Geranium (Copenhagen, Denmark) – A Touch More Focus
Noma was emblamatic of its origins – wild, flowering, bountiful, and rustic – at times, it seemed as if the forest floor had invaded the restaurant. Geranium attempted to take those ideals and ‘civilize’ them – edit and refine – into a more minimalist haute experience. The aesthetics of the meal clearly share a common lineage with noma, and further help establish a Denmarkian identity of cooking. When it works, which is not always, Geranium’s food is among the most refined on the planet, as much so as any restaurant in France or Japan.
Unfortunately, the tasting menu was not a coherent arc – it skipped, jumped, and spurted – careful and focused dishes were followed by the sloppy and/or mundane. It never got into a rhythm, instead hopping from one dish to the next. Some dishes had a unified coherence while others felt rushed or typical. It had the potential to absolutely wow – to deliver a series of revelations not felt since my Pierre Gagnaire or El Poblet meals. But the menu ultimately felt like an exhibition of styles and techniques, instead of a story, or a work of art (to use a controversial term.)
The restaurant closed a week after this meal so the entire review could be a moot point. However, if Chefs Søren Ledet and Rasmus Kofoed are allowed similar ambition at their next venture, I would repeat, based on the grand potential. Thanks to the long summer days in Copenhagen, and the gorgeous windowed room (perhaps my favorite dining room anywhere), the pictures for this dinner came out relatively well. I must thank Trine again for putting the restaurant on the blog map with her wonderful reviews.1
Apple & Geranium
Echoing the white room2, the meal began with this small amuse of apple gelee and geranium egg white. A geranium perfume was sprayed tableside to augment the flavors. The apple sang with its crisp acidity but it was somewhat tamed by the geranium’s flowery balance. This one small dish captured the highlights of the meal – crisp flavors and minimalist restraint – a microcosm for what might have been.
Greenland Prawns – Dill & Cucumber
Dainty and feminine, presented in a style that perhaps fulfills many haute cuisine and Nordic design cliches, this was a dish that reached a balance and precision worthy of a high 3-star level. There is nothing new – shrimp and dill are common partners – but the purity and strength of the flavors were deserving of an epiphany. It was, quite simply, near perfect.
Smoke, Ember, & Ashes
Smoke, Ember, & Ashes was a self-proclaimed signature, a reference to the fire outside in the cooling evening, but the dish did not achieve the El Poblet-like immersion effect. A pot of ashes was placed on the table and the lazy trails of smoke billowed over the table. Obviously, smell and taste are intertwined, but these infuse-with-smell dishes rarely deliver on their promise. In this case, the visual landscape was more dramatic than the smell. I could not discern the “ash” but the texture interplay between it, the roe, and radish was interesting, but not completely convincing. It was a good dish and perhaps it only suffered because of my attempts to compare it to El Poblet; I could see this being more effective on a cooler night.
(Incidentally, while the dish was beautiful, there is a certain sense of irony in depicting what appears to be a mound of rubble. Daniel Patterson, of Coi in San Francisco, had a similar, yet more severe, dish entitled Salad for the Apocalypse, Roots, Leek Ash, Weeds. Could someone create do a Salt the Earth dish?! Maybe an entire Atrocities tasting menu? Let me know – I’m game – my sense of humor knows few bounds.)
Scallops & Beetroot – Smoked Fresh Cheese & Horseradish
If I could waive a wand, and eliminate one trick from the modern’s cook repertoire, the infatuation with unnaturally textured agar agar films would be a distant memory. The texture did not fit into such a ‘natural’ dish – its slight rubberiness actually foiled the texture of the fresh raw scallop. It is perhaps a rare miscalculation of association by the duo – why recall bad examples of rubbery seafood? I wonder how a gelee would have performed instead? It is no doubt a personal taste but I fail to see what chefs find in this device – what does it add? (Many restaurants use it in their dishes but L2O in Chicago was another egregious example where it did not fit with the food.)
Without the film, despite the difficulty in separating the ingredients, the dish followed in the minimalist vein and offered some interesting flavors and textures. The range of textures, excluding the film, a near linear progression from the thin slices of beetroot through to the smoked cheese, was satisfying. The sweetness of the two ingredients played off each other while the film provided some counterpoint. The light smokiness of the cheese, an unusual pairing with seafood, gently perfumed each bite.
New Potatoes – Pea Sprouts, Lovage, & Pickled Elderberries
A very well done triptych on potatoes. The dish is a bit more rustic in nature, recalling noma or Ubuntu for me, but potatoes are generally more of a comfort food for most anyways. The textural interplay between the three different preparations, while precise, also recalled mashed potatoes and french fries. The peas, and weeds, gave it a freshness and lightness, becoming of the season.
Aromatic Leafs – Monkfish, Pickled Cauliflower & Mussels
A decently, though not perfectly, cooked piece of fish that felt a bit heavy and bland compared to the dishes it was bookcased between. The ingredients were fine on their own but failed to come together as well as other dishes. If this was served at an ordinary restaurant, it would be great; but the promises at Geranium should be held to a greater standard.
The King’s Herbgarden
The apex of the meal – an incredible focus on precision where every piece mattered. This was as profound as Michel Bras’s Gargouillou; and while it clearly pays homage3, it stands apart as its own bold statement. The herbs, with their varying qualities, and different textures, sang quite brightly. Every bite was different, yet each bite contributed to the whole. The consomme pulled it together with a nice saltiness. Absolutely stunning.
This dish was another exploration into a single ingredient but it was muddled. The brown cylinders were an agar agar mushroom jelly and their texture was actually more vile than their taste. Similar to the seafood example, at best, the mushroom jelly felt like nature’s worst mushroom – the texture and resulting taste just did not compute. At Moto or El Bulli, this discrepancy could be their sole raison d’etre but Geranium was (presumably) not testing the psychological boundaries of cuisine.
Asparagus & Lamb – Fried Sweetbread, Ramson, & Green Strawberries
This dish was a sudden wallop that could not be defused by the acidic green strawberries. In a limited tasting menu, there is not as much resolution to ‘ease’ into the meat but this course felt like it was trying to make ground for three or four meat courses. It is a personal preference – I do not like the big bang at the end4 – but this seemed like overkill by almost any standard. The lamb itself was quite delicious with a clear gamey taste missing in much of American lamb. The ramson and green strawberries, acquired tastes that I am still coming to terms with, were great as foils to their overly rich plate mates. The sweetbreads were unnecessary.
Carrots – Elderflower Vinegar & White Chocolate
Sorrel & Sweet Woodruff – Forrest Illusions
Dessert time on this blog often leads to frustration for some readers. There is no reason to buck a trend – this was a great dessert (Sorry, I don’t recall the specifics, except that it had a nice cool calming effect, appropriate for the end of the meal.)
Geranium did not establish a clear arc with the meal – the composition of dishes did not always show the restraint of the highlights during the meal. Was it a case of Chefs Søren Ledet and Rasmus Kofoed still developing a style? There is no arguing that dishes like The King’s Herbgarden and Greenland Prawns – Dill & Cucumber were as refined, focused, and moving as anything one would find in France or Japan – high 3-star territory. This is the style of Geranium, and fine dining, that I ultimately prefer – a reduction to the essentials – where every ingredient, and bite, matters. And while the review might read negative at times, it was an enjoyable meal (that I would recommend if they were still open.) The only disappointment was that it could have been one of the best meals ever.5
2- Are there any KLF fans reading?
3 – Yes, you could just as easily say it pays homage to Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)
4 – Unless we’re talking musicals – then I’m all for it the bellowing!
5 – And, yes, I realize it is easier to criticize than create.