No more Noma, then. Copenhagen’s ground-breaking restaurant served its final meal in February in anticipation of its planned relocation to a former military building on the reedy fringes of Christiania later this year. Like a beloved band on its farewell tour treating dewy-eyed fans to its greatest hits, the kitchen shuttled out celebrated dishes like cloudberry broth, fresh sliced scallop, sea urchin, steamed king crab and egg yolk sauce, and roasted bone marrow. The last dish it served – and a future pub-quiz answer, surely – was moss cooked in white chocolate.
It felt like the end of an era, as friends and fans joined current and former staff to bring down the curtain on 14 years at Strandgade 93. Noma’s closure provided another opportunity to consider its remarkable influence. For many, René Redzepi changed the face of gastronomy, especially in the Nordic region. A generation of chefs absorbed the tenets of the Manifesto for a New Nordic cuisine that Redzepi helped launch in 2004. Local and seasonal became their watchwords, foraging and fermentation the jokers in their pack. Redzepi’s influence extended beyond chefs – countless bars, breweries, and bakeries now blather on about terroir – and even beyond food, as evidenced by the sea-buckthorn-scented shower gel for sale at Matas these days.
Say what you want about New Nordic cuisine, but Noma helped turn Denmark – and Copenhagen, in particular – into a world-class dining destination. By all accounts, the capital was a culinary wasteland until Noma came along. No longer. It’s hard to imagine a city with a similar population size (Toledo, Ohio, say) boasting such a vibrant food scene. And this year has seen a slew of exciting new spots open.
At the top end, there’s Brace in the Latin Quarter, helmed by Nicola Fanetti, who won Michelin stars at Christianhavn’s longstanding Italian gem Era Ora. Expect a menu that changes seasonally and showcases organic ingredients. Think rye bread with broccoli and anchovies, risotto with cauliflower and pine, or mascarpone with aquavit. A stone’s throw away, on Jarmers Plads, is Mes. Its decor may be eye-catching – one wall is covered in moss and an old German refrigerator displaying wine – but it’s the food that promises to be memorable. Head chef Mads Rye Magnusson, who has worked at the likes of Geranium and Falsted Kro, has gotten rave reviews. Current dishes include braised ox with wild herbs and roe; apple, caramel and buttermilk. At 335 kroner for a five-course menu, Mes is good value, too.
Another recent highlight is Ancestrale, a wine and snack bar on Oehlenschlægersgade in Vesterbro, whose founders racked up hours at the likes of Radio, Studio, and Ved Stranden 10. Don’t bother asking for a wine list, just tell one of the sommeliers what you fancy and they’ll find something fun, and perhaps funky, from their jam-packed collection. And though its name is a nod to tradition – referencing the oldest method of producing sparkling wine – Ancestrale is anything but stuffy. Co-founder Andreas Waechter says the aim is to serve “quality products without fuss or pretension in an atmosphere more reminiscent of ‘Cheers’ than dinner with the queen”. There’s good food too, with a seasonal menu – a mushroom broth with egg yolk was an especially nourishing way to see off winter. Be sure to order some green gyokuro tea at the end of your meal. You’ll get more than one brew, plus an umami-rich plate of used tea leaves served with soy sauce and hay oil.
You’ll also find Japanese “soul food” at Slurp, the latest in a raft of ramen joints to open in Copenhagen. It describes its broths as “humble, cheap and cheerful” and doesn’t disappoint. There are three regular options (starting at 130 kroner): a salt-based Shio ramen topped with pork, egg, blue mussel, basil, arugula, samphire, and lemon thyme; a soy-based Shoyu ramen topped with pork, egg, porcini puree, spring onions and bamboo; and a mushroom-based vegetarian ramen.
Co-founder Niklas Hansen says he was inspired by the Asian concept of “one chef, one dish”, with the focus squarely on quality and sourcing good ingredients. “The Japanese are obviously the champions of that,” Hansen says, referring to their traditional dedication to sushi, say, or ramen.
Hansen and co-founder Philipp Inreiter – a former chef de partie at Noma – hope to make everything from scratch and, where “absolutely crucial”, import ingredients from Japan. Their noodles, for instance, are made with a blend of flours from Japan and Bornholm. The only downside is the restaurant’s size and growing popularity. Slurp occupies a tiny space on Nansensgade, and seats fill fast. But it’s well worth the trip and the chance of glimpsing a guest chef in the kitchen.
For something somewhat different – dinner and a show – make a beeline to one of the city’s most famous music venues. The Bojesen culinary group, which runs the restaurant Tårnet at Christiansborg Palace, has opened an eponymous kitchen at Jazzhus Montmartre. The club once drew the likes of Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon, and was described by the New York Times as “one of the high temples of the European jazz scene” in the 1960s and early 1970s. Bojesen at Montmartreis doing “Nordic soul food served family style,” meaning small plates of savoury dishes dominated by greens and other seasonal and organic ingredients. Imagine cabbage with lemon and almonds; smoked mackerel with buttermilk, apple and sorrel; and carrots with sesame, lime, lemongrass and curry. Montmartre offers lunch and dinner all week, but from Thursday to Saturday you can eat before the show – a delightfully old-fashioned concept brought up to date with a decent modern menu.
Still, everything old is new again, which goes for traditional Danish sandwiches, too. As we’ve pointed out before, second-rate smørrebrød is no longer the dirty secret of Danish cuisine. Copenhagen in particular has enjoyed a smørrebrød renaissance, with a string of restaurants reviving Denmark’s open sandwich by focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
February saw the arrival of the latest spot offering a new take on the old dish, Enghave Smørrebrød,on the southeast corner of Vesterbro’s Enghave Plads. Owners Nina and Esben Pagh have designed it as a takeaway joint with just 16 seats, though diners can take their lunch to Enghave Kaffe, the married couple’s coffee shop next door.
“We wanted to make a local hangout where you could have a nice piece of smørrebrød,” Nina says. “Smørrebrød is one of the things that Denmark is known for and it can be so delicious. A few years ago, restaurants started to re-invent it, which was great. We felt like making it closer to the traditional smørrebrød, but with high-quality and homemade ingredients.”
Their rye bread comes from Brødflov, the Frederiksberg bakery. And besides classic toppings such as chicken salad, you’ll find imaginative ones too, like blood sausage with beetroot, buckwheat, raw onion and pickled apples – ingredients that wouldn’t look all that out of place at, well, Noma. M