Relæ, Copenhagen 2014
Christian Puglisi is an impressive chef. Having worked at both ElBulli and Noma, he decided to open his own restaurant Relæ in 2010 at a street previously known for drug-dealing and general mischief. Christian had a vision though that "we'll conquer Jægersborggade through our food", and he succeeded! (See his great talk at MAD3 in 2013 titled "Move Your Guts or Be Gutted", where he talks about the process of opening the restaurant here).
Relæ isn't a traditional fine dining restaurant. It started out much more rock'n'roll than that. The cutlery was placed in a box under the table. No servers poured the water and the food didn't leave the diner bankrupt; though it was always about the food. Today Releae is a success, much thanks to its casual approach to fine dining; the approachable concept really struck with the diners. There's still no white tablecloths, but the tables are remade from beautiful oak (still with the nifty drawer for the cutlery), and the servers will occasionally pour your water. But it's still all about the food.
Being as approachable as Relæ is means the restaurant feels like a local "get-together" social spot, perfect for an after-work. Even the food seems "simple" at first— but here is where the curtains are revealed. Each plate consists of only 3-4 ingredients, simple right? Though as soon as you taste the food it challenges you. "Boom", what is that flavour? How did they get this texture?
It is amazing how the senses increases to the taste of something "new". This is what we love about food. Each ingredient has been handled to evoke something for the diner. It looks simple, but it surely isn't. It's almost hard to put into words when food is "challenging" like this. "Do I like this", "Do I not like this?". We've heard a good way to describe Christians food as "it's like a poem you're not sure if you understand at first— but the more you think about it, the more you're intrigued with it".
Being as each dish has very few ingredient, the dishes never feel "too complicated" or "overworked", even though everything has been through rigorous steps to achieve the result. And with this thought process in mind; there's simply no need for the "finest" cuts of meat, or the most expensive ingredients. Taste-sensations of this kind can come from anywhere, and the menu at Relæ relies heavily on vegetables which is refreshing (and one of the reasons great food doesn't have to cost a fortune!).
We've been hyping the food during the last paragraphs, but just as great is the all natural wines that Relæ serves. If the food isn't conventional, why should the wine be? We love these types of wine, which gives the grapes a chance to develop on their own, and create a "funky" character— which works just perfectly with the food. In this instance, the wine is on par with the food, being interesting on their own (and probably challenging some diners).
The dinner starts off with a small snack that gets the taste buds going. The green beans has a great crispness to them, and the rye bread dip is intense. The first course of venison, peas and mint is a perfect starter. The venison "tartare" has just the perfect texture and taste (which is made famous by the amazing tartare at Christians other restaurant "Manfreds"), and the peas is drenched in mint, making the dish super fresh and clean.
The next dish of sunflower seeds, cornily and truffle delivers texture, richness and taste (or truffles). This is a typical "do I like this?" dish. It's a little challenging, but slowly we're won over.
Christian has put much emphasis on his love for the pork from Grindsholm (farm near Copenhagen), and we can understand why. The meat is really juicy and the accompanied sauce (thickened with pigs blood) heightens the senses from this dish, it's simply delicious.
The dinner is ended with vanilla, dried raspberry and caramelised mustard. This is a simple dish, but the mustard is the "challenging" part, but it's a great end to a great meal.
Relæ ticks the right boxes. It's casual, approachable and with a focus on the food (which is in a sense simple, but also very complicated). The service is very easy-going, the feeling is overall very casual and the food is great. This is a place to visit several times, not just once.