The waiters at BROR in Copenhagen have to be careful not to freak out their customers.
That's easier said than done when the menu includes selections like cod head, mackerel sperm, and cow uterus. "We'll send out the crispy puffed ox penis for free," said Victor Wågman, one of the restaurant's co-founders. "And we'll describe a dish simply as 'lamb,' instead of calling it 'lamb's brain.'" Both methods, he explained, lead to people being more willing to give these unconventional ingredients a try.
We'll send out the crispy puffed ox penis for free.
Wågman opened BROR with Samuel Nutter in 2013. The pair met while working at Noma, one of the most influential and renowned restaurants in culinary history. Both chefs credited their time at Noma as an influence for BROR's approach to food, but they also strove to bring something different to the Copenhagen restaurant scene. So while still embodying Noma's philosophies, Wågman and Nutter placed their focus on meat in a very distinct way.
BROR's set menu immediately stands out for its inclusion of out-of-the-ordinary items like bull testicles and chicken butt. These are the parts of animals that most people have never considered eating, and BROR offers guests the chance to taste them all in a single sitting. And the menu at the Copenhagen restaurant serves several other purposes beyond the initial shock value that it provides.
Wågman described Noma as "a fairy tale world where money was no issue." But in starting his own restaurant, spending was something that absolutely had to be considered, especially as the restaurant opened without any investors. While the mismatched, secondhand plates are aesthetically interesting, they're also evidence of the effort to cut back on the costs associated with opening a restaurant. And likewise, the concept of BROR's unusual menu was inspired by frugal motives. By using commonly discarded parts of animals in their dishes, Wågman and Nutter were able to serve their guests high-quality products in a more cost-effective manner.
In addition, the menu highlights the importance of sustainability. Consumers today are used to being served a version of meat that seems far removed from the actual living, breathing animal it once was. While most people have no problem eating an attractive fish fillet or a sushi roll slathered with mayo, they're turned off by the sight of an entire fish head on the plate in front of them. This attitude often results in the "grosser" parts of an animal going to waste.
But since many of the neglected animal parts are no less edible than those that are more pleasing to the eye, the movement to eat the entire animal presents a more ethical and sustainable way of consuming meat.
And at BROR, their offerings actually do end up being pleasing to the eye, further dismantling the misconception that certain components of an animal are undesirable or disgusting.
With each plate that Wågman brought to the table, I found myself impressed by the careful consideration that went into the dish. While the baked cod head was unapologetic about its origins, it was beautifully garnished, and the bright colors of the mackerel sperm flatbread were incredibly inviting. BROR is the Danish word for "brother," and according to the restaurant's website, it symbolizes care, respect, and honesty. All three values were apparent in the dishes.
Our ambition is to constantly challenge ourselves, the ingredients, the producers and ultimately the flavour.
Just as the tasting menu challenges diners to step out of their comfort zones, it also serves as a challenge to the chefs who prepare it. Within BROR's kitchen, a high level of experimentation is encouraged. Creativity is a necessary ingredient to their "use it all" mentality. And given the restaurant's success since its 2013 opening, Wågman and Nutter can afford to play around with their menu and the techniques behind it.
When the chefs first had the idea to utilize cow uterus in a dish, finding a source proved to be difficult. But eventually, a butcher in Sweden was able to provide it. "Any tips? How do [you] use yours at home?" the restaurant joked to its followers on Instagram.
Cow uterus made it onto the menu in the form of an open-faced sandwich known as "smørrebrød." Smørrebrød, traditionally made up of a thick piece of bread and an abundance of toppings, has a lengthy history as a lunch item in Denmark. But chefs in the country have since turned it into a more fashionable menu item, and the trend has started to catch on around the world.
Copenhagen has been widely regarded as a top culinary destination in recent years, especially when it comes to New Nordic cuisine. Since the 2000s, New Nordic cuisine has aimed to introduce local ingredients to menus, updating traditional Scandinavian recipes and emphasizing seasonable ingredients.
The culinary movement was largely inspired by René Redzepi and Claus Meyer, the co-founders of Noma. In November 2004, the two chefs organized a meeting in Copenhagen to develop the region's cuisine. The New Nordic Food programme launched in 2005 with the goal of raising awareness of Nordic cuisine across the globe.
"I think that Noma paved the way for adventurous eating in Copenhagen," Wågman told me. "People here are more willing to try unique dishes. Without Noma coming before us, BROR could have seemed too extreme. But after Noma, we're able to push things a little further."
As time goes on, more and more of Wågman's nightly customers come in with an awareness of the offbeat ingredients that make up the tasting menu. "By now, most people know what BROR is about," he said. The popularity of the restaurant demonstrates the continued growth of both New Nordic cuisine and the whole animal initiative and the potential for the two movements to work together.
BROR's set menu includes a selection of snacks followed by five courses, with the opportunity to add a wine pairing. They also offer a smaller four course option. The menu changes daily, so guests will never be quite sure what to expect upon sitting down (Wågman and Nutter see the element of surprise as an important aspect of the meal). However, the kitchen can accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions with advanced notice, so vegetarians are able to experience the cuisine as well.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 5:30 p.m.
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