Copenhagen's best restaurants and bars
Author: Jeni Porter
Photography: Jan Sondergaard
Call it post-Nordic. Copenhagen has outgrown the new Nordic revolution that has defined its cooking since René Redzepi took Noma to the top of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and put the place on the map. And Denmark's capital is all the better for it. There's still the emphasis on seasonal and local, but it feels more like a real dining city, with fewer prescriptions about food except that it be delicious and distinctive enough not to be derivative, even if it's influenced by Italian, French or something closer to home.
The ever-evolving Noma is, if anything, better than it's ever been, a second generation of its alumni is colonising the city, applying the same ethos of originality and authenticity, and other culinary talents are confidently creating the sorts of casual places they want to go to on their nights off. That's why Matt Orlando, the Californian who was formerly head chef at Noma and sous-chef at Per Se, opened his first restaurant, Amass, in his adopted city.
"People here are open to difference," says Orlando. "It's a big reason why I wanted to stay in Copenhagen - there's an open-mindedness here that you don't find elsewhere."
He's particularly excited about what's happening under the high end - pop-ups, guest chefs, street food. The bar scene has similarly come of age, with cocktail bars for all moods, craft beer for the dudes, places of pilgrimage for natural-wine worshippers and top-notch service - something Denmark is not famed for. This year the revolutionary Redzepi is at it again, supporting Noma pastry chef, Rosio Sánchez, who is of Mexican descent, as she opens a taco joint, Hija de Sánchez. The next big thing in Copenhagen could be New Mexican.
When Amass existed only in Matt Orlando's mind, the chef's first two investors were his former bosses René Redzepi of Noma and Thomas Keller of Per Se. Their endorsement is enough reason for the trek across the harbour to Amass, where Orlando serves super-high-end food with a relaxed enough attitude to get a graffiti artist to tag the walls and have hip-hop on high rotation in the warehouse-like space. Orlando's maverick streak also shows in his response to early acclaim. When a dehydrated and rehydrated carrot dish developed a cult following, he took it off the menu, arguing that the restaurant was too young to have a signature dish. The almost two-year-old Amass does, however, have a signature staple: the moreish fermented potato flatbreads that are sent out with every meal. Describing his food as "not new Nordic", Orlando is as obsessed with the seasons but otherwise breaks free - he'll happily avoid new Nordic's acidity and crunch for something sweet and soft, and is driven mostly by honesty. "That dish is the complete putting yourself out there," he says of "grilled corn, egg yolk, black pepper oil". The corn broth is heavily reduced to intense natural sweetness, the slow-poached yolk is velvety, bordering on chewy and the oil cuts through both. "You know you're eating corn," says Orlando with considerable understatement.
VIBE South Brooklyn on Copenhagen harbour.
PRICE Lunch $74, six-course dinner $110, extended $148.
MINUS Can be too-cool-for-school. Who wants to be told off for using a fork to eat a snack?
PLUS GamFratesi Masculo chairs - seriously stylish and comfortable.
Refshalevej 153, Copenhagen, +45 4358 4330
Doing something totally different wasn't an option for Torsten Vildgaard after eight years at Noma, most of them heading its test kitchen. "Some of those dishes I actually developed, so it would be weird for me to cast it off," says Vildgaard of how he grappled with life after Noma as he set up his first restaurant, Studio, in partnership with food entrepreneur Claus Meyer. Instead, Vildgaard sought to be intelligent rather than intellectual, using "foreign" ingredients such as caviar and truffles but overlaying the Noma DNA. He calls it the "Nordic kitchen with open arms", so there's the cleanness of taste but it's rounded out - sometimes even with cream and butter. Rewarded with a Michelin star within five months of opening, Vildgaard now wants two. He might even introduce tablecloths, something completely different from his alma mater.
VIBE Stylish science lab with a harbour view.
PRICE Lunch $84, five-course dinner $168, seven-course dinner $196.
PLUS Easy experimental.
Havnegade 44, Copenhagen, +45 7214 8808
Geist is the place Copenhagen didn't know it needed - so much so that when it opened on the city's central square four years ago, people thought its chef-owner Bo Bech was nuts. He plays the soundtrack to the Ali versus Foreman Rumble in the Jungle in Geist's bathrooms as a reminder of what he calls "the ultimate fight" - opening a huge restaurant that was neither new Nordic nor reliant on such crowd favourites as steak frites or moules marinière to fill its 100-plus seats. With its sexy, dark décor Geist is for grown-ups wanting the buzz of the big bar overlooking Bech and his team performing in the open kitchen or a banquette out the back to huddle on. Bech's food is adventurous but approachable enough to eat often. Crisp artichoke with slow-cooked pork belly and black truffle is a "couch dish", he says. "It would never work in a Michelin restaurant because it doesn't have layers but the comfort level is so high, you just want to lie on the couch and say 'give me a spoon'."
