A little off the beaten track but more than a little special, Café Benedict is the venue for our second ‘big’ event, taking place later today. Much-valued friends of this project, husband and wife team Ben and Anne Hamilton have created a lovely eatery, combining some of the best cooking to be found in Copenhagen with a cosy, unassuming atmosphere. Chris and I paid a visit last week and asked them to share their story.
A chef for 20 years, including stints at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants around Europe, Ben long held reservations about opening his own place: “When I’ve worked for other people, I’ve seen first-hand what’s involved. You’re not just a chef, you’re an accountant, you’re taking the rubbish out – you’re basically doing everything.”
Despite the doubts, Ben had a vision he was determined to realise and he found a willing foil in his wife: “I couldn’t wait to get away from the stuffy, poncy tablecloth environment and Anne agreed that we should do something together in the industry.
“I wanted to bring my cooking to people who might not normally try it. I wanted to make something friendly and accessible. The amount of places I’ve worked in over the past 20 years, I’ve picked up things from really good vegetarian restaurants to baking in Paris and so on and I’ve basically combined all of that into what I do today.
“I try and keep it seasonal and I try and keep it regional. I concentrate on flavours. Because I’m on my own, I can’t do 15 elements on one plate because it’ll kill me. The risotto that you’ve had tonight for instance, I’ve taken three elements – rice, butternut squash and egg – and just tried to make as tasty a dish as I can.”
The couple work hard at what they do and employ next to no outside help. That means a typical day can involve managing reservations, deciding the menu, choosing ingredients, dealing with the building owners and various suppliers – all before beginning the prep.
This relentless schedule can take its toll but the rewards outweigh the stress. Ben elaborates: “When I have the good nights – and the good nights far outnumber the bad – and we’re full and the guests are leaning across the bar and calling into the kitchen to tell me how good it was, those are the nights I get a buzz from and it makes me remember why I’m doing this.”
But perhaps the main attraction is the feeling of liberation they get from being their own bosses. Ben explains: “The beauty of what we do is that we decide. It’s our menu. When we’re at home Sunday night trying to work out what to put on then it might be that Anne suggests something, or I might be looking through a book or magazine or an old menu from Le Sommelier and get inspired. Or I might be walking in Valbyparken and see some beautiful plums that find their way into a dish. That’s what we like.”
- Try the 3-course menu for 295kr.
- Open Tuesday to Saturday from 16:00 until 22:00
- Check their website for the monthly Sunday lunches during the winter
The approach at Café Benedict is perhaps best summed up by a story Ben recounts of Anne’s time at business school: “She took an evening class before we opened just to brush up on a few things. At the start they asked everyone to describe their concept. Anne stood up and said we’re going to open a small café, it’s going to be cosy, clean and tidy, and we’re going to serve good food and give good service.
“Everyone basically laughed and said ‘is that it?’. But for us that’s enough.”