Review: Restaurant Lieffroy – Affordable, slightly dented luxury!
Flying high again: As somewhat of a blogging first, this post was proof read by a very sleep deprived Johan at the cruising height of 36,000 feet aboard a United Airlines Boeing 757-200 heading across the Atlantic Ocean. While I did receive expert help from my friend and co-traveler Zascha in eradicating the worst errors, I’m sure some remain… Enjoy, for better or for worse!
What’s in a name? Well, depends on the name and the context, does it not? But in Danish culinary history, few names demand more respect than that of Lieffroy. Jean-Louis Lieffroy to be exact.
Jean-Louis Lieffroy is a living legend in Danish culinary history. Born in France in 1945, and subsequently migrating to Denmark, he is more or less solely responsible for bringing Haute Cuisine to Denmark and kickstarting the Danish fascination with finer gastronomy.
Starting his culinary career in Denmark in the 1970’s, he has had a nearly forty-year run as chef de cuisine at renowned Danish culinary temple Falsled Kro, during which he was a driving power in introducing Danes to the concept of fine dining, fresh ingredients and elaborate preparations.
A few years back, shock waves were sent through the Danish culinary world as Jean-Louis Lieffroy, after a near 40 year run, rather abruptly announced that he would be leaving his position at Falsled Kro to actively pursue a career as pensioner. In other words, he would be retiring! The ripples of the shock wave grew as his son, Patrick Lieffroy, who more or less grew up and got his break in his father’s shadow at Falsled, announced that he too would be leaving his job at Falsled, but he in order to pursue his own career with his own restaurant.
Speculation and gossip about fallouts between the Lieffroys and the powers that be at Falsled exploded, but were actively denied by all parties involved. They eventually died down for a while but resurfaced with a vengeance, though, as Lieffroy the elder announced – after a very brief and presumably boring stab at retirement, that he would be returning to the line of active duty, alongside his son Patrick at what was to be their namesake restaurant: Restaurant Lieffroy in the beautiful coast-side town of Nyborg, Denmark.
Whether or not there was indeed a fallout, we will probably never know, but what remains obvious to this day is that Patrick Lieffroy wanted a place of their own, and his father, the legend, wanted to do anything within his power to see it happen. And let it be known already that a place of their own they have definitely created, literally. And it all started with a little house in the woods.
Location, location, location…
For his namesake restaurant, Patrick Lieffroy allegedly looked at a lot of cities and a lot of locations until, in the beautiful but quiet small town of Nyborg, he found his perfect match. Located on the edge of a forest, some fifty yards from one of Denmark’s finest beaches, he found the spot for his restaurant in a century-old farmhouse. A building that had in its day hosted many restaurants and would now host that of Patrick and Jean-Louis Lieffroy.
The only problem with the location in question? The place was a total ruin at the time of purchase!
Undaunted by this fact, Patrick Lieffroy signed the deed and set out to completely and utterly renovate the old building. At the time of this writing, pretty much only the outer and supporting walls of the original building remain. Everything else has been stripped out, redone, gorgeously replaced or restored with attention to both detail and the original feel of the place. Today, the interior stands as a large, open, grand dining room which breathes style, class and luxury while still maintaining a homey feel and without in any way seeming too over the top.
At the centre of operations is a large, open kitchen where the chefs work while the father and son duo of Patrick and Jean-Louis Lieffroy oversee procedures and add their own finishing touches and stamps of approval to the dishes before they make their way to the tables.
And what dishes they are: Restaurant Lieffroy takes quite a fair bit of the culinary perfection, attention to detail and focus on taste found at the more expensive gourmet temples, and makes it available to the general public in beautiful surroundings at a much more reasonable price than you’d pay anywhere else. In other words: at Lieffroy, you get much of the style, taste and decadence of Falsled Kro – at a fraction of the price. The secrets to making this possible? A limited menu with a distinct focus on local, fresh seasonal ingredients. A fair amount of focus on planning and execution, and down to earth service by a small but dedicated wait staff.
Exploring the menu at Lieffroy
At Lieffroy, your choices are limited. The very base of their menu is a three-course prix fixe (fixed price) dinner available for the largely symbolic sum of DKK 399. The menu is updated every two weeks and is largely based on fresh, local ingredients and the availability thereof. To this basic, you can (and should) add a DKK 300 wine menu that is also available in a DKK 180 designated driver version.