VIBE Scandi noir.
PRICE Entrées $12-$36, main courses $25-$36, desserts $14-$17.
MINUS Those dreaded words "Have you been here before?" Just say "yes". It's not that complicated.
PLUS For any night out rather than a big night out.
Kongens Nytorv 8, Copenhagen, +45 3313 3713
Seeking to avoid a mid-life crisis after running the Michelin-starred AOC for years, Christian Aarø opened No 2, a bar and bistro, last year. The kick for Aarø, an award-winning sommelier, comes from the contrast. AOC is in the vaulted cellar of a historic mansion; No 2 is on the ground floor of a corporate tower, with windows looking across the harbour to the Royal Library's stunning Black Diamond building. The view sets the mood for No 2's slick interior while the food is well-executed retro, with local sausages and hams and lots of dill in the fish dishes. Aarø says he's trying to rehabilitate beef tenderloin and serve the best chips in town - golden chunks of Danish potato baked twice, then fried. Naturally Aarø went all out on the wine list, weighting it towards Californian pinots and Austrian and German rieslings to suit the food. Mid-life crisis averted, Aarø also recalibrated AOC under chef Søren Selin. AOC won its second star in February, joining Noma and Geranium in Copenhagen's big league.
VIBE Creative corporate class.
PRICE Six-course dinner $84, meat or fish dishes $21-$29, desserts $14.
MINUS Lots of suits in a city where few people wear them.
PLUS Triple-fried chips.
Nicolai Eigtveds Gade 32, Copenhagen, +45 3311 1168
Victor Wågman and Sam Nutter are the "brothers" behind Bror, a cruisy neighbourhood restaurant where you can be challenged or comforted, or both. The pair - more Noma graduates - focus on offal partly for pragmatic reasons, to keep their prices low, and partly for the hell of sending out something like "lamb's head three ways". "We are on the borderline of innovative and comforting," says Wågman, adding they want to show that you can make good food from "offcuts that people in this region regard as waste". Their signature snack - bull balls - are surprisingly tasty after being poached, sliced, breaded, then deep fried and served with tartare sauce. Not content to rest on Bror's success, Wågman and Nutter opened its little brother, Café Lillebror, late in 2014. Showing an unusual attention to detail for a Copenhagen café, the pair created a haven for the food fraternity. By day there's killer breakfast items such as whisky porridge plump with whisky-soaked raisins and chai cream doughnuts and after dark it becomes a diner.
VIBE Mormor chic (aka stylish Danish nanna).
PRICE Four-course dinner $74, snacks $7.
MINUS Boyish bordering on boisterous.
PLUS A true neighbourhood restaurant.
Skt Peders Stræde 24a, Copenhagen, +45 3217 5999,
Café Lillebror, Jarmers Plads 1, Copenhagen, +45 3220 4900
There are two wine lists at Den Vandrette, a wine bar in what was once a sailors' haunt on the harbour. The name, which means horizontal in Danish, sets a tongue-in-cheek tone while the décor is suitably understated to match its natural wine credentials. Den Vandrette's main list has everything a natural-born drinker could want - Frank Cornelissen Magma, if the planets are aligned, and much more. There's a large selection by the glass at palatable prices and bar staff flexible enough to open others for single pours. But it's with the second list that bar manager Thomas Spelling hopes to convert some of the cult crowd. The Det Lodrette (or vertical) list has mature classics such as 20-year-old Egon Müller riesling or Cheval Blanc. "It's wrong to dismiss these wines, because of what's going on right now," says Spelling. Being something of a renegade, Spelling has also made vegetable dishes a highlight of Den Vandrette's kitchen, "because that's the thing you never eat in a bar".
PRICE $15-$28 a glass up to $564 for a bottle of Angeli 2004 Vignes Françaises en Foule.
MINUS Not enough of a bar buzz.
PLUS Rare vintages of the late Didier Dagueneau's cult sauvignon blanc.
