Great Danes

24 Feb 2016
5 min read
Home to a staggering 25-course tasting menu, Geranium gives that other famed Copenhagen restaurant a run for its money, writes Carla Capalbo

I show the taxi driver the address I want to go to. “That’s the football stadium,” he says. Could that be right? I’m all dressed up, on my way to dinner at what I’d assumed was an elegant fine-dining restaurant. What did that have to do with sports?

Sure enough, we pull up at the back of a vast modern stadium, just streets away from Copenhagen’s lovely residential and student neighbourhoods. This entrance is clearly not for football fans. Large ceramic pots planted with herbs give off a different vibe. So does the candlelight, and a giant headless cow sculpture reclining in the lobby. This must be Geranium.

I ride the lift to the eighth floor and step out into another world. Minimal but warm, cool but comfortable. The row of tall silver birch trunks that screens the dining room sets a sylvan tone that’s mirrored, outside, by the stately trees of a park below and, inside, by branches printed on the glass walls of the open kitchen. It’s like being in a chic urban treehouse, with winged 1940s organic chairs by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen giving a Scandinavian edge.

Organic is also a good word for the feel of it, though there’s nothing rustic or casual about the room or the food. Geranium is a successful mix of formality and relaxed enjoyment, just as its owner-chef, Rasmus Kofoed, is an intriguing cross between a technical whiz kid and a flower child.

“I spent two years perfecting this recipe,” he says proudly about an appetizer that looks so much like a razor clam I’m almost afraid to bite into the shell. It’s paper thin, crisp and translucent and, on closer observation, seems to have been hand-painted to give a weathered look. Inside the shells are morsels of raw razor clam marinated in sour cream. Kofoed serves the shells, two at a time, in a clean-lined bowl containing beach pebbles and jagged sprigs of black seaweed (they’re not what they seem, either).

These ‘impressions of the ocean’, as the menu describes them, illustrate a recurrent theme in Kofoed’s cuisine. He skillfully balances controlled perfectionism (which, in other restaurants, risks lacking soul) with the wonder we feel at the beauty of the natural world. His flawless technique quickly gives way to the sensations that make eating at this level so pleasurable.

Kofoed’s ability to be precise and innovative in the kitchen has won him three Bocuse d’Or awards and, to date, two Michelin stars (if this restaurant doesn’t warrant three, what does?). “No one else has won all three: bronze, silver and gold,” the boyish 40-year-old says with a smile. “Competing in the Bocuse d’Or, the world’s toughest gastronomic challenge, is like running five miles, listening to death metal and doing a maths problem at the same time. I loved it!” A documentary about winning the gold, ‘The World’s Finest Chef’, played in Danish cinemas and made Kofoed a national hero. That was in 2011, the year in which Copenhagen’s other two-star restaurant, Noma, took first place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. (Geranium is currently at number 42). “I think it told people it wasn’t a coincidence: something was going on in Copenhagen.”

Kofoed had just moved into the stadium penthouse from smaller premises elsewhere in the city. The big airy space suits him well, and he and his affable front-of-house partner, Søren Ledet, have turned the loft into a classy, classic dining room whose attention is turned towards the kitchen. There, young chefs in their high whites cook in full view of the diners but they come out to serve and explain some of the dishes at the tables. Despite the formal attire (“I love wearing the tall toque, it’s part of a chef’s uniform, after all,” Kofoed says), Geranium doesn’t feel stuffy or staid. The chefs’ dynamism is infectious.

Like other modern Scandinavian restaurants, Geranium celebrates the bounty of the Nordic sphere, both wild and farmed, with the focus mainly on Danish ingredients. Through a tasting menu of around 25 dishes – several of them just one, exciting, mouthful – we explore the country’s many terroirs. Well-chosen natural wines and juices accompany them.

In what looks like a cluster of flowers floating in a stream, north-Jutland ham jelly is added to tomato water, scented with thyme oil and accented with wood sorrel, pine, and bronze fennel leaves. The clear ‘salad’ speaks of its elements, leaving the palate refreshed.

A plump, just-cooked wild Limfjord oyster is boldly paired with earthy members of the cabbage family, whose sprigs, leaves and flowers wrap and conceal it. Fermented cabbage and parsley sauce turn this complex combination of mineralities into my favourite oyster dish of the season.

Pink onion sections pickled in chamomile vinegar are scattered like petals on the plate and tempered with melted hay cheese and peppery nasturtium leaves. Allium flowers and powders of dried breadcrumbs resembling soil are sprinkled over them at the table from a polished cow’s horn.

“These onions are grown biodynamically, as are many of the vegetables we serve here,” Kofoed says. The horn too is a reference to the energising farming practices of Rudolph Steiner. “Biodynamics is like a secret message in our food. We don’t talk about it so much, but we have this celebration of the biodynamic way of growing with the horn on the table. Some people might wonder why the flowers and the ‘dirt’. But it’s a strong connection and it’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. We lived in a forest when I was 10.”

Kofoed’s mother was a committed vegetarian and sent her five children to independent Steiner and Waldorf schools. “Even when I was kicked out of school for being too boisterous she relocated the family so I could continue with that kind of sensory-based education, despite our lack of money,” he says admiringly. “She’s been a great inspiration to me. I was brought up with vegetarian food and vegetables still play a big role in my kitchen.

“The Waldorf School is really open to children being creative, and to be able to transform your thoughts into something you can watch and touch is incredible. It’s a gift, and it’s still what I do now.” Kofoed’s father didn’t live with him but was a good cook too. “Maybe it was because it was the ‘70s, but sometimes my father and my mother’s other husbands would go mushroom hunting together; they were on friendly terms.”

As the eldest child, he started cooking to help his mother. “I loved baking cakes and breads, and easy things like cinnamon rolls,” he says. “Then, after one brother’s birthday, when I cooked tasty salads and meats on the grill, I decided to become a chef.” After cooking school he worked in Belgium at the two-star Scholteshof, where the open kitchen and myriad ways Roger Souvereyns used plants were eye-openers. He came back to Copenhagen and was hired in several restaurants as head chef, including at Hotel d’Angleterre, before opening the first version of Geranium in 2007. That closed two years later when the new stadium opportunity arose. At first he wasn’t sure it could work in such a setting, but once he saw the space he was convinced.

“For me, it’s not just about the food but also how it’s served and the atmosphere in the restaurant that count. I like the energy of the kitchen, and working close together. I think it’s interesting to bring your mindset to a different location and use that as a tool to create new things.”