The last time Greedy Girl was in Denmark was, ahem, nearly 30 years ago. Not very surprisingly, it’s changed, and food seems to be one of the main indicators. It is curious that with the rise of what is generally regarded as the world’s best restaurant, Noma, which is reportedly fanatic about using only Nordic produce, traditional Danish cuisine has become increasingly harder to find.

Such things as ‘smorrebrod’ – the Danish open sandwich – and rollmops (pause here for a heartfelt ‘Ewwwwwww’) were once ubiquitous. Now, you’re more likely to find a pizza shop. It’s certainly not because of a dominant American influence – there are a few Maccas, Greedy Girl spied one Burger King and apparently the only Starbucks is at Copenhagen airport and adding insult to injury if you’re desperate (the word is used advisedly) for a caramel frappucino you not only have to stump up for its inflated cost – but parking too.

What to do then if you’re after traditional Danish fare? Head to Schonnemann.

This basement restaurant on Hauser Plads has been in existence since 1877, catering to the men who would park their horse and cart at the market on the square (long gone) and head into the cosy cellar for a pipe, akvavit and herring. Not necessarily in that order, but close.

‘What about the women’ who park their cart etc … Well, tough luck. Schonnemann only started admitting the female of the species in 1975. Would they have made an exception for Queen Margrethe, who ascended the Danish throne in 1972? Greedy Girl wonders if she tried it on.

The restauarant is, apparently, very much preserved from its original remit (with better plumbing and lighting). Sand still is scattered over the floorboards, in homage to the market days where the customers tracked it in on their boots. This is explained on the back of both the food and drinks menus – presumably to fend off complaints from American tourists who point out that the floor is dirty.

Apparently many of the dishes have been on the menu the whole time although some of the impressive styles of akvavit are relatively recent creations. Schonnemann has its own styles of the ‘water of life’, aka schnapps or as Greedy Girl prefers to name it, “rocket fuel”, as well as its own ale brew which seems hugely popular in this packed little basement at lunch.

Schonnemann is only open for lunch. It starts turning tables over around 11-ish and diners are welcome until around five-ish, although the menu advises that the kitchen closes at 3.30pm. There are probably only 40-50 seats in the place and they fill quickly. Greedy Girl spied several hapless individuals regretfully being turned away when they tried to get in without a booking. Our jaunty waiter Mikael commented that turning people away ‘was good for business’. Greedy Girl was happy she’d e-mailed ahead.

While wine is available, beer and akvavit are the way to go here. With two giant ales on the table, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband got to grips with the menu. There’s no point asking what the house specialty is. The short answer is: ‘everything’. The choice is essentially between fish and meat. Rollmops (herring) are used as a garnish for many dishes. Fish choices generally boil down to salmon, crayfish, prawns or halibut – presented in a comprehensive array of choices. There are also a couple of pork and chicken dishes but the majority of non-fish seems to revolve around minced beef – served tartare in the main.

Greedy Girl opted for ‘gravad lax’ – cured salmon served on rye bread with a dill and mustard mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon and lime juice over the top. Pure, fresh, delightful.

Given Schonnemann is a preferred destination for Danish delights for some of Europe’s top chefs (Noma’s Rene Redzepi has a halibut dish named for him), gluttonous husband decided to plump for a dish named after another Michelin-star holder, Michel Roux Jr. His beef tartare was flavoured with cognac and served with mustard mayonnaise, grated horseradish, capers and a poached egg. A ramekin overflowing with fried and salted rye bread was the accompaniment.

Too fearful of an afternoon blotted out by akvavit, we demurred and stuck with the beer. Not the done thing but they forgave us. So tasty were our meals and inspired by the endless stream of dishes emanating from the kitchen, we asked Mikael if we could come back the next day.

So, round two. Greedy Girl decided to try beef but she liked hers cooked. A gigantic patty, cooked medium rare, was presented on light rye toast (everything is presented on rye) with four bowls holding, in turn, onions, capers, beetroot and pickled vegetables. While the beetroot was set aside for gluttonous husband, the combination worked very well. The meat had a lovely flame-grilled crust, but the star of the dish was the pickled vegetables.

Gluttonous husband chose crayfish tails. Australians would describe these as yabbies. The tail meat was mixed with a generous amount of mayonnaise, apricot, celery and dill on light rye. The mayonnaise was so incredibly strong, it seemed to overwhelm every other flavour but the end result was still very pleasing.

Adding another dimension was two glasses of akvavit. Greedy Girl (wearing her ‘L’ plates) asked for the lightest variation and was given a Norwegian type. Gluttonous husband opted for the lightest of the Danish varieties, which was from one of Schonnemann’s own stills. By the end of lunch, not only the vegetables were pickled.

One of the great delights of Schonnemann is watching the myriad of dishes come out. Some ingredients are obvious, such as an painstakingly stacked pyramid of prawns, others less so and probably best not to ask for clarification. Almost everything on the menu tests positive to mayonnaise and salt – it was just the way things were in 1877 – the Danes needed to put down layers of blubber to cope with the long winters and there were few tastier ways to do it.

As Mikael sighed when we asked why traditional Danish food seemed to have all but disappeared from Copenhagen’s streets: ‘I think people want to be healthy’, Greedy Girl can understand why they wouldn’t be if their standard lunch was mayonnaise-soaked yabby tails or oil-slicked salted rollmops, but what the hell – don’t miss spoiling yourself with these unique delights if you ever find yourself in the Danish capital. But if you don’t want to be flammable afterwards, perhaps go easy on the rocket fuel.


Hauser Plads 16, Copenhagen

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