Natural wines paired with a fusion of New Nordic and Italian cuisines may not sound like a bulletproof recipe for success. But as these elements unfold while dining at Brace, the result is marvelous. After a year at Era Ora, Chef Nicola Fanetti has taken the helm at Brace to pursue his passion for Italian simplicity, where ingredients combine on the plate in a visually tight and artistic presentation. Take, for example, the grilled flank steak with slightly bitter kale and sharp horseradish bordered by black lines of fermented garlic and golden drops of orange reduction – a presentation reminiscent of a work by Miró. The ambitious Fanetti showcases an array of techniques that add surprise and edge. Although the ingredients are primarily Nordic and Italian, the flavour palette touches every corner of the world during the 12-course menu. This diversity is manifest in an unconventional but delicious dish, sous-vide Danish octopus with crunchy puffed quinoa breading, arranged over a purée of pumpkin with ginger, mint and wood sorrel. The octopus is perfectly paired with a glass of white Rhône wine, La Coudée d'Or from Philippe Viret, which combines the right amount of acidity and frutiness to balance the minty refinement of the dish. Our incredibly skilled sommelier, Felix Chamorro, has composed the wine pairings with impressive flair and cadence. In the middle of the menu a bold tannic red wine from the volcanic terroir of Etna matches a blast of warm lamb carpaccio with pasta, fried oyster mushrooms, lamb reduction foam, nasturtium flowers and sour raspberry powder, arranged to replicate the Italian flag. This is followed by a refreshing chardonnay from Fanny Sabre in Burgundy to accompany a surprising and innovative dish of salsify covered with slices of beet, celeriac and a piquant kick of garlic purée. The dish is a peppy zinger in the midst of our meat fervour, while the refreshing white wine provides a boost in the tailwinds of the relatively heavy red. It is a rare feat indeed to see such elegant compositions of food and wine intertwined so seamlessly. With bold originality and flawless presentation, Copenhagen’s New Nordic Italian is definitively top-class.
Make your way around Kjell Engman’s blue glass bar at Kosta Boda Art Hotel and slip in through an inconspicuous door. A half flight down reigns Chef Edin Dzemat, White Guide’s Rising Star of the Year in 2014, and the winner of Sweden’s chef competition TV show in 2016. Compared to the hotel’s main restaurant, the notes here are muted wood and dark metals. The flirtation with the glassworks’ history is apparent. With this cosy environment as a framework Edin Dzemat’s dishes function as small works of art, carefully conceived, down to the smallest crust and crisp. In fact, Dzemat himself stands out in the dining room, adding final touches to each plate. The menu is constructed in the spirit of the times, around small plates. Two to three should be enough, depending on what you order. When Dzemat worked at Linnéa in Gothenburg he developed a signature dish (named White Guide’s Dish of the Year in 2014), and you can also get it here: pan-fried lobster with iced lingonberries and brown butter sauce. Beautiful as a painting, the lobster’s sweetness and soft sauce are broken by tangy lingonberries. “39° char” is a subtle taste sensation in small format, with grilled asparagus as rustic buttresses. Those who yearn for something more substantial can delve into the perfectly pink venison with cream of porcini mushrooms and tangy ramson capers. A blackened salmon is more modest, made good by a light crust of toasted rye bread. Beef tartare is served spread out on the plate with minimally chopped crunchy potato sticks on top. From the cellar, which is now integrated into the dining room, you can order a number of wines by the glass. The service follows the diners’ pace responsively, although there is some imbalance in the level of knowledge.
Brasseri France is an institution of classic French cooking located in the middle of Oslo’s tourist district, just off Karl Johan, the shopping street that leads to the royal palace. Chances are, if you ever eaten in Oslo and had excellent service, the waiters have been trained here. Excellent service is hard to come by, but here it is as correct as it is formal. The clientele consists of returning customers and other restaurant workers enjoying a day off work. (Brasseri France is a favourite among chefs and waiters in Oslo.) A round of fine de claires starts off the dinner, with condiments such as vinaigrette, tabasco or a lemon. Chewing on the salty, rich flesh makes us contemplate the past, when this was the food of hardworking men and women, to be eaten by the dozen. The main course of boneless rib-eye is cooked to perfection. A dark brown crust frames the moist and juicy meat, and the marbled fat melts in our mouths as we chew. The acidity from the béarnaise matches perfectly and together with the green beans and pommes frites, it is a classic take on one of the most beloved dishes inherited from French cuisine. The duck confit comes with kale and Pommes Anna. The crispy duck skin is perfect with the buttery potatoes. Brasseri France makes proper French food, the kitchen applies flawless techniques, and the textures and flavours hit their marks every time. Brasseri France is a safe choice if you should find yourself wanting for attention, love and care, and you’ll receive it in the form of food, service and wine. Even on a Monday at lunch.
