A Danish restaurant with a woman running the kitchen - unique on the London restaurant scene, and the reason why we're so excited to meet Tania Steytler, the Cornish head chef at Snaps + Rye. Voted one of London's coolest female chefs by Time Out, Tania tells us how she's made the unusual move into Danish cuisine.
From Severn to Snaps
"I was looking for a chef's position in London after six or seven years as Head Chef at Severn and Wye Smokery in Gloucestershire, and a Danish friend knew these guys who had just set up Snaps and Rye a few weeks earlier. So I thought, I'm not Danish, but why don't I go and have a chat?"
When Tania talked to Jacqueline Skott, co-owner of Snaps + Rye, they found they had much in common.
"We both put a strong emphasis on seafood, and making sure the ingredients were of the highest quality."
For inspiration, Jacqueline lent her a pile of books about Danish food and culture.
"When we met up again, I said, 'I'm going to do five simple dishes to see if this is what you have in mind.' So we sat down, they tried everything, and they loved it. The following day we opened, and the rest is history!"
The community feel
A year and a half later, Snaps + Rye has become one of Portobello's most popular restaurants, for brunch, lunch and dinner. We asked Tania how it's grown during that time.
"It started fairly modestly. We just did a basic lunch menu, and it's developed into what it is now." Some experimental dishes are now old favourites, and Snaps + Rye now opens three nights a week as well.
It's essentially a neighbourhood restaurant. "What I've discovered about London is that it's not just one big place, it's more like lots and lots of little villages."
There's certainly a cosy community feel in the restaurant. It's 10 o'clock on a weekday morning, but the bright and airy café is full of locals sipping coffee, brunching on kedgeree and happily chatting to the staff. Later on, when Tania invites us inside her little kitchen, a customer walks in to give her compliments straight to the chef.
"That's always nice!" Tania smiles - clearly it happens a lot.
The ingredients speak for themselves
One thing that's immediately obvious when we speak to her is the value Tania places on sourcing the top-quality, seasonal ingredients.
"Danish food is simple but considered. We don't use many complex techniques, so the ingredients need to do the talking. Even ingredients that we cure or smoke need to be top-notch to start with."
Tania works with several top suppliers, but some of what ends up on the plate might have taken a more direct route: foraging is a distinctly Danish idea.
"That mentality of going and getting your food, fishing from the rocks, going out for walks and picking things from the hedgerows, it's a Danish thing, and something that Kell [Danish co-founder of Snaps] recalls fondly from his childhood. Actually, it's how I grew up in Cornwall, too."
"Right now, we're using loads of wild garlic and nettles. Jacqueline and Kell will go and find things for me and I'll use them in the kitchen. We did a Nordic prawn cocktail recently - prawns from Denmark and an aioli made with Berkshire wild garlic."
Traditional Danish vs not-so-traditional
Snaps + Rye's evening menu changes on a weekly basis, so Tania can easily introduce seasonal produce. She also has the chance to experiment, so naturally we ask her what's the most unusual dish she's made.
"The Danish like a little curry spice, and I absolutely love Indian cooking. So I made a fairly mild mung dahl, just with green chilli, turmeric and garlic, and then added potatoes and turned it into a little patty. I deep-fried it, topped it with fresh crab and soft eggs - which Danes also love - and a dish that isn't strictly Danish, but still has Danish elements."
Speaking of traditional Danish elements, there's one last thing we have to ask Tania about, and it's the restaurant's award-winning rye bread.
"It's taken two or three years for us to be really happy with the bread. It did win Londoner's best loaf - which is not bad for a rye bread - but it's a lot of work. As it's a living thing, you have to keep checking on it. How warm is it? How often has it been fed? Actually, it's like looking after a child really!"