When the Danish chef Frederik Bille Brahe took over Apollo Bar & Kantine in 2017, it was an unassuming museum cafe where a person might grab a quick sandwich after seeing one of the contemporary art exhibitions at the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, set within the same grand 17th-century complex in central Copenhagen.

“Very quickly,” said the museum’s director, Michael Thouber, recently, “Frederik transformed it into a meeting place.” Thouber, 53, had been a regular at the since-closed seafood and vegetable-focused restaurant Havfruen, one of Bille Brahe’s small empire of casual but innovative restaurants and cafes across the city, and two years after his appointment at the institution, he asked the chef to revive the Apollo. Bille Brahe introduced a menu of elevated comfort food (a daily ceviche, homemade sourdough toast topped with Comté or ricotta and berries) and outfitted the airy interior with paint-splattered midcentury chairs and plaster-cast classical statues from the museum, attracting — along with more gallery goers — people from the art, design and fashion worlds. In the simple canteen behind the Apollo’s dining room, he began serving an affordable vegetarian midday meal to the students and staff of the neighboring Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The Apollo became known, said Bille Brahe, for many things: “The terrace, the bar, blueberry toast, parties and fashion.”

But by 2020, the cafe’s success had begun to weigh on him. Bille Brahe, now 40, felt he’d become more of a manager, overseeing invoices and catering events, rather than the creative person he’s always strived to be. And then came the pandemic, which, he said, “forced me to rethink things quite radically”: to secure his businesses financially, he had to reorganize and scale up his popular all-day cafe Atelier September in the Gothersgade neighborhood — there are now three in the city — and in doing so he felt like he lost touch with the Apollo. His initial impulse was to leave it and do something completely new. But inspired partly by reading the 2016 book “Staying With the Trouble” by the American feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway — which recommends examining one’s past choices “and rather than discarding everything, adjusting things bit by bit,” explained Bille Brahe — he changed his mind. He decided to recommit to the Apollo and “to rediscover my gastronomic ambitions,” he said. In addition to other, more subtle changes, that meant shifting his focus away from lunch and breakfast and toward dinner.

The new Apollo, which opened in late February, still offers a small menu of seasonal lunch dishes, such as a citrusy green salad named for Bille Brahe’s wife — the model and fashion designer Caroline Brasch Nielsen, 30 — and a briny anchovy toast made with homemade bread. But the interior has evolved and the dinner service, which formerly felt more like a prelude to a night of dancing on the tables — as it often was — is, while not exactly formal, certainly more grown up. One evening in February, a week after it reopened, Bille Brahe decided to dedicate an evening to the friends, family members and collaborators who helped him pull off this transformation, allowing them to try the new dishes together. “My ambition now,” he explained, “is to say, ‘Hey, you can find me at the Apollo. It’s my home. It’s where I cook.’”

The attendees: Bille Brahe scheduled the evening to start at 6 p.m., so that his and Brasch Nielsen’s three children — ranging in age from 8 months to 5 years — could be there. His sister, the jewelry designer Sophie Bille Brahe, 43, who also has young children, was grateful for the early start, too. The other guests included Thouber; the curator Henriette Bretton-Meyer, 52; Silas Adler, 38, the creative director of the fashion brand Soulland; the antiques dealer and furniture designer Rune Bruun Johansen, 47, who helped design the first Apollo and reimagine the new space; the painter Alexander Tovborg, 40; the composer and jazz pianist August Rosenbaum, 36; and the writer and food critic Martin Kongstad, 60.

The food: Bille Brahe and his executive chef, Yuta Kurahashi, 36, served highlights from the new dinner menu family style. As everyone arrived, smoked mussels arranged on rectangular toasts and plates of panisse (chickpea fritters) topped with fried sage were placed on the bar and tables for guests to snack on as they drank sparkling wine from the biodynamic Orsi Vigneto estate in northern Italy. Once everyone was seated, more snacks came out, including halved boiled eggs lathered with a thick tahini dressing. For starters, there was redfish sashimi flavored with miyagawa ponzu and chili oil, and globe artichokes stuffed with kale cream. The mains were a rich fondue of Comté and Gruyère with black truffle and egg yolk served in a pumpkin shell — and a new signature dish that Bille Brahe calls Salada Rosso. It’s composed of a whole head of radicchio that’s been deconstructed, coated with a black garlic and almond cream as well as a lemony vinaigrette, then reassembled with chunks of blood orange hidden between the leaves (the full recipe is here). Dessert was a Bille Brahe childhood favorite: hollowed-out lemons filled with sorbet. In his version, there was a citrus sorbet at the top of each fruit, a slick of olive oil and a little sea salt in the middle and a goat cheese sorbet at the bottom. “Pumpkins and lemons are very important to me in the winter,” Bille Brahe said. “They arrive like a lantern just when you need their yellow light.”

The drinks: Accompanying dinner was a natural Chenin Blanc from the Loire called La Navine from the producer and former musician Sébastien Dervieux, a.k.a. Babass. “It’s one of my favorites,” said Bille Brahe. “As natural as a wine can get but still sharp and beautiful with a green, herbal expression that works really well with umami flavors.”

The décor: The Apollo’s main 430-square-foot dining room, a narrow rectangular space, feels intimate despite its high ceilings. One side is lined by a bright red bar with a black marble top and the other by a long banquette fronted by a dozen small wood tables; the floors are well-worn parquet. “We restored the tables and chairs I made for the original Apollo,” said Bruun Johansen, “and upholstered the sofa with a very special Danish heritage fabric made in Jutland.” The most important and symbolic object in the cafe is a large-scale painted tapestry that Tovborg made for the original restaurant and has painted over several times. Its current composition, of blue and red flowerlike shapes surrounding an abstracted female figure on a gold background, suggests the flag of a utopian nation. “For me the greatest luxury is something that someone, with their own hands, has taken hours and hours to make,” said Bille Brahe.

The music: Before the meal began, Bille Brahe asked Rosenbaum, another longtime friend, to give an impromptu piano concert in the canteen. He improvised a jazzlike performance, to the delight of the crowd. “I’ve played in that room many times,” he said, “and it’s different every time.”

The conversation: There was a lot of talk about good times spent at the old Apollo. “There’s something very generous about Frederik that is conveyed in his places,” said Kingstad, the restaurant critic. “Over the years I have made so many friends here and that kindness and hospitality in a place has become more important to me than technique or what herbs I can taste in a sauce.” There was also much discussion of the transformation. “Before, the bar was loaded with alcohol bottles and now it’s where people are cooking,” said Adler, the creative director. “It’s what the place needed: The food is at the center.”

Entertaining tip: Bille Brahe believes that the more generous a host is, the better the energy of the evening. “Splurge on the wine, buy the best freshest ingredients,” he said. “Give everything you can without expecting anything in return. That’s my philosophy.”



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