Copenhagen is packed with gourmet restaurants, but when you meet top Danish chef Henrik Yde-Andersen, at his flagship restaurant Kiin Kiin, the only Thai restaurant in the world with a Michelin star, it has to be something special. As I sipped champagne and nibbled a succession of delicious Thai canapes, I chatted with Henrik about his favourite Thai food at Kiin Kiin and how he’s on a suicidal mission to take Thai cuisine back to Thailand.
How long is it since you opened Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen?
We opened five years ago in September 2006 in Nørrebro which is like the Soho of Copenhagen, it used to be a dodgy area and we took a big chance, and we found this beautiful room. We decided to see if we could modernise Thai cooking a little bit. I was a chef in Thailand for 4 years and in Copenhagen if you said ‘Let’s go for Thai’ it would mostly be translated into ‘Let’s find a cheap restaurant’. But we went the other way and tried to find some nice produce and then see if we could twist it a bit to see if we could take it to a higher level.
So why Thai food?
I was on holiday in Thailand and I had my first Thai meal there in 2000 and it just exploded, I went to a little beach restaurant and I had a Tom Kha which is a classic Thai soup with coconut milk but it just had so many flavours, it was sweet, it was spicy – it’s kind of unusual if you’re a French trained chef, when you’re used to salty food and you add that balance of sweet and sour. So I ended up cooking for four years in different parts of Thailand
Do you have a special dish at Kiin Kiin?
For sure, the very first dish that we had on the menu was the frozen red curry where we take a total classic dish and just freeze the red curry like an ice cream because the dish itself is very sweet, and we serve it with a lobster salad. We are very fortunate that we have a Thai gardener here in Denmark and she grows all our herbs and spices in the summer 2 hours from here and so we use the coriander seeds which are really beautiful, they’re young and green and they pop in your mouth. So that’s my favourite dish.
And are the Thais into desert?
The Thais love deserts but its sad you don’t see that a lot in restaurants, the favourite desert here at Kiin Kiin in April is the Khao Niaow Ma Muang which is sticky rice – it’s not healthy at all but it comes with the fresh Thai mangos and coconut milk, which we make ourself. The other desert we love is the Pandan ice cream that is made from the Pandan leaf, served with roasted coconut, and the Pandan juice. We also make a special tea from the Panden leaf, which is a very aromatic leaf. We take that kind of bitter tea flavour it has and then we spice it up with a bit of lemon-grass.
How do you create the whole atmosphere of Thailand here?
We use a lot of the Thai fragrances like lemon grass and five spice because through your nose we can create a lot of stories in your head, and we also have some really nice furniture here that three Thai designers make for us, from Mango Tree. We love their designs so they were assigned to do the whole restaurant for us.
Kiin Kiin is your flagship but tell us about your other food ventures in Copenhagen?
When we opened Kiin Kiin we were very nervous about whether we could attract a clientele out here and we were very surprised at the success. We also started selling food from the back door, we would do classic Thai dishes, like red curries, green curries, stir fries and it became very popular. We would add a lot of vegetables so it was like a very healthy take out – we had all the families coming here because the kids liked my vegetables so the parents were happy and we decided to open another restaurant where we do that kind of street food.
It’s called Rice Market and it has an open plan kitchen, it doesn’t have table clothes and if you see a waiter you’re lucky! But if you want to go for real Thai street food in Copenhagen that’s the place. It’s in the inner city near the Nørreport station, it’s very local, right in the middle of the shopping area – we are in a very beautiful little square surrounded by tourist traps. The other one is a Chinese restaurant, as I really love Dim Sum but they’re very hard to get homemade here in Copenhagen and we have three Chinese chefs who make home-made Dim Sum. We were struggling to find a name for that restaurant but in the end I just decided to call it Dim Sum because that’s what we do there.
And you’ve just opened a new restaurant at the Kempinski in Bangkok?
Yes, Kempinski have built a flagship hotel, it’s a 6+ star hotel – and we have been given this beautiful, beautiful restaurant with 50 seats and we run it a bit like Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen with the same set menu and the wine menu. It’s really nice to be out there because all the produce is so fresh, and so local but then it’s quite a challenge to be a foreigner cooking Thai food.
