Every now and then, I get some interesting letters owing to my position as dedicated food geek, enjoyer of life and blogger. One such letter came from the hands of the friendly people at XO Burgers and Steaks in Copenhagen. They wrote me a while back to tell me they had come across the site, had picked up on my dedication to great food and cooking, and well, putting it shortly, they sent me a very nice, humbling letter of praise coupled with an invitation to come dine with them on my next trip to Copenhagen. They had enjoyed my world of food, they said, and would now like to introduce me to their world of food.
Humbled by the invitation, I agreed on the grounds that I would be able to write a completely honest and completely unedited account of the experience, and I then set out to plan things a little further. I don’t go to Copenhagen, our nation’s fair capital, quite as often as I would like, but I did have an all day meeting session near Copenhagen late last week along with my buddy and colleague Frandsen. And we quickly agreed that a visit to XO Burgers and Steaks would be a great way of winding down after a long, hard day.
The XO in XO Burgers and Steaks is short for eXtra Ordinary, a confident statement for a rather newly established restaurant located in Central Copenhagen. XO Burgers and Steaks, in their own words, is the place for meat lovers and aim serve up a wide variety of steakhouse and burger classics in seemingly lavish surroundings near the very heart of Copenhagen. I remember seeing the name before and I remember some opening buzz from a few years or so ago, but I’ve never eaten there so naturally the first thing I did after receiving the invitation was to perform a bit of research.
My search quickly let me to their website which does offer a seemingly interesting menu as well as a bit of standard information, stating very nobly that “XO Burgers and Steaks aim to offer great quality meat at affordable prices (…) and create a cozy dining experience for customers, every time.” All of which are words I like to hear! I trawled on a bit and discovered a Google+ and a Facebook profile both of which had decent general ratings, but also contained quite a few rather old and rather negative reviews, most of which had to do with elongated waiting and quality of the food.
Not the best bit of advertisement, of course, but then again not something I usually put too much into. Social media can be a rough place and even for social media, the old rule still holds true: if you have a great experience, you tell a few select friends, maybe leave a star rating. If you have a bad experience, you tell the world, and you sometimes (but not always) make the experience a little worse than it really was to justify the complaint.
My point here is that you shouldn’t take everything you read on Facebook for granted. Not too long ago my friend Tina and I actually witnessed a rude customer threaten a local café owner that she would “create a shitstorm on Facebook if they did not comp her lunch”. Nice, that! If you want a truly honest opinion of a place, ask a trusted friend who’s been there, look at the general rating of the place on Facebook, Yelp! or other source, read your favorite food blogger’s reviews or, better yet, have an open mind and check things out for yourself!
The latter is exactly what my friend and I decided to do. XO Burgers and Steaks said they were the place for meat lovers, I knew two champion meat lovers in the shape of myself and my buddy Frandsen. Together, we threw caution and our expectations to the wind and went to Central Copenhagen in the search of meaty adventures!
Touching down in Copenhagen…
On the fateful day in question, we arrived at XO Burgers and Steaks on a mostly sunny Thursday evening in early May. We hit the spot at 6 PM to find it already filling up rather quickly. XO is located smack dab in the beating concrete heart of Copenhagen amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians, various stores and office buildings. Still, they have done what they can to make the place seem warm and welcoming inside and out.
Upon entering the premises, we were greeted warmly by a nice, British chap named Peter who turned out to be our waiter for the evening. He led us quickly to our table in a corner booth near the end back of the restaurant and made sure we settled in nicely in the rather stylish surroundings. We were pleased to see that XO plays on the American diner/steakhouse style with lavish booths surrounding the tables near the walls. Unlike your average diner, though, the booths are not confined around a single table, rather they’re in the shape of extended sofas encompassing a number of tables. This makes for a less confined and more open restaurant layout, but it also makes for a higher noise level and a bit of getting to know your neighbors during dinner.
On that note, visitors to XO should know that the noise level is quite up there with chatter and laughter rising freely from nearby and even far away tables. With nothing much being done in the way of acoustics or noise dampening and the volume of the ambient music rising quite noticeably during the evening, this seems entirely intentional and it does add a strange kind of charm to the place, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind if, say, you’re looking for a quiet date night getaway. If so, XO is probably not the place. However, being just two guys in search of a good night out on the town, a steak and a few glasses of wine, it suited us pretty well.