The celebrity chef duo of Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg are the creators behind many of Helsinki’s beloved restaurants, and Bronda is the flagship. The restaurant is delightfully spacious and airy, with a stylish interior. A large bar welcomes diners but the real eye-catcher is the floor-to-ceiling wine cabinet that separates the bar from the dining room. Wine is also the big focus of the beverage menu and the wine pairings are competent. The selection of beer, however, is short enough for the server to recite the list out loud. The menu is a bit unfocused and mainly influenced by Italian, Spanish and French cuisine and all of the dishes are elegantly presented and served family style. In the snack section, the green-lipped mussel with shallots nicely combines ocean and herby flavours with the crunch of sweet breadcrumbs on top. The finger-licking good baby back ribs are less elegant but incredibly tender and served with flavourful sweet and sour pickled red cabbage. The meal finishes on a high note with a tiramisu topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream. The bitter flavours from the coffee and the dark chocolate ganache create a well-balanced dessert with the smooth mascarpone cream. The service is alert, warm, and professional, but at times the dishes arrive faster than we can finish them. There’s a strange lack of communication between the kitchen and the floor – especially noticeable as the entire service crew is carrying walkie-talkies.
BROR is an intimate two-storey restaurant that has become known for its emphasis on using all parts of the various animals that come through the cramped little kitchen in the narrow streets of central Copenhagen. The restaurant interior consists of upcycled tables and chairs – even the plates are upcycled and come in all colours and sizes. You don't come here for the decór. Instead you pay a very reasonable price for top-quality produce, good service and very well-matched natural wines. This becomes evident from the start with the unique snacks, which include juicy cod cheeks on rye with dill oil, lightly smoked trout served in its own crisp skin, and a small bag of crisps made from fried pieces of bull’s penis that you dip in a heavy sour cream dusted with ramson powder. It’s tongue-in-cheek and inventive without compromising on flavour. The service here is warm, attentive and to the point, and knowledgeable about the mainly natural wines which accompany the menu. Nothing is wasted here and the omnivorous approach becomes evident in the juicy roast chicken hearts, served almost rare, along with sweet and bitter burnt broccoli, broccoli purée, slices of the stem and a fresh chlorophyllic watercress and whey sauce. A very crisp natural chardonnay from Saint-Veran cuts right through. The desserts include a marrow crème brûlée served in a marrowbone, and it tastes exactly like what you’d expect. The rich, bordering on intensely meaty crème is held in place by a zingy quince and elderflower sorbet, and the creaminess and the burnt sugar notes are precisely matched with an aged sweet Loire chenin blanc. BROR is a top choice for a tastefully provocative meal anchored in quality produce and skill.
If sparsely decorated restaurants serving fermented food and unfiltered wine set on the outskirts of the city centre are any measure of a successful, confident and cultural big city, then Oslo has arrived. Especially if you consider that, up until recently, there weren’t many gourmands flocking to the streets of Oslo, Brutus is an example of how far Oslo has come. Located behind the city jail, in an area that is still in its early years of repopulation, this wine bar turned lacto-fermentation heaven pushes the limits of the aforementioned gourmand’s migratory patterns. The small corner location caters to people’s hunger and thirst every day of the week, all year round. The owners are no strangers to magical fermentations, with their experience from Fat Duck, Noma, Maaemo and other spearheads of cuisine around the world. Now, after working hard with the best for many years, John Sonnichsen, Jens Føien, and the guys in the kitchen led by Chef Arnar Jakob Gudmundsson, do their best to convince you to stay for not only the four courses, but also a bottle or two more of festive pét-nat or a funky red from Loire with simple yet fun and fermented fare. The baked rutabaga with pork fat and breadcrumbs is sweet, sour and salty. The small cups of pickled onions with chicken liver are sweet and sour and good enough to be ordered a second time around. After a bottle of cider. And charred Icelandic flatbread with beetroots. And that amazing dish with leeks, buttermilk and roe. We’ll have another one of those as well.
The table is elegantly clad in a white tablecloth, with blue fluted Royal Copenhagen porcelain atop underplates of silver. Works from the Golden Age of Danish painting adorn the walls. There is an authentic atmosphere of a bygone era, as the impressive historic surroundings seem to make time stand still, evoking a unique sense of tranquillity. This atmosphere is further enhanced by the waiters, who provide service of the highest calibre. Guests are of course addressed with the proper formality, yet with a friendly undertone and room for brief anecdotes on the history of the place. This discerning elegance fits like a glove with the French cuisine of Michel Michaud. The first course on the inspiration menu is an attractive tartare of salmon and Perle Blanche oyster with a lid of caviar that appears to hover over a clear tomato gelée in the bottom of the dish. Fresh and slightly acidic, the tomato provides a good base for the pure taste of fish and shellfish. From there the dishes become even more classic; so much so that at times we find ourselves longing for another nuanced twist like the tomato gelée. There are more than enough reduced broths, velvety smooth purées, classic sauces and expertly precise preparations, but this is exactly where Michaud’s kitchen team is at home. Cauliflower purée, fried wolffish and grenobloise sauce with browned butter, capers and toasted hazelnuts are the few but well-chosen components of the excellent in-between course. Simple and rather straightforward, the spectrum of flavour is completed by a glass of Meursault with buttery notes, a nutty aroma and a nice acidity. The wine list is extensive, and one can confidently leave the choice of a bottle or wine pairings to the waiters, who will undoubtedly find an exquisite match for the classic French cuisine and historic surroundings.
