If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say, ‘Eating Eurovision‘ then um, where have you been?! If you follow me or any of the other participants on Twitter, you surely couldn’t fail to notice the desperate pleas for help. Our challenge (set by food journalist Andrew Webb), was to each draw a Eurovision participating country and then go forth into the city with the aim of seeking out some traditional cuisine. To be perfectly honest, I thanked my lucky stars when I pulled this Danish beauty out of the bag and tried not to show too much relief when others plucked countries like Moldova.
My first investigations yielded the suggestion of Madsen restaurant in Kensington and, although it does look rather nice, I wanted something a bit more traditional, more full-on nitty-gritty hardcore Danish. My trusty friend google turned up ‘The Danish Club‘ (a stones throw from Green Park tube), founded in 1883 and patronised by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark no less! Full of excitement, I was straight on the blower to the lovely Lizette Bang, who invited me (and my mate) over for a traditional ‘Danish Platter’ – result!
I will admit to feeling a little out of place when I rocked up in my usual clobber to find something akin to a beautiful stately home awaiting me. It was the kind of place where you automatically start whispering and worrying about your posture – pillars, chandeliers and paintings with eyes that follow you around the room. The staff inside were warm and charming however, and fears of not being worthy slipped away as we moved through to the dining room to begin our Danish adventure.
We kicked things off with a strong, dark and super malty Danish beer which Lizette tells me may have been ‘Christmas Beer’ (Juleøl) – so popular that the Danes drink it all year round. A measure of seriously potent Aquavit (Akvavit) arrived at the same time but (on the advice of our waiter) remained untouched until the food arrived – the idea being that you sup it as an accompaniment to the herrings on the Danish platter. You take a bite of herring, followed by a sip of Aquavit.
The platter is apparently a very traditional meal, typically served at lunchtime and bulging with fish, fish and more fish. Oh, and meat. As suggested, we started with the herrings (my favourite part of the meal). There were three kinds – the first marinated in Madeira, the second straight up pickled and the third served in curry sauce – all sweet, soused and incredibly soft, almost buttery in texture. Among the other fish we devoured were smoked eel, fried plaice, prawns and smoked salmon. Among the meats, a Danish meatball (frikadeller), crispy bacon and pate with rye bread. It is the use of rye bread which makes Danish cuisine different from that of other Scandinavian countries apparently – the bread is spread with butter and the fish piled on top to make an open sandwich, or Smørrebrød.
Amongst all that fish nestled some welcome crunchy beetroot and mystery pickle, which my friend and I tried and failed to identify as pickled pear. Together with some crispy fried onions, the whole plate was a fishy, meaty extravaganza of contrasts although in the end, it defeated even two ladies with seemingly bottomless pits where our stomachs should be.
At this point the restaurant was really filling up, as was the surrounding bar. I imagine this place is a real haven for the Danish community in London – there are some 600 members of the club, although Lizette would like to encourage more of the 40,000 strong Danes in the capital to sign up. I left the Danish Club feeling rather privileged actually, to have been so generously invited and to have enjoyed such warm hospitality. A huge thank you to Lizette and the staff at the Danish club for making my Eurovision challenge a success and a pleasure.
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