If you’re feeling really hungry or adventurous, a selection of extra dishes can be added to your menu for a price of DKK 100-135 a piece. Whatever the exact composition, the menu always comprises the three-course prix fixe as well as three extra dishes to pick and choose between. If you’re feeling completely outrageous, the cream of the crop is the “Gourmet Experience” featuring all six dishes on the menu, wine pairings for each dish, a glass of Champagne to get you started as well as coffee and Petit Fours at the end of the meal.
This 4+ hour decadent experience will set you back DKK 1295 per diner which may sound like a lot, but is actually quite a reasonable bargain for six elaborate dishes, gorgeous wines and a few extras. So, really, if you’re going in the first place, why settle for less? That was my mantra anyway when I entered Restaurant Lieffroy in the company of my dear father (a resident Nyborg-dweller) on Saturday night for what I hoped would be a once in a lifetime father and son experience.
Dining at Restaurant Lieffroy
“Geeze, I wonder what the chances are they’ll give us one of the good tables,” my father said as we approached the restaurant from the beach side, referring to the tables placed by the large panoramic windows overlooking the water. “Relax,” I said cockily, thinking back at my experience from New York City’s River Café, “whenever I book at a place with a view, they always give me the best seat in the house!”
We ventured on, entered through the main door and were greeted by a smiling waiter and a smiling waitress who took my name, and led us across the floor of the restaurant to a small table nestled smack dab in the middle of the first row of tables from the windows, giving us a full, perfect panoramic view of the sea. “See, I told you, best seats in the house, not a problem,” I said to my perplexed father as we sat down and waited for our waiter to return with the menu.
He did so not two minutes later and quickly launched into a well-prepared introduction to the menu, the concept, the wines and, of course, the Gourmet Experience. When I informed him we’d take the latter, he smiled happily and said: “Alright, just one question, then: Rosé or Blanc de Blancs to get you started?”
I personally never have Rosé Champagne so the only natural response to the question was “I think we’ll have the rosé today, thanks!” ! A wise move perhaps as what we were served mere minutes later was a very gorgeous glass of rosé bubbles from producer so tiny that the name completely escaped me. What I do remember, though, is that he had only 4 hectares of vines, roughly equally split between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and that this distribution of grapes was mirrored in the wine which was comprised of 1/3 of each grape.
I also remember that it was a very fine glass of bubbles indeed that, along with the just-out-of-the-oven dinner rolls made with butter milk and local brown ale served with two kinds of butter (regular and whipped browned butter), made for a very nice start to the evening.
Our waiter had left us during the apéritif but when he returned with appetizers, I was stunned to realize that he had somehow magically morphed from your average guy at about my age into a beautiful, young blonde with a captivating smile and a knowledge about food and wine to boot. I thought for a minute to complain (yeah, right!), but when she confidently and elaborately launched into her introduction of the dishes she’d snuck in front of us, I shut up and listened.
The wait staff at Lieffroy had obviously done their homework and they knew how to introduce the dishes. But not only that, if like me you were rude enough to interrupt with questions, they’d answer them promptly, quickly and knowledgeably, and make sure you were happy with the answer before politely bowing back with a heartfelt “enjoy!”
Appetizers: Lumpfish roe on pickled cucumber / Cauliflower soup with smoked salmon and Caviar
It has by now become commonplace at most restaurants to kick off larger menus with one or more “surprise” appetizers, amuse bouches or snacks. While we had already received some fresh and very delicious rolls, placed in front of us now by our smiling waitress was a two tier appetizer:
On our left, a reasonably thick slice of pickled cucumber topped with lumpfish roe, mustard mayo and a single galium leaf. On our right, an aerated cauliflower soup with little bites of smoked salmon, chives and a generous sprinkling of Baerii Caviar. Caviar snuck in from the right without my knowledge? The things I endure!
Both were wonderful, with the cucumber and roe bite providing perhaps the best experience; a perfect combination of the fresh pop from the roe mixed with the creaminess of the mayo and the fresh acidic twang of the pickled cucumber. A study in simplistic clashes of contrast.The soup, we agreed could have had more character but did really well in providing a velvety mouthfeel and backdrop for the smoked salmon without overpowering the delicate taste of the caviar.
