These are my thoughts on my meal last June.
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Søllerød is a village on the northern cusp of Copenhagen. Although small, it boasts a serious history. Its medieval church dates back to 1100 AD whilst a number of its eighteenth and nineteenth century country-houses can claim to have once lodged illustrious local and international artists and poets alike – including the country’s most-loved, Hans Christian Andersen – who regularly called on this quaint community. One such eminent address, for example, is the Mothsgaarden, wherein Edward Grieg composed his Magnus opus and one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated piano pieces, Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, during his 1868 stay.
Besides its famous visitors, famous church and famous houses, this village also possesses a famous coaching-inn. Søllerød Kro traces its origins to 1677 when the local vicar was given permission to open a place where parishioners and those passing through could stay. Today, three hundred years on, it remains as it did then, nestled in between the same church, wood and village pond, but within, now resides a gourmet restaurant.
For some twenty years, Søllerød Kro has been a dining destination in Denmark. During the nineties, the establishment also held a Michelin star as its kitchen played host to a score of notable chefs, including Søren Gericke, Michel Michaud, Francis Cardenau, Jan Petersen and Englishman Paul Cunningham (currently running his own restaurant, the Paul). However, in 1999 that star was lost.
That same year, the restaurant appointed Jan Restorff to manage the front of house. Originally from the Faeroe Islands, Jan was born into hospitality with his parents running the Hotel Hafnia Tórshavn that his grandfather had first opened. Once he had completed school, in 1988 the young man left for Denmark to undertake an apprenticeship at Glostrup Park Hotel. This was where his interest in wine was ignited by the cellar-master there who took him under his care and instructed him in oenology. By 1990 Jan had moved on to the SAS Royal Hotel in the capital during which spell he entered the Sommelier Society of Denmark (1991). Here he remained until joining Søllerød Kro where he not only supervises the FOH, but also the wine cellar with its 1700-strong bin – the largest in the land.
In 2002, Jakob de Neergaard became the restaurant’s head chef. This Allerød native had grown up in a family where good food was important – his childhood memories are filled with recollections of the ‘homemade jams, gherkins, compotes, pickled and fresh vegetables, herring and eggs from the neighbouring farms’ that his grandparents would prepare whilst he stayed at their Ørby cottage. It was also as a youth that family trips to south-eastern France, especially the Pyrenees, instilled within him a love of the region and its flavours that would be influential later in life. His passion for the kitchen became apparent very early and he interned at Restaurant Nokken in Rungsted Havn whilst still only at school. Responsible for chopping parsley, he recalls the experience fondly: ‘I think I was awakened by the smell of parsley!’ Once his studies ended at sixteen, he apprenticed at Hotel Marina in Vedbaek then Kong Hans under Daniel Letz. In 1993, Jakob left Denmark, joining the navy as chef to an admiral; the role lasted a year and included six months in Greenland. After this, he moved to Belgium, working first at ‘t Convent then Bruneau in Brussels, which he credits with introducing him to truffles. 1996 saw him reaffirm his affinity with France whist in Provence at Le Prieuré. A year on and he had made it to Paris and Taillevent. The Ritz followed, then Alain Ducasse. Finally, after a stint at the Danish Embassy, he returned to Denmark after six years away. Upon his arrival, he was made head chef at Theodore’s Restaurant in 1999 ahead of two years spent at Jacobsen.
Together, the pair has taken Søllerød Kro from strength to strength, amassing a host of individual and collective awards along the way. In 2007, they also won back that lost Michelin star.
The inn itself is approached via a path that winds around a picturesque pond surrounded by tall trees. Previously greens and oranges dominated the building, but after its 2007 renovation, the exterior is immaculate white, punctuated by dark rimmed windows and crowned with mossy green thatching. The building is bordered by neatly trimmed hedging and an alabaster mast carrying bright red Danish flag. Entering through its gate, one is in the inner courtyard that features a new fountain and doubles as an alfresco summer dining setting.
Inside, a couple of antechambers lead onto the first dining area – the entire space being composed of a number of interlocking rooms. Ceilings are fairly low-lying, but the outside walls are all lined with wide windows that create an open impression. Much of the panelling and beams are the originals, but the present colour scheme comprises light shades of pastel green with gold piping. Furnishings are wood; fresh lilies are plentiful; and wine bottles and other oenological effects fill out the décor. Considerable tables, fringed by soft, comfy armchairs, are generously spaced further enhancing the spacious feel. Bright white linens cover tabletops that are laid with silver candleholders, salt and pepper shakers and the restaurant’s tailor-made cutlery.
I opted for the Prestige Menu, but allowed Jan the freedom to tinker with it.
Lunch began with an aperitif - JL Vergnon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. Light, but robust and effervescent, this had plenty of acidity and was rich in lemony hints.
Amuse Bouche 1: Grøn gazpacho – Sorbet på oliven – Sne. A snow white, smooth scoop of olive oil sorbet, sitting atop its ice, had pastel fern gazpacho of green melon and cucumber poured around it at the table. The frosty Italian olive oil had herby, peppery kick and contrasted nicely against the mildly cool, velvety soup.
Les Pains: Wheat sourdough; and Beer-honey roll. A brace of homemade mini buns were brought out warm. The lighter, a cake-like wheat and apple pain au levain, had open, moist crumb and subtle sweet acidity. The darker, made with Danish (Baltic) Porter beer and acacia honey, was denser with crisper crust; the floral, gentle honey and toffee, malty beer made this reminiscent of soda bread. Both varieties were excellent. Hundred-year-old Pamplie’s salted butter from Poitou-Charentes and an unsalted organic local version mixed with whipped sour cream accompanied.
Entrée 1: Rossini caviar – Fjordrejer – Grønne asparges. The initial entrée’s advent was designed to dazzle. Resting within a shimmering silver vessel, a tin of caviar d’Aquitaine – custom created for Søllerød Kro by Rossini – came with a small mother-of-pearl spoon. This was a cheeky ruse: the all-embracing crust of glimmering ebony beads strewn with bright specks of shrimp coral, actually secreted lower layers of creamy fjord prawns and green asparagus. Admittedly, the taste of farmed sturgeon eggs was less pronounced and on close inspection proved less than perfectly fresh, but they did manage to at least season the other ingredients. The minute prawns, fished from the Northern Atlantic, are a local delicacy; the asparagus played off their notable sweetness, whilst its own elemental note struck a chord with the caviar.
Entrée 2: Kammusling – Østers – Peberrod. A plate was presented peppered with halves of roasted Danish scallop, quarters of local new potatoes, Brittany oysters, wafers of radish, cress and salicorne, over which oven-dried leek powder, dill oil and horseradish emulsion were sprinkled. The lovely scallops, just cooked through, were succulent, sea-sweet and matched by the marenne d’Olréon that had subtle, but increasing savour. The potatoes added substance; sea herbs, saltiness; whilst the combination of cress, horseradish and radish provided spice and bite, which the touch of mellow leek, aromatic dill and watery length of sous vide cucumber alleviated.
Entrée 3: Ristet jomfruhummer – Grønne asparges – Pink grape. A roasted twosome of langoustines from Læsø, laid alongside a spear of green asparagus, were scattered over with the same vegetable’s shavings, sprigs of chervil and chopped supremes of pink grapefruit as well as splashes of coral butter sauce. These langoustines - from the small, but fruitful Danish island of Læsø, north of Copenhagen, where the jomfruhummer festival is held annually to celebrate them - were simply delicious. Firm yet moist, their sweetness seeped out as they melted in the mouth. A few drops of lemon confit and the grapefruit offered some acidity to cut the richness of the coral and enliven the sweet and tender asparagus. This was another noteworthy ingredient, coming from Lammefjord in Jutland. Upon these reclaimed sea-beds, arguably the best farmer in Denmark, Søren Wiuff, has been growing and harvesting by hand asparagus since taking over his father’s farm in the early eighties. His vegetables are much sought-after by the majority of the country’s top restaurants.
