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Copenhagen Cooking – Don’t Walk Away Rene

Noma is World No 1 but would the rest of the city’s food and drink scene match up? Neil Sowerby recommends some other Great Danes...

Written by . Published on September 10th 2012.

Copenhagen Cooking – Don’t Walk Away Rene

ONCE upon a time Copenhagen was all about fairy tales and fish tails. The two merged  perfectly in The Little Mermaid. But just as the herring industry is a fillet of its former self, so the harbourside statue of the Hans Christian Andersen heroine is no longer the Danish capital’s major draw. Poor Little Mermaid No Mates. Hello Noma.

Memo to self: "Must pop out to gather some bullrushes, rowan shoots and beach mustard, then raid the larder for fresh birch syrup, bleak roe, cockle gel and sea buckthorn juice"

Rene RedzepiRene RedzepiUnless you live entirely in an alternative universe of Little Chefs and KFCs, you’re probably aware that Noma is the 'World’s Best Restaurant' – foodie mecca and beacon for Nordic Cuisine. You’ve got to admire the concept, it’s just difficult for most of us to find the foraged ingredients to cook it at home.

 To quote Noma chef Rene Redzepi: "During the years Noma has been open, it´s been one big learning curve of understanding our region, the soil, the seasonality, what the weather gives us and so on. Today nature is our biggest inspiration. I see our restaurant having some type of pact with nature. That is simply the essence of it."

Glazed Beets And Apples At NomaGlazed beets and apples at Noma

Yes definitely a cuisine to be savoured in situ. But all the hype means it’s easier to prise open a Baltic oyster with your bare hands than to bag a booking at Noma.

Hence the next best thing, while in Copenhagen, seemed to be a visit to the Nordens Madfestival. This sounds like a recipe for mayhem, but alas Mad is simply Danish for food. The English title for the 10-day culinary celebration is Copenhagen Cooking. It was a chance to see if Nordic Cuisine was more than the Emperor’s New Clothes (credit again to Hans Christian). Might it be a mere pack of menu cards that would collapse without Rene?

I saw the man himself, in his whites on stage, at the festival launch – receiving an award for services to tourism, in the presence of Princess Marie, no less. He radiated cheffy charisma before the call of the stove wrenched him from us.

Mandala Creation In The Black DiamondMandala creation in the Black Diamond; below, a quayside breather

Quayside Breather The event was held in the theatre of a large Zimbabwean granite building called The Black Diamond. Upstairs a Buddhist monk was compiling a mandala, while outside on the sunlit quay an ancient couple pulled up two chairs to watch the tourist boats go by. Copenhagen is so esoteric, I told myself.


Salty Ocean Weed %26#8211%3B Enjoy 

Salty Ocean Weed was official festival beer. It was created by 'gypsy brewer' (he has no brew plant of his own) Mikkeler Borg Bjergsø. It possessed the expected hints of saltiness and undergrowth alongside a light dry hoppiness.

Shame it was the least impressive Mikkeller beer I’ve tried – and I’ve tried a few. Manchester’s Port Street and Brewdog bars stock them and they are invariably awesome. The Gypsy has put down some roots with the Mikkeler Bar in Vesterbro. Not just a 20-tap portal to beer heaven but, like so much in Copenhagen, a triumph of subtle design.

Dainty Barley Dish At Nordic TasteDainty barley dish at Nordic Taste fair; below The Wild Herb Man

I Am The Herb Man, Cc

Beer Dray At CarlsbergBeer dray at the old Carlsberg brewery

Beer seems a good place to start in this city of much brick and many bicycles. Inevitably it accompanies the open sandwiches known as Smørrebrød that are synonymous with Denmark. Carlsberg still dominates the beer scene – it even owns rival Tuborg – but has moved its mass brewing plant to Jutland. That leaves just the 'craft brewing' arm Jacobsen at Carlberg’s historic base with its iconic stone elephants out in the western suburbs.

Awaiting redevelopment, it hosted a Nordic Taste fair, thronged by gastro-proud Danes. Too thronged. You swapped tokens for tidbits (a mixed bag). I was more intrigued by the off-the-wall produce (I’m still asking myself why I didn’t snap up some Wild Greenland Herbs from the guy with the goatee).

In the end I found in Copenhagen proper the inspiration I was seeking. It’s a city that boasts a total of 13 Michelin stars (but only Noma, holds two). From street food to fine dining, the delights stacked up.

