Danish oyster boot camp (look away now if you don’t like oysters)

As you might have noticed from my rather oyster-centric Twitter feed, last week I spent a few days in Denmark snuffling out oysters. The trip coincided with Denmark’s Oyster Week – an event aimed at raising awareness about the country’s oyster production.

We traveled to the Wadden Sea Centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Centre) in Ribe, South West Jutland which, aside from being a haven for many species of migratory birds, is populated by thousands upon thousands of Pacific oysters, which we waded 6km (in the fetching waders, above) to pluck from their beds. Unfortunately I made the foolish decision to leave my waterproof in Brixton, which meant I got thoroughly soaked by the pelting rain – but it was kind of worth it when we tasted the oysters fresh from the sea, and Kasper, our tour leader cracked a bottle of Moet.

It was a good job we worked up an appetite, because that night we were treated to an absolute feast by English chef Paul Cunningham, who’s now cooking at Henne Kirkeby Kro in the wild West of the country – quite a contrast from his former kitchen at The Paul in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. Paul won a Michelin-star for his food at The Paul, and I’m sure it won’t be long until the stars come shining down on him here – where he’s using the extensive kitchen garden for the freshest ingredients, and making use of his rural ingredients for the best supplies. It was great to see the big man (he’s hard to miss, at over six foot) so happy and relaxed in his new environment, as towards the end of his time at Tivoli things were pretty fraught.

Paul is a maestro of flavour. He’s not afraid to put bold tastes together on the plate (a native oyster cooked on a Green Egg with Marmite, butter and toasted rye bread is one such example), but he rarely misfires, and manages to always get the balance just right. His love of good food is tangible when you eat his dishes – they are original, distinctive and memorable, a bit like the chef himself.

Check out this fantastic video of Henne Kirkeby Kro by First XI:

The next day it was on to Glyngore – a historic fishing harbour where we met the wonderful oyster producer Sven, who fishes for the most delicious native oysters and blue-lipped mussels from the Limfjord, which is renowned for its special, mineral rich waters. After being shown around the production site, where oysters for restaurants including Noma are graded and packed, he cooked us a wonderful oyster-based tasting menu.

Then is was time to don those waders again and search out some of our own natives in the Limfjord. Sadly, my waders leaked and I managed to get totally soaked, which I think may have inhibited my oyster catching abilities (or at least that’s my excuse), but some of us found some. Others netted some spider crabs, which apparently tasted good, but looked too much like actual arachnids for my liking…

You can read about the trip, producers and food in more detail in my forthcoming article for FOUR magazine.

Photos by Kasper Fogh

The Paul, Copenhagen – a last lunch

On returning to Copenhagen for a second time this year, the first thing we did was go and eat at British chef Paul Cunningham’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Paul, which is set inside the 1800s children’s amusement park Tivoli. Walking into The Paul is a bit like what I imagine it might be like walking into Cunningham’s subconscious. The octagonal, summer-house-esque interior is flooded with natural light, and drips with the chef’s own photography, artwork he has commissioned, and little trinkets, curiosities and oddities he’s collected along the way. I had been a few months ago (though not to eat as the restaurant was closed for a refurb) to interview Paul for Chef Magazine, and I had heard from his peers Claude Bosi and Sat Bains that this chef’s cooking was bold, original and innovative – much like the man himself. It was nice to be back. It was also rather fortuitous, given that, as the chef’s charming maître d’ brought us over delicious little snacks to eat with our champagne, Paul dropped the bombshell that he is closing.

The 42-year-old chef explained that he’s come as far as he can at Tivoli. “If I don’t make a break now, I’ll be pensioned at Tivoli. I want to do something much more creative. I’m not closing down – I’m closing down The Paul. There’s nothing definite yet but between now and the 24th of September [The Paul’s last supper] something will be set. I can’t wait. The Paul will be put into the archives and ‘P2′ is the working title of the new project.”

Cunningham, who insists he’ll take his staff with him wherever he goes next, is not short of offers – and is considering projects in Denmark, London and Provence. “I’ve reinvented myself many times over the last ten years and I can’t do any more in Tivoli,” he said. “I feel happier and more content than I have in a long time and I’m very excited about the future.”

So it was with both excitement and a sense of  privilege that we sat down inside The Paul to enjoy what was to be our first and last meal there. And it didn’t disappoint. We had the chef’s summer menu. Here is our meal in words and pictures.

Oyster & Rossini caviar, cauliflower

This was a lovely light start. The oysters were plump, juicy iodine hits softened by the creamy cauliflower puree. I liked the textural intrigue here – the fresh, crunchy caulie against the pearly caviar and froth. A delectable start.

new potatoes, mussels, lemon verbena & smoke
new potatoes, mussels, scallops, lemon verbena & smoke

In the nicest possible sense, this dish reminded me of the flavour of Frankfurters. Something to do with the meaty mussels and the smoked scallops together. It was umami central and the bouillon was intense and moreish, the potato lending an earthy, comforting edge and the verbena powder a fragrant note.

Raviolo – beans, ibérico, mint and tomato water

I can still taste this. The salty, deep ham forming a lovely melting envelope around the most vital peeled broad beans. The clear tomato consomme was so refreshing – like inhaling inside my dad’s old green house – and the mint was a stroke of genius, lifting the dish wonderfully. The flavours here are simple and it really works: summer in a bowl.

Black garlic, grilled summer onion, charred monkfish

This dish was mega. I love the way it has so few ingredients but has the utmost impact. Black garlic (amazingly umami-rich fermented garlic) is an ingredient that is starting to get some real gourmet attention. I first heard about it from Sven Elverfeld who uses it at Aqua, and there have been some threads about it on Chowhound too. It’s so delicious: deep, sticky and mellow in its garlic-ness. Here Paul had cooked loads of it with butter (see below) and made it into a smooth paste that worked beautifully with the plump, moist monkfish and simply grilled onion.

Black garlic butter
Garden herbs, yoghurt, Himmerland sweetbreads & salted lemon

I’m not the world’s biggest sweetbread fan (there – I said it), but these were fab. Moist and juicy and coated in a light, crunchy batter, with some great acidity from the yoghurt, and a lovely fresh green edge from the herbs. I was starting to get a bit full by this point though…

guinea fowl Jean-Claude, coffee, chanterelles & capers

This is one of those dishes that when the chef was describing it to me I was seriously wondering if it was going to work – especially when he used the words ‘praline’ and ‘coffee’. But it absolutely did. The guinea fowl – which is a favourite of mine – was cooked to perfection; one piece coated in a sweet, crunchy praline, the other slowly cooked in a deep but subtle coffee jus, which really brought out the flavour of its intense poultry fat. The mushrooms complimented the whole thing with their succulent, juicy texture and the fried capers (only ever had them done like this at Viajante) gave a sharp, crunchy edge.

We didn’t have room for desserts, but this was one  of the most accomplished and vibrant meals of my year and I do encourage anyone who is planning a trip to CPH before the summer is out to get booked in. But for  those of you who can’t, watch this space for more news on Cunningham, because something tells me that whatever he does next is going to be even more wonderful…

Matching glasses