Inside the Out-of-This-World Copenhagen Restaurant That's Harder to Book Than Noma
It’s 5:50 p.m. and I’m hanging outside Alchemist, waiting for the clock to turn 6 p.m., the time of my reservation. The bare-brick building looms above me, as do the intimidating restaurant doors, which are 13 feet tall, eight feet wide, and intricately carved with branches like something out of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Around here on the island of Refshaleøen, a former shipyard that's only gained foot traffic in recent months, there’s little sign of life. Despite being the home of Matt Orlando’s restaurant Amass and the new Noma, it still doesn’t exactly buzz at night. At precisely 6 p.m. the electronic doors to the restaurant open slowly as moody spa-like music begins to play.
This—the colossal building, oversized doors, stirring music—doesn’t surprise me at all. When I'd met Rasmus Munk, the chef at Alchemist, earlier in the year, he’d told me how he’d wanted to challenge diners and create a theatrical experience. (The dinner is broken down into five acts where diners are whisked into various rooms.)
From the get-go it was very clear that Alchemist was going to be over-the-top. Not because Munk is over-the-top (he’s actually gentle and soft-spoken), but because when Munk opened his first 15-seat restaurant, the now-closed Alchemist 1.0, it garnered a lot of attention for its "over-the-topness." Not just because the restaurant offered 45 courses, or because his dishes were outlandish—one made of roasted crab mimicked a dirty ashtray—but because he was only 24. He’s now 28, and already his second restaurant, Alchemist 2.0, has been consistently sold out since its July opening.
Funded by Danish millionaire Lars Seier Christensen, who is also behind the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Geranium, Alchemist 2.0 is bigger and better than its predecessor. It even has more courses: a total of 47. Considering that online bookings, which are released every few months, sold out in three-and-a-half minutes, Alchemist is well on its way to turning Copenhagen’s New Nordic dining scene on its head.
My first stop down the rabbit hole is a room lined with graffiti by NYC-based graffiti artist Lady Aiko. Munk had told me about how he wanted the experience to be cathartic “as though you’ve left the outside world and arrived somewhere new.” Ironic, because I flew in from New York that morning. A woman sitting on a Central Park rock hops to the floor and passes me an edible piece of paper made from kuzu starch; I’m told to eat it. This is course one.
She then opens the door and leads me into the lounge area, where I’m seated next to a glass wine cellar that reaches dizzying heights (and has 7500 bottles of wine), across from the pristine glass-fronted kitchen where chefs cradle tweezers and other objects that don't seem to belong in a regular kitchen, like power tools.
The wine menu arrives. It’s on a screen and swishes from cocktails to beer, cider, and wine at the swipe of a finger. The choices are endless. Too jetlagged to make a decision, I ask the waiter to bring me a non-alcoholic cocktail because I have 46 more courses to go. The next few bites roll in: Vietnamese-inspired spring rolls made from candy floss, mochi filled with gooey cheese and salty ham, an omelet made from cream, egg yolk, and Comte cheese. The dishes are tiny and fussy but utterly joyful and flavorful—and even though I know I still have over 40 courses to get through, I want more.
Next, I'm led up the stairs, past the glass wine cellar, over a thick piece of glass that makes me clutch for the railing, and into the dining room for the main act. Inside the inky space, which has a giant domed ceiling illuminated with floating blue jellyfish and plastic bags (commentary on plastic in our oceans), diners are seated along spacious countertops, lit by small reading lamps that shine light on the dishes, as though you were in a lab. More courses roll in, including a "chocolate" made from langoustine shells and cocoa fat and filled with langoustine tail tartare and "toast" made from aerated vegetable cellulose.
One hour and forty minutes into the meal, at act three, scene three, the waiter arrives at the countertop and tells me that it's "going to get challenging." Like a soufflé left to stand too long, my stomach sinks. I was so enjoying the mochi and langoustine chocolate; do I really need to be challenged? Apparently I do, because before I can say anything, a silicone tongue (cast from a real tongue) arrives, topped with a gazpacho of strawberries, rhubarb, and tomato. I’m told to lick it, so I do.
Then, a human head cast from silicone with real eyebrow hair is set in front of me. Inside the "head," which I open like a box, is a dish of lamb brain that’s salted and steamed, then coated with cherry sauce and served atop a cherry meringue with onion marmalade. Next, a cow’s Achilles tendon served on lemon confit purée. These ingredients are ones that are often discarded as waste—an intentional decision for Munk. Licking the tongue proves mildly challenging, as does eating the brain from a silicone head, yet the fact that it tastes so good overrides the idea that it's very ridiculous. 26 courses in and there's still not one I really dislike.
When the main act concludes, I’m whisked through a dark, neon-lit tunnel called the "rainbow room" where someone clad in black dances around the space and teases me with a seahorse-shaped lollipop. Then, into the shiny kitchen I go, where Munk walks me through the wood, steel, and marble stations and delivers me to an elevator that takes me up one floor, to an underlit lounge above the main dining room. From a deep lounge chair, I eat red wood ants coated in honey and ginger and suck on sugar cane sticks. Above me, golden pendant lights sway. They match my final course, which is a chocolate shell wrapped in gold leaf.
When I’m delivered back onto the street in Copenhagen, four hours from the start, I feel as though I’ve been spat out from another dimension ... as though I’d taken a momentary hiatus from earth and fallen down a bizarre but brilliant hole that made a lot of sense but no sense at all. If I’m to drop over over $350 on a meal—which isn't totally uncommon these days—that’s exactly how I want to feel.