Danish-English husband-and-wife team Kell and Jacqueline Skött are happy to fight off both the purists and the classicists at their Danish restaurant Snaps + Rye in Ladbroke Grove, West London. They inhabit a space that lies somewhere between Copenhagen and Cornwall.
Hemmed in by the roar of the Westway and the tall bare modernism of Trellick Tower, Golborne Road in Ladbroke Grove is a slice of London multiculturalism that has not yet been overtaken by the trendification of other parts of Notting Hill.
In a way it has its own kind of logic to find a Danish restaurant that is not too fussy about rigid traditions nestled in amongst an every-day type of world tour of different national cuisines that seems to fill the surrounding streets.
Snaps + Rye is the passion child of Jacqueline and Kell Skött who opened the eatery in November 2014 – in what was their former hair salon – wanting to create the kind of laid-back eating experience you might have in a contemporary Copenhagen cafe or restaurant.
The British-Danish couple started out with »smørrebrød«, the typical Danish lunch dishes of open sandwiches of rye bread stacked with any kind of marinated, smoked, cured or pateed fish, pork or meat and various types of garnish. But they are also now firmly established offering a set dinner menu four evenings a week that features seasonal produce.
In doing so, they have in a way taken on two of what one might call the three big beasts of Danish food – on the one hand the classic lunch that comes loaded with tradition, and on the other the so-called New Nordic Cuisine which focuses on reinventing and reconstructing the region’s food, perhaps most prominently featured at Copenhagen foodie destination Noma, which has been named as the world’s top restaurant for a number of years running.
The third beast, by the way, is the influence of French haute cuisine that finer Danish cooking has traditionally drawn heavily on and which, to some extent, the New Nordic Cuisine has sought to challenge.
»Rene Redzepi (the founder of Noma, ed.) was certainly the forerunner of that. He was doing it at a time when everybody was laughing at him, because when he started off, Danish food was very much French-inspired and chefs were very much working the French way. I think to a certain extent you still see that in Denmark,« says Kell Skött.
But he is no more purely Nordic than being extremely happy to have a Cornish chef in Tania Seytler and let her walk off with all his Danish cookbooks and come back a week later with her own take on things. »It was just a case of going with someone who is really good with food.«
Though that does of course, almost by default, involve a similar thinking when it comes to a very fish-based way of cooking.
He is careful, about stating that he prefers to avoid the dogma that can surround both the New Nordic Cuisine, the French style of fine cooking, as well as even the traditional Danish smørrebrød. Though they cure and marinate their own herring and salmon, bake their own rye bread, infuse their own snaps and forage for things like their own wild garlic and Nordic capers, they do lean towards food that is kept simple while still quietly ambitious.
»I was told by a Danish smørrebrøds student in Copenhagen that unless we take on a person who had had a Danish smørrebrøds education, we can never do this,« Kell Skött says. »Everything is an evolution. If you stay in that box, you don’t get anywhere,« is his thinking.
Though Snaps + Rye did in fact start with a Danish chef, but it turned out to be »chaos«, according to Skött. He says that they do also get Danish customers who might complain about their food not being »classic« enough.
So he is quite proud of the fact that most of their clients are, in fact, local.
»I don’t think it works if you are too pure. We have changed a lot of things since we started here and are always looking at things, asking »do people want this?« Not jut the Danes, but our locals. Because if you don’t get the locals behind you, you are finished.«
With that, and after showing off some of his home-infused snaps, Kell Skött excuses himself and walks off into the bustle of Golborne Road.
Visit the Snaps + Rye website