Kings of the Nordic kitchen
New Nordic ... an offbeat Relae dish.
Copenhagen is a true leader in high-quality food innovation, writes Saska Graville.
It's hard to think of a more dynamic foodie destination in the world right now than Copenhagen. For a start, the place has more Michelin stars than any other Scandi city (14 and counting - which puts it ahead of Rome). It's the hub of what's been christened the "New Nordic Kitchen", a culinary movement centred on foraged local ingredients, wild game and lots of smoked and cured fish. (Plus a few still-wriggling sea creatures.)
Relae evokes a cool Sydney brunch spot.
The most famous Nordic kitchen of them all is Noma, voted "the world's best restaurant" for three years in a row by Restaurant magazine. Head chef Rene Redzepi has attracted a cult following (a recent 10-day residence at London's Claridge's Hotel, with a £195 ($307) five-course menu, sold out instantly) and made Copenhagen a site of pilgrimage for food groupies from around the world. One of them, a food editor friend, was raving even after being presented with a plate of live shrimps. Yes, still twitching on the plate. It takes a dedicated fan base to embrace that.
If dinner-with-a-pulse isn't your thing (nope, mine neither), Copenhagen offers plenty of other culinary adventures. The latest foodie hot spot is a nondescript cobbled street, Jaegersborggade, in a slightly scruffy part of town.
Don't be deceived by non-flashy appearances. Part of the charm of the New Nordic movement is its lack of pretension. No French cuisine-style flourishes here. Understated and casual is how the Danes do it and nowhere is that more apparent than at Relae , the least-likely Michelin-starred dining experience you'll ever have.
Opened by some former Noma staffers, Relae is more like a cool Sydney brunch spot than an "it" restaurant. There's Johnny Cash and the Doors playing on the sound system, most of the tables are communal, and you help yourself to cutlery and napkins from a drawer underneath the tabletop. Starched-napkin fine dining it ain't, and it's all the more fun for it.
The Kodbyen meatpacking district, Copenhagen.
As for the menu - quirky but, thankfully, not living. Slithers of raw lamb with shrimps and dill; lightly grated potato with hazelnuts and bergamot; and sweetcorn ice-cream with breadcrumbs and marjoram. Distinctive taste combinations that make eating out in Copenhagen so memorable.
Still on Jaegersborggade, the Relae team have a second, even more laid-back place: Manfreds. Sit up at the shabby-chic bar (think industrial-metal light fittings and lots of bleached wood) and watch the unfeasibly handsome chefs (they must put something in the water in this city, the locals - men and women - are all on the gorgeous side) prepare dishes such as broccoli with hazelnut mayo; sashimi-style cod with marinated lemon and fennel; and fried cauliflower with anchovies and dill. All of it delicious.
The challenging taste combinations of New Nordic kitchens are all well and good, but sometimes a more straightforward menu is a welcome relief, which is why the courtyard cafe of the Royal Copenhagen porcelain shop is such a lovely experience.
Not only do you have a mini-department store full of exquisite Danish chinaware to browse, but the cafe is one of the city's prettiest. It's home to "smushi", a twist on Copenhagen's famous smorrebrod rye bread open sandwiches. Just as it sounds, smushi is a sushi- style construction, but with thin rye instead of rice. Toppings change daily, but my lunch of a three-smushi selection of marinated beef, smoked salmon and spicy shredded chicken was mouth-watering. All of it served on dainty Royal Copenhagen china, of course.
One place that I would advise you avoid on your culinary mini-break is the Tivoli Gardens. Yes, the world-famous amusement park is frequently on the list of Copenhagen must-visits, but I'm going to be controversial and admit that I found it tacky and over-commercialised. Bizarrely, it's home to Nimb Brasserie, one of the city's most renowned restaurants, but would you head to Luna Park for a gourmet night out? I suspect not. Sorry, Tivoli, I'm not a fan.
Instead, why not visit the newly hip meatpacking district Kodbyen ("meat city"), home to Copenhagen's most talked-about bars. There you'll find places such as Kodbyens Fiskebar, popular with the fashion crowd, Pate Pate, housed in an old liver pate factory, and Karriere, with lighting installations by acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson, whose 2010 installation drew crowds at Sydney's MCA.
And you can't leave Copenhagen without sampling the city's beloved beers. And no, I don't mean Carlsberg, although the architecturally impressive 19th-century brewery is worth a visit. Instead, check out tiny basement bar Mikkeller in the red-light district. Brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso serves up his own creations, as well as his favourite beers from around the world, and the place is packed with Copenhagen's cool young things sampling the various brews. The house signature, Salty Ocean Weed, is way more drinkable than it sounds.
Aside from the tackiness of Tivoli, my other gripe about Copenhagen is its opening hours.
Sunday is very much a day of rest in this city, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a bar or shop that is open. Many shops are even shut by late Saturday afternoon.
You might come across a few restaurants doing business on Sunday (Manfreds was one of the few that I could find,) but if you want to go end-of-weekend bar-hopping, forget it. My advice? Visit midweek and take full advantage of everything this stylish, dynamic and quite frankly delicious city has to offer. Live prawns and all.
The writer was a guest of VisitCopenhagen.
Scandinavian Airlines flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Copenhagen via Bangkok, flysas.com.
Three-star Ibsens Hotel has double superior rooms, including breakfast, from 1125 kroner ($190) a night, ibsenshotel.dk.
Noma, 93 Strandgade, DK-1401 Copenhagen. +45 3296 3297, noma.dk. Jaegersborggade, jaegersborggade.com.
Manfreds, 40 Jaegersborggade, 2200 Copenhagen. +45 3696 6593, manfreds.dk.
The Royal Cafe, 6 Amagertorv, 1160 Copenhagen. +45 3312 1122, theroyalcafe.dk.
Nimb Brasserie, 5 Bernstorffsgade, 1577 Copenhagen. +45 8870 0010, tivoli.dk.
Kodbyens Fiskebar, 100 Flaesketorvet, 1711 Copenhagen. +45 3215 5656, fiskebaren.dk.
Pate Pate, 1 Slagterboderne Vesterbro, Copenhagen. +45 3969 5557, patepate.dk.
Karriere, 57-67 Flaesketorvet, 1711 Copenhagen. +45 3321 5509, karrierebar.com.
Visit Carlsberg, 11 Gamle Carlsberg Vej, 1799 Copenhagen. +45 3327 1282. visitcarlsberg.dk.
Mikkeller, 20 Vesterbrogade, 1.th. DK-1620 Copenhagen. +45 3322 7997. mikkeller.dk.