Food and china; seems an odd combination doesn't it? No, I'm not referring to the Middle Kingdom, but to Denmark's illustrious maker of all things porcelain, Royal Copenhagen. In 2007, one of the world's oldest china manufacturers got together with some other famous Danish brands and boldly branched out into the restaurant trade. The team tasked to make this happen was Danish businessman, Rud Christiansen and his wife Lo Østergaard, who are the sole owners of this venture. The idea was to create a new, exciting way of promoting these manufacturers and the end result was The Royal Cafe, located in an old building dating to 1616, sandwiched between Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen's flagship stores in Copenhagen.
The Royal Cafe is a fantastically quirky place. It feels like the very antithesis to those bland identikit coffee shops that now seem to have infiltrated every corner of the globe. The interior consists of a long room with chandeliers hanging from the crazy wall-papered ceiling, and is adorned with objects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, in a style the Cafe calls "Funky Baroque". The room is littered with objects from Danish design brands such as Kvadrat, Holmegaard, Bang & Olufsen, and Fritz Hansen among others, with the plates coming from Royal Copenhagen and the cutlery from Georg Jensen. The walls are garishly pink and are graced by some enourmous portraits, a huge circular table and a long dining table dominate the two ends of the room. The overall effect is part Mad Hatter's Tea Party and part Wallpaper* magazine photo shoot.
Of course, we can't forget the food. This being a cafe they serve the usual selection of teas and coffees and also have traditional cakes and pastries. However, the main event here is smørrebrød, which is basically an open-faced sandwich that is a national obsession in Denmark. With such a unique interior you wouldn't expect The Royal Cafe to be serving plain 'ol smørrebrød, and indeed, the cafe has come up with a modern, fresh take on the classic open-faced sandwich. They combine Scandinavian ingredients to create bite sized sandwiches, that they rather ridiculously call "Smushies" - a cross between smørrebrød and sushi.
There is a selection of ten different sandwiches on offer that you can mix and match to suit your taste. I opted to try the "Fishcake with Danish remoulade", "Parisian steak with exciting topping", "Smoked salmon with egg and dill cream", and the "Chicken salad with white asparagus". Mrs. Nibbler, on account of our forthcoming dinner at Noma that evening (see review here), opted for a lighter dish of fresh tomato soup and bread.
I was hoping for the food to be a little more adventurous. Given that The Royal Cafe bills itself as providing a new take on smørrebrød, the toppings seemed to err on the conservative side. Smoked salmon with egg mayonnaise, chicken salad with bacon, and tomato soup, although tasty, just don't live up to the promise of such a quirkily styled restaurant. The 'exciting' topping that came with the Parisian steak sandwich turned out to be nothing more scintillating than pickles, and as far as I could discern the 'sushi' part of The Royal Cafe's 'smushi' concept refers to the portion size as opposed to the actual ingredients used. The food here is not bad per se, it's just a touch underwhelming.
I don't think I'd come back here for lunch, but if you're after an afternoon pick-me-up of coffee and cakes then The Royal Cafe certainly provides a fun and unusual diversion from the cookie-cutter chains of coffee shops. The interior alone is bound to make you smile.
(Update: In October 2010, Rud and Lo opended their second Royal Cafe in the upscale Ginza area of Tokyo. Judging by the photos, the interior design looks to be every bit as eclectic as the flagship café in Copenhagen).
Food: 6 / 10
Service: 6 / 10
Ambiance: 8 / 10
The Royal Cafe
1160 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel: +45 33 12 11 22