. To cleanse our palates before the sweeter portion of the meal, we had a refreshing sorbet of elderflower, with lemon, yuzu, and hops. Elements of this sorbet reminded us of the light and fresh elderflower and yuzu dessert from 108 this past summer.

Our favorite dessert at 108 was the signature sourdough ice cream, with a miso reduction and a bread crumble. At Koan, this signature dessert is back in a new version: barley ice cream topped with a crunch, sourdough miso reduction, and sea buckthorn. The flavors are very similar to the previous version of the dish, but more intense, with deeper, caramelized koji notes. We’ll always miss our first love of 108’s sourdough ice cream (maybe the original will return one day?), but the new barley ice cream was a pretty close replacement. The dessert pairing was a smoky barley koji cocktail. It didn’t have any sweetness and we felt it clashed a bit with the flavors of the dessert. This was the only miss for us in an overall impressive cocktail pairing from Empirical.

A foreshadowing of desserts to come...
A foreshadowing of desserts to come…
Roasted barley ice cream, caramel, and sea buckthorn.
Roasted barley ice cream, caramel, and sea buckthorn.

The petits fours came in a gorgeous stack of ceramics from the Korean producer Kwangjuyo, who produced most of the plateware for Koan. One box held chocolate chip cookies, one had grilled plums, and one had a light and floral rose cake. Koan and Empirical sent us home with a little goodie bag. In the bag, guests receive Empirical’s new hot sauce, a couple cocktail cans, and hazelnut miso from the Koan team. The perfect way to spice up your home cooking!

We look forward to the permanent location of Koan (which is hopefully opening soon in Copenhagen), but we really enjoyed getting to experience this iteration of the restaurant inside the Empirical distillery. The pop-up was fun, full of fresh energy and ideas, and completely different from 108. Empirical’s cocktail pairing was wonderfully unique, and easily the best cocktail pairing we’ve had with a fine dining meal. This was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable meals of the year for us, and probably our all-time favorite menu from Baumann. The best is really yet to come! The last day of service will be on December 31st, 2020, so make a reservation now before it’s too late.

The Koan team hard at work in the kitchen.
The Koan team hard at work in the kitchen.
Empirical's hand sanitizer – "is that U rona?"
Empirical’s hand sanitizer – “is that U rona?”
Koan was one of the most memorable meals of the year for us.
Koan was one of the most memorable meals of the year for us.

Have you visited Koan? Let us know in a comment below.

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2 comments

  • Can’t wait to try the ‘mussel “cacio e pepe”’ and the duck leg dumplings, though the entire meal sounds amazing. Best of luck to Kristian and the team!

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