Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Nordic cuisine is taking the culinary world by storm. Denmark’s Noma is the world’s best restaurant according to many, and the concepts of foraging, eating local, and focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients are all the rage. Never one to miss a chance to travel for food, I spent last weekend in Denmark exploring the best restaurants in Copenhagen and the city’s great foodie finds.
On Friday morning I traveled to Copenhagen with VisitDenmark to get a firsthand look at the Scandinavian culinary scene at the Copenhagen Cooking food festival. My weekend was a whirlwind of meat, vegetables, greens, wine, beer, coffee, and all things delicious.
But before the eating started, my group attended the opening of the festival. The event was all in Danish, but it wasn’t difficult to decipher the highlights. The entrance of Danish Princess Marie drew a lot of attention, as did the presentation of an award to an animated Rene Redzepi from Noma.
The opening was followed by wine and canapes from the team at Fiskebar, another of the best restaurants in Copenhagen. Everything from vacuum pickled celeriac to potato and beetroot chips with tarragon mayonnaise was presented beautifully and devoured immediately.
There was also a special Danish sparkling wine from Lilleo on offer. A blend of Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling, it was co-produced by Anders Selmer from Fiskebar and Rene Redzepi from Noma. I never knew that Denmark produced wines, but apparently there is a budding industry. Watch this space.
But new culinary feats aren’t all that Denmark is known for. After the opening of Copenhagen Cooking, culinary highlights old and new came one after another.
First there was a trip to La Glace, the oldest confectionery in the city. There we indulged in thick, decadent hot chocolate with heaping spoonfuls of Chantilly cream. We also sampled cakes from chocolate sponge to raspberry mousse. They were amazing.
La Glace was followed by another historic Copenhagen landmark, Tivoli Gardens. The amusement park dates back to 1843, but one of its restaurants is new. Nimb Louise, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tivoli Gardens, is a formidable addition to the Copenhagen culinary scene.
We dined there that night, enjoying eight amuse bouches and an eight-course dinner with a wine pairing. Needless to say, I didn’t go home hungry. But I didn’t go home as uncomfortably full as I feared, either.
Due to it being summer, Allan Poulsen, the head chef at Nimb Louise, put together a light fish-and-poultry focused menu for us. From the first course of razor clams to the final one of raspberries and woodruff, the meal was as nimble and refreshing as the summer evening. While some courses were better than others, it was a very enjoyable dinner overall.
Afterwards we met with Chef Allan in the beautiful lounge bar upstairs before sneaking a peek at one of the 14 guest rooms in the gorgeous Nimb boutique hotel, antique furniture and all.
The next day our Copenhagen culinary tour continued with a visit to Torvehallerne, a new food market down the street from our accommodation, the newly refurbished Ibsens Hotel. Torvehallerne reminded me a bit of the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, what with its market stalls selling everything from meat and cheese to coffee and traditional smorrebrod, or open-face sandwiches.
We stopped for a latte at the Coffee Collective on our first day, and on our last I went back for a delicious duck sandwich at Ma Poule. Both were divine, and the great food and lively atmosphere made me want to move in.
After Torvehallerne, we continued our Copenhagen food tour with a stop at Dop, an organic hot dog stand in the middle of the old town. Run by Claus Christensen, a proponent of the healthy fast food movement, the stand offered hot dogs with heaping helpings of fresh pickles, mustard, and other toppings. They were every bit as good as they looked.
Leaving Dop, we made a quick stop at a wine bar called Bar’Vin. There we met the passionate proprietors and learned about their menus, which offered everything from charcuterie platters to full meals.
Our next stop was a bit further afield: the Carlsberg beer warehouse. While there, we learned about the company’s microbrew, Jacobsen, which is still produced on-site. We even got to sample a few of the offerings.
Next door to the brew house was Nordic Taste, a Taste of London-style food festival that featured small bites from the best restaurants in Copenhagen and southern Sweden. Started in 2005, the annual festival not only showcased Nordic cuisine, but also Copenhagen as a culinary destination.
We walked from stall to stall, sampling everything from chicken liver pate to venison, smoked salmon, and greens from the sea. Restaurants like Gustavs Bistro, Kokkeriet, Ro og Smag, Salt, Meyers, and Nimb Louise were all present and accounted for. Out of all the food I sampled at Nordic Taste, I liked Myers’ crab bisque and seafood-topped crostini the best.
That evening our culinary adventures continued with a trip to one of the city’s most famous foodie streets: Jaegersborggade. Located in the Norrebro area, the street is home to some of the best restaurants in Copenhagen.
There was everything from Meyers Bakery to Terroiristen wine bar, a Coffee Collective and a caramel shop called Karamelleriet. Nearby was Grod, a chic hole-in-the-wall porridge and risotto cafe, where I had a great lunch on my last day in town.
Also present on Jaegersborggade were Relae and Manfreds, sister restaurants run by former Noma chefs that benefited from a test kitchen right on the same street. The former was Michelin-starred, and the latter was a more casual restaurant.
We got a chance to meet some of the chefs in the test kitchen before dinner at Relae. As they told us about the restaurant, we ate bouquets of greens, herbs, edible flowers, pistachio paste, and pear vinegar. The beautiful bundles were not only pleasing to the eye, but also some of the most delicious things I ate during my entire trip.
We dined that night at Relae, where we enjoyed a four-course meal with a natural wine pairing (the restaurant only serves natural wines). From lamb carpaccio with dried shrimp and dill to tiny potato noodles with hazelnuts and bergamot, the menu was one of the most inventive I’ve ever encountered.
Even the sweet corn ice cream with breadcrumbs and marjoram was different from any dessert I have tried. Overall it was an excellent meal, although the natural wines weren’t my favorite.
After dinner we made a quick stop at the Mikkeller bar in Vesterbro to taste gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso’s beers. He had created Copenhagen Cooking’s signature brew, Salty Ocean Weed, and the 19 other draft beers we tried were equally good.
The next day I had free time to explore the city, and I didn’t miss the chance to visit the Royal Cafe. Known for its creative smushi—classic Danish smorrebrod in sushi form—the cafe was also known for its stylish, feminine decor and great use of porcelain dishes from the royal shop next door.
The Royal Cafe didn’t serve smushi on Sundays—indeed, the only thing I didn’t like about Copenhagen was that seemingly everything shut down at 4pm on Saturday and didn’t reopen until Monday morning—but I still managed to enjoy a croissant and latte at one of the sunny outdoor tables in the courtyard.
It’s probably best that they weren’t serving smushi that day anyway, though. My jeans were barely buttoning after all of the amazing food I had consumed over the past three days.
Eating and drinking my way through the best restaurants in Copenhagen was incredibly enjoyable, though, and I will miss the inventive Danish culinary scene and its great restaurants now that I’m back in London. Nordic cuisine. So hot right now.