February 13, 2017
Cliché as it might be, visiting Copenhagen without trying smørrebrød is a crime. Before the arrival of New Nordic, Danish cuisine is pretty much defined by this humble open sandwich, and Schønnemann near the central shopping district is as good a place as any to get a taste of it. Opened in 1877, this is one of the most beloved lunch spot in town, although things aren’t always so rosy — the historic institution became an afterthought before Søren Puggard and John Puggard took over in 2007. Rigid quality control was reintroduced and the average age of diner was brought down from over 50 years old to those in their thirties. Schønnemann is now owned by Juliette Noyons and Thomas Gaarn.
I arrived as the very first guest a few minutes before its 11:30 opening time. In a city proud of its modernist design, Schønnemann’s decor is unabashedly old-school, with white table cloths, dark wooden furniture and flickering table candles. I was seated at one of the corner table in the main dining room and soon the whole restaurant was filled up. Unlike its New Nordic counterparts many of the diners at Schønnemann are locals, most of which are blue-collar workers in suits from the nearby business district.
Another immediately notable difference between locals and tourists besides outfit is the time required to decipher the menu; locals tend to place order soon after sitting down while the newcomers are overwhelmed by the 110 choices of smørrebrød, including a staggering 21 types of herring. I went with the seemingly safe choice and ordered the Small Lunchset and a beer.
Up first was the herring. On the right was marinated herring with curry salad while the other one was pickled spicy herring. Rye bread was in a separate basket. The herrings might have fallen into a bucket of salt for a week and just been pulled out — I might as well have stuck my tongue out inside a salt shaker. I tried all the different combinations available; onion, caper, egg, with bread, without bread, with or without curry, but nothing could lessen the intense salinity.
The minced steak didn’t fare much better. It was resilient to chewing and tasteless. After some Herculean effort I finally washed it all down with beer. This dish would be greatly improved if it was served only with cucumber and bread, the latter was the only redeemable part of this meal thus far.
Thankfully dessert was actually decent — a slice of Asaa Danbo, a mild Danish cheese, with raw onion, cucumber, sweetened cherry tomatoes and some unknown leaves. The ingredients complimented each other well, including the leaves which added a hint of contrasting astringency.
I want to excuse my poor meal to my palate that couldn’t pick up the essence of traditional Danish fare, but marination shouldn’t overwhelm the freshness of fish just as meat shouldn’t be overcooked. These are basic cooking norms that should translate across cultures and styles. Many others have enjoyed their meals at Schønnemann, so I can’t tell if my palate is that different or this was a rare off day by the kitchen.
Address: Hauser Pl. 16, 1127 Copenhagen, Denmark
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday; 11:30 – 17:00