I came across Manfreds while rolling around Copenhagen with a hangover one morning with Josie looking for food.
I generally don’t like paying to eat breakfast at a restaurant, since it’s my favorite meal of the day, and I usually really enjoy making it myself. I basically live off of fried eggs, bacon, and different varieties of cheese, and don’t know who I am without my dad’s hash browns. Everyone I’ve ever lived with has pretty much perfected the art (rewind to the morning of my 22nd birthday earlier this year, when I was awoken by scrambled eggs, pancakes, fruit, and an Irish coffee) so I’ve never had much motivation to leave the house and pay for IHOP.
But every once in a while, a crisis occurs when I’m too tired to know how to feed myself and so, on this Copen-heinous Saturday afternoon after staying out too late, we decided to try Manfreds, a much talked-about restaurant, take-away, and biodynamic wine bar, which was just a 3-4 minute bike ride from our apartment.
We walked in around 12:30, getting the last two covers for brunch before the kitchen switched gears for lunch. We both ordered a heaping plate of sausages, fried eggs, bacon, and bread with a glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice for about 119 DKK (~$20 USD). It definitely did not disappoint. It was obvious the kitchen used quality ingredients, the yolk in the eggs was runny and perfect, the bread was sourdough-y and very reminiscent of San Francisco, and (AND!) it came with bacon.
However, had we not gotten chef’s counter seating for this particular meal, and had our friend David not met us halfway through to order lunch, this experience may have been completely different. We ended up staying at Manfred’s for approximately three hours drooling over what those boys were doing in the kitchen while David let us eat his food. Watching the chefs cook was probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching food being made that was not ultimately for me to eat… a perfect definition, we realized later, of ‘foodporn.’
So, when I overheard our waiter talking to the couple next to us about how the majority of the chefs working at Noma and all associated kitchens were student volunteers, I immediately asked how I could get involved. Which is how I ended up with a position as a stagiaire. And now, I’m pretty sure Manfreds is my favorite restaurant in Copenhagen.
Manfreds, the sister restaurant of Relæ which I covered in an earlier post, combines all the quality with just enough class to create a very awesomely non-prissy atmosphere that guests love. Oliver Strand at the New York Times sums it up in a recent review much better than I can expect to:
“If Noma transforms Nordic food into high art, and if Relae renders it accessible to a wider audience, then Manfreds & Vin turns it into a party.”
It’s remarkable to me how they pull it off. At Relæ there was a consistently high level of stress to deliver food to Michelin standards. But at Manfreds, as the sous chef told me, it’s extremely important that the kitchen can relax because it carries over quickly to the guests- the staff should enjoy the experience just as much as they are.
Anyway, the menu format for all this goodness is a choice between a larger ‘daily special’ or a rapid succession of smaller courses for the table to share (like Chinese! But smaller). Ever get a dish that is presented in a way that makes you afraid to touch it and want to take pictures of it instead? This food is the opposite. It’s plated in a way that invites you to dig into it, basically ‘food on a bed of other food,’ with added treats hidden at the bottom of many of the small plates- creamy goat cheese under yellow beets, walnut emulsion under blanched broccoli, or mustard with egg cream under the tartare. The dishes change every day, based on what the kitchen has and what the chefs feel like experimenting with.
On this particular week the dish of the day was a pork leg with beans, cress, turnips, and sauce. It sounds simple… but it’s not.
Meanwhile… the set menu consisted of 8 different dishes or so, meant to be shared for 245 DKK per person (~$42 USD):
We prepared: lamp carpaccio with radicchio and onion with toasted buckwheat, poached eggs with brown butter potatoes, crispy breadcrumbs, truffle sauce, and chives, beef tartar with watercress (as the chef asserted, “It’s in between veal and actual beef, its ADOLESCENT COW!!!”), goat cheese and yellow beets with vinaigrette, creamy walnut emulsion with blanched broccoli, chicken hearts with grilled radicchio and onion again, smoked veal bone marrow (there are no words that can describe how good this smells) baked carrots with seaweed sauce, baked carrots with wood sorrel and sorrel puree, turnips in butter with olive sauce, pork legs with a ‘broken sauce’ of mustard and sherry with another ambiguous tasty brown sauce, beet tartare with smoked goat cheese, chives, and crispy bread.
(I will also take this opportunity to say that smoked chicken hearts are delicious and I ate every single one that got sent back. My cholesterol levels will soon kill me.)
So clearly, the place has a lot going for them in terms of what comes out of their kitchen. Like Relæ, everything is tasty, but also challenging (just like every beer on tap at Mikkeller); the chefs don’t want to serve you food that you’re used to. However, what I thought was really valuable about my experience at Manfreds was understanding how the staff worked to impart the feeling of hyggeligt-ness. It took working there for a few days to figure it out, but now, I have an idea what makes this restaurant feel different from many restaurants in the States.
A favorite TV show of mine, Louie, has been called a DIY comedy, in reference to the fact that its star, Louis C.K., is not only its lead character but also its director, producer, writer, and editor. And it’s a great show. It seems a little slow at first, but definitely grew on me over the years. It’s now one of the only shows I can watch without getting up to clean something or sleep. Louie is the opposite of the typical television sitcom- he just wants to provide, with much comedic effect, a simple look into his own life. It’s organic and unrefined.
It’s interesting how a show that is so raw and handcrafted can carry such an appeal. I think viewers appreciate that Louis C.K. contributes to every facet of the show’s production, rather than delegating tasks to a wide base of employees. Because of this, the experience is so much more personal.
A similar effect can be found in an experience dining out. While I’ve recognized this sort of individuality and warmth in family owned restaurants and other small businesses alike, I can now attribute that feeling to the style of operations on the inside.
At Manfreds, the chefs bring out the food (and present it lovingly as if to say ‘hey, I made this just for you’). Both the sous chefs and the underlings scrub the floor, scrape down the grill, and polish the stainless steel countertops. There’s no hostess working for minimum wage and tips at the front- instead, everyone makes sure that anyone walking through the door feels welcome. It’s reflective of Danish socialism; individual responsibilities here don’t really fall into compartments, they’re committed to helping each other out and want to help the system work as a whole. And, if anyone is faced with the slightest difficulty, everyone will help to pick up the slack, for example:
“Fuck! I need to make soup but I don’t have a bowl.”
“Come on Kris, just put all your vegetables in a bag, vacuum seal it, put it in at 68 degrees for half an hour and then thermal blend it, duh.”
“Yeah Kris what were you thinking??”
(I mean, that’s exactly what I would have suggested.)
They’re like a new breed of problem solvers. And since each of them sees every dish pretty much from when its ingredients arrive in crates to the dishes being put through the dish pit (hence the 16 hour days), it makes Manfreds about as DIY as a restaurant can get.
So… dinner anyone? Flights are less than $800 round trip from SFO right now. Seriously.
Manfreds & Vin
2200 COPENHAGEN N
+ 45 3696 6593
Tips on visiting Manfreds:
- Learn to share. There’s enough to go around.
- The wines are not very expensive, but they are extremely rare- each bottle is natural, meaning no sulfites. Have at least a few glasses.
- Order the tartare, as ‘it is an institution of Manfreds!!’ Check the NY Times review above for a up close and personal picture.
- Manfreds is a total boy’s club. Like two girls work here. Enjoy the leather aprons.
- Pay attention to the herbs- the biggest flavor is sometimes in the smallest things.
- Also, their disco wine cave is an inspirational vision so do make sure to check it out. It makes me dream about building my own with, like, a shark tank in it, or something.
I plan on eating here as soon as my bank account isn’t in the negatives.
vi ses senere,