Here are a few choice spots.

Simplicity Itself At RelaePerfect culinary simplicity at Relae; below, the bread is sublime

Bread At Relae

Kim Rossen, Restaurant Manager At RelaeKim Rossen in natty apronRelae
If Noma once seemed the antithesis of traditional Michelin status, then this newly-starred, stripped down DIY service basement takes the Copenhagen revolution one step further. Helmed by ex-Noma staff – manager Kim Rossen and Sicilian-born head chef Christian Puglisi – clad in folksy brown leather aprons, it is a tumultuous food lab that hits more than it misses. It quelled much of my cynicism about Nordic cuisine. Lamb carpaccio with dill and dried shrimp and a pud of sweetcorn ice cream with breadcrumbs and marjoram both worked. The natural wines, all acidity and scant fruit, didn’t.
Jaegersborggade 41, Nørrebro. www.restaurant-relae.dk

NimbThe Nimb Hotel overlooks Tivoli; below, Restaurant Louise's green cuisine

Nimb Louise 2 

Forest Garnish In Nimb Louise 

Restaurant Nimb Louise
Keeping the star it held in it previous manifestation as Herman, new chef Allan Poulsen’s intricate take on Nordic cuisine seems designed to aim for a further one. We had a tasting menu ranging from razor clams to strawberries with woodruff that combined the sublime with the Nordic cliche. Presentation was as effortlessly beautiful as the surroundings – inside the Nimb Hotel, a Moorish style palace overlooking the joyous Tivoli Gardens. Only a city like Copenhagen could boast an amusement park as its epicentre. Bernstorffsgade 5. www.nimb.dk

Elvio Of Era Ora In His CellarElvio Milleri of Era Ora in his cellar; below, a sumptuous veal main

Veal And Pepper In Era OraVeal main in the excellent Era Ora

Era Ora
An Italian restaurant importing all ingredients bar fish has held a Michelin star since way before Noma set gastronomes’ pulses racing. Owner Elvio Milleri is baking bread for his Fornaio operation at 4am every morning, while tending to his cellar of 90,000 mainly classic Italian reds. Fortunately he doesn’t take his eye off his expensive but lovingly curated showcase of Italian regional food in a discreet location in Christianshavn. Era Ora gave me my best meal in Copenhagen. And not a patch of wood sorrel or a squirt of buttermilk in sight. Overgaden Neden Vandet 33B, Christianshavn. www.era-ora.dk

Den Gule CottageDen Gule Cottage; below, my main of pig's cheeks and pickled veg

Pig's Cheeks And Pickled Vegetables At Den Gule Cottage 

Den Gule Cottage (The Yellow Cottage)
Its big brother Den Rode (Red) Cottage has just captured its first star, but this quaint thatched former ice cream parlour overlooking Bellevue beach north of the city, is a more affordable affair. I loved the pig’s cheeks in pickled vegetables and watching kids flying kites out on the strand as I sipped my petrolly riesling. Stannings Plaene, Standvejen 506, Klampenborg. www.dengulecottage.dk

Restaurant_Noma_Photographer__Mads_DamgaadRestaurant Noma (Photo by Mads Damgaad)

As with Noma, I never got to visit Kødbyens Fiskebar. Their addresses are: Noma, Strandgade 93, www.noma.dk; Kødbyens Fiskebar, Flaesetorvet 100, Vesterbro. www.fiskebaren.dk

Smorrebrod Selection In TorvehallerneTorrvehallerne – smorrebrod selection, herb stall and Coffee Collective

Market Herbs 

Coffee Collective In The Market %26#8211%3B Serious About Beans Torvehallerne
This is a spanking new market area at Frederiksborgagade 21, convenient for the Nørreport Station interchange. It’s not on a par with great European markets such as Barcelona’s Boqueria and Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, but still a vibrant foodie destination you could spend half a day investigating. Fornaio and Coffee Collective are represented. And I salivated over the best display of smørrebrød ever. www.torvehallernebh.dk/

JaegersborggadeJaegersborggade; below, a happy porridge punter and Manfreds' kitchen

A Porridge Punter %28It Has To Be Grod%29 On Jaegersborggade 

Kitchen At Relae's Wine Bar Across The Road, Manfreds Jaegersborggade
A Nørrebro strip so hip it’s got its own section in the Visit Copenhagen website.