Pol Roger’s Vintage Champagne Brut Extra Cuvée de Réserve 1999 was full-bodied with shades of caramel and fruit and had long, sweet finish. Incidentally, ‘this was Winston Churchill’s brand of choice,’ Jan whispered as he poured –the Englishman himself did say about it, ‘in victory, deserve it. In defeat, need it!’
Plat Principal 1: Hummer – Portulak – Knoldselleri. Danish black lobster tail, arresting Venetian red and laying with its sundered pinkish claw, rested atop garlic purée grated over with coral whilst garnished with purslane and celeriac ribbon; tableside, burned oil and lobster vinaigrette were tendered. Included last, but tasted first, the burned oil-broth had intense sharpness and smokiness giving the dish great complexity. The lissom lobster itself was lovely with delicate savour, emphasised well by the celeriac. Some crunchiness came from the raw ribbon and pourpier with also a littlie salty-sourness from the latter.
Plat Principal 2: Pighvar – Morkler – Hvide asparges. Two golden crusted tranches of turbot, pan-roasted and partnered with bisected stems of white asparagus and morels, were bathed in a ladled bouillon whose colour mirrored that of the fish. The turbot had serious flavour and great, crisp surface; morels had soaked up plenty of the excellent, rich juice; and lemon balm brought an uplifting tang. The real star here though was the asparagus, also from Lammefjord, which was so sweet, supple and possibly the best example of this vegetable that I have ever eaten.
Plat Principal 3: Foie gras – Trøffel – Dyrekød. First-of-the-season local venison tenderloin, cooked sous vide and bedecked with breadcrumbs, chive and its pretty purple blossoms, was served with a couple of cubes of foie gras, ‘green-white’ asparagus, salsosa and flakes of pickled winter truffle. Atop these, truffle-infused jus was spooned out before fresh summer truffle was grated. This dish was a lovely vision: the vibrant colours, especially of the chive flowers, giving the almost masculine recipe a feminine quality. The nicely rested, tender meat had strong gaminess while its onion-like crumb coating was an agreeable touch. Similar to agretti, crisp salsola – which, when it dries, turns to tumbleweed – had tanginess that countered Søren’s sweet asparagus. Pickled truffle was at first disappointingly tame, but soon became rather deep and yet clean. The light jus was pleasingly flavoursome.
Pre-dessert: Gulerød - havtorn. A frothy, but thick foam of sea buckthorn almost completely covered carrot brunoise embedded in carrot sorbet. Dense on touch, the mousse was light on the tongue and effervescently acidic sour. In contrast, the carrot combo beneath was crunchy, cold and sweet. This would have been excellent, if not for a slightly cloying aftertaste.
Dessert 1: Citron med skovsyre og hvid chokolade. Large scoops of lemon sorbet, medium spheres of its mousse and small splashes of white chocolate laced with its rind, were littered with wood sorrel, crushed blanched almonds, tuile biscuit circles and scrapings of lemon skin. The temperature contrast between the cold sorbet and crème and warm chocolate was a pleasant surprise. Both the cooler elements also had very good texture and acid sweetness which was complemented by the lemony sorrel – an intuitive match.
Dessert 2: Hindbær, fløde og hasselnød. A bowl brimming with baby Breton sablés, hazelnuts and their chocolate praline purée, fresh raspberries, their sugar tuiles, pâtes de fruits, all around a quenelle of their sorbet, was filled with cool Danish cream at the table. A classic combination in Denmark, this dessert was delicious. The sorbet was excellent in both taste and consistency; sablés were thick and toothsome having absorbed the delectable double cream; and the nutella-like chocolate dissolved instantly in the mouth.