Having taken in the surroundings, we were quickly presented with the menu which arrived on double-sided, thick, heavy duty cardboard, a nice little gimmick. We were immediately and politely asked if we would like to place drink orders and equally politely we requested a few minutes of quiet consideration. Our request was granted and we sat down to check things out, only to have our waiter return discretely a few minutes later with an open bottle and two Champagne flutes. “Maybe a small glass of bubbles to get you started while you consider the menu,” he asked with perfect timing and politeness. “Why yes, thank you,” we replied, and were served a nice, crisp and very quaffable glass of Champagne Mercier NV Brut. It featured a nice, steady stream of tiny bubbles and a style that was nicely balanced, fruity, decidedly Champagne-like and enjoyable without being terribly complex or overpowering. And this, I do believe, is a good thing for a house Champagne available by the glass. That it is, in fact, complex and interesting enough to please everybody without scaring anyone away in the process.
The timing and politeness of our waiter, by the way, became symptomatic of the evening, not only in the way he treated us, but also in the way we observed him and his colleagues tend to other guests in the buzzing restaurant. Service generally, on the night we were there, seemed friendly, polite and attentive without being imposing.
But what say you, we get back to what you really want to hear about? Ah yes, the menu! The menu at XO is pretty much what you would expect from a steak house: You have a choice of five starters, four desserts and in-between that a rather generous offering of burgers and steaks. All side orders, condiments and sauces are served as (affordable) add-ons which allows you to pick and match your dining experience in whichever way you like, keeping it simple or making it lavish, all depending on the occasion.
The star player at any steakhouse or burger joint is, of course, the beef and in that aspect, I was quite happy to notice that XO has decided to go entirely organic on their beef selection. Furthermore, the diner is given a choice between local, Danish organic beef or certified GMO-free, organic Hereford beef from Omaha, Nebraska. As an opinionated beef eater, I really appreciate the dedication and choice: First off, I believe organic and GMO-free beef should be entirely mandatory in steak houses, so kudos to XO for sharing my opinion on the matter. Secondly, the issue of environmental impact of US beef production and export is a matter of some controversy. As someone who is mainly a locavore, but also decidedly fond of US beef, I strongly applaud XO for giving the diner a choice between either supporting local production or going all in on the admittedly superior yet slightly environmentally incorrect US beef.
Whichever source of your chose, you have a choice between a few standard cuts of steak from tenderloin over rib eyes and strip steaks to Chateaubriand and bone-in. Steaks start at about 200 grams for the tenderloin and run all the way to 600 grams for the Chateaubriand or the bone-in behemoth. If you hit the rather expansive burgers selection, the standard patty is 180 grams of organic, Danish beef with several substitutions or upgrades available.
The wine list is quite expansive, ranging from the simple to the downright posh, depending on your wine budget. In the bubbles area for example, the selection ranged from your basic Cava to your Dom Perignon vintage Champagne. At least a few bottles in every category are available by the glass, as to offer choice and variation in the selection without necessarily forcing the customer to shell out for an entire bottle.
The only thing, really, that saddened me about the menu was the beer selection. Here we were at a nice, American-inspired steakhouse with an apparent attention to detail, and the only American beer on the menu is Budweiser? I mean, really? There’s actually a wold of American quality brew out there such as Samuel Adams or Anchor Steam Beer, come on XO, I’d love to be able to have a Sam Adams with my next burger in place of, say, Stella or Heineken. Just saying…
Starters: A lobster less ordinary
Having scratched our heads pondering the menu for a while, my co-diner and I both decided on a starter of Norway lobster with lemon and homemade Aioli. To go along, we picked a glass of Gilg Alsace Riesling from the wines by the glass section that I figured would go nicely with the delicate and slightly sweet flavor of Norway lobster.
If I’m perfectly honest, I chose this starter dish as an opening challenge to the kitchen since Norway Lobster requires a lot of attention in both sourcing and cooking to yield truly great results. If they can pull this one off, I though, good things are in store. And let it be stated without a doubt that on the night in question, XO delivered on both sourcing and cooking! What arrived before us not long after placing our orders may never win an award for presentation or plating, but in terms of fragrance and flavor, the kitchen was off to a great start!
