Travel guides like to claim that no Copenhagen experience is complete without dining at Noma. Perhaps they’re right – even if you suspect fewer people have succeeded in the quest than repeated the credo.
For many, though, eating at the world’s most famous restaurant is no more than a pipe dream. With similar restaurants in the city proving equally exclusive, it can be tricky to enjoy new Nordic nosh without breaking the bank.
But in the last few years a number of restaurants have cottoned on to the problem and opened relatively affordable versions of themselves.
Lazy hacks describe them as ‘value-for-money’ spots, which suggests that diners elsewhere don’t get that. The alternative is to label them as an extension of the family –’little sisters’ or ‘baby brothers’ – which implies they’re smaller, brattier and, unlike the firstborn, allowed to make more mistakes.
That may have explained 108, which took over Noma’s kitchen for a few months at the start of the year when Rene Redzepi and his team headed to Australia.
As pop-ups go, 108 was something of a letdown. Despite flashes of brilliance, too many dishes misfired. Worse still, the ambience was misjudged, the service sloppy, and the seating uncomfortable.
What a delight, then, to discover that having moved into digs of its own a stone’s throw from the ‘kissing bridge’ on Strandgade, 108 is a triumph. Gone are the woes of winter – the service is exemplary, the ambience spot on, and the cooking much improved.
The menu nods confidently to new Nordic. Think: mackerel cured in celery vinegar with salted gooseberries and spruce oil; raw lamb with elderberry capers, nasturtium and rosehip; and braised oxtail seasoned with fresh pine.
Highlights include a trio of dishes designed to be shared: grilled seasonal greens, lamb shoulder with onions and blackcurrant leaves, and grilled monkfish with chamomile-cooked cabbage. Sharing dishes often implies stinginess, but not at 108. You get a hunting knife to carve the miso-lacquered lozenge of monkfish, such is its heft, and you won’t go home hungry.
The puddings are fun, too. A bowl of wild Swedish blueberries comes with birch syrup, cornflowers, and double cream whipped with ale. It looks elegant, and tastes like the tipsy end of a late summer’s day spent foraging in the forests of Skåne. Equally inventive is a cone made from leftover sourdough, filled with blackcurrants and toasted barley ice cream. It comes topped with chopped hazelnuts and propped in a bowl of barley. Instagram fame beckons.
Someone’s had a think about the prices, too, because they’re no longer in nosebleed territory. But if 108 still looks wallet-busting to you, here’s a tip: go to its cafe, The Corner, instead. Every morning they bake three kinds of pastry: rosehip, blueberry, and fermented beef. At 40 kroner, they’re not cheap, but the latter in particular is fast becoming a cult favourite – if you want to experience a bit of that Noma magic, it’s the best 40 kroner in town. The baristas may tell you to pair it with an espresso. Fine, but if you’re on a budget, take a filter coffee instead. It’s just as good, and the refills are free. And that truly is value for money. M
Strandgade 108, CPH