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It may sound like a rather desperate marketing stunt from the national tourist board: “A product placement café where everything is Danish!” But instead of being a cliché, The Royal Cafe in Copenhagen has been a huge success since its inauguration in May this year and launched a culinary phenomenon in the process. A homage to Danishness, in 2008 it will expand with franchise branches in Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul and take its “smushi” global.

The concept is created by “gastronaut” Rud Christiansen and his designer-stylist girlfriend Lo Østergaard – and is made possible due to several big Danish brands’ awareness of the power and possibilities of co-branding.

“We want to show the best of Danish design – Royal Copenhagen, Georg Jensen, Bang & Olufsen, Kvadrat, Holmegaard and Fritz Hansen – but we do it in our own way. It’s been important for us to create an anti-Starbucks experience. All cafés look the same today, we wanted to create something unique,” says Christiansen, 62.

And Christiansen has achieved his aim. It probably has something to do with the sparkle of madness you’ll find in his eyes. He’s got money – as you do when you held the Danish licences for De Cecco pasta, Lavazza coffee and Lindt chocolate during the gastro boom of the 1990s. But more importantly, he’s got imagination and loves to play and tease.

Anyone can make a classy café with the products of Denmark’s design houses, but Christiansen enjoys subtle provocation, placing an insanely expensive Flora Danica cup bottom-up on the head of the Little Mermaid – now one of Royal Copenhagen’s bestselling porcelain figures – and dressing the company’s emblematic polar bear statue in a little kitsch sweater. Sounds tacky? Maybe, but it’s fun too.

You can buy almost everything you see in The Royal Cafe – cups, plates, cutlery, glass and a wide variety of delicacies – except the interior’s more peculiar parts. These include a national costume-clad mannequin lent by the Danish National Museum and the reproductions of Rosenborg Castle’s famous paintings, with only tiny details revealing them as fakes – a Royal Copenhagen porcelain cup next to an ancient Danish king.

Several pieces have been made especially for The Royal Cafe but will soon find a place in the different companies’ production lines: Bang & Olufsen’s discrete wall mounts for its long tall speakers, Christiansen/Østergaard’s new take on a chandelier made for them by Holmegaard, and Fritz Hansen’s taller version of Arne Jacobsen’s bestselling chair, The Ant. The Royal Cafe version is still lower than a traditional barstool but tall enough to bring the food close to your attention – which it deserves.

Having reinvented a few Danish icons, Christiansen might have also come up with a new way of selling his country. The Royal Cafe has created “smushi” – the word is a contraction of sushi and smørrebrød, Denmark’s only true contribution to the global gastronomic canon. Smushi is the fuel driving a dining and retail concept that has Asia’s retail groups lining up to get a piece of the action.

In many ways Christiansen has created a bijou Danish embassy that makes, rather than spends, money and his first outpost is due to open on Singapore’s Orchard Road in February. Christiansen’s concept is a winning one.

Less is smørre

New-wave smørrebrød
This restaurant close to the Danish National Gallery is less than a year old, but cook and owner Adam Aamann-Christensen has already earned a reputation as the King of New Smørrebrød in Copenhagen. Where traditional smørrebrød can be a quite heavy and greasy affair, Aamann’s versions are adjusted for modern taste buds. They are lighter – more bread, less butter – but still delicious.
Aamanns, 10 Øster Farimagsgade, 2100 Copenhagen Ø; + 45 35 55 33 44, aamanns.dk

Old-fashioned smørrebrød
If you want Danish smørrebrød the old-fashioned way, Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik is the place to go and have your slice of rye bread with cold cut of roast pork and red cabbage accompanied by a cold Carlsberg and an even colder schnapps. The lunch restaurant is located in an old cellar in central Copenhagen and dates back to 1797. For decades it’s been a favourite haunt for Danish politicians. Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik, 4 Fortunstræde, 1065 Copenhagen K; + 45 33 11 15 37

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