We smelled them long before they arrived, which in this case it was a good thing, but what was eventually placed before us were a couple of relatively large Norway lobsters, cooked to perfection in their shells and then simply split in half and drizzled with a bit of what appeared to be an herb butter or oil of some sort.
The diner was then tasked to pick out the small portion of edible, succulent tail meat with his fork and consume it either au natural, drizzled with lemon or dipped in Aioli. Neither of the the additions were really needed, by the way, the perfectly cooked, tail meat was delicious on its own, but the lemon did add a funky little twang. The aioli? I left much of it behind, not because there was anything wrong with it – it was delicious, balanced and not too pungent, it just plain wasn’t needed to satisfy my already delighted taste buds.
The serving was simple, decidedly unpretentious, perhaps even a bit macabre with split carcasses lining the plate, but it was also good, honest eats, delicious and a promising start to the dining experience. It’s probably not for everybody, but I, for one, found it enjoyable and tasty.
As for the Riesling we’d picked to go along, it was what you’d expect a decent young Riesling to be: fruity, acidic, mineral-driven with a lasting aftertaste and a thick, oily mouthfeel. As with the Champagne before it, and the red that would follow, it was enjoyable without being too terribly complex or complicated. You got the feeling that some amount of thought has gone into picking the wines available by the glass in order to find decently priced wines that would match the menu broadly and please the general wine lover without ever becoming too challenging or complex. Well, either that or I was just plain lucky with my selections.
But enough about that, on to the meat…
At the core of XO Burgers and Steaks is, of course, the meat! It was what we came for and it was what we were most looking forward to. As such we decided that this was where our focus would be. And so, in the sheer interest of giving the place a fair review on behalf of meat lovers around the world, and maybe satisfy a bit of personal curiosity, we made it a priority to order as broadly off the menu as we could without going entirely and ridiculously overboard. Sheesh, talk about taking one for the team! 😉
With that in mind, our main course order became an entangled and representative web of beefy goodness. As for burgers, we wanted to try a few and luckily this was possible through something called “The Burger Lover”, a combo plate which allowed you to pick and match three burgers off the menu and have them served in mini versions. The word mini, I should explain, is used rather loosely in this context. Size-wise they probably rivaled the standard burgers served at your average fast food burger chain, but who am I to complain?
After careful consideration and some internal arguments, we managed to decide on three different burgers for review:
The Cannes – a blue cheese and bacon burger, a simple concept that I’ve grown to love.
XO Special – XO’s signature burger and also, in my mind, the most interesting burger on the menu featuring mango chutney, onion compote, melted Philadelphia cheese and, of course, bacon.
The New Yorker – Sliced steak, homemade pesto, cheddar and bacon (Not usually available in the combo special, but we missed this fact when ordering. The house agreed to extraordinarily fulfill this request so that we might try the steak burger still – thank you!)
Aside from the burgers, we wanted, of course, to try the steaks. I mean, how does one review a place called XO Burgers and Steaks without trying, well, the burgers and the steaks? Exactly! We asked our waiter, Peter, which was better, the Danish or the American beef and the reply came promptly and honestly: Go American! Well, you can’t argue with those in the know and all considerations regarding the environment and global warning were thrown to the wind: American rib eye it was. Sorry locavores and Danish beef lovers, Americans do know a thing or two about raising great steak cattle.
To help further satisfy our hunger, and curiosity, a host of side dishes were ordered: Homemade fries and onion rings for starters, sautéed mushrooms for my co-diner, a Caesar’s salad for me, a chili mayo dipping sauce to share along with a homemade Sauce Bearnaise, of course. Both my co-diner and I are huge Bearnaise lovers and we both take pride in cooking our own Bearnaise from time to time. When we found out XO offered a homemade Bearnaise, passing it by seemed not an option!
“Is that all?” our waiter asked with a smile as we finished listing our order. “Umm, yeah,” we confirmed, thinking we’d managed to do quite well for a party of two. Some might even go so far as to call it an enthusiastic and daring order, but we do pride ourselves on having healthy appetites and, like I said, we were on a mission to do a broad and nuanced review. Feeling content, we sat back with the generous glass of Californian Backhouse Zinfandel we had ordered to go with our mains, touched glasses in a quiet toast and waited for good things to hopefully happen.
