The waiter poured a shot of aquavit in one smooth, easy move. He twisted the bottle just as the liquid reached the lip of the glass. The surface of the clear firewater bulged slightly above the top, but held. A fluke, it had to be. I asked him to do it again. He did. It was a miracle of precision, dexterity and liquid dynamics. I couldn’t get the glass to my lips without spilling a little, so I lowered my head down in obeisance and sipped from it where it stood.
It had been worth going to the Restaurant Schønnemann just for that display of effortless legerdemain, but there were the sandwiches, too. Schønnemann is where you go to have the classic open sandwiches on rye bread that used to the staple of fashionable drinks parties in London ‘back in the day’ (the early 1970s if memory serves).
The prawn sandwiches were a particular favourite, I remember, not aways with happy results. The small pieces of rye or toast would be piled with tempting pink prawns, like little pyramids. I/you would pick one up, move it the direction of my/your mouth, only to discover that the pyramid was just a little to high at its apex to get into said mouth. I/you would then be confronted with the problem of what to do next – to bite the sandwich in half; to try some other ingenious manoeuvre such as turning his/her head sideways and to fit it in that way (hopeless); or, most daring of all, to start eating the shrimps from above. The result was always the same. The prawns would cascade onto the carpet, leaving the troubles i/you the choice of unequally unappealing actions: 1) get down on my/your hands and knees and pick up the prawns one by one; 2) tread them into the carpet and hope no one would notice; or 3) pretend what had just happened hadn’t happened and move smoothly away, leaving someone else to tread them into the carpet. Ah, happy days. That was never going to happen at the Restaurant Schønnemann.
They have been making them on the site since 1877. That’s long enough to become a classic. The trouble with classics is they can go either way. Either you can become blasé about making whatever it is you make, and produce tired, boring replicas of the originals; or you can really master the art of making whatever it is you make. Think of Madame Poulade of the Hotel de la Tete d’Or in Normandy who made her legendary omelettes lunch and dinner, day in day out before the war. Schonnemann’s sandwiches are of the Mere Poulade standard. They deserve to be legends, immaculately constructed with the best of ingredients. Simple, obviously, but not so easy.
They do 80 sandwich variations of which 20 are built around herring. Eel, halibut, salmon, shrimps, veal, pork, beef and chicken also feature. The structure is simple. Foundation: slice of top quality rye bread. Superstructure: chosen herring, eel, halibut etc. Ornamentation: sour cream: sour cream+ chopped red onion; or + chives; or + horseradish; and capers; and dill; and so on. In my case it was Schønnemann’s Speciality with boiled potatoes, spicy herrings, very finely diced red onion mixed with cream followed by Tartare of Smoked Eel with capers, red onions, lovage and poached egg that was served on toasted white bread. Each mouthful produced a delightful canter through range of texture and a marvellous skirl of flavours and textures.
Restaurant Schønnemann, Hauser Plads 16, Copenhagen 1127, Denmark
Phone: 00 45 33 12 07 85