Travel: A place at the Nordic table

It’s consistently rated as one of the world’s top culinary destinations, but what is it that makes Copenhagen such a foodie paradise?

Thursday, 12th December 2013, 6:00 am
A view of the colourful Nyhavn, a waterfront popular with tourists, Copenhagen, Denmark. Picture: PA Photo/Catherine Wylie.
A view of the colourful Nyhavn, a waterfront popular with tourists, Copenhagen, Denmark. Picture: PA Photo/Catherine Wylie.

Catherine Wylie arrives hungry to find out.

As host to one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe, Copenhagen has always been a popular winter city break destination. But thanks to a dynamic food scene and the opening of several world-class restaurants and cafes, there’s now even more reason to head to the Danish capital.

When I arrive for my long weekend of culinary indulgence, I have to admit that images of sizzling bacon and sweet, sticky pastries do flash through my mind. But as I soon discover, the Nordic table has a lot more weird and wonderful delights to offer.

Arriving at the end of summer, just in time for Europe’s largest food festival, Copenhagen Cooking, I head for a picnic on the roof of the Axelborg building overlooking the twinkling lights of Tivoli Gardens.

Chef Rasmus Bo Bojesen, who hosts the restaurant at the Royal Danish Opera, is in charge of the event. It’s a six-storey climb to the top, but the journey is made much less of a drag with an appetiser served on each floor.

The pea soup with Danish apples and roasted pork is an explosion of freshness and tastiness, while nachos are spruced up with an unusual dill mayonnaise. Waiting for the main event, candles flicker around us, and an atmospheric soundtrack filters through speakers at a pleasant level.

An array of exciting dishes come out of the kitchen one by one - crispy pigs’ ears on a slate, mackerel in a cute tin, indulgent chicken skin, and possibly the most tender spare ribs my mouth has had the pleasure of nuzzling.

Salty potatoes are placed on the table in a brown paper bag, and to stick with the rustic theme, organic roots are served in a dish with crumpled rye made to look like soil. Artistry and imagination are offered by the bucket-load.

The dessert plunges me, and my fellow diners, into a sort of euphoria, as we crunch down on Bojesen’s Giant Eskimo - vanilla ice cream, blackcurrant and his own special chocolate sourced from the Amazon rainforest. It’s a sort of pavlova from a higher power.

As I quickly learn, eating in the city is much less about satisfying hunger and more an experience for all the senses, as well as being a social activity. Local diners have come to expect surprises, innovation and originality, with restaurants in cool locations and course after course of new taste fusions.

Much of the buzz surrounding Copenhagen’s food scene stems from world-famous restaurant Noma, which has topped Restaurant magazine’s highly regarded World’s Best 50 Restaurants list three times (this year it was knocked off the top spot by Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca).

The restaurant’s co-founder Claus Meyer could be described as Denmark’s Jamie Oliver, and Noma has done a great deal to bring people back to the basics of Danish cooking.

The new Nordic kitchen’s buzzwords are freshness, organic, purity, simplicity and ethics, with much importance placed on food provenance.

But although Noma continues to attract crowds, locals are keen to inform the world that Copenhagen is not just a one-trick pony, and has much more for the eager foodie to get their teeth into.

In search of more standout restaurants in the city, I visit Michelin-starred Kadeau in Christianshavn - a spacious restaurant set in an old office building.

I can still taste the wonderful starter. A beautiful bright green, the bowl of blue mussels, beans, beach herbs and green strawberry wine renders me unable to focus on what is happening around me. Chicken feet and rooster hearts are also served - because at the Nordic table there is always a talking point.

Copenhagen has welcomed the trend of pop-up restaurants, many of which go on to set up permanent spaces. One such place is Stedsans, a successful summer pop-up with plans to open as a restaurant. Run by husband and wife Mette Helbak and Flemming S. Hansen, the Stedsans motto is “clean, simple, local”.

Hansen is among the 25% of people in Copenhagen who buy organic and everything they serve is made with ingredients he just got in that day.

The city is full of great food stores and markets, including the halls of Torvehallerne where shoppers can buy cheese, beer, cold cuts... and porridge.

Lasse Andersen runs GROD, the world’s first porridge restaurant, an example of an unpretentious and hearty Danish staple.

“Porridge is a big part of our cultural identity in Denmark,” he tells me.

His venture attracts a young hipster crowd, families and foodies, who are all keen to get a taste of what they refer to as granny food.

Meanwhile, over on Jaegersborggade - an up-and-coming trendy street, which was previously a haven for drug dealers - the locals relax with coffee in cafes and restaurants.

Relae basks in its fashionable status as one of the hot eating spots in the city - and is the world’s first certified organic Michelin-starred restaurant.

Christian Puglisi, one of its founders, feels privileged to be a part of Copenhagen’s modern food movement. Pondering his restaurant’s success, he says: “You can just sit down, close your eyes, and hopefully be brought somewhere.”

It’s true, the dishes on offer here can transport you to a million places, but at its heart, the food in Copenhagen is distinctly Danish and something you won’t find anywhere else.

Travel facts

:: Catherine Wylie was a guest of VisitDenmark. For more information on the destination, visit www.visitdenmark.co.uk

:: Scandinavian Airlines (www.flysas.com/en/uk) fly from London Heathrow to Copenhagen from £78 one way.