Speaking of waiting, we waited maybe 30-40 minutes for our mains, a far cry from some of the criticism voiced on Facebook or Google+, and really with an order that included three burgers, a steak, four sides and a homemade Sauce Bearnaise cooked from scratch on a relatively busy night, what could you expect? As far as my perception of time went, it didn’t take long for our smiling waiter to come rushing back to check on us.
“Right… Your food is almost ready, let me just remove this for you,” he said, referring to a half empty (or was it half full?) bread basket placed on the table between us, “we have quite a lot of food coming in!” He then cleared the table and dashed off again, only to return a few minutes later with reinforcements in the form of a female waiter and, well, uh, quite a lot of food. A large plate, featuring our selection of burgers was set in front of me, my co-diner got the rib eye and strategically between us was placed the fries, the onion rings, the mushrooms, salad, our dipping sauce and a generous serving of Bearnaise. In short, we had amassed an entire table full of food.
Say what you will about XO, but they’re nothing if not generous with portion size and if you leave hungry, I’m sorry, but it’s entirely your own fault! “Guys, enjoy!” our waiters smiled, “thank you so much,” we replied in a what have we gotten ourselves into kind of manner. What transpired over the course of the next 45 minutes was a beautiful meat lover’s ballet as photos were taken, plates admired, steaks and burgers cut in half and passed back and forth between plates, notes taken and thoughts and opinions shared. And what thoughts they were:
Great burgers, better steaks!
If we are to start at the beginning and work our way up through the notes, we can say without a doubt that XO know a thing or two about how to cook and assemble a burger. The buns were nice, soft and flavorful without being imposing or getting in the way of the burger experience. The standard components; onions, lettuce and tomato were crispy and fresh, the pickles a nice, sour twang. The beef was of a nice, flavorful quality and cooked a perfect medium for the standard patties but, unfortunately, a sad, grey well-done as far as the steak in the New Yorker steak burger was concerned.
The flavor combinations that we had chosen for our Burger Lover selection were both familiar and, in some cases, new and exciting. While I have at times had sliced steak in burgers served State-side, The New Yorker’s sliced steak with (great) homemade pesto combo was entirely new to both of us and very enjoyable. I would, however, have liked to see the steak a little more medium and a bit less well done as I think it would have offered a lot more flavor and character.
In The Cannes, I found the only decent blue cheese burger I have come across thus far on Danish ground: Nice, soft, pungent blue cheese on top of crunchy bacon, a soft, juicy patty and a crispy salad leaf. Simple, comforting, familiar and just perfect. And speaking of perfect, of the three burgers in the lineup, we’d saved the best for last. The XO Special, with its mix of mango chutney, onion compote and creamy Philadelphia cheese on top of an equally juicy steak and a solid layer of bacon was as wonderful as it was weird: a sweet and sour, oddly exotic yet comfortingly familiar slightly spicy meaty masterpiece. On the menu it was billed as a challenge to your tastebuds, but I was inclined to see it as more of a reward to our tastebuds. This, for both of us, was the best burger of the evening and definitely one worth coming back for!
Better than Michelin? Did I ever tell you about how I ate a Michelin-starred burger? No? Well, a few summers ago, I visited Danny Browns Wine Bar and Kitchen in Queens, NYC, the only Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve been to that offered a bacon-cheese burger and naturally I had to get the Michelin-starred burger! Why am I telling you this? Well, because I’ve had a Michelin-starred burger and it was actually nowhere near as good as the XO Special at XO Burgers and Steaks. Congratulations, guys, in this case, you beat the stars
As exciting as they were, the burgers turned out to be merely a warm-up for what was to be the shining star of the evening: a 300 gram perfectly cooked, perfectly juicy rib eye steak from certified organic, certified GMO-free Nebraska Hereford cattle. At DKK 255 this was by no means the cheapest item on the menu, nor was it the most expensive, though, and compared to what I have seen elsewhere both in terms of quality and price, the asking price seemed more than reasonable.
