108 Copenhagen restaurant review: Noma's laidback sister
Rene Redzepi's more casual follow-up to Noma has a rebellious streak
It can be a difficult thing to live up to the exploits of an older, highly successful sibling. So spare a thought for 108 Copenhagen, which opened last summer on the Danish city's icy Nyhavn waterfront, just around the corner from its world-famous sister restaurant.
Yes, this is Rene Redzepi's more casual follow-up to Noma, the oft-cited "best restaurant in the world", and it will let you sample a little of that New Nordic stardust without having to remortgage to pay the bill.
Except, here's the thing: Noma has closed, off on a gap-year jaunt to Mexico, before it returns to a new base in Copenhagen sometime in the future. So for now, 108 is the main draw and this is its moment to step out from the shadow of its older sibling and succeed on its own terms.
Which, largely, it seems to be doing. Head chef Kristian Baumann and his team borrow elements from the Redzepi playbook but have a rebellious streak all of their own. Here, unlike at Noma, there are no tasting menus, the music is turned up loud and tables are held back for walk-ins.
Rarely does 108 feel second best. Baumann's culinary style is about finding common ground between his Korean roots and Scandinavian residence while alsotaking influence from his mentor Redzepi. Predictably, there are touches of chin-stroking brilliance throughout.
A signature starter dishes up pillow-plump morsels of pork on a milk skin base and encourages you to scoff it like a taco. Dreamy. Better still is the dish tersely billed as braised oxtail, which encases shredded beef in golf ball-sized savoury doughnuts and finishes with a perky sprinkling of pine needles.
Mostly, though, the kitchen seems content to comfort rather than challenge. There are some esoteric ingredients on show - see the use of pineapple weed to flavour a virtuous parfait dessert - but Baumann really finds his groove when working with more humble tools. Cases in point: a knockout celeriac and Danish cheese combination, more "hygge" than "haute", and a homely roasted cauliflower for two, complete with bitter leaves and a buttery walnut sauce.
Clearly, the brief here is to keep things casual, which carries through to the design of the restaurant - the epitome of Scandi style with high ceilings, plunging lamps and rustic wooden tables, together with views into Baumann's kitchen.
Similarly, the service team keeps things breezy and are approachable and knowledgeable without being overbearing. At times they are bypassed completely, with dishes often brought from the kitchen to the table by the chef who cooked them. A lovely, grounding touch.
Only occasionally in its desire to stand apart from Noma does 108 fall down.
Asking diners to hang up their own coats is fair enough, but in a restaurant where you are asked to shell out 300 Danish Kroner (roughly £35) for a cauliflower dish, it jars a little. As does the playlist of 1980s pop hits - really? - and the fact that whole sections of the restaurant are left free for walk-ins while diners already there are made to jostle for elbow room on shared tables.
Let's also briefly return to the subject of pine needles: they're everywhere. While they work brilliantly as a punchy seasoning in the oxtail dish, the trick fails to work in others. Wild blueberry sorbet, for example, is bracing enough without the addition of yet more pesky pine needles to garnish.
But these are gripes rather than terminal sins. The restaurant is still relatively new and teething problems of this kind are to be expected. Besides, 108 has just been garlanded with a Michelin star – fine reward for a characterful restaurant that gets a hell of a lot right.
Of course, Noma holds two. But that's older siblings for you.