Neighbourhood is not exactly a hidden gem anymore — word has got around — so when Martin, the owner, invited us to spend an evening there, we were curious to see what the hype surrounding this hipster pizza restaurant is all about…
I’ve been to Neighbourhood once before, back in September 2014 when it opened, on the recommendation of a friend who lived practically above the restaurant (she really was one of the neighbours). On my first visit, I fell in love with the 'Pumpkin Sour', proclaiming it my all time favourite cocktail. I also loved the décor, the interesting flavour combos, and the witty names for each menu item. However, I had one reservation about Neighbourhood, and that was the pizza crust. The topping was incredible, but the crust was so crisp and airy that it made eating the pizza, with fingers or a knife and fork, really quite difficult. Anyway, this evening, half a year later, I went with an open mind, ready to give this crust a second chance.
So without further ado, a few photographs to set the scene, when we arrive, on a Thursday evening in March, at 17:00…
Neighbourhood in the making
Before we get onto the food, let’s talk a bit about the restaurant itself.
Martin Duedahl, the founder and manager of Neighbourhood, doesn’t have the classic background for one opening a restaurant in Copenhagen. I am by now so accustomed to hearing about “the latest restaurant by ex-Noma or Michelin chef…” that it was actually somewhat of a surprise that Martin has a study background, having completed a Bachelors degree in International Business & Marketing at Zealand Business College. During and after this, he worked several part time jobs in restaurants to get a feel for the how to run a brilliant restaurant, down to the very last detail.
“I bought an old pizza oven, which made its home in my brother’s basement, and every day of the week I was making pizzas, and in the weekends I was working in different restaurants. I was writing my thesis at the same time.”
The whole process of coming up with the concept, getting the place, and planning everything took around two years…
“It was quick, but high-paced, I was just desperate to start. If I were to do it all again, I would hire someone — a real chef — to make the pizzas from the beginning.”
Though Neighbourhood wasn’t exactly conjured up by a bunch of first timers. Michelin chef, Claus Engelbrecht (Umami, Søren K), was brought in at the beginning to help out with the menu. And Hack Kampmann of Ruby, Lidkoeb and Mikropolis set the bar high (no pun intended) as the first bar manager at Neighbourhood, developing the fabulous cocktail menu, alongside current bar manager Andrew Lyford.
Copenhagen is host to hundreds of brilliant pizzerias, restaurants and cocktail bars. I wanted to know what exactly it is that sets Neighbourhood apart from the crowd. From what Martin says, and from our evening there, it appears quite clear that their USP is that they deliberately do stuff differently, wherever possible.
“I didn’t want people to sit at their own table because everywhere else does that. I didn’t want the pizza served on plates, because that’s done everywhere too. I didn’t want people to have a normal pizza and normal cocktail. I didn’t want people to drink from wine glasses. Altogether, we’re trying to offer a new experience. I believe that people talk about it when they had something special that’s a bit odd, a bit different. People don’t say “I had a glass of wine in a wine glass yesterday”.”
So, wine is served in a Spanish flat-bottomed glass, like these we’re drinking the cocktails from, but half the height. The pizza uses only one third of the dough one would normally use for a pizza of that size. As Rebecca, editorial director of Scandinavia Standard, sums up perfectly in her article about Neighbourhood: “you can eat a full pizza and waltz away in your tightest pair of jeans feeling 100% sexy.”
And there’s not much leeway for change when it comes to the flavour combinations the Neighbourhood team have so painstakingly put together. When I was there in September, a friend asked if she could have the pizza without parmesan and the kitchen were so reluctant to serve their beloved pizza without the maximum flavour impact, that she really had to fight for her parmesan-less pizza!
“Every dish is made like it is for a reason, we don’t really want to change anything. If somebody is allergic or really doesn’t like a particular kind of cheese then sure we’ll take it off, but we’re reluctant to. The way it’s made is how it should be.”
Oh, and last but most definitely not least, Neighbourhood is all-organic. They are one of five restaurants in Denmark to be certified 90–100% organic, an award they received only a week before we visited, which is now proudly displayed on their colourful shelf of spices and various pickling foodstuffs.
I can recognise a lot of the same pizzas and cocktails on the menu that I remember from my first visit to Neighbourhood, but there are a few newbies. Every few months they change the special — that is the pizza and the cocktail at the top. So, over the Christmas period these were the ‘Christmas Duck’ pizza accompanied by the ‘Cinnamon Bells’ cocktail as featured on @madaboutcopenhagen at the time. The current specials for February/March are the ‘Potato Caviar’ pizza, with the ‘Crémant Flower’ cocktail as its liquid counterpart. Checkout all the current menu items and descriptions in full here.
The Pumpkin Sour — my all time favourite — will be sadly leaving the Neighbourhood menu for a while, because there are no organic pumpkins left!
“We actually infuse most of our spirits here, like the ‘Thyme Well Spent’ you’re drinking — the gin used for that has been infused with organic sage and thyme, and left for 2 weeks to bring out the flavour. If you’re not an organic restaurant, there are plenty of spirits available that are pre-made with these different flavours, but we can’t get those because we have to maintain our organic status, so we do it ourselves. It takes time, but they look and taste amazing!”
Pictured below, are the ‘Chilli Salami’ and a ‘Fig Ham’ pizzas, and cocktails: ‘Thyme Well Spent’, ‘Cu-cress Garden’ and a ‘Red Light Liquid’. Followed by coffee — more on that in a moment — and for dessert, ‘Rich Chocolate Mousse’ and ‘Tossed Cheesecake’, all served in those flat-bottomed glasses!
As for my verdict on the pizza crust this time, I am in two minds. On the one hand I really do love a good sloppy Italian pizza base; it’s part of the joy of eating a pizza. But if I allow myself to forget all of my pizza preconceptions, the Neighbourhood crust is actually quite nice! In fact, Dovydas, my dining companion and photographer, said this was the only time he'd ever eaten his crusts. And I kind of see what he means, they are so light, and, apart from the inevitably burnt parts they are damn good. So, I’m won over crust-wise, I mean, I’d still like to eat pizza with thicker sloppier crusts from time to time, but if I stop expecting that from the pizza crust at Neighbourhood, I can definitely embrace the crispiness and the messiness!
I’m going to skim over describing the desserts for fear of this becoming the longest article ever written, but say only that they were A M A Z I N G.
As for the coffee, I cannot avoid writing about that, because it’s so fucking cool. When we were offered coffee but not asked what kind we’d like, I was a bit confused, but assumed we’d just get a filter coffee, latte or something. Something turned out to be a little board with two glasses of espresso and a silver jug of perfectly steamed flat-white milk. I was blown away by this tiny detail of allowing the customers to pour their own milk, or as Martin put it “to interact with the coffee”. I made some very misshapen hearts.