Foodie draws include:
Designer porridge cafe Grød (50). Try their organic spelt porridge with chestnut puree, apple and toasted almonds.
Claus Meyer’s Bakery (9) – organic bread and cinnamon rolls with Valrhona chocolate from the entrepreneur who wrote the original Nordic Food.
Micro roastery Coffee Collective (10) deals directly with coffee farmers to produce the city’s premier caffeine fix, while Karamelleriet (36) produces hand-made quality caramel.
Source “natural wine” from shop/winebar Terroiristen (52) or at Relae’s little sister wine bar Manfreds (40).

Mikkeller Bar, WesterbroMikkeller Bar, Vesterbro

One of the world’s great pubs, showcasing not just the house brews but a range of local and international craft beer competitors. Try the Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (Vanilla Cognac Edition) – it’s a sweet stout – just for the hell of it. Viktoriagade 8B-C, Vesterbro http://mikkeller.dk

Cheers Nørrebro Bryghus
If Mikkeler is the Stones, this is the Beatles of Copenhagen brewing with a smoother appeal to its wide range of beers.  There’s a lovely harmony in surveying the brewing vessels in the basement bar and sampling the American Pale Ale guest-brewed there by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery. Ryesgade 3, Nørrebro. www.noerrebrobryghus.dk

Bankerat With Bear And Okologisch BeerBankerat with bear waiter and ecological beer; below, spooky back room

Bizarre Bar Bankerat Bankeråt
Some interesting craft beers but the main draw is the deranged Goth vibe and stuffed animal decor. Edward Scissorhands would get served here without a second glance. Ahlefeldtsgade 27-29. www.bankeraat.dk

Sergio Costa and Nils Thyge’s homely wine bar offers an imaginative and affordable selection of bottles and similar snacks. Skinergade 3. www.barvin.dk

Laundromat Cafe
A coffee shop with launderette, one of the pioneers that helped turn Nørrebro from an edgy outpost to the trendy ‘hood it is today. Stick your smalls in the tumble drier ad grab a coffee and grilled sandwich. Elmegade 15, Nørrebro. www.thelaundromatcafe.com

The Barking Dog
Cocktail pub, one for a lingering nightcap at the end of a long Nørrebro crawl.  Sankt Hans Gade 19, 2200 Nørrebro. www.thebarkingdog.dk

Organic Hot Dog TimeOrganic Hot Dog Time

Hot dogs can be healthy is the message from Claus Christensen, a devotee of the healthy fast food movement. Expect low fat and salt content from the organic/ecological wares at his stall next to the historic Rundetårn (Round Tower). You can burn off any calories by climbing to the top almost 40m above street level. Købmagergade 52A. www.døp.dk

La Glace
Cake central for Copenhageners, going strong since 1870. Speciality is Sportskage (Sport Cake), which melds cream, caramel and nougat mousse into a sticky temptation. Skoubogade 3. www.laglace.com

Much of these places are best seen on a leisurely trek. Copenhagen is a great city to traverse on foot or, following the example of most of its inhabitants, by bike. With so many cycle lanes to negotiate there’s always a danger of getting run over by some freewheeling leggy blonde, but I was happy to take the risk.

Tourist Mecca NyhavnTourist mecca Nyhavn; below, shopping hub Amagaetov and the town hall square



ChristianaChristiania, free thinking, free living, free painting

In the interludes between sampling, I ambled around colourful touristy Nyhavn and many another quayside, ending up among Christianshavn’s canals and climbing the 400 steps of  the spired church tower of the Vor Fresiers Kirke. Great views.

Afterwards I ventured into the 'free town' of Christiania, former military quarters now ramshackle gonzo home to 1,000 hippy folk who welcome thousands of visitors into their dope-hazy haven.

My favourite Copenhagen refuge, though, was back in Nørrebro. The leafy expanse of the Assistens Kierkegaard Cemetery is home to Hans Christian Andersen’s grave, as well as the remains of the gloomy existentialist, after whom it is named.

Posing With HansPosing with Hans Christian outside Tivoli; below, the great writer's grave

Hans Christian Andersen's Grave 

Little Mermaid StatueThe Little Mermaid (Disney film was "loosely based" on her)

Back in the town hall square opposite, Tivoli tourists were queuing to be photographed in the lap of the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Here the great writer’s modest memorial lay unmobbed in the damp dusk. I pondered if HC might be fretting about his Little Mermaid being submerged by this fetish for eating beach plants. One day, of course, such is fashion, it may be Noma No Mates.

