Relæting to Food

We went to fancy Danish restaurant Relæ this evening with my parents for celebratory purposes. It’s one of those “proper” fancy restaurants where the chef has worked at elBulli and Noma and is generally a bad-ass ninja when it comes to food preperation. Or maybe more like Roland Barthes, an intellectual with a lot going on under the surface of otherwise quite accessible output.

They even have a vegetarian specific menu, which I love them for, as so often meals at fancier restaurants can devolve into a game of “fuck you vegetarian” if you’re not careful.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about eating at Relæ was the intense knowledge you inevitably have of the intent of the food and its author. You’re not just eating food, but taking part in a designed experience. As such you devote far more of your brain than usual to actually tasting and assessing what’s going on with the food. This introduces a much broader palette (ha!) of possible reactions and interpretations – surprise, confusion, delight, and so on. It’s almost impossible to react in these ways to “ordinary” food because, contextually, there’s just no room for it. You’re too busy watching Game of Thrones, after all.

So we ate a bunch of intensely designed things, but what was very pleasing was how simultaneously accessible and unpretentious the food felt. In order, I had: asparagus coated with crumbed parmesan bread; peas in goat’s milk yogurt with (I think) pine-shoot “snow”; new Danish potatoes dusted in seaweed powder with warm albino (for want of a better word) strawberries and a rucola reduction; grilled onion purée with spring onions braised in butter (and another onion form, I think); four-herb icecream with a lemon sabayon and caramelised wafer-thin toasts.

The pine-shoot snow was the most remarkable of the individual elements – a genuine surprise to have in your mouth and really quite delightful. The desert was freakishly good as a totality. Every dish was, at the very least, delicious. In a way, that last point seems almost peculiar – I went in expecting the food to be highly intellectual (and probably beyond me), perhaps “weird” or “challenging”, but not necessarily “yummy.”

And yet, at base, it’s was a very tasty and satisfying meal beneath the whirl of ambition and smarts.

25 June 2011
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