The foodies making Amager great again

James Clasper digs in to Amager, and finds that Copenhagen's much maligned island is undergoing a gastronomic awakening

A couple of years ago on a night out in Copenhagen, Lisa Abend discovered the journalistic equivalent of virgin coal. As an American food writer, Abend has written for international media about some of the best dining in the world, and penned a book about life at El Bulli when it was the world’s most experimental restaurant.

That night, she found herself searching in vain for a decent bite to eat on Amager. The island is known for many things, including the airport, the beach, and a slew of cut-price tanning salons. But the quality of its restaurants isn’t one of them. (I’m not counting the celebrated restaurants of Christianshavn and Refshaleøen – Noma, Amass, Kadeau, Barr, and 108 – even though they’re technically on Amager.)

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In fact, as Abend described in a delightfully droll piece for Munchies, many of the island’s restaurants offer a kind of one-size-fits-all anti-cuisine, with traditional Danish dishes appearing alongside ersatz simulacra of food from all corners of the globe.

“I realised that this loose mix of world cuisines – Chinese, Thai and frikadeller on the same menu – was a common phenomenon of Amager,” Abend noted in her tongue-in-cheek taxonomy of the island’s culinary range. “A part of the city that I had known for cheap rentals, Hells Angels and a love of solariums had its own cuisine. I called it Amager Fusion.”

It’s with a mix of relief and delight, then, that in this – the final Get Stuck In column – I can reassure anxious readers that change is afoot in the part of the city long known as the Shit Island (Lorteøen), a nasty nickname that tends only to expose the class anxiety of the person using it. You see, in the past year alone, a number of decent bars, cafes and restaurants have opened on Amager, each of which is worth seeking out, even if you’re not an ækt Ama’rkaner.

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Toto Vin & Spisebar is a buzzy joint a couple of kilometres along Amagerbrogade, the island’s main drag. The best seats flank its bustling open kitchen, from which Toto’s efficient waiters shuttle dishes that showcase southern European fare such as burrata, carpaccio, and agnoletti – a Piedmontese pasta, which at Toto is filled with roasted pumpkin, parmesan and sage. Other popular dishes include grilled duck hearts with chimichurri and lime, steak tartare with pickled cantaloupe, a vibrant tuna tartare that comes with avocado mayo, coriander and black sesame, and a mighty côte de boeuf with béarnaise sauce.

Toto Vin & Spisebar on amagerbrogade has an open kitchen and serves food inspired by Southern Europe. Photos: Jacob Hansen

The standout dessert at Toto is the homemade apple and tarragon sorbet. But if the night’s still young, consider cycling up the road to Alice, an ice-cream parlour founded by former Noma waiter Anders Lorenz. Adhering to the mantra that “the fewer ingredients, the better the ice cream,” he makes small batches of about half a dozen flavours, ranging from classics such as chocolate and vanilla to more esoteric options like toasted rice and malt. His aim is to make ice cream that’s as pure and intense as possible. Indeed, Alice’s chocolate sorbet contains so much Peruvian dark chocolate that, Lorenz says, “You’re basically ruining us when you buy a scoop.”

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Alice first threw open its doors in the dying days of summer – a brave decision that may explain why it also sells coffee made with beans from Koppi, one of Sweden’s top roasters. But it isn’t the only new spot serving higher-quality coffee. This year also saw the opening of a second branch of the Cub Coffee Bar – formerly known as the Copenhagen Coffee Lab and arguably the best cafe in the city centre – as well as The Nomad & The Bean, which opened on Holmbladsgade in August. It works with a social enterprise in Myanmar to import single-estate Burmese coffee.

The icecream parlour Alice is founded by a former Noma waiter, and also serves amazing coffee. Photos: Alexander Kinunnen

Though the so-called third wave of coffee – the shift towards more creative control over sourcing and roasting – appears to have crashed on Amager’s shores at last, few people go out of their way for a decent cup of Joe. But in H3, which opened last summer, Amager has a seafood restaurant that’s worth a detour south of the harbour. That’s because it’s a spinoff of Amager Fiskehus, the long-established fishmonger next door. Though H3’s seasonal menu includes oysters, North Atlantic prawns, smoked eel and fishcakes, go for the fish n’chips. They are Copenhagen’s best, bar none. H3 is a classy-looking place, too, with industrial furniture, stylish ceramics and elegant pendant lighting. And forget Tuborg. At H3, the dishes are best paired with a crisp glass of Sancerre.

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Whammy Bar, a short stroll from Lergravsparken metro station, also serves decent wine. A modern take on the bodega, the stylish newcomer was named Bar of the Year in Ibyen’s 2017 reader’s poll. It offers several local and international beers on tap, a range of well-priced classic cocktails and wine from Vinhanen. There’s a decent jukebox, too, which isn’t all that surprising: Whammy Bar is part-owned by local record company Crunchy Frog, perhaps best known for early-noughties Jutland chart-toppers Junior Senior.

Whammy Bar in Amager was voted bar of the year in the iByen 2017 competition. Photo: Jessica Tolf Vulpius

Move your feet, then, from Whammy Bar to Amager Ølhus and legendary bodega Jaguaren on Holmbladsgade, then onward to Det Argentinske Vinhus and finally to Haabet Bodega Bar on Amagerbrogade, and you should have yourself a rather enjoyable bar crawl.

Meanwhile, rumours persist about Amager’s next big opening. (A ramen shop! An authentic taqueria! A natural wine bar! O tempora, o mores!). Some may rue the changes and lament how longstanding establishments make way for fashionable upstarts. On balance, though, it’s surely a good thing that, after years as something of a gastronomic dead zone, Amager is being talked about for its burgeoning food scene – where the variety lies increasingly in its restaurants, and not in the far-flung origins of the dishes on individual menus. M


By James Clasper

Contributing editor. @jamesclasper

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