First course: Locally caught cod fish, toast, lightly pickled white asparagus and Hollandaise espuma
Our appetizers were damn near immediately followed by our first real course of the evening: a rather generous serving of fried local cod fish topped with buttered toast, radishes and garden cress. Laying next to it was a large, local, white asparagus that had been lightly pickled and topped with a bacon crumble. On the side was a wonderful, velvety and light espuma (foam) of Sauce Hollandaise.
It was with this dish that you really started to note the attention paid to detail by the kitchen. Obviously, someone had been hard a work here with a pair of tweezers lining things up and stacking them just right. The food at Lieffroy is nothing if not gorgeous and presentable, and there’s obvious thought to every minute detail in the plating.
Sadly, though, the same level of detail could have been focused elsewhere. The cod, while almost perfectly flaky was, I reckon, ever so slightly overcooked and as a result ever so slightly chewy. This did nothing to deduct from the wonderful flavor of the fish, of course, but it was a crying shame at this level of gastronomic perfection.
The asparagus on the other hand was just gorgeous. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, slightly acidic and slightly pickled, it had a wonderful flavor to it and a wonderful crunch thanks to its semi-raw state. A really interesting preparation of asparagus with a bit of bacony goodness on top.
As the Hollandaise? What can really be said about Hollandaise other than praise? The rich, creamy yet airy, buttery sauce not only helped elevate the flavors of the dish, it also helped the slightly dry cod go down easier.
Second course: Locally caught lobster, pickled green strawberries, cabbage and lobster sauce
Our second dish was served to us with no uncertain amount of pride and sense of accomplishment.
Lobster, Danish lobster in particular, is not the cheapest of ingredients available to Danish cooks, but sometimes you’ve just got to spend a little extra on ingredients. Especially, our waiter informed us, on a day like this when lobsters have been landed locally for the first time in ten odd years. Danish lobster caught right outside the front door is definitely not an ingredient you get to have every day (or every year it seems), but we were exceedingly lucky that a few had been landed on the day we were visiting and had made it into our second course. A course that may also well have been one of the prettiest of the evening:
In a deep bowl lay parts of a tail and one full claw of a lobster, pickled green strawberries, macadamia nuts and a few dollops of smoked cream cheese. On top of this was poured a purposefully split bright green oil-based sauce as well as a beautifully frothy “lobster sauce” made with lobster stock, vermouth and a fair bit of butter.
It was a gorgeous and tasty work of art that completely made us forget about any possible issues with the cod. In fact, it damn well nearly made us forget about ourselves for a while.
The wine pairing, interestingly enough was a white Bordeaux from the Sauternes region, made with the same grapes used for sweet Sauternes wines, only they were picked early and vilified into a bone dry and well-oaked wine. Very interesting stuff indeed.
Intermission: Where oh where have all the wait staff gone?
With such a beautiful and fantastic dish under our belts and such great attention and dedication being shown to us by the wait staff, it was a crying shame that the only real catastrophe of the evening was to take place next… As we sat there, digesting the wonderful dish that had so gracefully appeared before us time just, well, stopped!
Our plates turned empty, our glasses soon followed and time just marched on. The wait staff that had till now been so professional and attentive seemed to just abandon us. The plates that had till now been cleared almost the minute we were done eating remained in front of us, as did the empty glasses.
I eventually (a little rudely possibly) made eye contact with a waiter who scrambled to finish his table, then went and cleared ours but then just sent us back to waiting without any word about what was going on or what to expect, at which point I really started to grow annoyed. Call me a food snob if you must, but it’s rather unusual for a place of this standard to completely drop the ball like that and it’s a major dent in an otherwise rather sublime performance. How could they just forget about us?
Well, as I sat there looking around, I realized they had in fact not forgotten us. They’d just been busy elsewhere. While we’d been eating, the place had slowly but surely filled up and with a very limited wait staff on hand, they were simply scrambling to keep up with orders, even with chef’s running to and from the kitchen, doing whatever they could to help food reach the tables on time.
