Culinary Copenhagen is really cooking
Take your taste buds on a tantalising tour of Copenhagen’s restaurants and bars – it’s a gourmand’s heaven, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
COPENHAGEN IS cooking and it is thanks in no small part to Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant for the second year running in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, produced by Britain’s Restaurant magazine.
Noma’s new Nordic cuisine has changed the personality of menus the world over. The restaurant is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and wickedly hard to get into. You need to book months in advance and then pay €260 per person for the pleasure of consuming at chef René Redzepi’s table.
But Noma’s place at the apex of world food has also been instrumental in growing a new generation of Copenhagen chefs and front-of-house staff who have gone on to open their own eateries across the city. This next generation is serving up a smorgasbord of fine and casual dining experiences, at accessible prices.
Forget worshipping Copenhagen’s fashion, design and architectural heritage. Dine out instead and come back with tales of new taste sensations. It is this culinary explosion that has given the city its new vibrancy.
Take Kodbyens Fiskebar, in trendy Vesterbro. Opened by former Noma general manager Anders Selmer, this fish restaurant is set in the heart of the city’s still-in-use meat packing district. By day it’s still a gore fest. By night it’s populated by hipsters looking to hang out.
Inside the low-rise building meat hooks still hang from the ceiling, although some have been appropriated to use as coat hooks. Plastic sheeting, the kind used in abattoirs, is the only thing separating the kitchen from the rest of the space. The floor is as it was when this was a meat factory. A large cylindrical tank housing two transparent “fire man” jellyfish is as hypnotic and as interesting to watch as the crowd and the oh-so-beautiful staff whose own balletic movements outdo the invertebrates.
Here the focus is on the fish. Even Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark who was dining at one of the booths with friends, is studiously ignored by the too-cool-for-school staff. This is part of the Danish character. They dislike showing off, a personality trait that is said to stem from their Jante Laws, which feature in the novel A Fugitive Crosses his Tracks by Axel Sandemose. Everyone is far too busy devouring the restaurant’s signature dish of blue mussels steamed in apple cider vinegar to take much notice of a royal in their midst.
Pricewise Fiskebar is accessible but the food culture pyramid starts on Copenhagen’s streets which are infused with the aroma of the humble hotdog. Døp, situated near the round tower on Købmagergade, is where Claus Christensen serves his organic dogs. Their popularity is such that he’s setting up a second stall at the soon-to-open food hall, Torvehallerne, which opens this September just after the city’s food festival. No trip to the Danish capital is complete without trying them.
But even at the very high end the approach to food remains relaxed and informal. The city’s famed Tivoli Gardens, a playground of attractions that is even more enchanting after dark, is home to two one-star Michelin establishments.
Chef Paul Cunningham runs The Paul, a glass summer house that was once a ballroom and next door to a candle-lit theatre. Despite its Michelin status it has a warehouse feel. Danish design is represented in the furniture including Hans Wenger wishbone dining seats.
The kitchen is open, Cunningham explains, as “this is our theatre of food. In Denmark we have a very different way of expressing ourselves.” The Essex-born chef of local cuisine continues: “The Nordic way uses three main cooking techniques, which are smoking, salting and pickling. Foraging also plays a big part in that style of cooking.” On the coastal path adjacent to where he lives he finds marsh samphire and beach cabbage. In the nearby forest he picks mushrooms. All make their way on to the restaurant’s 20-dish tasting menu.
While Copenhagen may be hot the spotlight has united chefs rather than competitively dividing them. There is no back stabbing between the eateries, Cunningham says. “Instead, there is a massive friendship vibe.”
And it shows. The vibrant restaurant scene is matched by a very cool bar and cocktail set-up. After Fiskebar, cross the street to Karriere Bar where art installations are used to illuminate the space. These include military helmets by John Kørner, the type used by Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. And after that everyone heads to Ruby, the after-hours hotspot that feels more like a private members’ club than a nightclub. Here the mood is relaxed and the cocktails are as well mixed as at any hip Manhattan hang-out.
The democratic door policy forbids queue-jumping and shouts of “don’t you know who I am?” fall on deaf ears. Weekenders and workers all wait their turn to be granted an audience with the best mixologist in the city.
And since this is where restaurant staff come to unwind the place is heaving.
Cycling is the best way to see Copenhagen’s many sights. The Danes love to cycle. Some 36 per cent of them commute to work or school on two wheels. Their bike lanes are broad and Monday-to-Friday the pace is fast and furious or, to the uninitiated, simply terrifying.
But at the weekends things move down a gear. And this is your window of opportunity to explore this spread-out city by bike. Book your wheels in advance and you can have the bike delivered to your hotel. Bike With Mike (bikecopenhagen withmike.dk) is just one of several agents operating in the city which also offers guided tours.
A guided tour will help you explore the medieval heart of the capital, crossing cobbles and short-cutting through church courtyards to Christiansborg Palace, the power base of the kingdom for more than 800 years. Today the palace is home to the Danish parliament, the prime minister’s office and the supreme court. In addition, several parts of the palace are used by the royal house.
Copenhagen is the capital of the oldest kingdom in the world. Its Royal Palace is a tetrad of four buildings with Amalienborg the residence of reigning Queen Margrethe II.
A short cut through the palace’s stone arches will take you to the Thorvaldsen Museum, which houses nearly all the original models of Denmark’s best known sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.
One block away is the National Museum whose Viking hoards and runestone rooms are worth a short detour. If you’ve worked up an appetite for lunch try Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek on Dantes Plads where you can raise a glass to your host city and say skol, all the while looking your company directly in the eye. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Vikings when they feasted in the company of their enemies, explains Henrik Thierlein, press officer for Wonderful Copenhagen. “You mirrored your enemy’s every move. If you didn’t keep your eye on him at all times he could make a move on you and kill you.”
After lunch, cross Langebro into Christiania, a collectively-run hippie commune that is one of the world’s most famous squats.
The 34-hectare borough is home to squatters’ shacks and architect-designed eco-sheds that have even spawned a glossy coffee-table book. A social project that started in the 1960s, it now feels past its sell by date.
For residents who have renounced materialism, the squatters have been living on rather valuable real estate and recently voted to take up an offer to buy the properties – collectively or as individuals – back from the state for DKK 150m (€20m).
Enter the real world again by crossing the water at Knippelsbro. The Black Diamond, a modern-day architectural must-see, is on your left.
The next destination is Nyhavn, the old red light district and home to two addresses, numbers 20 and 67, where Hans Christian Andersen, the city’s favourite son, once lived. Originally from Odense, the writer moved to the capital to become an actor. It is said that he wrote the Ugly Ducklingafter a failed audition at the Royal Danish Theatre. Pay your respects to Andersen’s Little Mermaidstatue, condemned to everlasting isolation perched on a rock just offshore, at the edge of the city centre.
Finish your ride by visiting the neoclassical Cathedral of Copenhagen, flanked by more of Danish sculptor’s Thorvaldsen’s impressive sculptures.
In need of revitalisation? Take afternoon tea at nearby La Glace where its pots of hot chocolate and calorific cakes will give you an instant sugar rush.
Copenhagen where to...
Value:Salute Danish design by staying at design hostel Danhostel Copenhagen City, tel 00-45-3311 8585 or dgi-byen.dk. Created by design company Gubi, whose work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it is slick and reasonable. All rooms have shower and toilet facilities. Children are welcome. Rooms from €35pp.
Mid-market:Hotel Kong Arthur, tel 00-45-3311-1212 or kongarthur.dk.
A well-located hotel adjacent to some of the city’s man-made lakes. The rooms, while small, are well laid out and there are numerous terraces to enjoy breakfast alfresco. Rooms from €160.
Upmarket :Nimb, tel 00-45-8870-0000 or nimb.dk. Has the city’s best boutique address and boasts 13 beautiful rooms and suites. The smart decor inside belies the kitsch exterior that is covered in fairy lights and overlooks the Tivoli Gardens. Rooms from €380.
Value:Døp, beside the round tower on Købmagergade. Tel: 00-45-3020-4025 or døp.dk. Copenhagen’s streets are fragrant with the aroma of the humble hotdog. This is the locals’ favourite snack shack with organic dogs a speciality.
Mid-market: Kødbyens Fiskebar, Den Hvide Kodby. Tel: 00-45-3215-5656 or fiskebaren.dk. This will tickle your taste buds. To start, order shrimp cooked in brown butter and leave room for desert. Its strawberries served with buttermilk sherbet, liquorice and nasturtiums is particularly memorable.
Upmarket:The Paul, Vesterbrogade. Tel: 00-45-3375-0775 or thepaul.dk. Dine in the magical surroundings of the Tivoli Gardens, said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Disneyland. Decor-wise, The Paul is all clean lines. The cuisine is French-inspired. Try the 20-plate tasting menu.
Landmark:the Little Mermaid statue looks all the more detached these days given the city’s new-found vibrancy. Her lonely passion is interspersed with tourists pausing to have their photograph taken with her.
Museum:the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek on Dantes Plads offers art and edibles under the one roof. The cafe in its winter gardens is probably the most spectacular lunch setting in the city.
Royalty: Denmark has royalty they consider to be on a par with the British royals. See Copenhagen’s Cathedral where Princess Mary from Tasmania married Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark amidst statues by sculptor Thorvaldsen. It is the essence of understatedness.
Fly direct from Dublin to Copenhagen with SAS (flysas.ie) from €69 one way including all taxes and charges. Fares include free 23kgs of baggage, which applies to one piece only, and 25 per cent child discounts.