Caramelized milk skin with grilled pork belly and cress: If you haven’t heard about this dish from Noma’s three-month-old sister restaurant, 108, get ready. It’s on its way to cult status—one of those bragging points that culinary insiders use as badges of honor.
But unlike its Chef’s Table-worthy competition (think Noma’s smoked quail eggs or Alinea’s black truffle explosion), this dish—reduced milk that cooks down in a frying pan into a delicate crepe, only to be filled with nine-hour-cooked pork belly, then finished on the grill to order—doesn’t come on a prohibitively expensive tasting menu at the other end of an impossible reservation line. Oh, and no panicking over which fancy fork to use either: It's meant to be eaten with your hands, like a burrito.
Welcome to the new new Nordic cuisine, where restaurants with the same commitment to foraged, hyper-local and seasonal ingredients that we’ve come to know and love are more casual, affordable and accessible than ever.
On the heels of trailblazers like Christian Puglisi, who opened the casual, vegetable-forward wine bar Manfreds after his Michelin starred Relæ, and the Kadeau team, who made a similar move with PONY, the scale has finally tipped from impossibly priced, upscale openings toward places with lower costs, lighter moods and à la cart options.
These new spots may not be outright budget friendly, but they’re not the once-in-a-lifetime bank-emptiers that came before them. While a meal at Noma could cost you $440 a person with the wine pairings, dinner at 108 can easily stay under $100.
It’s not just the prices that have calmed down though. “We pour the first glass of wine but then you do it yourself; the tables are close to promote conversations; the menu is à la carte, because we want our guests to choose their evening,” 29-year-old executive chef Kristian Baumann says of 108. “We want people to relax and have fun.”
Baumann isn’t the only one letting loose. Christian Gadient, Denmark's youngest Michelin-starred head chef, is also putting this relaxed and inviting philosophy to work. Gadient left his fine dining digs at Marchal to head up the kitchen at four-month-old Spontan, a restaurant in new brewpub Brus, which is also home to a beer store, bar and brewery. Visitors eat and drink amid barrels and fermentation tanks in an open, industrial space surrounded by whitewashed brick.
“We have nothing to hide,” says Gadient, who creates showstopping dishes like short ribs with smoked bone marrow and pickled gooseberries, and poached turbot with pickled chanterelle mushrooms (see the recipe) each night to pair with the beer sold in the adjacent shop and bar.
On trading white tablecloths in favor of exposed ceiling pipes, Gadient says, “I liked the idea of the flexibility and freedom connected to opening a place like this. It leaves me more possibilities to be spontaneous, change concepts and exchange ideas.” Hence the restaurant’s name.
The prix fixe meal with a beer pairing is under $100, and an à la carte option may make its way from the bar to the main restaurant soon.
Along with Spontan and 108, the recently opened Bodil also strikes that sweet spot of elevated new Nordic cuisine that’s easy on the wallet. Chef Mads Rye Magnussen comes to this cozy restaurant from the three-Michelin-star Geranium, where dinner and drinks cost close to $500—10 times more than a five-course meal at Bodil. Then there’s vegetable-driven Väkst, which also opened this year. Bringing local to a new level, the kitchen uses ingredients grown inside the greenhouse-like dining room, which is adorned with hanging plants and rope swings.
“We wanted to create a restaurant that captured the nature of the garden party and prolonged the feel of Danish summer,” Nikolai Lind, a representative for the restaurant, explains.
Finally, booking a table at one of the city’s top restaurants doesn’t have to feel like a lofty dream. And a dish as exquisite as 108’s smoky grilled monkfish, glazed in a sauce made of three-month fermented sourdough, seaweed and mushrooms, and served with succulent-like ice plant, isn’t out of reach. You might even stop in for a house-made rose-syrup pastry on the way to work or for a light lunch at the bar. The doors are open after all. And then you might return for dinner—for that amazing milk skin—just because you can.