Quick Pick: Restaurant Smækker Lækker, Kolding, Denmark

“For Those Who Have Heart” is my favorite album from Florida’s metalcore/pop punk sensation “A Day To Remember”, but it may also well be the moniker for local restaurateur Aziz Adam and his small crew at Restaurant Smækker Lækker (literally: Damn Hot or Damn Tasty) located a mere hundred yards or so from my home in beautiful downtown Kolding, Denmark.

NEW FEATURE ON JOHANJOHANSEN.DK: Quick Picks is a new feature here on the blog. Shorter, quick-read features about restaurants, places, concepts ingredients or dishes that, in themselves, do not warrant a full 5000 word Johan brush-up, but are still worthy of sharing with you, dear reader, in a shorter, quicker, more easy to consume kind of manner.

 

From Chaos to White Guide: The story of Smækker Lækker

It’s been a rocky road for Aziz and crew since opening up a few years ago. Not that they haven’t been successful, more that they’ve probably been a little too successful a little too quickly: For starters, the number of personal ambitions greatly outnumbered the number of hours in the day, creating an ever changing concept and menu and leading to some confusion amongst customers. Furthermore, when, out of the blue a White Guide recommendation dropped onto Smækker Lækker alongside only two other restaurants in the area, popular demand – which was already soaring at the time – started to sometimes challenge the small but extremely dedicated crew’s ability to deliver in a timely manner. Add a recent clash of egos amongst high profile employees doing nothing to instill a sense of calm about the operation and you’ve got yourself one pretty rocking ship to control. And a ship that I, being completely honest here, have been a bit weary about boarding out of fear of being disappointed.

In actuality, I’ve visited Smækker Lækker before, but not made any formal notes about it. It was just after opening, we were ordering takeout, things were absolutely chaotic and, well, without going into details, left me mostly with an impression of a bunch of guys with all their hearts in all the right places and not much more than that. As the popularity of the place grew amongst locals, I’ve been wanting to go back for a proper visit but have shrugged it off for a while. This, in the bright light of hindsight, proved a mistake for in the immortal words of Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A’Changing!

Aziz Adam – Chef, Owner, Restaurateur – at work in Smækker Lækker’s tiny kitchen

 

Surprise menu: An Evening at Smækker Lækker

Eventually, on a Friday evening in late August, my curiosity got the best of me and I enlisted the help of fellow food blogger Malou from klidmoster.dk. Together we swung by for Smækker Lækker’s tour de force, a five course (or more!) surprise menu offered at staggeringly cheap DKK 279 per diner.

Smækker Lækker is not the sort of place our culinary duo would usually visit. With its adorably confusing mesh of mismatched tables, chairs, cutlery, glasses and what have you, it’s a far cry from the clean and orchestrated dining experiences we’ve enjoyed thus far, but an interesting one at that. The kitchen, too, is a bit of a mashup, featuring elements of Mediterranean  kitchens and elements from New (and old) Nordic cuisine in one tasting menu. The focus, generally, is on good, wholesome, cheap food and on instilling a feeling of homeliness rather than style, class and perfectly coherent and expertly timed service.

That being said, food at Smækker Lækker, obviously, was a far cry away from our usual restaurant adventures in terms of decadence, presentation and price, yet still often shockingly close in terms of flavor, thought and sheer heart and dedication in every aspect of preparation. Obviously to turn a five course meal (and profit) out of a humbling DKK 279, it goes without saying that equally humble ingredients are used (and often reused) to their full extend to make something that is, basically, anything but humble. Leftover fresh local tomatoes from one night’s caprese salad, for example, may well be used for the next evening’s tomato sauce, that may, in turn, be reused for a third dish on yet another night. Nothing goes to waste and it makes for a pretty spectacular show:

Our meal included, hang on now:

  • Prosecco and elderflower cocktail to accompany a tray of homemade bread and various olives, sausages, spreads and tapernades.
  • An intensely concentrated cream of mushroom soup bursting with umami.
  • Mussels in cream and white wine sauce.
  • Baked salmon and crayfish in elderflower marinade served with fennel and raw asparagus.
  • Cheese-filled ravioli in gorgonzola sauce.
  • Pork shank with pearl barley, potatoes and root vegetables.
  • And, finally, a zingy lemon tiramisu for dessert…

All for the price that other establishments may well have charged you for a single main dish alone.