Yes, isn’t it a bit weird taking Thai food back to Thailand?
It’s not weird, it’s suicidal! To be honest I didn’t sleep for a couple of months before we opened but I’m backed up by the perfect team out there, we have the best head chef and a really nice restaurant manager. As you know the winters in Denmark can be really tough and so it’s nice to change the menu in January and have a bit of sun. I’m out there every 6 weeks to change the menu.
So when you’re off duty from Kiin Kiin where do you go in Copenhagen to eat?
When you ask a chef that we always go for the very simple places, but every Friday I take my Dad for lunch and we in Denmark we eat black rye bread with all kinds of toppings – I think there are 150 certified combinations and we go to this place where they bake their own Rye bread and their pickled herrings, it’s called Schoenneman and it’s rice next to Rice Market, so if you want to try a bit of Danish lunch that’s the place to go.
And when the audio recorder was turned off
In between chatting to Henrik we watched as he greeted his guests at the door, moving around the room topping up drinks and chatting to them in the downstairs lounge where they are served Thai nibbles before going upstairs for their meal. Here, I thought is a man who has completely absorbed the Thai culture of service, where a visitor is always an honoured guest. Henrik Yde-Andersen clearly enjoys being the front of house man, with a trusted team producing perfect food behind the scenes, while he creates the warmth of a special welcome.
Henrik showed me the room downstairs that was only discovered after a police raid next door alerted him to the fact that there was a drug store under his premises. Now the space has been reclaimed in the style of an Opium den with lanterns hanging from the low ceiling and small parties can try a special menu with wine paired to every dish, drawing on Henrik’s training as a sommelier.
We moved next door to take a look Aroiidee, Henrik’s inexpensive neighbourhood curry joint. It all started when, to avoid wasting food left over from Kiin Kiin they started selling takeaway curries at the back door, but when the queues started stretching down the street, Henrik realised it was time to open a curry restaurant. It’s been so busy that now he plans to plans several more around the city.
Henrik has also come up with inventive ways of putting something back into the community and raising money for charity. To support the Red Cross Henrik and his team sell 2000 curries on the streets of Copenhagen every year and then there’s the charity gourmet picnic-in-the-park where he persuaded ten other Michelin Star chefs to each give an item for the picnic basket and raise money for the homeless.
Inspired by talking to one of his guests, a Danish solider just back from a tour in Afghanistan, Henrik went out to cook Christmas dinner for the Danish troops in Kabul last year. He told me wistfully how he had really wanted to meet Gordon Ramsay who was cooking for the British troops in the neighbouring camp, but the security was too tight and it just didn’t work out. I smiled at the thought of a gathering of Michelin star chefs comparing culinary notes in a war zone! Like a kid with a new toy, Henrik proudly showed me the latest convection woks (all the flavour without the flame) in his Aroidee kitchen and told me how he’d been experimenting with flavouring chicken from the inside by feeding them ginger. Who knows what’s next for this curry king of Copenhagen who’s on a suicide mission to reinvent modern Thai cooking in Bangkok, but it’s got to be good.
Places to go for the Copenhagen Gourmet
Kiin Kiin, Guldbergsgade 21, 2200 Copenhagen – For Michelin star modern Thai cooking
AroiDee, Guldbergsgade 21, 2200 Copenhagen – The neighbourhood curry house next door to Kiin Kiin – eat in and takeaway
The Ricemarket Hausegade 38, ved Kultorvet, 1128 Copenhagen – Asian Bistro for Thai street food
Dim Sum Sankt Annae Plads 16, Copenhagen – For Chinese Dim Sum
Restaurant Schønnemann Hauser Plads 16, 1127 Copenhagen – for traditional Danish Smørbrod
Resources for visiting Copenhagen
- You’ll find plenty of information about places to eat and things to see on the Visit Copenhagen website
- There is a free Visit Copenhagen Mobile phone app available for iPhone, Android and other smartphones
- If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing then check out the Copenhagen Card for free entry to 65 museums and attractions as well as free public transport around the city
- We stayed at the modern, stylish Ibsens Hotel, set in the arty and up and coming Nansensgarde neighbourhood near the Copenhagen lakes.
Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen for sponsoring our weekend in Copenhagen.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey