Situated smack bang in the middle of Copenhagen Zoo’s panda facility awaits panpan, a cool and contemporary bistro with four-legged dining companions and fine dining dishes.
Hungry with curiosity, writer Karina Janø tries the fascinating foodie experience for herself
It’s close to Christmas and the fog at dusk is adding to the calm atmosphere filtering through Copenhagen Zoo. Most people are desperately hitting the shops now in the run-up to the 25th, making me feel extra lucky to be able to spend my afternoon and evening surrounded by animals instead.
I begin with a stroll through the cosy Christmas market in the 160-year-old zoological park. Some animals, like the lions, have naturally already said “See ya’ tourists!” and scattered inside their toasty caves.
While the two-legged ones, who are able to put on coats and mittens, line up under a thousand twinkle lights for the danish Christmas “æbleskiver” favourite and warm mulled wine. A visit to the reindeers’ stable only consolidates the Christmas spirit.
But my date waits for no one, and after a quick pop around the premises the darkness descends over the garden. Only the contours of the inhabitants are to be seen as I head for Copenhagen’s new french-asian bistro ‘panpan’ located inside the zoo.
The new building took its inspiration from a Taiji Tu, more commonly known as a yin and yang symbol – with room for a male and a female panda resident in the middle. Part serving as a compound and part restaurant, the building is cleverly designed by renowned architect firm BIG.
The structure took a couple of years to build, suffering a few setbacks that made the building crew scratch their heads until they realised that it was in fact the neighbouring elephants that were repeatedly moving the fence. But come spring 2019, the building was ready for its two new Chinese sensations.
Stepping inside from the cold to the sleek black, contemporary restaurant, with jazz music flowing from the speakers, I am assigned a table by the window facing the inner courtyard and half of the Taiji Tu.
The Food & Drink
The minimalistic, yet cozy place has an open kitchen and as I hear the chefs saying ‘service’ I, like another Pavlovian dog, immediately respond and whip out my napkin.
The visual and very tasty feast begins with french oysters with chum-chum and red forrest acid, with citrus and wasabi and with passion fruit. Caviar from Siberian sturgeon pops on the tongue and is to be placed on herbal waffles and smoked crème fraîche with wild garlic capers.
This is accompanied by homemade spring rolls with long-braised brisket, cabbage and field mushrooms, fennikel crudité, chum chum mayo and ponzu. panpan starts out strong and the mix is exciting, yet compatible. The creative ways the food is presented definitely doesn’t hurt either.
We continue with salted salmon lead by seven different quenelles like fermented garlic puré. With this, a crazy onion dish fittingly called ‘Onion, onion, onion’! It’s served a bit too cold but is still good, and comes escorted by a golden panko bread with cheese.
I am starting to think I have been stood up by my date, but then a soft, yet strong figure emerges from the dark and places his butt down right in front of me with his back turned. Alas he is far more interested in his bamboo than me. Which is kind of reassuring.
Fully mesmerised I struggle to take my eyes of this beautiful creature named Xing Er on the other side of the glass. Living door to door with his female counterpart Mao Sun, the enclosure mimics the wild where pandas always live alone. But come spring the two will meet, and who knows what that will result in…
For me, duty calls and for the delicious main course I help my self fill up an oil fried parata bread with delicate duck marinated 24 hours in ginger, lemongrass and white pepper – plus small bowls of hoisin sauce and julienne vegetables.
It is delicious and so is the following Tiger Lee hotdog: with Duroc pig sausage and lobster salat in a brioche bun.
On top, crispy onion rings, virgin lobster mayo, pickles red pearl onions and baby cilantro for garnish. It is no surprise that this won a Silver medal at the Danish Hotdog Championships 2019 – yes, we Danes like our hotdogs…
The fresh yuzu dessert with white chocolate mousse, soft lemon thyme, crumble, dried kumquats and burnt meringues is the perfect way to end the meal before completing with a treasure chest of homemade petit fours and steaming hot tea from a cast iron pot — making this a fare that sets out strong and also ends on a very strong note.
All accompanied with fitting wines, this was quite the feast. My plush, monochrome, hermit friend disappears back into the dark after his night snack, and as I waddle very full for the zoo exit, the sea lions barks goodnight in the distance.
The Wordrobe Verdict
panpan feels as cool and playful as the panda you dine next to. It’s fun, it’s creative, and you are almost disappointed when something arrives on a normal plate.
Head Chef Casper Sobczyk mixes French bistro with Asian street kitchen with magical results, featuring a seasonally-changing menu. Always on the card is specially brewed beer, crisp cocktails, an assortment of good wines, organic juices and sodas.
The restaurant recently received 3 out of 3 stars in the Danish equivalent to the Michelin guide.
Make it happen
Where: Copenhagen Zoo, Roskildevej 32, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark
How: Please visit bistropanpan.dk to find out more and make a booking.
Need to know: guests must have a valid ticket for the zoo to enter the restaurant.
Unless credited, all other images courtesy of Karina Janø. Words by Karina Janø.