LIVA: Boundary-breaking fine dining on the iconic Nyhavn cana
By Lena Hunter | Photos: Kasper Hellesøe
There are few spots in Copenhagen that offer as arresting a dinner-table view as LIVA. From the top deck of a small boat moored in the historic merchant port of Nyhavn, the restaurant’s panoramic glass windows overlook a bustling vista of colourful townhouses, pavement cafés and ancient alehouses once packed with sailors. In the evening, Nyhavn traps the long, slow sunset, and the harbour’s forest of wooden masts bathe in gold.
But LIVA offers more than spectatorship. Its graceful menu captures the essence of modern Scandinavian cuisine, with a few thrills thrown in along the way. “I don’t like the term New Nordic – everybody can say that,” says owner and head chef Sebastian Grau. “We work with the ingredients we have right now – seasonal wild greens, fish and meat – but I also use yuzu and chili. This is a Nordic restaurant, with a European style of cooking.”
LIVA’s four or six course tasting menu is the best way to enjoy the tour de force of Grau’s cooking.
Throughout, simple stalwarts of the Nordics, like Swedish chanterelles, Gammalknas cheese, small green strawberries and rye crumble, meet classic French cuisine: quail wrapped in flaky pastry, poached egg-yolks, mussel bisque and fluffy hollandaise sauce.
Daring cuisine, flawless technique
Compared to conventional Scandinavian fine-dining, it’s a different proposition. Order Gillardeau oysters, and they’ll come garnished with an aromatic ginger and chili foam. Delicately smoked mackerel is seared on a yakitori grill and served with a beautifully light basil granita. Meanwhile, a deftly wielded gourmet approach sees petite brown butter ‘kringle’ biscuits piped with threads of crème fraiche and a perfectly clear tomato consommé pack an incredible depth of flavour, and plating is executed with flawless detail.
Grau is a culinary risk-taker – and it pays off: “When I started, two years ago, this was a brasserie serving beef steak and bearnaise. After a year, I became a partner and changed it to a restaurant concept. But it’s a tiny little boat. There’s no big walk-in freezer. We prep almost every element for each dish fresh, on the day. If my fish supplier says ‘today I have monkfish’, we’ll adapt a dish to accommodate. I don’t want to do the same thing every day. It’s boring,” he says.
The poached egg yolk with seared sprouts, chive and hollandaise is a standout, with a stunning playoff between velvety texture, rich umami flavour and bright herbaceous notes. The connection between taste and emotion is a cornerstone of Grau’s concept: “Every dish has a memory attached to it,” he says. So too with dessert: a wild blueberry and yuzu purée, with hay-milk ice cream and a leaf-shaped salted-caramel twill. “For the ice cream, we infuse oat milk with hay. It gives a beautiful praline flavour that tastes like late summer.”
Rare finds on the wine-list
Accompanying the menu is an equally daring list of matched wines. It’s rare to find a contemporary Nordic kitchen in Copenhagen that offers new-world drops; but here, an outlandishly punchy and fragrant New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is married beautifully into the menu. Elsewhere, a macerated Greek Muscat introduces white peach notes to the creamy mussel bisque, and a sweet white Bordeaux lends weight to the light-footed freshness of dessert.
While all this is going on, dusk is falling on Nyhavn. The colourful neon on the waterfront façades is winking in the dark waters of the canal. Inside, LIVA is dressed in a warm palette of white and natural browns, lit by candlelight and a smattering of industrial-chic lamps. In the windows overlooking the water, the glow of the interior is reflected onto the darkening scene outside.
“We didn’t follow a formula at LIVA,” says Grau. “It’s filled with things I love – from the dishes to the interior design.” The result is something singular on the Copenhagen dining scene: a restaurant that understands the rules but doesn’t follow the book. In the same way that a table at LIVA offers a new perspective on an iconic Danish landmark, it also offers a new perspective on contemporary Nordic cuisine.
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