Madsen Danish Restaurant – London
I love clutter and I have that magpie genome that means I am cursed with an inability to walk past a charity shop, convinced that treasure of an unknown value awaits within. I am never happier than when perusing a flea market under a flyover or a car boot sale in a foreign field and as far as I am concerned another mans junk is my treasure.
This love of ‘clutter’ also means the restaurants I am happiest in are the informal ones. Dimly lit dives where the owner’s curios adorn every wall walls. Give me rusty trumpets, circus signs, lurid holograms, a moose head, a dentist lamp, traffic lights and tribal statues and I am at home.
Walking into Madsen in South Kensington I was immediately out of my ‘maximalist’ wallowing zone. Here the strict code of the minimalist whispered from every well-considered corner. Pale wooden floors combined with crisp whitewashed brick walls. The clean-cut lines of custom-designed birch wood tables held neat rows of glistening glasses, gently illuminated by low-hung ceiling lamps. Their functionalist form a text-book example of Scandinavian design.
Apart from me, everything in this minimal and functional environment had been considered. A temple to the ‘form follows function’ dogma that transformed the way we live in a post-industrial society. A movement started by the German Bauhaus before WW2, that was driven on in the 1950’s by the emergence of the great Danish designers such Arne Jacobsen & Poul Henningsen. Today their strict ideals inspire many young designers to swell the Nordic wave that has made Scandinavian design and fashion, with its ethos of minimalism, practicality, functionality and low-cost mass production, perhaps the most admired in the world.
Unfolding my tightly folded white napkin and looking at the starters being placed on the table it was clear this level of consideration is also apparent in the Nordic food movement that has propelled Scandinavian cuisine along side design to a newly acclaimed forefront of current European cuisine.
On a perfectly white plate a beautifully constructed Smushi, Madsens very own mini take of the traditional Danish open sandwich the mørrebrø, was so well designed it seemed a shame to destroy it. Delicate slices of pink roast beef rested on equilateral triangles of dark rye bread. The clean lines of these basic ingredients broken only by a tangle of fried shallots, discs of translucent pickled cucumber, a vibrant yellow piccalilli and perfectly curled shavings of raw horse-radish.
Reluctantly cutting off a mouthful and taking a bite the list of sensations that I experienced were as almost as well considered as the look and ingredients. The softness of the bread, the sharpness of the cucumber, the meaty flavours of the beef and then the crunch of the shallots followed one by one before the piccalilli rounded the whole thing off perfectly.
The ‘next thing of beauty’ to be dismantled was the herring platter. Two meaty fillets of herring one, marinated in a honey, mustard and dill dressing the other, a verdant pink caused by a heady spiced marinade bursting with the winter flavours of cloves and cinnamon. Each slice of fish curled perfectly under scarlet-edged shavings of radish and a scattering of fried golden cappers were eaten on more buttered rye bread. The sweetness of each marinade paired perfectly with the saline quality of the fish and the crunchy fried capers were a revelation.
In no doubt now that the chef downstairs was designing my lunch with a micrometer and a set-square, we moved onto the main course and were recommended the Stjerneskud (shooting star). A breaded filet of plaice on fried bread topped with smoked salmon, prawns, lumpfish roe and a hollandaise sauce. I was convinced even the Scandinavians would struggle making meat balls look pretty, so I ordered the Frikadeller (Danish pork meatballs) served with creamy potato salad, pickled cucumber and rye bread.
I was proven wrong. The meatballs were dainty and flawlessly formed, the veal and pork mix ensuring they were not at all greasy. And the creamy potato salad was smooth and soothing and matched perfectly with a crunchy entanglement of shredded fried carrots. The Stjerneskud was strange combination. Breaded fish, heavily smoked salmon and fried bread should not have worked but the texture and refreshing nature of the Greenland prawns and fish eggs made sure that it did.
We took on this A to Z project to learn more about London’s gastronomic diversity and to learn more about the cuisine of different countries. A visit to Madsen was a revelation because until my visit I understood little of Danish and Scandinavian cuisine. I knew about the herring, the dill and the meatballs but what I didn’t understand was the level of consideration that goes into every mouthful.
There is a statistic banded about these days that “tastes is 70% smell”, and well it might be. But what about all the other sensations we experience when enjoying food? The look and the texture are surely ergonomic considerations that can’t be ignored? Arne Jacobson and other Scandinavian design heroes held ergonomic principles at the very heart of their work and it was fascinating to see that Danish cuisine follows the same doctrine and my lunch at Madsen might just have persuaded me to leave my cluttered world behind me.
20 Old Brompton Road
London SW7 3DL
020 7225 2772
This entry was posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2011 at 01:03 and is filed under A to Z of London Food, A to Z Reviews, Eating London A to Z, Great Food Finds, Wheel of Approval. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.