20 Old Brompton Road,
Scandinavia might bring to mind any number of Nordic greats: Ikea, Abba, Hans Christian Anderson, Ulrika Johnson... the list is long. It is unlikely that much more than Danish pastries would come to mind when thinking of appealing Scandinavian food though. However, Madsen, a Scandinavian restaurant in South Kensington, puts Scandinavian food firmly on the map.
With much Danish family, I have sat down to many an unpronounceable bowlful of “rødgrød med fløde” and many a pickled herring. This home cooking, and Ikea meatballs being my main prior experience of Scandinavian food, I had thought that on the whole this cuisine was rather oily and vinegary. Danish relation in tow, I was looking forward to seeing what professionally prepared Scandinavian food tasted like.
Madsen is a small restaurant in a prime location. The décor is very modern, with white-washed, rough-brick walls, polished wooden surfaces, and a very Danish red and white colour scheme. An interesting feature of the décor is that they have slanting mirrors on the walls above the tables. Who knows what the function of these mirrors is supposed to be, but if you are a people-watcher they serve the purpose of allowing you to see the whole room even if you are facing the wall.
There is nowhere else like Madsen. If you want pizza or curry or sushi, you can take your pick from endless Italian, Indian, and Japanese restaurants. Scandinavian restaurants, however, are few and far between, and whatever you order there, it is likely to be something unique, that you won’t find elsewhere. Traditional Scandinavian dishes are marked on the menu with a heart (how sweet!) We stuck to these dishes, although there were some great sounding non-heart-stamped dishes.
We started with Curry cured herring (£6.95) and Toast Skagen (£7.50). Both dishes were beautiful in every way. The herring came with a scattering of deep-fried capers, a fantastic invention that make a glorious-tasting garnish. It also came with well-seasoned potatoes. We were given a glass of akvavit with the herring, a pretty serious drink to have with such a lovely light starter, but when in Rome!
For the main course I had Roast chicken breast “a la Danoise” (£13.95), and my guest had “Biff à la Lindström” (£12.95). I rarely order chicken, and if I do I usually regret it for its dryness. Madsen’s chicken though was uncharacteristically moist. It’s amazing how foreign the food in Madsen seems, considering it is all made up of such familiar ingredients. We’ve all had roast chicken uncountable times, but this chicken was served with pickled cucumber and rhubarb compote and therefore had quite a different character to any roast chicken I’d had before. The beef similarly was served with beetroot, and another welcome scattering of the deep-fried capers. If you look on the Madsen website you will see beautiful photography of their food. If you go for a meal at Madsen, you will be served food just as beautiful as this photography, and it tastes as good as it looks.
We tried some Scandinavian cheeses, “Ostbricka" (£ 8.95), and Swedish chocolate cake, "Kladdkaka" (£ 5.50) for dessert. Imagining that the plate would be full of havarti and other mild, havarti-like cheeses, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the plateful.
As well as serving up unique and truly delicious food, Madsen has strong ethical values. They use filtered tap water rather than water from plastic bottles. They serve only European wines (including some English wines) so as to minimise to minimise their carbon footprint. They also don’t waste electricity with patio heaters, but promise on their website that “if you’re feeling chilly, we’ll let you have a nice warm blanket” – they care about their customers as well as the rest of the world!
While it is on the more expensive side, they have a set menu which is £22.95/£27.50 for two or three courses respectively. They also have a very inexpensive lunch time menu, with traditional open sandwiched starting at just £3.75. If you want something a bit different that won’t disappoint, Madsen is ideal.
**Reviewed by: **Emily Boyd