Havnegade 53a, Copenhagen, +45 7214 8228
Long before he was the celebrated chef of Michelin-starred Relæ, Christian Puglisi was the half-Norwegian, half-Sicilian kid finding his identity in a new country that was clueless about cucina. "I was very focused on my Sicilian heritage," says Puglisi of growing up in Copenhagen. "I felt that I came from a gastronomic country rather than a country like Denmark where nobody knew about food." He hung out in the Italian restaurant where his father was a waiter, fascinated by the pizzaiolo. Some 25 years later, having worked at Noma and launched two restaurants in the new Nordic realm, Puglisi is now that pizza guy complete with Stefano Ferrara pizza oven. Puglisi and his American head chef, Kristopher Schram, fired up the oven at Bæst (which means "beast" in Danish), an organic pizzeria in Nørrebro last October after two years of testing everything from making mozzarella to pizza dough with Danish flour. The result: a genuine Neo-Nordic crossover. Standouts are grilled Hindsholm sausage served with bean ragoût, 'nduja and magnificently fresh mozzarella. Pizza perfection is black trumpet mushroom, leek, pecorino and pancetta.
VIBE Neopolitan Nordic or is it Nordic Neopolitan?
PRICE Pizza $16-$28, nine-course menu $60.
MINUS The food isn't dirty enough for loud rockabilly.
PLUS Organic Negronis.
Guldbergsgade 29, Nørrebro, +45 3535 0463
Don't ask Rasmus Shepherd-Lomborg how many whiskies he's selling in Copenhagen's first whisky bar. The Danish braveheart believes less is more, as is evident in the 24-seat Lidkoeb Whiskybar, in the attic of a heritage-listed former pharmacist's lab in edgy Vesterbro. "I will never make any money out of it because it's so small," he says of the bar. It's an indulgence the owner of Ruby, for years the city's go-to cocktail bar, can afford because underneath he has created two large drinking destinations - a light, airy bar that's more of a boozer, and a cocktail bar that's Ruby's edgier younger sibling. But it's up in the gods where he expressed his inner Scot, earning enough clan cred to become the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Danish outpost. The bar boss is pleased to have a bottle of very expensive Glenmorangie Pride (worth nearly $5,000) in an unlocked cabinet. "I love the fact that we can let it sit there. Guests take it out, have a look and put it back - that's what's really cool about Denmark."
VIBE Egalitarian gentlemen's club.
PRICE A dram of Monkey Shoulder is $15; Balvenie 1401 is $120.
MINUS Too cosy - no one wants to leave. At least Lidkoeb has two other bars.
PLUS Sacrificing two of the Whiskybar's seats to install an open fire.
Vesterbrogade 72b, Copenhagen, +45 3311 2010
It took an English masters graduate from Copenhagen Business School to open one of the capital's first decent cocktail bars, Gilt. A dozen years later Peter Altenburg opened the much larger Holmens Kanal in the city centre, where the service is as polished as the patina and, unusual for Copenhagen, the plentiful bar staff do the waiting rather than the customers. Flamingo Fizz mixes pomegranate syrup, lemon, lime and a splash of grapefruit soda, and is garnished with rose petals and dried raspberries. Altenburg admits it's "fluffy" but claims "there's a lot of guys" who love the pink drink. To cope with the crowds he's kept the list short with house cocktails, G&Ts and Old Fashioneds plus Champagne. It's not quite Manhattan but the formula is winning enough for Tales of the Cocktail to declare Holmens one of last year's 10 best new international cocktail bars.
VIBE Back bar of the Titanic (before the iceberg).
PRICE Flamingo Fizz $22, Louis Roederer (glass) $20.
PLUS You could meet Crown Prince Frederik.
MINUS He's married.
Holmens Kanal 7, Copenhagen, +45 8230 3088
It wasn't an entirely quantum leap for mix master Morten Bruun to team up with Copenhagen's crown prince of craft beer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, to open cocktail bar Mikropolis. Some of Borg Bjergsø's Mikkeller brews taste like cocktails and he knows how to run cool bars, hence Mikkeller & Friends. With Mikropolis the idea was to bring the best of both worlds together - craft cocktails and beer - and also try to focus on craft spirits. Craftiness extends to the fit-out - the oak bar is made from the core of an old tree and the offcuts were turned into stools and tables. Mikropolis's beer-based Mandela plays on a White Russian using stout syrup instead of Kahlua, dry hopped vodka, vanilla sugar and cream.
VIBE Beer nerd meets booze head.
PRICE Glass of beer $5-$9, Mandela cocktail $17.
MINUS High plaid-shirt count on the bar stools.
PLUS G&T with Mikkeller Botanical and Hoppy Gin.
Vendersgade 22, Copenhagen, +45 3213 7997