Even if you're not a foodie, you've probably heard of Noma, Rene Redzepi's award-winning Copenhagen restaurant that's at the forefront of the New Nordic Cuisine movement. And while the rustic-chic restaurant in an unassuming warehouse district continues to win raves from diners lucky enough to snag a table (the wait can take several months), it isn't the only culinary game in town. In fact, the Danish capital is chockablock with exciting new restaurants, many of which are helmed by former Noma chefs and after sampling a few, I can see why many gourmands feel the world's most dynamic dining scene revolves around Denmark.
I based myself at Ibsen's, an art-filled eco-friendly hotel on fashionable Nansensgade, an easy walk from the city center and after viewing artwork at the National Gallery of Denmark, I lunched at Aamann's, specializing in a modern take on the traditional open-faced Danish sandwich called the smorrebrod. Adam Aamann's original take-out shop just next door proved so popular that he opened this homey space with dark wood tables and mint-colored walls. Served on a wooden slab, I sampled hearty rye bread topped with fried herring, cured salmon and curry chicken salad and I made sure to have a glass of the housemade elderberry aquavit. And the big news is that Aamann will open a New York City branch this January in TriBeCa -- the Danish crown prince and princess Frederik and Mary stopped by the soon-to-be-opened Laight Street location on a recent Big Apple visit promoting Danish food and design.
After lunch, I met up with Kristine Munkgard Pedersen, co-owner of a hip tour company called CPH: Cool at the Torvehallerne, the city's spanking new food hall, that opened in September. At these two sleek glass-sided modern structures you can pick up just-caught lobster and shrimp, charcuterie meats, Danish blue cheese, vegetables, freshly baked bread, and as Pedersen pointed out local specialty items like hand-dipped chocolate, mustard, jam and liquorice. It's also home to a branch of Coffee Collective, a micro roastery started by champion barista Klaus Thomsen that has quickly amassed a cult-like following--I ordered a latte and was duly impressed. I was surprised to learn that while cobbled Israels Square had been an open-air market since 1889, the city has never had a central food hall so its opening was big news and judging by the crowds, quite well-received.
Another newly popular spot we toured was Kodbyen, the city's still functioning meatpacking district near the Central Station, which has morphed into a buzzing nightlife quarter (not unlike New York's Meatpacking District). In fact, one of my favorite restaurants, Restaurant Fiskebaren from Anders Selmer, who also cut his teeth at Noma, was located here. Amid exposed ceramic tiles and brick and meat hooks serving as coat hangers, I enjoyed unfussy Nordic seafood including a raw bar selection of oysters, trout tartare, razor scallops and sea urchin along with a good Danish sauvignon blanc. Another hotspot was Manfred's in the trendy Norrebro neighborhood, which just reopened last month after having expanded from its closet-sized space. This is Noma-trained chef Christian Puglisi's second restaurant--his acclaimed Relae is just across the street on Jaegersborggade. Caramelized Jerusalem artichoke, pickled mussels and a spicy beef tartare were a few of the standout dishes I sampled.
On my last night, I dined at Restaurant Geist from Michelin-starred chef Bo Bech, another Redzepi acolyte who has branched out on his own. Located on King's New Square, just steps from pedestrian shopping street of Stroget and the pretty canal-facing Nyhavn street with its multi-hued 17th and 18th century townhouses, is the candlelit space with an open kitchen and large bar. I ordered several small plates and could have happily eaten many more -- favorites included the baked celeriac with condensed buttermilk sauce that just begged to be mopped up with bread, oxtails with onions and nasturtium and buttery lobster with mustard and the tiniest pickled tomatoes I've ever seen. For dessert, there was an interesting combination of vanilla ice cream with black olives. So while I didn't get to dine in Noma, my trip to Copenhagen certainly wasn't lacking in stellar culinary experiences.
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Follow Jill Fergus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fergusjill