Maybe the popularity of the restaurant had taken the Lieffroys a little by storm, I don’t know, but at this point in the evening, the place was full and there was simply nowhere near enough staff on hand to fulfill orders at a reasonable pace. And that’s a shame. If you’re paying for the full gourmet experience, you should get the full gourmet experience which in my book includes not only great service, but also great timing of the service. I fully realize that cutting down on staff is one way of keeping prices appealingly low, but if an extra hand or two is what it takes, then I’d personally rather pay a little more for my meal and not have to be abandoned for half an hour or more between dishes.
This may seem trivial and I would have more willingly accepted it elsewhere, but at this level of fine dining, things like these matter. Sorry, that is all. We now return you to planned programming.
Third course: Fried duck liver on rhubarb compote with puffed rice
After an, ahem, brief intermission, things kicked back into gear and our lovely waitress returned bearing not only a formidable German Riesling, but also a dish most controversial.
Foie Gras has, more or less deservingly, gotten a bad name lately which is why I assume it was served under the more palatable name “fried duck liver”. A rose by any other name, though, is still a rose and Restaurant Lieffroy serves a mean Foie Gras! Rich, creamy, decadent and fatty it arrived on a sweet bed of rhubarb compote, topped with seasoned puffed rice, daikon and rosehip petals. It was yet another study in beautifully contrasting textures and flavors and it was a dish that was as every bit as stunningly beautiful to look at as it is offensive to some animal lovers.
Foie Gras, following a large public outcry from prominent animal activists is an ingredient that has been pulled off the menu at many fine Danish gourmet restaurants, but at Lieffroy it still reigns supreme. You know how the old saying goes; you can’t teach an old Frenchman new tricks! And I for one loved this dish… So sue me!
Fourth dish: Pata Negra shoulder, braised Pata negra cheek, variations of onions, new peas and new potatoes
With things now properly back in gear, it was time to kick back and enjoy what would hopefully be the natural highlight of the evening: the main dish!
I say hopefully because the main dish *should* be the shining star of any menu, the main event so to speak. Sadly, though, as menus grow increasingly complex both in terms of number of dishes and the complexity of the dishes, this age-old mantra is sometimes forgotten. But not at Lieffroy where the main dish was clearly the star of the party. Both in terms of serving size but also in terms of complexity and preparation.
If other efforts of the evening were great, the main dish was phenomenal! To put it all very simply: This is by far one of the best if not *the* best dish I have eaten in years! And that’s saying something by now. The center piece was a perfectly tender, juicy and succulent slice of Pata Negra pork shoulder, bursting with flavor and firm yet succulent in texture to a point where you could almost swear you were eating veal, not pork.
Along side the shoulder cut lay a braised Pata negra cheek in a thick, intense, sticky sauce flavored with tarragon. To compliment the richness of the sauce were several preparations of onion: braised, pureed, fried as well as a few new potatoes tossed with wild garlic butter. Scattered seemingly randomly (but not really) across the plate were little, sweet flavor bombs of freshly shelled peas and a light sprinkle of mustard seeds. Wow, just wow!
The experience was wonderful but intense, so intense, actually, that it managed to tame the wine pairing, a temperamental 2010 Spanish red from Ribera del Duero which on its own seemed harsh and unbalanced, but with the dish became rounded and enjoyable. Patrick and Jean-Louis, my hat’s off to you!
Fifth course: Selection of Arla Unika cheeses with garnishes
After the onslaught of the main course, and the courses that went before it, we thought we’d seen pretty much everything, but the kitchen still had a few surprises up their sleeves. The otherwise tried, true and tested cheese serving was one of them.
“Now I’ve seen everything,” I exclaimed as our cheese plates were put in front of us. “a French chef serving up Danish cheeses? That’s new!” – What had just been placed before each of us was a large Royal Copenhagen porcelain tray sporting five Danish cheeses from the Arla Unika line-up as well as a single French blue cheese as a sort of nod to the old homeland of the Lieffroys.
As a foodie I had, of course, heard the hype about about Arla Unika, a series of small batch artisan cheeses produced by various small cheese makers for Danish dairy giant Arla. I had yet to try them, though, and I honestly had a hard time believing that they could be so good as to have a Frenchman abandon his culinary and culture roots for them.
