It’s hardly a secret – Copenhagen, with its trendsetting design scene, its influential chefs and its innovative fashion designers, doesn’t really have to try hard to be cool. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe, something of a fairy tale utopia with majestic castles, the nostalgic Tivoli Gardens, a handsome harbor district, and the hip neighborhoods of Norrebro and Vesterbro all existing in a singular sort of harmony. It’s distinctly pretty in winter time, with its snowy squares and stylishly bundled up locals.
Danes are a genetically blessed, friendly and enlightened lot, who take their gastronomy and partying very seriously. Though it was Rene Redzepi’s Noma (with its life-altering 20-course dinner) that decisively put Copenhagen and Nordic cuisine on the culinary map, there are scores of other inventive chefs keeping the spotlight on the city’s food scene. And who wouldn’t love a place that operates a weekend party sightseeing bus until 3am, full of “happy people and good music” and stopping at the city’s best bars and nightclubs?
Last summer iconic restaurateur and Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, along with chef Gunnar Gislason, brought Scandinavian epicurean flair stateside, when the Great Northern Food Hall opened in the Grand Central Vanderbilt Hall in NYC. Meyer’s book, The Nordic Kitchen, came out around the same time.
Still, it’s no substitute for the real thing. Here’s why and where to go.
Set in the heart of the trendy Nørrebro district – a (naturally) former working class neighborhood that has been invaded by the Danes’ own version of hipster culture – Manfreds & Vin is located on Jægersborggade, a quiet street lined with coffee roasters, craft beer joints and eco-chic boutiques. Run by Christian F. Puglisi and Kim Rossen, the team behind Michelin starred Relæ, Manfreds started out as a cozy wine bar and soon became one of the neighborhood’s most revered restaurants. Locals come for the vast selection of organic wines and the wildly creative seven course tasting menu, comprised of locally sourced seasonal vegetables, seafood, meat and cheeses, served up in a cozy but stylish atmosphere.
The younger sibling restaurant to the famous Michelin two star rated AOC, the architecturally striking No. 2 is located directly on the waterfront of Christianshavn, with breathtaking views of the futuristic Black Diamond royal library and Circle Bridge. To complement the modern setting, Soren Selin, co-owner and chef de cuisine of both restaurants, prepares contemporary Nordic dishes served up in a simplified but still visually stunning fashion, with the seven course tasting menu best exhibiting the breadth of his culinary vision.
Specializing in natural organic Nordic cuisine, Restaurant Radio is a laid back yet modern and airy restaurant located near the Forum Copenhagen, in the hip Frederiksberg neighborhood. Chef Jesper Kirketerp was formerly the sous chef at Noma and set out here to create a menu using unique ancient grains and legumes sourced from organic farms just outside the city – all paired with local seafood and meats.
Located in a picturesque courtyard behind Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen, if Eloise were to take tea with Alice in Wonderland this is the fairy tale setting they would surely choose. Full of whimsical fantasy, yet decidedly elegant and sophisticated, it flaunts angelic feather plumed lighting, large tables for sharing, and shelves full of curiosities that happen to be for sale. The specialty is the selection of smushi – a smørrebrød, which is the traditional Danish open faced sandwich, but aesthetically inspired by sushi, with Danish flavors presented in artistic, delicate, bite sized portions. No surprise, the Danish pastries and cakes are also delectable.
At this time of year, a visit to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete without stopping in the magical Winter Wonderland of Tivoli Gardens, which was an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland. And Kähler i Tivoli is its most intriguing dining destination. The setting is 70s postmodern, with the furnishings and place settings created by some of Denmark’s most renowned designers: Verner Panton, Le Klint, and Arne Jacobsen, as well as Kähler, of course. Amidst the festive holiday atmosphere, order the seasonal three course Christmas dinner with venison, pork loin and a Danish “snowball” to get into the seasonal spirit.
Gourmet hot dogs, champagne and cocktails – need we say more? As wieners have gained popularity in Denmark, Foderbraettet has created ever more elevated versions, including a Korean shrimp dog, a smoked bacon dog with Danish cheese, and a wild boar sausage topped with marinated pumpkin. Set in the uber trendy Vesterbro neighborhood, it’s open until 2am on weekends and turns from a popular casual dining spot to a late night party lounge, with seasonal tipples and a DJ spinning the latest Euro EDM.
Just under 10 years ago founder Mikkel Borg Bjergso was a physics teacher and beer geek experimenting with hops, malt and yeast in his kitchen to create uniquely flavored brews. Today he has a microbrewery that exports to over 40 countries with several outposts in Denmark as well as international locations in San Francisco, Tokyo and Bangkok. The Mikkeler bar in Vesterbro is where it all started, serving over 100 varieties of rare and limited run brews.
Hailed as one of the best bars in the world, Ruby feels more like hanging out at a wealthy friend’s luxe abode – with the private club ambiance of Norwood and Soho House, but without the membership hassle. Lacking any frontal signage, it’s located in a townhouse dating to 1740, in the historic center of Copenhagen. The resplendent setting features mahogany wood paneled walls and sumptuous Chesterfield leather seating, with huge bay windows overlooking the canal. And lots of pretty people.
The sister bar to Rubys, Lidkoeb is set in a former pharmaceutical factory in Vesterbro – the sprawling three-story space is located at the back of an open air courtyard that accommodates the crowd overflow. The bottom two floors are warmly decorated with modern and luxurious Danish furnishings, with large leather banquettes and a long bar. For a more intimate setting, head to the third floor whiskey bar, with exposed wood walls, beamed ceilings and sumptuous vintage leather seating. Serving only whiskey, you get your drinks from the “Dispensing Chemists” bar serving extremely rare vintages and creative cocktails.
Set on the nightlife border of Vesterbro and the Meatpacking District (Kodbyen), finding 1656 can be tricky – the entrance is behind a graffiti-marked black metal door. An Old World ambiance prevails, with dim lighting, leather Chesterfield banquettes and dark wood paneled walls. Talented mixologists create a new menu of potent concoctions each season, with a modern take on classic cocktails using retro ingredients such as chartreuse, falernum and absinthe, mixed with seasonal elements. A cozy, Polynesian themed sub-speakeasy Tiki Bar is hidden behind a velvet curtain, and serves modernized versions of potent rum-based drinks such as Planters Punch or Pina Colada – something like a hipster Trader Vic’s.
STAY: NIMB HOTEL
Magically situated right within Tivoli, the Nimb Hotel has just fourteen elegantly designed rooms – mostly suites – with mod four poster beds, warm woods, leather couches, and Venetian gothic windows looking out over the Gardens. It’s also an epicure’s dream, with a brasserie, steakhouse, the Vinotek, the Fru sandwich cafe, and a sophisticated bar with a fireplace and crystal chandeliers. Swish.