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Denmark: Noma's Ripple Effect Reaches the Wintry Shores of West Jutland

Henne Kirkeby Kro
Strandvejen 234, 6854 Henne
+45 7525 5400
Cuisine: Fish & Seafood
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Lucy McGuire traces Noma's ripple effect from Copenhagen to Henne Kirkeby Kro, a restaurant on the wintry shores of West Jutland.
 
As I put the spoon of grainy substance to my mouth, it feels like I’m eating wet sand. At least that’s what chef Wassim Hallal, head chef at Restaurant Frederikshøj in Aarhus wants us to believe.
 
A few more seconds of munching unveils this unusual substance has been fashioned from tiny pieces of shrimp and seaweed combined with a seaweed purée which dissolve in the mouth into flavours of the sea. There are more beguiling courses in the form of a chicken egg ‘nest’ with an edible ‘eggshell’ and a pungent sea urchin and caviar soup served in a spiky urchin shell. Follow this with canapés bursting with the flavour of fish and chips and we’re soon realising that Wassim is a chef on a mission to surprise.
 
A few courses later, and I am tapping my fork into a heavy skillet of rocks. Well, some are rocks and some are beautifully soft blue potatoes. Wassim is tricking us again.
 
This is followed with a glistening Norwegian lobster served with onion ‘paper’ and quail’s egg (which may or may not be real) and a goldfish bowl of oxtail, King Bolete mushroom and beetroot on ice. Hot water is then poured onto it, creating a huge cloud of steam.
 
When a ‘glass-like’ lemon arrives on our plates, we don’t think this meal can get any more novel. But as we enthusiastically smash it with our spoons, it shatters into crunchy lemon sherbet pieces and reveals a gorgeous lemon ‘fromage’ and caramel inside.
 
Wassim makes several appearances throughout the meal wearing pristine chefs’ whites and a toque. As someone who’s not afraid to unveil his fiery temper (as seen on Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen) he’s a chef who’s not afraid to be playful while remaining entirely serious about his food.
 
Denmark’s capital city won 17 Michelin stars in 2014, and the impact that Copenhagen’s avant-garde restaurant Noma has had on the food scene in Denmark has been so significant, the restaurant industry has dubbed it the ‘Noma’ effect.
 
Keen for a slice of the action, chefs further afield in Denmark are popping their heads above the parapet adding new destinations to the country’s gastronomical map.
 
One such place is Henne, a fairly touristy town renowned for its beautiful beaches on the wild, west coast of Denmark and home to Paul Cunningham - the Brit chef at the helm of the upscale country inn, Henne Kirkeby Kro.
 
And then there’s Aarhus, Denmark’s more conservative second city, where Wassim Hallal of the aforementioned Restaurant Frederikshøj has set up the smørrebrød café F-Høj.
 
It is a three-hour journey from Copenhagen to Henne in West Jutland. We arrive at Henne Kirkeby Kro – an 18th Century inn that’s been transformed into a Scandi-luxe style farmhouse.
 
You can see why British chef Paul Cunningham upped sticks to come and live and work here with the breathtaking West Coast beaches and island of Filsø and Filsø Lake just minutes away and at the inn, the grounds are surrounded by rich woodland. As a self-confessed forager and passion for ‘growing your own’ in the hotel allotments, Paul champions farm-to-fork style dining.
 
Like Wassim, he oozes eccentricity. Three-times winner of Denmark’s Hotdog Championship, he’s been known to present some unusual takes on this popular Danish fast-food.
 
His style of cooking here is equally adventurous. There are few pieces of offal he hasn’t cooked with. But he emphasises that ‘hocus pocus’ cooking isn’t his style.
 
That said, his food is pretty spectacular. We’re presented with a smorgasboard of chicken skins with caviar, sticky treacle-like Henne cured neck with salted lime and Mongolian garlic, and a frothy lobster ‘cappuccino’ served from a china teacup.
 
The Limfjord oysters in a parsley sauce are divine, and dwarfed by the huge meaty Wadden Sea oysters we are served that are almost the size of your hand.
 
The bountiful flavours continue with freshwater eel, skewered mallard heart and chicken, local cognac with basil and cognac and truffle poached pork cheek. The most surprising (and his mum’s favourite) is a buttery tartlet of veal breads and leek. His technical ability is immense.
 
It comes as no surprise then that Paul earned himself a Michelin star less than 12 months after setting up his restaurant The Paul in Tivoli, Copenhagen. But as he casually chats to diners in rolled-up jeans, an apron that bears the stains of a chef who grafts and a pair of Danish slippers, it appears that maybe the laid-back country suits him better than the city.
 
Our meal concludes with an indulgent chocolate dessert made from mousse and cacao water and topped with a wafer-thin slice of cocoa-flavoured Danish bread.
 
Paul Cunningham and Wassim Hallal have different philosophies on dining, but both are fierce champions of sustainable New Nordic cuisine maintaining an ability to technically wow their diners.
 
There’s no doubt they’ll lure the critics out of the capital.
 
Lucy McGuire was hosted by the Food Projekt of Denmark
She stayed at Hotel Villa Provence, Aarhus: www.villaprovence.dk Restaurant Frederikshøj http://frederikshoj.com/en/
and Henne Kirkeby Kro, Henne: www.hennekirkebykro.dk
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