You have to admire a restaurant that sets out its priorities so clearly from the get-go. At Barr, which opened this week in Christianshavn, you get three menus – each of them elegantly typeset and individually numbered. The first deals with beer, the second with food, the third with yet more beer, plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss wine list and smattering of boozy cocktails. Good luck drinking this Barr dry, then.
The clue, of course, is in that word nerd’s delight of a name – a playful pun, yes, but also an old Irish word for “crops” and old Norse for “barley”. You learn that from the second menu, along with the fact that Barr “draws from the eating and drinking traditions of the European beer belt, building on the last decade’s gastronomic development in Copenhagen”.
And you can take the second half of that sentence literally. That’s because you’ll find Barr at Strandgade 93 that used to house Noma, the restaurant that gave us new Nordic cuisine and put Copenhagen on the culinary map. (Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that René Redzepi and his team moved out in February and plan to move into new digs later this year.)
Barr, you see, is the latest Noma spin-off, following the launch of 108 round the corner last summer. And it has plenty going for it before you even put a morsel in your mouth. First, there’s its iconic location, in an 18th-century warehouse with spectacular views of the harbour, reassuringly familiar to anyone who’s ever dined at Noma. Then there’s the design. The Norwegian outfit Snøhetta has turned the space into a kind of upmarket Scandinavian tavern. Think: candles on tables, dried herbs on the walls, and smooth oak beams filling the gaps in the original timber-framed ceiling. Furniture fans will geek out, too. As well as Finn Juhl chairs, there are custom-made stools in blackened steel, leather and oak, set up for the 15 countertop places that are available for walk-ins every day.
But never mind the oak cuisine – how about the nosh? Pretty good, as it happens. I seldom come out of a Copenhagen restaurant and immediately want to return to try the rest of the menu. But I’d gladly go back to Barr purely for the sourdough bread, churned butter and pork lard – a filthily fatty spread lent texture and bite by the presence of crispy onions and thyme. I’d also go back in a heartbeat for the frikadeller – that flattened Danish meatball that’s about as unfashionable a dish as it gets. At Barr, they make their patties with pork neck, giving them an oozing, melt-in-the-mouth succulence that’s the perfect foil for the crunch of the summer cabbage and kale that accompanies them.
Taking inspiration from the European beer belt – you gather from the puppy-keen but well-informed staff – Barr’s dishes have their roots in the British Isles and the Low Countries, as well as Scandinavia. Among the standout dishes: new potatoes with lovage, goats butter and bakskuld – nibbles of dried and smoked flatfish whose saltiness gives the dish texture and balance – and a Dutch-style hen’s egg with cured herring (a must-for fans of “yolk porn”: Google it at your own risk). Also good is a fillet of hot smoked salmon that comes with an umami-rich “Barrmite” glaze – a nod to the ever-divisive British condiment Marmite, which is made with brewer’s yeast. (I can’t get enough of the original, and reckon the salmon could have benefitted from a slightly thicker coating.)
For mains, Barr offers a choice of two meaty dishes to share: cod tail cooked on a Josper grill and rested on a blackened slab of sourdough; and côte du boeuf with salsify and sliced mushrooms. But after pigging out on starters, the smarter move is to share a schnitzel, another once-déclassé dish enjoying something of a revival in Copenhagen. A standout dish, the juicy pork cutlet comes encrusted in a delightfully crispy coating – our waiter kept shtum about its secret ingredient – and is accompanied by a cute bowl of shaved horseradish, cream and spring peas in chive oil, as well as a classic drenge sauce of capers and chopped anchovies, for drizzling over the schnitzel.
If you’ve got room for pudding, give the waffle a go. A specialty of southern Jutland – executive chef Thorsten Schmidt’s home turf – it arrives looking like a giant communion wafer perched on a pinky-purple slab of strawberry ice cream and berries. You’re meant to make a mess of it with your spoon, smashing the waffle like a toddler having a tantrum. Or – more likely at Barr – like a drunk diner. Remember menu number one, the beer list? It lurches from crisp lagers to hoppy saisons, to chocolate-noted porters with cautionary names like Broken Dream, and includes five beers brewed especially for Barr. They have old Norse names too, like Eafæ – a farm-to-nostril IPA that sits firmly in the Tart & Funk section of the menu, an NSFW-sounding category offering a selection of “sour brews that show rustic, earthy and wine-like characters”.
Beer geeks, then, will love this place. And it’s certainly got more character than some of the beer-focused bars that have opened in town recently. Moreover, if you don’t like fancy eating, there’s an adjacent bar in which to enjoy a drink. But look, Copenhagen has long lacked a decent restaurant unafraid to cook unfashionable dishes such as frikadeller and schnitzel. It now has a stunning spot offering a modern, elegant take on northern European comfort food. And despite the illustrious address, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Choose carefully and you can get three courses and a couple of beers, and still come away with change from 400 DKK. In Copenhagen’s ever-competitive dining scene, then, the Barr just got raised again. M