Dessert 3: Jordbær, fløde og mandler. A cluster of almond-vanilla cream pipings, boules of nearly-jelly, whipped strawberry mousse, brunoise and chunks of the actual fruit all topped with its sorbet, were intermingled with chips of almond, biscuit diamonds and baby mint. The mousses were most interesting – they were as if spherificated but still full within (an effect possibly achieved with a little gelatine). The mint had welcome cooling action whilst the almond crème was especially flavourful.
Dessert 4: Rabarber, hyldeblomst og vanilje. An elderflower jelly carpet came coated with small cubes of sandkage, elderberry caviar and flowers, wood sorrel, meringues, baked bricks of rhubarb, its sorbet and its cream. There was an excellent harmony between the sour and sweet here. The consistency in quality of the different sorbets was again maintained, whilst the blocks of rhubarb, gummy and grainy, proved particularly enjoyable as did the sandkage that was reminiscent of shortbread. The zingy elderberry caviar was another nice addition.
Dessert 5: Felchlin-chokoladedesser. Upon a streak of chocolate sat a train of chocolaty components – meringues painted with it, its whipped jellied cream, mousse, sorbet, a tuile of it encircling its ganache over biscuit and topped with lemon cannelloni, and its eggs as well as those of lemon, some lemon balm and broken bites of sachertorte. This Viennese cake was crunchy and nutty; the mousse, dense and rich; whipped choc jelly, cold and tasty; and meringues, delicate. However, overall, this was the weakest dessert; the different parts just seemed to fail to gel as successfully as they did with the other afters.
Dessert 6: Cru Sauvage Bolivia-chokolade og Macadamianødder. A bar, superimposed with gold leaf, choc streamers and sorbet, was enrobed with glossy dark chocolate and encased a thick layer of ganache over a compact base of macadamia nuts and cream; Tahitian vanilla white chocolate ice cream accompanied. The Bolivian wild chocolate by Felchlin – so called as its beans are hand harvested from naturally growing criollo cocoa crops – was very good with citrus hints and minimal bitterness. Its mousse had substance yet was smooth whilst its nutty segment was crunchy and scrumptious. Tahitian vanilla had more fruitiness that other varieties and linked well with this chocolate.
Petit Fours: A. A two-tier sterling serving tray carried truffles of fruity-strong Armagnac, good hazelnut, subtle coffee bean, milky-smoky cappuccino, milky choc and tangy passion fruit. Alongside these were also a crisp and mild lemon macaron and fantastic Tonka financier with aromatic sweetness and delicious nearly-pasty texture that resembled those of Eric Kayser – incidentally the best I have ever had.
Service at Søllerød Kro is superb and Jan Restorff is the consummate host. Considerate, attentive and a self-confessed epicurean, he was always willing and also keen to engage me in conversation – and given his own impressive restaurant-touring, this was interesting indeed. I was able to observe him entertaining other tables too and noticed how at each he found a topic, whether it be food or wine, with which to relate to his guests. Jan was well assisted by the capable Henrik, who was also friendly, diligent and very patient. In addition, it is a tranquil, nearly isolated setting within which one can engross themselves in the experience and allow the staff to indulge and spoil them as they do.
After my meal, I enjoyed a conversation with chef Jakob as well. He came across as just as genial, thoughtful, warm-hearted and just as great a foodie himself as Jan. His enthusiasm and interest were charming to see.
The fresh amuse was a fitting start to this warm June day’s lunch. Bread was excellent and deserves its own mention. The first course of caviar, discounting its shortcoming, offered a sharp insight into the cuisine – a point that will be expounded later. The quality of the subsequent savouries was consistently high, making it very difficult to single out one dish that I would firmly consider my favourite. For example, the burnt oil in the hummer or the pighvar’s white asparagus were both very memorable, whilst there was something actually very captivating about the dyrekød. Desserts sustained the high standard, but were distinctly different in delivery – being a lot busier and making a point of using the same ingredient in multiple ways. Of these, only the Felchlin-chokoladedesser was disappointing, failing to come off as well as the other sweets, whilst it was the Hindbær, fløde og hasselnød, followed by the Cru Sauvage Bolivia-chokolade og Macadamianødder, that I liked most.
