Over 630 miles away from Paris, in Denmark, Copenhagen is emerging as the new culinary capital of Europe. The Scandinavian city has been in the spotlight ever since the New Nordic restaurant Noma topped Restaurant Magazine’s list of best restaurants in the world earlier this year, and the dining scene is flourishing. Foodies can experience everything from modern eateries and hip cocktail bars, to traditional Danish taverns and cozy coffee houses. The biggest challenge is finding the time to try it all.
When Noma opened in 2003, no one—including the restaurant’s owners Claus Meyers and Rene Redzepi—knew what New Nordic Cuisine was. Now, it’s the latest trend in gastronomy. The new genre relies on local ingredients and the reinterpretation of traditional cooking techniques such as pickling, salt curing and smoking.
The innovative food at Noma takes in the influence of chef Redzepi’s early days at El Bulli and The French Laundry, with one major difference: Redzepi limits himself to ingredients produced within the Nordic region, which stretches across Northern Europe to the Faroe Islands. Dishes are dazzling in their apparent simplicity. A pickled, smoked quail’s egg oozes with umami richness; a fine mince of raw beef is concealed beneath a pile of baby sorrel and eaten with the fingers.
A 19th-century amusement park may seem like an unlikely site for a Michelin-starred restaurant, but the Tivoli Gardens boasts two. At Herman, Chef Thomas Herman offers refined, witty takes on traditional Danish flavor combinations. Delicate Scandinavian langoustines come with a piquant sauce of chamomile and lemon thyme, while typically sweet pancake balls are stuffed with bacon and cheese, dusted with vinegar powder instead of sugar, and served with cucumber marmalade.
The creative fusion cuisine at The Paul reflects British-born chef Paul Cunningham’s quirky, eclectic sense of style. Colorful paintings adorn the walls, and a merry-go-round pony dangles from the ceiling of the atrium-like, glass paneled building. Somehow, it’s the perfect setting for the surprising juxtapositions that mark Cunningham’s cooking. A delicate fillet of turbot, topped with savory caviar, rests upon a pool of vanilla-scented cream sauce.
You can expect to pay a small fortune at Michelin-starred establishments such as Noma, but you don’t have to spend a lot to have a great dining experience in Copenhagen. The best value for money, says Danish food writer Eva Helbaek of Spiseliv, can be found in the city’s mid-range gourmet restaurants, where you can get a full meal with drinks for under $100 per person.
The trendy new restaurant Relae, from former Noma sous chef Christian Puglisi, turns out simple dishes inspired by the chef’s Italian roots and influenced by his time at El Bulli and Noma. Kodbyens Fiskebar, in the meatpacking district of Vesterbro, specializes in fresh seafood and seasonal produce sourced from Denmark and Sweden.
Sorte Hest offers tasty, straightforward fare made from top-quality produce in an intimate space with an open kitchen and only 25 seats. For a truly local experience, head to neighborhood restaurant Davids Bistro in the in residential area of Osterbro for expertly prepared international and modern Nordic cuisine in a lively, casual setting.
Classic, stick-to-your-ribs Danish food is on the menu at Schonnemann’s, a friendly tavern that dates back to 1877. Go there for the pickled herring and fluffy frikadeller fish dumplings, and then go back for the fatty smoked eel, served with scrambled eggs.
Drink in Danish coffee culture and watch the world go by at Café Europa, situated in the middle of bustling Amergatov square.
Bartender Gromit Eduardsen mixes the best cocktails in town at bar 1105. His original drinks are made from fresh, homemade juices and syrups. Fans swear by the No. 4, a beguiling combination of gin and cardamom.
For beer lovers, there’s no better place than Mikkeler. Sample a wide selection of prize-winning brews from owner Mikkel Borg Bjergso’s microbrewery Mikkeler.