In the blossoming neighborhood of Žirmunai, at the edge of Vilnius’ city center, among a bouquet of new boutiques and other entertaining temptations is Bučeris, a small butcher shop and restaurant that lures us back time and again. It was one of the first establishments to open in this part of town where the local eateries form a sort of amusement center, packed next to each other, yet, charmingly, not competing with each other. Bučeris has specialized in offering an impressive selection of meats from all over the world. Either buy some and bring it home, or choose a cut, let the deft cooks sear it to your liking, and enjoy it in the sparse dining room where the atmosphere is laidback and the wall of wine bottles add a bit of warmth. Will it be the T-bone, the ribeye or the côte de boeuf? Why not go for the “cowboy steak” and pretend for a moment that you’re Lucky Luke? Succulent, umami-laced and grassy, for sure, you’re still going to need good molars to chew this cut––it contains less fat than, for example, North American beef, its texture is much less tender than you might be used to. One thing you need to know about this grass-fed beef: it’s not always available and when it is, it runs out fast.
Our evening at Bühlmann begins with snacks in the historic manor’s distinctive wine cellar surrounded by quality bottles and homemade charcuterie hanging to dry. The first bite elegantly contrasts a crisp pickled shell of kohlrabi with a filling of slightly sweet and creamy lobster tartare. The flavours are also well composed in the crispy brioche with sweet onion marmalade, Havgus cheese and a slice of the lardo that has been drying in the cellar. The restaurant itself, situated in one of the old rooms of Hotel Scheelsminde, is pompously decorated with dark wood and heavy tablecloths, but it fits like a glove with the site and its French-inspired cuisine. The first dish on the menu is a cured scallop with a mild taste of the sea and wonderful texture, accompanied by the fresh acidity of green strawberries and a sauce of gooseberries and dill. Once again the flavours are precisely balanced, and a young chardonnay from South Tyrol harmonises nicely with the aromatic complexity and acidity of the dish. The wine pairings reflect careful consideration and are finely presented, while the service staff exhibit great mastery and professionalism with an eye for small details. In the in-between course featuring onion, the strong onion bouillon is adjusted nicely with pickled onions while a poached egg yolk provides the required fat to hold it all together. However, these delicately nuanced combinations are slightly disrupted by the sharp taste of bitter, undercooked raw onion. But such small glitches are easily correctable. With its keen focus on local ingredients, classic taste and good service, Bühlmann has positioned itself among the best restaurants in Aalborg.
Meat ages on hooks in a glass cabinet while a facility above the restaurant produces cheese made from the organic milk of the restaurant’s own cows. Chef Christian Puglisi and his crew are staunchly at the controls of Bæst. Despite its loose atmosphere, nothing is left to chance when it comes to the ingredients and their organic origin. We watch as the chefs pull pizzas out of the wood-fired oven in the ultra-open kitchen. The noise level is moderate on this Monday evening, but the restaurant is full of people. Perhaps that is why the service is so slow. We wait more than a half hour for the first round of charcuterie. Fortunately, the food – like the glass of skin-fermented Garganega from Veneto – is well worth the wait. Ham, fennel sausage, lardo, coppa, wonderous ‘nduja sausage with paprika, dried duck with an insistent aged taste, pork rillettes with the pleasant crunch of crisped rinds and a tiny bowl of pickled root vegetables: let the meat orgy begin! With a little difficulty, we manage to order more wine from the enthralling selection of natural wines, followed by the highlight of our evening – homemade mozzarella. Taking a bite of mozzarella so fresh that thick pearls of milk dribble out between the layers of cheese is – and will always be – a delightful experience. The creamy stracciatella cheese with paper-thin slices of Cinta Senese ham and freshly grated mushrooms is also worth noting for its wonderful air of paysan luxury. Bæst is known for its seasonal pizzas, and this time of year (winter) obviously calls for cabbage, which adds a somewhat funky taste to the otherwise phenomenal soft pizza crust with its perfect acidity and slightly burnt notes. We have enjoyed much better service on previous visits, and the menu would have benefitted from a little more veg. But these things take nothing away from the fact that you can count on carefully considered and excellent flavour for your money at Bæst.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.