Served as a set of six perfectly tempered cheeses with perfect consistency and few but well-picked garnishes, the serving size was quite generous for a cheese plate, but at least it allowed us to sample many different shades of this new Danish cheese lineup. And? Well, they were, simply put, quite definitely world-class cheeses and, surprisingly, every bit as good as their French counterparts. I knew Danish cheese could be good, but I did not know it could be this good. But don’t just take my word for it: to be given the nod of approval from a French chef must be the ultimate quality seal and quite frankly, if they’re good enough for a French chef, then they’re good enough for me.
To match our cheeses, we were treated to the wildest at most outrageous wine pairing of the evening. “We’ve saved the red wines for winter,” our waitress said, pulling out a small bottle of golden elixir, “and gone with something a little, uh, different.”
What they’d gone with wasn’t really even a wine, but rather a fruit wine; a Danish produced sweet apple wine by Cold Hand Winery to be exact. A bold move, certainly, and one we probably found more interesting than fitting. It was well made stuff, certainly, with a nice complexity, fruity, lightly oxidized apple notes and an edge of acidity. It was also very, very sweet, though, and I’ll just never be a fan over overly sweet fruit wines. It did match the cheeses, though, and once I got a taste of some of the bitter orange marmalade that accompanied the more pungent cheeses, everything sort of mellowed out for a while and created an altogether enjoyable overall experience.
And it could have ended there, really. With everything falling together in perfect harmony over the final few bites of the cheese serving. But we were in it for the long run and despite being full beyond belief at this point, we had to have dessert. We had to. And I’m glad we did.
Sixth course: Fresh strawberries, elderflower sorbet, cultured yoghurt parfait and merengue
“I’m sorry,” our kind waiter said with a bit of a sulk, before I could even raise a brow. “But we can’t serve dessert without Moscato d’Asti. I promise you, though, that this is unlike any Asti you’ve ever had. Lightly effervescent, acidic and not too sweet. You’ll hopefully find it surprisingly enjoyable!” – and with that, she poured a couple of frowning grown men a glass of sweet bubbles.
She was right, of course, it was quite unlike any Asti I had ever had, mainly because it actually tasted of more than yeast and an overwhelming amount sugar. It still was not a memorable experience, but what notes it displayed were quite nice: apple, elderflower, and stone fruit, making it a perfect match for the extravagant serving to follow:
Now, I’m going to venture a guess that someone in the kitchen at Lieffroy likes sweets! I’ve no other way of explaining the insane work of art that was put in front of us at the end of our meal and rather casually and humbly referred to as dessert.
On the large plate in front of us lay two perfect scoops of sorbet. One strawberry, the other elderflower. Next to these a perfect cylinder of tangy, cultured yoghurt parfait blended with lemon and dressed with flower petals. Scattered on the plate were little Mazarin bites, strawberry merengue kisses, fresh strawberries, tuilles, gels, powders and a host of other crazy things. Look, I can’t explain… Here, look:
Crazy, right? And absolutely delicious, I might add. A good friend of mine once said that Danish strawberries are the best thing in the world and on a night like this, I was inclined to agree. The dessert at Lieffroy stood a perfect tribute to Danish summer and fresh Danish strawberries with a host of complimenting and contrasting tastes and textures. Granted, the parfait was ever so slightly crystalized in texture, but with a dish like this, you were nearly able to forgive and forget. Just as you were able to forgive and forget yourself for hungrily devouring your dessert in minutes despite being damn full after five awesome courses.
Shaking hands with a legend
After a full six courses plus appetizers and a matching number of wines, I was reeling a bit and excused myself to go, ahem, stretch my legs for a few minutes. As I did, I passed the open kitchen where the chefs were taking a small breather after what I can only assume must have been a stressful dinner service.
They seemed relaxed and friendly enough that I walked up and thanked them for the experience thus far. As I did, I noticed a slightly elderly and familiar looking gentleman wiping down pots and pans in the back of the kitchen. “Say, is that the master himself doing the dishes,” I asked a friendly looking fellow. “Well, I don’t know about that, but he *is* my father,” the young fellow replied jokingly.
