Getting the Geist of it

Bo Bech is a Danish culinary superstar and his latest restaurant in Copenhagen is riding high on the Nordic food wave, writes…

Bo Bech is a Danish culinary superstar and his latest restaurant in Copenhagen is riding high on the Nordic food wave, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

HE’S PROBABLY BEST described as the fifth Beatle of the restaurant world. When Danish chef and businessman Claus Meyer had the idea for a new restaurant in Copenhagen almost a decade ago he talked to the two hottest young chefs in town. One of them made the cover of Time magazine last month. The other was Bo Bech.

As René Redzepi (Noma) and the Nordic food wave continues to wash over global restaurant culture, Bech’s fame is confined to Denmark. A large, dark-bearded former car salesman, he hosts a Gordon Ramsay-style TV show which roughly translates as “knife to the throat”. His Copenhagen restaurant, Paustian, was awarded a Michelin star, which was plenty of consolation, and then it closed.

He has pared things back with his latest restaurant, Geist, in central Copenhagen. It’s a good thing for people who can’t get a table at Noma or who don’t want to pay the hefty price for dinner at the world’s best restaurant. It’s also the best Sunday night spot for cooks on their night off in this busy restaurant town. I’m here with Trevor Moran and Halaigh Whelan-McManus, sous and chef-de-partie respectively in the kitchen at Noma. The third member of this talented Irish troika, Louise Bannon, has recently gone to work at Tom Aikens’s Chelsea restaurant.


Geist is in Copenhagen’s Kings’ Square or Kongens Nytorv, near the pedestrianised heart of this wonderfully walkable city. The large canopied windows show people eating as they look out on the quiet street. It looks more like a hip wine bar than a restaurant. An open wood-fire burns near the courtyard entrance. The place is dark, divided into a bar at one end and restaurant at the other. Most of the seats are at bar-level – dark timber benches arranged around the large kitchen, which is dimly lit. At times, the army of chefs is cooking by little more than candlelight.

The menus come on small cards with muted black watercolours of vegetables on the front. The nice surprise, in this pricey town, is that nothing costs over 200 kroner or €27.

You can treat the dishes like tapas, ordering two or three each or go starter and main, left to right. It’s Nordic cooking but it’s not High Church. Ingredients such as tomatoes and avocados are given menu-space here, along with their more earthy far north root cousins, celeriac and horseradish. It’s the kind of place where you can happily drink a beer with your meal.

My chef companions know these dishes and are able to nudge the choices in the best direction. Trevor gets a plate of tomatoes with pineapple and saffron. It’s a gorgeous, heavy earthenware plate with a Smartie-bright array of different roasted cherry tomatoes reds, yellows, a marbled green, all smothered in sock-it-to-you pineapple flavour. Halaigh’s cauliflower with black truffle and skyr (a yoghurt-like soft Icelandic cheese) is that perfect restaurant dish: three great things on a plate. The cauliflower has been sliced petal-thin with a meat slice, turning it from a lumpen vegetable into an airy, pure-white plate of sea-coral set off with dirty brown-black slivers of truffle which turn the skyr brown. My grilled avocado (they put them hole-side down on a hot plate) is filled with crab and pistachio. It tastes like it’s had a crust of turmeric cooked on and is probably my least favourite of the three. A fourth dish of celeriac with smoked eel comes with a frozen tundra of horseradish mousse on top that looks like polystyrene. It’s a muscular, smokey fish pie but the chilly white lid is a bit too cold.

My main is where you appreciate this is Michelin-standard food at the bar. Two small pieces of turbot have been fried in butter and topped with gorgeous soft mouthfuls in the shape of circular flying saucer fennel and cheese ravioli. Breaking the cheese-with-fish rule has never worked so well. A plate of suckling pig with black truffle and artichokes has the soft succulent meat buried under an Autumn flurry of tiny Jerusalem artichoke crisps. It’s a texture and flavour partnership forged in heaven.

Service is friendly but a little too hip to listen and observe in the way that great waiters do. In their identical distressed black T-shirts, they’re part of a large army of staff. The music is dire, jangling Europop that makes you want to put down your knife and fork to put your hands over your ears.

Desserts are typical of the muted style where you wonder if they used any sugar at all. A vanilla ice cream with black olives and a lid of some kind of baked milk is a sensational dish where your taste buds have to go hunting for the sweetness beneath all the salt and cream. A sheep milk yoghurt ice cream comes studded with tiny purple leaves of wood sorrel and chervil stems rolled in bitter chocolate powder. There’s a lurid pink candied rhubarb with buttermilk, which is definitely the lesser of the three. Sugar fiends in withdrawal are rewarded with a fluffy bowl of white candy floss with the coffees. It sums up the place: clever but also tremendous fun.

Dinner for three with beers and coffee came to 635 kroner (€219.77).

A wild garlic weekend in the west

I'm very excited about the green garlic shoots growing out of cloves of French garlic I planted on a whim in my allotment recently. But it will be a while before I'm doing any cooking with them.

In the meantime, blankets of wild garlic are quietly growing around the country, making foragers happy.

At the Rua Café and Deli in Castlebar, Co Mayo they've done the foraging for you. During their Wild Garlic Weekend, today and tomorrow, they'll be selling sausages, breads, pesto, wild garlic butter, mayonnaise, tarts and soup.

The wild-flavoured food will be available for takeaway at the deli on Spencer Street and on menus in Café Rua on New Antrim Street, Castlebar, Co Mayo.

Tel: 094-9023376