It’s a surreal evening from the start. We arrive at almost-dusk, and end up in the gardens of the Royal Danish Horticultural Society by mistake, missing the Mielcke & Hurtigkarl sign nudging you left at the entrance. Hard to feel sorry about a mistake that leaves you wandering in a sprawl of greenery, with the sunset glancing across the pond. Particularly because the setting for this restaurant’s so intrinsic to the experience they’re serving up here.
The executive chef and owner’s Jakob Mielcke. His is a familiar name in several countries – after working at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, Sketch in London, and now back on home soil for his first place – plaudits stacking up in his wake, and a public profile rapidly gathering steam from four consecutive seasons as a Masterchef judge and host.
Restaurant partner and Copenhagen native Jan Hurtigkarl brings tradition into the mix, from both his own wealth of experience – with successful restaurants in Copenhagen and Alsgarde under his belt – and the weight of tradition: back in the 70s his father, Roy Hurtigkarl, opened the feted Gastronomique on the same site that’s home to Mielcke & Hurtigkarl today.
Their aim’s been to integrate the restaurant with its surroundings in the Royal Danish Horticultural Society’s Garden – and they’ve managed it to a surprising degree. The stateliness and palatial houses of Fredricksberg, where the Garden’s based, feeds through in the high ceilings, and almost-as-high windows – light still drenching the restaurant when we arrive, a chandelier inside and big flame-lamps outside brightening it after night falls. The references to the garden come through in greenery in every corner, painted vines climbing the walls and dishes served on stoneware in ocean and earth shades.
And – more so than most places chucking around names like ‘tasting menu experience’, or ‘food tasting journey’ – this surreal, stately restaurant really earns the right to call their offering an experience, a journey or any high-blown, grandiose thing they want. The ‘curious and stylish cabaret’ they’ve dubbed it on the M&H website? Bang on, actually.
It’d be impossible to cover every dish served up that night – and senseless to try, with the menu changing daily. Variations are borne from what’s seasonal, and what’s growing in the restaurant’s own herb and vegetable garden. And sometimes – as with the tiny, fingernail-sized piece of teal, red-rare in the centre and cured to chewy, meaty bullishness – what Mielcke’s hunted that week out in the Danish wilds.
But what probably doesn’t change from one night to the next is the way the menu runs like a mixtape, delicacy of flavour punctuated with crescendos, creamy smoothness in one dish balanced with citrusy brightness in the next – and every dish a lovely, small work of art in its own right. There’s an aesthetic to the restaurant and an ethos of measuredness to the food – everything deliberate and delicate – and thank god there is: it’s the only way a dinner this long and involved could keep that feeling of momentousness throughout. It’s what keeps 18 courses – yeah, 18 – feeling like a pleasure, it’s what allows you to still feel as excited about the arrival of the tiny, pea-sized, pea-coloured macarons at about the 16th course mark as you do about the delicate tangled strands of seaweedy threads at the start of the dinner.
A menu with this much thought and work going into it often comes hand-in-hand with a po-facedness, as though beautiful food has to be served with and met with great solemnity. Not at Mielcke & Hurtigkarl – where, when you get up close to the walls, you realise the vines painted across the walls are scattered with small plastic spiders glued onto them, like the interiors equivalent of a shrug and a grin. It’s nearly midnight when we leave, and a big group seated an hour after us are still going strong, laughter and chatting to the waiters slowing down the series of dishes. And that’s what’s making this dinner far lovelier than others just as complex or skilled: it’s great food, but it doesn’t come at the expense of good times.
Mielcke & Hurtigkarl is in the Royal Danish Horticultural Society’s Garden and offers three tasting menu experiences priced from about £92 per person up to about £125 per person. Wine pairing is also available.
Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, Frederiksberg Runddel 1, 2000, Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. 0045 38348436. Website.