“Patrick Lieffroy, I presume?” I shot back, extending my hand. “I’m Johan, foodie and certified inconsiderate idiot!” – “That’s right,” chirped Lieffroy the older, drying off his hands and walking over. “He’s the master, this is his place, his work! Thanks for coming tonight!”
We shook hands, I smiled, muttered something completely and utterly star struck, then trotted back to our table where my dad sat, looking at me inquiringly. “I just shook hands with a living legend, I mumbled. And he was the nicest, most humble guy ever… And French!”
The aftermath: Come for the food, stay for the petit fours
As I wrestled myself out of star struckness, our waitress prepared us for the last order of business for the evening: coffee and petit fours! Now, I’d heard a thing or two about the petit fours at Lieffroy, but still nothing could prepare me for the plate that was put in front of us along with a freshly brewed pot of coffee.
“This is ridiculous,” my father muttered “we’ve already had dessert once!” – “I agree,” I said, and braced myself for the ride. In front of us was an entire platter of various sweets so over the top that I don’t even recall the details, but included were little bowls of ice cream and foams, a passion fruit and dark chocolate “lollipop”, peppermint marshmallows, French macaroons and other things as well.
Putting it simply, it was a sweet lover’s wet dream, extremely elaborate, cleverly made and entirely over the top. To all the girls I’ve loved before: I’m sorry, but I couldn’t finish… I tried, but the petit fours at Lieffroy got the best of me! Trust me when I say, though, that they were every bit as sweet and delicious as they look and that if you can at all stomach anything after a full meal of Lieffroy, you should come for the food and stay for the petit fours! Lieffroy are famous for their petit fours, and rightfully so!
Speaking of over the top, I made the mistake of ordering a digestif to go along with our coffee and sweet orgy. This resulted in quite a bit of soul searching as I was presented with my options which included 5-6 groups of spirits with at least 3 selections in each group. After listening to, trying to remember and eventually forgetting 2/3 of my choices, I settled for two glasses of 15 year old Ron Mulato from Cuba that luckily turned out to be quite the perfect end to the evening, adding a spicy, deep yet fruitily sweet kick to the view of the sunset over the ocean and the impending dusk.
“You know what,” I told my dad as we downed the last of our rum and got ready to rise up and leave, “life’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
Restaurant Lieffroy: In conclusion
What can you say about a dinner at Restaurant Lieffroy? A lot has already been said by restaurant critics and bloggers alike, but this is my time to shine and here are my thoughts on the matter:
The Lieffroys serve up beautiful and incredibly well made dishes with attention to detail at prices that are if not unheard of then at the very least unusual at this gastronomic level. They do so in unique and beautiful surroundings at the hands of a knowledgable and dedicated waitstaff who are not afraid to answer questions or listen to guest input.
In terms of preparation, the food had only very few minor faults. When these even become noticeable it’s largely owing to the general standard and attention to detail that is evident in every single dish. I’d waste no time in recommending this little, hidden gem to others, in fact I already have. The three dish prix fixe menu in particular is top value for your buck and you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal elsewhere.
My only real source of complaint as far as our visit went is the horrible understaffing that was displayed on the evening we visited. I thought at first that i might have overreacted, but after posting about my experience on Instagram, it turned out that other food bloggers have had the same experiences while others were quite happy with their visits. Signe from Signesmad.dk had an even more horrifying experience while Martin from rigeligtsmor.dk was so well and thoroughly pleased that he is planning a revisit soon.
Reading other experiences it seems that staffing is a general problem here. Signe reported (Danish article) only three waiters (with one being an apprentice) on shift during her visit two years ago and I experienced the same last weekend. With a full restaurant of 45-50 people, that’s simply not enough at this level!
Like Martin, I would very much love to make a return visit to Lieffroy, it’d be hard to find better culinary value for money, I’m sure, even with the minor flaws in preparation we experienced. I would, however, very much like my revisit to be like his first visit that got him so fired up about the place. Lieffroy can be a (damn near) perfect experience, I’m sure! They just need an extra hand or two during peak hours of operation.
In the end, I wound up paying roughly DKK 2900 for the whole experience including three bottles of water and a couple of rums. This is a lot of money, granted, but in terms of the quality and quantity of the food served, the freshness of the ingredients and the attention to detail, comparatively speaking, it’s really a bit of a bargain!