Wining On: Great Danes

A smørrebrød selection with a twelfth-floor view at the Club Danés.
So, the best restaurant in the world is Danish (Noma), thus voted for three consecutive years and the best chef in the world is Danish (Rene Redzepi, who apparently is the second Dane ever to feature on the cover of Time in the Europe/Asia editions in February).

Which means it can’t be mere coincidence that Argentine chef Eduardo Marenco has been inspired to energetically run the Club Danés with his business partner Giaco Macagno five lunchtimes a week for the past 17 years.

In fact, it was as an exchange student, in Denmark as a teenager, that Marenco developed a taste for this Nordic cuisine, because there was a certain something he missed, and probably dreamt of, on his return to Argentina: creamy, smooth, luscious pork liver paté.

But more about the Danish Club on the twelfth floor of a Retiro high rise in a bit.

Last month, and in honour of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II’s birthday on April 16 (which unfortunately transpired to be the day that shipping mogul Maersk McKinney-Møller passed away at the ripe age of 98), the Danish embassy hosted an interesting and rather challenging dinner at Chila in Puerto Madero.

Rather than just trying to replicate Danish gastronomy with ingredients such as herring that are difficult to get hold of in Argentina, the challenge was set for Danish chef Simon Lau Cederholm, who owns Aquavit restaurant in Brasilia, and his Argentine colleague and Chila’s executive chef, Soledad Nardelli, who is one of Argentina’s most prominent chefs thanks to her TV programme on El Gourmet. The task? For both chefs to come up with a starter and a main course using exactly the same Danish-inspired ingredients.

And fascinating it was too. One delicious amuse-bouche — and when it is that amusing it is definitely acceptable to eat something so teeny tiny, was the tucupi shot accompanied by oysters from Chubut. Given that the yellow tucupi sauce, which is taken from wild manioc root has its origins in Brazil, I‘ll bet on that being Chef Cederholm’s concoction.

Of course salmon featured strongly in the starters, and to be honest, I know they were delicious although they weren’t terribly memorable. What an awful thing to say. But that’s because the night’s outstanding dish was the merluza negra in a Torrontés pilpil and the creamiest cauliflower mashed base — and nothing stood a chance against that main.

One of my Danish dining companions had been busily passing over her remains to her husband, who happily lapped them up. And once I finished that Patagonian toothfish, I wished I was her husband, greedily finishing off those fishy remains like a starving alley cat. Outstanding.

And so with a taste of the Nordic whirling about my mind for a few weeks, I thought it was high time to visit the Club Danés which has been on my hit list for quite some time.

I‘m not quite sure how I ever heard of it, but I had a vision of some old boys’ den, pipe smoking elderly gentlemen with jolly cornflower-colour eyes fighting over their preferred smørrebrød from the comfort of weary leather armchairs.

Far from it, the Danish Club is modern in as much as it looks quite 1990s, but it is definitely not old school, although once upon a time only the Danes were allowed in.

Only catering at lunchtime, Monday to Friday, the club has been run by the same hands for the past 17 years by Eduardo Marenco and Giaco Macagno, and very hands on deck it is too.

Parked in a window seat with a harbour view, the wonderful feeling of being far removed from the city below washed over, as the lorries crawled their way down the road, the waves probably gently lapped at the shore and the only vehicles in a hurry were cargo ships and ferries making their way in and out of the harbour. Watching the world go by was a welcome break from the daily bustle.

Four lunch specials are on offer, including the aptly named “economical” menu, and diners can expect to pay around 50 pesos for a main with coffee and a soft drink, fairly standard prices for downtown. For every group of 10, one diner gets to eat free.

Frikadeller (meat balls) with creamy mash and tempting fried onions.
On Wednesday, Marenco served the table himself, given that they were shortstaffed but with it, a fascinating peak into a chef’s life came tumbling out, which also clarified his obvious passion for all things Danish.

Sampling four smørrebrøds (bread and butter) — two lacha ones, with a curry sauce, roast beef and the by-now infamous pork liver paté — the tastes were explosive. Lacha is what the chefs use to substitute pickled herring which is complicated to import, according to Marenco, and although it is called the Argentine herring which he described as being as chewy like gum, there was no giveaway that it wasn’t Baltic fresh.

The liver paté totally won hands down, for its creamy consistency on perfect rye bread, made in house, topped with beetroot and pickle, and now I know why Marenco perhaps developed a small obsession with replicating that flavour. Lacha with simple onion rings was sharp and fresh, while the roast beef tasted like an English Sunday roast and was sliced just as thinly. Fried chunks of onion completed the beef. And although I am always, always, a fan of curry, I just found it too overwhelming to get a good taste of the local fish on the fourth smørrebrød.

Mains wise, Mr Links was adamant he would sample the pork frikadeller (meat balls) and he was not let down — the flavour was bursting through, the mash was creamy and there were more tempting fried onions pieces to go with it.

Now salmon often is my top pick if it is on the menu and the pink goulash, seasoned with dill, was quite delicious. What was so fabulous about the Danish Club was tasting flavours that are seemingly hard to come by, but which appear to have been prepared quite simply.

Wining On verdict: Book ahead for a table with a view, a touch of escapism and Nordic taste sensations.

Club Danés
Av. Leandro N. Alem 1074,
Floor 12, Retiro
Tel: 4312-9266

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on May 13, 2012
Photo by Allan Kelin

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