Great steaks, unfortunately, never come cheap, especially not if they’re flown in from the other side of the Earth. But sometimes you owe it to yourself to pay a little extra for a special treat. And in such cases, the American rib eye at XO might be an option. While it will never win any prices for its carbon footprint, it did win a spot in our hearts. Incredibly well hung, incredibly tender and densely packed with flavor, every bite was a complete joy, right down to the last bite when fulness was really starting to set in.
Hit and miss side dishes
Beef and burgers do not a complete meal make, even if you’re blessed with a 300 grams steak and three burgers. For a complete steakhouse meal, you need side dishes and unfortunately the side dishes of the evening were a little more hit and miss than the star players.
The sautéed mushrooms were wonderful and absolutely packed full of deep, dense umami-rich flavors. The homemade onion rings were equally awesome, nicely crunchy on the outside and decidedly soft and sweet on the inside. The Caesar salad was exactly as I would expect from a steakhouse of this standard: well-proportioned, fresh, certainly not bad, but not exceedingly memorable either. In short, it was pretty much as I remember them from my trips to the States and that’s probably not such a bad thing after all. It provided freshness and crunch to an otherwise heavy and fatty meal.
The fries, unfortunately, were the only total disaster of the evening. “How do you reckon they manage to do that?” my co-diner asked me, referring to the unusual combination of a dark, almost burned exterior, coupled with a strange, limp, soggy texture. “You know, I really have no idea,” I replied, and to this day I still don’t. My guess is that there was a slip of timing in which they were cooked a little too hot and then subsequently left covered while the other dishes finished. I’m not sure, but a shame it was, considering the pride that was put into cooking everything from scratch. I think we can all agree that at a steak house, the fries need to be perfect – every time!
More successful, then, was the homemade Sauce Bearnaise: Thick, creamy, heavy with a round, slightly mild yet persistent taste of fresh tarragon. My only source of complaint here, being the Bearnaise perfectionist that I am, was that it needed a shot of acidity, actually make that a double shot. Bearnaise is such a rich, creamy sauce, it really needs a fair bit of acidity to cut through it all and lighten things up. Especially when you’re tackling a mountain of meat on the side.
Are you too a Bearnaise addict? Why not read my post about making the perfect Béarnaise at home? It’ll probably tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about Bearnaise and maybe even a little more…
If one is to draw any preliminary conclusions, it must be that the meat dishes at XO Burgers & Steaks are pretty spot on. The side dishes leave a little to be desired but could easily be elevated to a new level, and they are plentiful if nothing else. Our careful research conducted on the matter showed that one side dish is probably enough to fill up the average eater. Two is certainly more than enough, even if you make one of them a salad or vegetable dish.
The above holds especially true if you’re contemplating dessert…
Desserts: The straw that broke the camel’s back?
Wait? Why would you even have to contemplate dessert? Well, dear reader, I’m different from most people. To eat dessert or not to set dessert, that is often the question for me when dining a la carte. If I’m honest, I’ve always said that I prefer “real” food and would much rather eat a starter, a larger main or an extra side than dessert… Which, come to think of it, we had just done, so was dessert really a necessity? Was it not? We had, after all, made a pact to provide a full and honest review and being the true soldiers that we were, we took another one for the team and after a short break, we asked to have a look at the dessert menu.
From the rather classic dessert menu, we eventually settled for a slice of American cheesecake for yours truly and a serving of chocolate mousse for my partner in crime. For his chocolate mousse, my co-diner had a glass of 2009 Kopke LBV Port while I settled for a glass of white Italian Recioto Nettare for my cheesecake. Both were served a bit on the cool side, but with all dessert wines being available by the glass, and the bottles having been opened the day before, at least this was a sign of proper storage. Also, they were served to us in little thin glasses, that could easily be warmed in the palms of our hands.
If you have room, desserts at XO are actually an excellent value at DKK 65 a pop. Servings are generous and seemingly homemade. The chocolate mousse and the cheesecake alike were rich, decadent and plentiful in size. The cheesecake was dense and heavy as it should be, featuring a butter-laden graham cracker crust a nice, thick cheese layer and a generous fruit topping to offset some of the heaviness. The mousse, on the other hand, had an airy and runny consistency, a little too runny for some, maybe, but the flavor was a rich, deep chocolate goodness with a swirl of raspberry coulis and a few blackberries to add sweetness and character.
