Project focus: new lease of life for Copenhagen’s design icon

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The renovation of the kitchen and bar at the Radisson Collection Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark, was more than a simple refit, consultant Garry Nokes FCSI tells Elly Earls

The world’s first design hotel underwent a complete overhaul last year to bring its iconic Arne Jacobsen design into the 21st century while staying true to its Danish modernist roots. Nothing was left untouched by the multinational line-up of architects, designers, contractors and consultants that was brought in to simultaneously refresh and preserve the look and feel of Denmark’s first skyscraper, which originally opened in 1960 – except one very special room. This is room 606, the only room to have kept Jacobsen’s original design.

For Garry Nokes FCSI and his team at foodservice design consultancy GWP Ltd, whose assignment was the renewal of a small corner of the operation – the restaurant kitchen and bar – the task at hand turned out to be much more than a simple refit. Not only were they charged with completely refurbishing the compact kitchen, the project also involved working with the hotel to transform one side of its vast, underused lobby into a connected F&B offer encompassing a modern, vibrant bar that linked seamlessly with the property’s only restaurant, Café Royal, a bistro with a Nordic twist.

The refreshed ground-floor layout meant that the kitchen would be required to provide breakfast buffets, afternoon tea and bar food as well as the diverse dinner menu offered at the Café Royal, from dry-aged local rib-eyes to risottos, salads and fresh fish. And, as it was to be predominantly a show kitchen, form was just as important as functionality, flexibility and efficiency.

Spatial and architectural constraints

To make everything work, Nokes and his team had to migrate the kitchen operation slightly into what had previously been back-of-house office space as well as shaking up the layout. In the end, the breakfast buffet counter and the hot pass were combined and much more of the kitchen was put on show so restaurant guests could see the chefs at work.

The equipment, which was specified by Nokes and supplied by local equipment dealer Jacob Boege, includes a Rosinox kitchen island complete with induction hobs, a deep fryer, a salamander, a sous vide cooker, an under-counter combi oven and a plancha plate; a neutral counter designed to serve hot breakfast buffet items in the morning and act as a pass during the evening; and, the pièce de résistance, a Josper Grill, in which all meat and fish and most vegetables on the menu are charcoal-fired to smoky perfection. Behind the scenes there is a preparation area, a soiled dish landing station, a dishwashing section, a pastry section, a cold pass and a cold room.

For Nokes, the two biggest challenges of the project were the spatial and architectural constraints of the kitchen and the fact that the whole job had to be completed while the hotel was still open. “We had to work around fixed elements such as columns and fire escapes,” he recalls. “When it came to the pass counter, for example, we maximised it to the absolute millimetre while maintaining sensible access between the columns. At the same time, the fact that we were working in an operational hotel put a lot of pressure on the way the project was contracted and installed and meant there were a lot of deliveries out of hours.”

Fortunately, the team at Radisson were open to innovative solutions to the building’s non-negotiable planning restrictions, and Boege expertly coordinated the delivery and installation aspects of the project.

“The biggest lesson I learnt from the project was that Radisson is quite innovative in its approach to F&B,” Nokes says. “The project was definitely made easier by the hotel’s GM Brian Gleeson and the group’s vice president of food and drink Philip Mahoney.

“I learnt to keep very close to those sorts of people and share ideas with them, no matter how silly they might sound because they were never afraid to say ‘yes’. They were very open to putting some things on show and creating a kitchen that would serve the whole space rather than just the dining area. The freestanding, oval bar, which ended up being a nice, funky place to sit, have a drink and watch the world go by, was their idea. Previously that area of the lobby wasn’t really being made use of.”

The Josper Grill: love at first sight

Today, hotel guests can enjoy coffee or craft cocktails named after famous designers and architects while sitting in plush, red velvet lounge chairs at the bar, which also serves dishes including the Royal Josper Burger, steak and fries and a charcuterie and cheese plate. What they probably won’t notice is the bespoke refrigeration equipment under the bespoke stainless steel counter. Neither will they be aware of the many hours of collaboration between Nokes, the hotel and the architects and interior designers that went into deciding upon its freestanding, oval design.

As well as bar food, the new kitchen serves breakfast, brunch, Café Royal’s Arne Jacobsen-inspired afternoon tea and its dinner menu, which includes French oysters, foie gras, grilled shrimps and wild mushroom risotto for starters, and rib-eye, fillet steak, roasted lamb and Iberico pork for mains.

The chef’s specials are braised beef short ribs and a classic duck confit and every main dish is served simply with a choice of sauces including Béarnaise, red wine and Café de Paris butter, allowing the smoky flavour that comes from the Josper Charcoal Oven to shine through.

“It makes the flavours of our food special,” says the hotel’s executive chef Christian Paradisi, who fell in love with the oven at first sight. “When I first tasted the meat that came out of it, I was taken immediately back to summer in Italy in my grandfather’s backyard – the smoky flavours evoked such a flashback. At the Café Royal the concept is a Nordic-style bistro and the plating is very straightforward because we focus on the product and the flavours.”

Elly Earls