Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

There is nothing like a Dane

Dansk Restaurant and Bar, Denmark House

Level 3, 428 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia

A Danish designed space, furnished sparingly with lovely furniture, serving three types of pickled herring with an aquavit menu as long as your arm. This sounds too good to be true.  Why have I never been here before?

Melbourne’s Danish Club is over a hundred and twenty five years old.  The original Denmark House used to be in St Kilda, but was sold and a new space opened up in the CBD in around 2009 near the High Court (on Little Bourke, just off Queen St).  Inside they’ve opened a restaurant called Dansk, habituated by Danes, lawyers, and those looking for a thrill (me).

Feeling like a  culinary adventure?  Why not come along?
(now, read on...)

Up an elevator on the top floor of an old brick building in the city, it is charming and has an elegant design without being pretentious or pushy.  The hours are open to suit themselves (lunch mostly, Monday to Friday) and their staff are keen to inculcate you in the ways of the “Great Danes”.  To wit, our opening conversation:

‘Have you ever had Danish food before?’ our debonaire waiter asked.
‘No, But I have been to Ísland.’
‘Well, it’s similar with the fish, but instead of it being about fish and lamb, for the Danish it’s all about fish and pork, and maybe veal.’

That the people of Ísland are into lamb was all news to me; I thought they just ate anything that passed for protein, but you live and learn.

I made further enquiries about the menu, in particular what “Smørrebrød” was.

Essentially, it’s “smear bread”.  Our waiter told us how Danish people would often have open sandwiches for lunch, maybe with a beer and an aquavit, to which we replied “lay on, MacDuff”*.

I had the house marinated herring fillet served on organic rye bread with apple and celeriac salad, radish, herring caviar and dill.  It was absolutely fantastic; a veritable work of art (though it transpired that the smear bread was not big enough for a whole meal in this instance).

The accompanying aquavit went with it very well indeed, which leads me, inadvertently, to a short homage on the topic:

Like schnapps, or vodka even, this is a clear spirit that comes in various flavours and is best enjoyed at a sub-zero temperature (-17 degrees centigrade, if I’m not mistaken); you can keep it chilled in the snow.

This external refrigeration technique is nothing new in Denmark, and I understand Danish students leave six packs of beer on their window ledges in apartment blocks, since during the day it averages around zero degrees and their beer is chilled to perfection in a few short minutes.

But back to the topic at hand.  The tradition is to pour your aquavit into a small chilled glass so that there is a meniscus, and then you bend down and “give it a kiss”, before continuing to sip the drink which you might have with a beer on the side (in this case Carlsberg on tap).  I enjoyed my entree with Dild Aquavit: “38 % • Smooth and elegant flavors of fresh green dill, lemon and a hint of anise”.
Very nice, and I thought I could also taste caraway seeds in addition to the dill.

My colleague had the special marinated fish followed by pork and veal meatballs served with braised red cabbage, cucumber salad and organic rye bread.

For mains I had the “Wiener Schnitzel served with peeled peas, sautéed potatoes, capers, lemon, horseradish, white anchovies, parsley and burnt butter”.

Yes, anchovies on a Vienna Schnitzel.

I asked, “Isn’t a Wiener (there’s a hint in the name here “Vienna”) Schnitzel Austrian?’

“Yes, but the Danish like them too, since it’s a way of eating veal which they love.”

And you will note the twist with the anchovies, truly making it their own…

To round out a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, I had to have the “Danish” with my coffee.  Freshly baked on ordering, it took fifteen minutes but was lovely; this one an apple and walnut light and flaky pastry.

I highly enjoyed my lunch at Dansk, and recommend it to all my pals working in the City in the west end of town.

I rate it seven tentacles out of eight!

And so begins my “around the world in 80- restaurants” tour of Melbourne.  If you would like to suggest any destinations, or would like to accompany me in my food safari, please drop me a line in the comments section below.  I will be sure to be taking note (though cannot guarantee a personal audience).

*  Yeah yeah, I know this is a quote from ‘the Scottish Play’, when I should probably have selected something from Hamlet, since the latter is set in Denmark; but then I wasn’t that keen on having a ham omelette (i.e. “Hamlet”) for lunch– brmm ting!
~  “Cor, these Shakespeare jokes are a bit lame!”

~  “The lad, he doth protest too much, methinks.”