It is worth contemplating again the initial course, Søllerød Kro’s signature Rossini caviar. At once sophisticated and attention-catching, it is actually rather simple. Composed with essentially three ingredients sitting in discrete layers, the dish depends on the careful harmony of each component with the others. This is a common characteristic of chef Jakob’s cuisine – crystal clear flavours working in unison. Another of his merits is the balance achieved between different savours, like salty and sweet here. As can be said about all his food, this was also easy-to-eat, unexpectedly light and made with the best that Denmark has to offer. That the caviar was not at its freshest was unavoidably detrimental to its enjoyment though and meant that this was not as good as it could have been. As an aside, Søllerød Kro happens to sell more caviar than any other restaurant in Northern Europe at around forty kilograms per year.
Another dish that had particular impact was the dyrekød. First, the presentation was special: dark and golden hues interrupted by bright greens and conspicuous purple. Then there was its serving – the white-gloved waiter grating truffle overtop was a sumptuous stroke. The uncomplicated recipe itself, comprising only a limited number of elements, relied on excellent execution, but also delicate and unusual nuances such as the pickling of the truffle and chive-crumb coating. What was a quite traditional plate with heavy, bold flavours became something graceful and refined – a great summertime course. In fact, this dish embodied what contemporary classic cooking ought to be.
Contrary to these almost minimalist savouries were the multiplex sweets. These, though still centred around two or three ingredients, were filled out with numerous interpretations of the same component. However, even though more complicated, they depended on the same principles as the earlier courses, namely a sense of balance and first-class raw materials. The former fact was expressed by local, garden-fresh fruits and fine chocolate, whilst the former was keenly evident in all but one dessert.
The meal proffered a perceptive understanding of the cuisine at Søllerød Kro. Set within a classical framework, dishes are defined with the choicest Danish ingredients and designed in line with Mediterranean values. Chef Jakob, who refers to Louis XV in Monaco as ‘absolutely the greatest total experience of pure taste [and] in short, perfection,’ and whose own culinary education was carried out in traditional kitchens, has not ignored the lessons learned in them nor does he stray too far from his own tastes. Each recipe is distinctly embedded in this approach, but interpreted with local produce – Danish black lobster, Porter beer, vegetables from lammefjord. Thus these plates are recognisable, but brand new. It is an immensely refreshing approach to classic haute cuisine that really does renew ones appetite for it.
One sweeping generalisation of Mediterranean cooking that can be made is its focus on preparing and serving excellent, fresh materials nearly minimally. It was whilst he worked at le Prieuré in Provence that chef Jakob first found his fondness for this region and its attitudes: ‘summer 1996 in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon taught me respect for vegetables, there they prepared seafood from the Mediterranean Sea as austere, simple but elegant.’ Today, these precepts are patent on his own plates. Colourful, animated at the table with the addition of saucing and with a discernable preference for preserving the natural form of ingredients, the chef pursues an appetising and clear aesthetic. Fussiness is eschewed in favour of deceptively simple dishes almost deconstructed in their arrangement.
The aforementioned superior produce left a considerable impression. Given Denmark’s position, bounded as it is by the Baltic and North Sea’s cold waters, terrific seafood was expected, but local delicacies such as those tiny fjord prawns and feted Læsø langoustines still delighted. The real surprise however, and I appreciate I am repeating myself now, was Søren Wiuff’s vegetables from Lammefjord; these were just incredible.
Dining here is a tremendously satisfying experience. It is clearly the objective of both Jan and Jakob to not only please their guests’ palate, but to also pamper them. This is achieved through the luxury ingredients that litter the menu, the generosity of the house and the great affability of all its staff.
Not far from the city, but far enough to be secluded, this retreat is an idyllic getaway. Once within its grounds, one is cut off from the world and allowed to relax. And one inevitably does.
Søllerød Kro can be concisely summed up simply as lovely. Really lovely.