All dishes were well prepared and full of flavor with very few off notes and teensy mistakes. The elderflower, for example, was obviously a concentrate of sorts and slightly overpowering and some ingredients bore traces of being industrial products used to cut costs. All in all, the food was well above average, and a right bargain at the price, and served in splendor and a mild aura of adorable creative confusion and we will allow for the use of store-bought ravioli in an effort to keep the price down.

Salmon and crayfish in elderflower, fennel, greens, pickled onions, capers and raw asparagus – a personal highlight from the evening!

Be that as it may, though, the food is actually the smallest part of the experience that is dining at Smækker Lækker: It’s the heart and soul of the place that gets under your skin: Seating is crammed and you can’t help but interact with your neighbors. Well, you can if you absolutely want to, but one expert advice here is to go with the flow and jump in: we ended up chatting happily with a couple next to us, a pair of regulars who visited on average once a week and it immensely heightened the experience for us.

Add to that a laid-back wait staff and owner, a psychotically mismatched décor and a general and deliberate shortage of matching cutlery, glasses and plates and you’ve got a concept that feels more like social dining or the extension of your crazy Aunt Aziz’s home dining room than a restaurant experience.

Seldom, if ever, have I dined at an establishment where the food, however great (and make no mistake about, the food was pretty damn great!), took the back seat to the mood, feel and vibe of the place, but such was the case of Smækker Lækker which, offered us a great, no frills, social dining experience. Throughout the lengthy evening, we mingled with staff and other guests alike to create a down to earth, slow, pleasant dining experience like few before it.

A shot from a neighboring plate: The couple dining next to us had already had one dish on the menu at an earlier visit, as a consequence replacements were quickly prepared – top notch!

To put it into perspective, Smækker Lækker remains the only place to date where I’ve left an enticing main course, a co-diner AND our new-found friends at the next table to giddily run off with the owner to check out the new takeout location he was building across the street… And it somehow seeming the perfectly natural thing to do for everybody involved! Indeed, Smækker Lækker is the sort of place where you’ll allow yourself time to enjoy your dishes and everything that may happen in between them – not the place you go if you’re in a hurry. And that’s perfectly fine by me as long as I am aware of the game rules from the beginning.

 

In Conclusion: Smækker Lækker at a Glance

Smækker Lækker is the sort of place that everybody can afford to visit for dinner and drinks – and it’s the sort of place that everybody should visit for food and drinks. The food is fresh, tasty, well-presented yet unpretentious and served in an extremely relaxed and down to earth manner. The servings should more than fill everybody up but are also delivered at a slow enough pace as to not seem overwhelming.

As for the service, it’s in a league of its own, in the most extraordinary and likable of ways. From, the clearing of used plates, to the serving of new dishes over sudden disappearance of cutlery and minor misunderstandings, everything may well seem a little random here, and indeed it probably is. But they serve you from the heart here to the best of their extend, always, as they blast on at a thousand miles an hour, dreaming up new concepts and procedures, learning something new every day as they go.

Main dish – they feed you well and plenty at Smækker Lækker!

As for drink options, you’re in luck, too. If the expanding and interesting selection of very reasonably priced beers or wines, many of them from local importer Vestergaard Wines, is not your idea of a good time, you are more than welcome to bring your own wine at NO extra cost. Sodas, mineral water and non-alcoholic options are, of course, available as well.

Amazingly crisp, acidic, fruity and complex Terra Minei from Vestergaard Wines – one of many very reasonably priced wines at Smækker Lækker.

All in all, we enjoyed a long, cozy, intoxicating evening at Smækker Lækker with great food and some great wine pairings from the cellar. All of which, amazingly, took a back seat to feel and ambiance of the place and the sheer joy of interacting with the staff and the regulars. Great job, Aziz and friends! Thank you for a most humbling and personal dining experience with you and the regulars. The Johan approves!

What we loved: Insanely affordable meal, interesting wine list with very attractive pricing policy, no fuzz Bring Your Own Wine policy without corkage fee, great informal and homey feel.

What we didn’t quite love: Not surprisingly a few ready-made products are used in the cooking process to cut costs, waiting time between dishes may be a little too lengthy for some diners, service may be considered a bit clumsy but adoringly so.

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