I’m not bashful about admitting my age. I just turned 50, and to celebrate this milestone birthday my wife and I went on a foodie’s folly to Copenhagen, Denmark, which has blossomed into one of Europe’s most cutting-edge restaurant cities.
The driving force behind Copenhagen’s surge to the top of the global food heap has been chef René Redzepi’s Noma, now in its 12th year of operation and virtually impossible to get into no matter how connected you think you might be. Call ahead three months to the date you want to dine at Noma, and there’s a miniscule chance you might score a reservation and the opportunity to try one of Redzepi’s 18-course tasting menus. But more likely than not, you will get shut out, as other globe-trotting food mavens beat you to the punch.
But rather than cry over spilled milk curd, sweet peas and kelp, smile knowing that you have a handful of options to eat a fantastic Noma-inspired meal in Copenhagen…or two, or three, or even four if you take a train across the Oresund Bridge to Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city.
On this culinary driven Scandinavian sojourn, our favorite dinner cooked by a former Noma chef came from Amass. Located on a former ship-building island situated across the harbor from the statue of The Little Mermaid and headed by San Diego-born Matt Orlando, Amass sits in an über cool industrial space filled with Gubi chairs, a graffiti-covered wall and beat-heavy house tunes. Orlando’s six-course tasting menu was highlighted by two plates in particular: salted mackerel with sweet and fermented peas and burnt lemon; and dry-aged pork (or beef) smothered in orpine, tart green plums and hazelnut milk. Natural wines from France and Italy, poured mostly from double magnums, were well-chosen and intriguing.
At BROR (“brother” in Danish), chefs Victor Wågman and Samuel Nutter are also ex-Noma cooks, and their casual split-level place in the shadow of Sankt Petri church is a winner that won’t break the bank. We chose not to sample the bull’s balls with tartare sauce or the fried pig’s head, but BROR’s set menu of two starters, a main fish course and dessert for about $55 nailed all the New Nordic high notes: fresh ingredients; pickled and salty flavors; not overly filling; delicious.
Unfortunately, we did not get to Relae in the once-gritty, now-gentrified Nørrebro neighborhood, but from everything I’ve heard, Christian Puglisi, a former sous chef at Noma, is turning out superb “terroir-driven” New Nordic cuisine. We did have a glass of funky natural rosé at Puglisi’s nearby wine bar, Manfred & Vin, and while this cloudy pink number was not great, the place was cozy and is known for serving the best beef tartare in town.
Forty minutes by train from Copenhagen is Malmö, located at the southern tip of Sweden. Malmö is a lovely small city, perfect for bicycling and not bad for eating. At B.A.R, Noma alumnus Robert Jacobsson has teamed up with Arzak-trained co-chef Besnik Gashi and sommelier Philip Kjellson to serve envelope-pushing cuisine alongside an interesting lineup of natural wines. Our eclectic dinner here included house-fried pork rinds covered in anchovy dust, smoked slices of moose and a more familiar New Nordic dish, mackerel served with tangy pickled onions, asparagus and rye bread croutons.
Back in Copenhagen, we concluded our foodie blitz at Hija de Sánchez, a newly opened taco stand at Torvehallerne, the city’s hopping food hall. Given that you’re in Denmark, you might expect rudimentary chips and guacamole or a failed attempt at carne asada tacos. However, Rosio Sánchez, former pastry chef at Noma, is turning out some of the most authentic tacos this side of the Distrito Federal. Backed with Redzepi’s blessing (and cash), Hija de Sánchez is drawing long lines on a daily basis. Those smart enough to wait things out are rewarded with knockout carnitas or mole tacos caringly cooked by yet another refugee of the so-called world’s best restaurant, that place you couldn’t get into but don’t much care.