If you’re in the mood for a party, the dessert wines are a nice match with the port shoving all the vibrant, fruity characters of a young late bottled vintage and the Recioto most of all resembling a fresh, white port… Yum! First and foremost, both wines provided a hit of acidity and alcohol that helped burn through the richness of the desserts and the almost overwhelming amount of food we had consumed. In true steakhouse style, the servings were generous throughout and by the third dish, it was starting to show. Especially since we were now slowly but steadily losing a race against time…
Wrapping things up, a little too quickly for our liking
All things, as they say, must come to an end and for us it sadly came to an almost abrupt end when suddenly out of the blue, we realized that we had had a bit too good of a time and that what little time we had left on our parking meter was about to expire. Not that we wanted to leave, mind you, we were quite enjoying steak heaven, but a parking ticket isn’t much of a fun way to end a great night. So we were forced to speed up. I had no choice but to inform our waiter of our predicament and to his credit, both he and the kitchen sprung into extra gear so that we might finish both our dinner and our coffees in due time.
Eventually, we were forced to make our tearful goodbyes and leave XO Burgers and Steaks in a bit of a hurry after a three hour dining experience. Stuffed, happy and in a state of slight food-induced delirium. We could have easily spent another 30 minutes finishing our meal in a more relaxed fashion. In fact, I truly wish we could have stayed another half hour to properly digest the experience and properly thank the entire crew for their efforts. But time, as they say, waits for no man and Copenhagen parking attendants can be ruthless, so off we went in a slightly more rushed manner than I would have preferred following such a large and epic meal.
Laughing loudly and talking happily – rambling happily is probably more like it – we staggered back out the door and down the street towards where we’d parked. Somewhere in our happy, little, zombie-like state of food coma, we’d however managed to completely forget the exact location of the car and after a missed turn wound up having to double back to the car as fast as we could in order to avoid a parking ticket which at this point in time was not very fast. We did, however, somehow make it back to the car on time and sank into our seats, painfully aware that while a three hour dinner at Copenhagen’s XO Burger and Steaks was not at all a terribly bad idea, the following brisk run was…
“Man, I’m full,” my co-diner simply concluded as we backed out of our parking space and embarked on the two hour drive home. “I know,” I said, falling back in the passenger seat. “I’m drunk on steak, man… In a not at all unpleasant way!”
XO Burgers and Steaks offer a great, honest, unpretentious and surprisingly affordable eating experience in a very central location at the heart of downtown Copenhagen. The interior is dark yet warm, lavish and stylish but with a rather prominent noise level from both background music and other diners, the place is probably more suited for a boy’s (or girl’s) night out rather than date night with the significant other.
While every bit of criticism voiced on XO’s Facebook and Google+ page was put to shame on the night of our visit, there were a few minor issues with the food, mainly the side dishes. These were fewer than expected, though and little issues that could and should be easily corrected for a much better experience. The food was, by and large, top quality, homemade and absolutely plentiful. On the issue of improvements, some dishes, particularly the starter, could have been plated in a more appetizing manner, but I for one would rather be served unpretentious yet damn tasty food than beautifully plated tasteless dishes.
And really, we’re nowhere gourmet level here, just simple, filling, rewarding and tasty food, done well at reasonable prices. If there’s a category for that, and there should be, XO is worth of a mention.
The ability to freely mix and match dishes, side orders and extras makes XO Burgers and Steaks a potential sweet spot for any budget. A burger with fries and a beer can be had for as little as DKK 200 which is the same, if not less, than your average café would charge for an inferior burger experience. On the other hand, an all you can eat pig out fest for two, featuring Champagne, starters, two mains, four side orders, sauce, dip, dessert, red, white and dessert wines by the glass and coffee clocked in at just around DKK 1500 which, considering location and food quality, is actually surprisingly good value in this day and age.
XO Burgers and Steaks gave these two meat lovers a run for their money and with none of us going hungry before late morning the next day, we thank them for putting up (and eventually winning?) a fight and showing us a great night in Copenhagen. Rest assured that we will be back for a second round and another XO Special some day! Served with proper, crispy fries, please!
And that, as promised, is my honest opinion!