The Italian takeover

Copenhagen's latest food trend is all things Italian. James Clasper gives a rundown of the latest arrivals, and which is the best pick of the bunch

The New Nordic kitchen isn’t dead yet, but it’s certainly taking a beating.

“Thanks to the countless wannabes who have foraged in Noma’s wake, New Nordic has run its course as a global food movement,” wrote Michael Booth (author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia) in an article for Vice last winter. “Too often, when you dine with the leather-apron-and-beard brigade … you feel short-changed by miserly portions, misused techniques and ‘poverty’ ingredients.”

Meanwhile, in a recent review of Noma co-founder Claus Meyer’s  restaurant Agern, at New York’s Grand Central Station, writer Adam Platt warned that: “although still influential, the great Scandi craze has begun its inevitable descent from the height of fashion into the realm of parody”.

Culinary trends rise and fall like empires. A decade or so ago, much of the world was still in thrall to the molecular gastronomy movement, exemplified by restaurants such as El Bulli in Spain, whose proponents performed circus tricks and sought to make food look like its opposite (“It appears to be meat but it’s actually fruit. It looks like fruit but it’s made of meat”).

Little wonder that the New Nordic movement – whose watchwords were local and seasonal – swept aside those culinary trapeze acts and ushered in a new era of dining, which once again made food look and taste as simple and as natural as possible.

Yet, like molecular gastronomy before it, there are signs that influence of the New Nordic kitchen may be waning. One anecdotal indication is the sense that some chefs are trying to shake off the label. A more interesting sign lies in the kind of restaurants recently opening in Copenhagen – especially in the mid-range. Italian food, in particular, appears to be in the ascendancy.

Take the past 12 months alone. Last November saw a casual trattoria called Italo Disco open on Oehlenschlægersgade. Osteria 16 then expanded their local empire, launching Spaghetteria on an unfashionable strip near Vesterport. Bevi Bevi – the Oehlenschlægersgade bar loved for its Aperol spritzes and sharing plates – opened a sister restaurant up the road. At the start of the summer, Il Buco launched La Banchina, a waterside restaurant in Refshaleøen. And this autumn saw two Italian restaurants open – No. 31, on Frederiksborggade, and Forketta, which moved from Torvehallerne to new digs on Ryesgade.

Then there’s Rufino Osteria, which may be the best of the bunch. Launched on April Fool’s Day by three Italians – Alberto Sala, who’s from Piedmont, and chefs Alessandro Ciofani and Paolo Bonelli, who are Roman – it occupies an unassuming spot on the corner of Strandgade and Torvegade, in Christianshavn. Despite – or perhaps because of – its somewhat subterranean setting, Rufino is a convivial place, with a large communal table, plus cosier tables for couples (you may even find yourself wondering if there’s an Italian word for hygge). “We had in mind a social place more than just a restaurant,” Sala says.

Rufino has a short menu, which changes often, and an interesting mix of Italian wines. The authentic cooking is inspired by the chefs’ Roman heritage. Sala says they try to use as many local products as possible and to be sustainable. The emphasis should be on “the taste of the ingredients by their combination in the plate, without too many sauces, foams or airs,” Sala says.

“As many Nordic restaurants have proved, often simple tastes are more effective and the modern tendency is to recover an aspect of cooking that was lost a little.”

In a nod, perhaps, to the culinary ties connecting their heritage with that of their adopted city, Rufino recently launched “Don’t Tell Our Granmas!” – a Sunday lunch which sees a non-Italian chef invited to give diners their own interpretation of Italian cuisine. A recent Sunday in late October saw Relæ’s Australian sous-chef Scott Chancellor take on the challenge.

As Sala puts it, the traditional Sunday lunch in Italy is “something serious, but we would like to mess with it a bit”. The influence of the new Nordic kitchen may be in decline, then, but its legacy lives on in surprising ways – including at Italian restaurants on the very street where Noma long ago made its name. M

Osteria Rufino
Strandgade 14, KBH


By James Clasper

Contributing editor. @jamesclasper

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