Martin Lumbye Introduces Copenhagen Cooking 

COPENHAGEN Cooking was officially opened by its Chairman, Martin Lumbye (above), a partner in the hugely influential 'travel metasearch' website Momondo (www.momondo.com). No one is better qualified to access the impact of food tourism in the early 21st century:

'Air travel has never been cheaper and half of all tickets sold now are for city breaks. Our behaviour has changed. Today it’s commodity travelling. Visitors no longer want to focus on the sights. They want to do what the locals do, eat what the locals eat, check out the newest bars or music venues, discover the real city.

'Momondo and Noma got together to produce a guide book (see below) where staff members tell you about their favourite places to visit in Copenhagen. It has sold well because it’s answering a need. I know the people working at Noma. They have fun and they are friends. It’s not just about the food. It’s about the environment. It’s about more informal service. The book reflects the current culture.

'Gastro tourism is big business here – created by this Golden Generation. In the nineties it was our theatre and film that was at the cutting edge, now it’s the food.

"You get inspired by other people’s success. Not rock stars but the chefs and food entrepreneurs are the heroes"

'But our mission at Copenhagen Cooking is not to promote Nordic cuisine only but a wider view of food culture for families, children, the next generation...'

www.momondo.com allows users to compare the cost of flights, hotels and car rental across more than 700 travel sites, with direct links to suppliers, assessing flights by both price and convenience and also offering valuable city guide advice.

Neil Sowerby savours the delights of the Danish Riviera click here

Fact file

Ibsens FacadeIbsens HotelGetting there:
SAS runs a daily service from Manchester Terminal 1 to Copenhagen with the flight taking under two hours. Visit www.flysas.co.uk. The Metro link to the city centre leaves from Terminal 3. It takes 15 minutes to reach Nørreport Station

Staying there:
Ibsens Hotel (part of the family-run Brøchner group) Vendersgade 23. A five minute walk from Nørreport. Three star simplicity in the rooms but with an appealing  downstairs library/bar area and a surprisingly romantic feel. www.ibsenshotel.dk

Copenhagen from noma + momondo (£19). Members of the Noma brigade give you their personal recommendations for what to do in the city. Often off the beaten track and not just eating, this pocket-sized volume published in conjunction with Copenhagen-based travel meta search site Momondo really brings the city alive.
Noma Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Rene Redzepi (Phaidon, £35) offers a beautiful gallery of his source materials and a diary of his personal quest for the essence of Nordic Cuisine – the tenets of which are outlined by the man who backed him, Claus Meyer, at www.clausmeyer.dk/en/the_new_nordic_cuisine_/manifesto_.html

Copenhagen Card:
Absolutely essential, giving you rree transport by train, bus and Metro in the entire Copenhagen Region (inc from and to the airport), free entry to about 70 museums and attractions plus discounts to further sights and some restaurants and shops. Widely available – as a 24/hrs card, 72/hrs card and a 120/hrs card. My 72 hour card costs approximately £50. You can buy before travelling to Copenhagen via www.visitcopenhagen.com/book-your-stay/copenhagen-card

Further afield:
Use your Copenhagen Card to travel up the coast to the rail terminus at picturesque Helsingør (Elsinore, home to Hamlet’s Castle). En route there’s Klampenborg (see above), home to the vintage free amusement park Bakken and the adjacent wild deer reserve, Dyrehaven. Forty minutes from the city (get off at Humlebaek and walk for 10 minutes) is Louisiana, perhaps Europe’s most beautifully sited gallery with a wide-ranging modern art collection and sculpture-dotted gardens overlooking the sea. www.louisiana.dk

Tourist information: www.visitcopenhagen.com

Planning ahead:
Copenhagen Cooking (www.copenhagencooking.dk) will be back next August for its ninth year, but before then there’s a Special Winter Edition throughout February, tied in with six other concurrent festivals, including fashion, jazz, rock and art, under the Wonderecool Copenhagen umbrella. To quote the Cooking organisers: “You can look forward to an entire month of culinary indulgence with gourmet food, a liquorice extravaganza, the Chinese New Year, and masses of other unique gastronomic adventures.” For details visit www.wondercoolcopenhagen.com

Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2013 will feature 20-30 of the world’s top craft breweries in from  May 3-4. For ongoing details visit http://copenhagenbeercelebration.com/blog/



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