Thinking Outside The Noma At Dragsholm Slot

Everyone asks where else you're going to eat in Copenhagen — beside the usual suspect. It's a valid question. Impressive restaurants are opening everywhere in this city since Noma's crowning as the world's number one restaurant. Think Radio, Ralae and Geranium. But there is more to Denmark than Copenhagen. An hour west of the city is a remarkable restaurant at the edge of the sea. It sits there, alluringly, waiting for the intrepid traveler to stumble upon it.

Dragsholm Slot's setting is enough to merit a visit (scroll down for a bunch of photos). A minute's walk from the ocean in the Odsherred region of Zealand looms a 13th-century white castle that is the stuff of dreams. It's one of Denmark's oldest castles and unlike many that have been turned into museum pieces, it remains a working establishment complete with a hotel, casual bistro and fine dining restaurant.

A chef cooking at Dragsholm could easily rely upon its fortified, fairytale virtues to lure guests to its restaurant tables. Instead, Claus Henriksen, who oversees both restaurants as well as the castle's busy catering business, has quietly built himself an edible paradise from which he sources nearly everything.

City chefs following a farm-to-table philosophy often bank on the mention of a distant land to to tell a dish's story. Henriksen need only point from his elegant, white-washed basement restaurant to the dozens of acres surrounding Dragsholm to explain to his guests where their food is grown. Throughout the dozens of acres surrounding the castle are fruit orchards, grazing lamb, sunny patches for tending bees, fields of rich soil for primary crops, forests begging to be foraged and a massive herb garden to inspire elation in even the most cynical visitor.

Both the fine dining restaurant and the more casual bistro, called The Eatery, are supplied with produce from the surrounding property. At The Eatery, a sun-drenched space lined with glistening bottles of spirits infused with aromatics from the surrounding forests and fields, Henriksen celebrates traditional Scandinavian mainstays like potato salad, house-made mustards and sausages.

Even such humble fare, when comprised of ingredients gathered an arm's length away, is worthy of remembrance. There are herbal cocktails served at the long bar as the servers of Dragsholm, where the innate spirit of hospitality strikes a perfect balance of casual attentiveness, tend to every whim.

Henriksen's artisanal sausages would be enough to justify a second visit to Dragsholm alone. But it's his tasting menu in the fine dining restaurant that demonstrates how extraordinary a menu can be when designed by a chef talented enough to marry uncommon creativity and talent with products collected from just outside the castle door.

Henriksen, a two-year veteran sous chef of Noma, delivers many of his dishes to the table himself, explaining in his genial voice the story of each dish. He narrates only the necessary components, understanding that his guests would prefer to eat as opposed to listen to an endless soliloquy, but the information he shares tethers each course to the land, rivers and fields surrounding Dragsholm.

Each dish warranted contemplation, and ultimately elicited the kind of joy reserved for meals you know you will recall for decades to come. The meal began with an amuse-bouche of smoked lamb, campfire bread and lingonberries in a nod to Henriksen's abiding devotion to his Scandinavian roots.

It set a whimsical tone for the dishes to follow, reminding guests that a menu's refinement and sophistication should never completely trump the necessary components of levity and fun. The rest of the dishes reflected this same ethos, never venturing too far into the realm of self-importance before being pulled back by an element or two of amusement. Among the many dishes there was an oyster cream salad with cucumber flowers and dill oil; Danish peas with pan-roasted langoustines, smoked bacon and lemon balm; pickled elderflowers and squid with carrots and cream; glazed lamb brains and new potatoes with pickled tapioca and lovage; and a dessert of thyme and mint granita with a fresh goat cheese meringue followed by another of green and red strawberry gelato, and black currant leaves drizzled with the castle's own honey.

By the time the meal ended, the sun had set on Dragsholm, Henriksen's spirit infusions sparkled in the firelight, and each and every guest was lulled into a euphoric state. The one-hour journey from Copenhagen to Dragsholm seemed a trivial price to pay for such an extraordinary night.

As guests slipped quietly off to their hotel rooms up the ancient, crooked stairs through the candlelit corridors, Henriksen explained to those still lingering that when he was hired by Dragsholm's proprietors he promised to work at the castle for a total of six months; five-and-a-half years later he is still there. It isn't surprising. After reveling in the magic of Dragsholm for one fleeting day, you wish you could stay forever.

For more info, visit Dragsholm Slot.

Lamb, campfire bread and lingonberries.

Lamb, campfire bread and lingonberries.

Claus Henriksen.

Danish peas with pan-roasted langoustines, smoked bacon and lemon balm.

The culinary garden.

Herb garden foraging.

Grilled asparagus and garden sorrel with crispy rye bread croutons and garden herbs.

The fine dining kitchen.

The Eatery Meal: Carrots and monkfish.