Eating in Copenhagen? Lucky You.
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: November 18, 2011
NOT since the ‘90s, when El Bulli’s establishment as the most heralded restaurant in the world sparked a culinary transformation in northeastern Spain, has a city changed its image as an eating destination the way Copenhagen has done recently, leaving the rest of Scandinavia — and indeed Northern Europe — to catch up. In the last couple of years, as the city’s most prominent restaurant, Noma, has received one accolade after another, insiders have flocked to Copenhagen to sample what Noma’s chef, René Redzepi, has done with Nordic cuisine. Down-to-earth but remarkably novel, his hyper-local approach combines woods and sea in ways that are distinctively, if not Danish, then at least Scandinavian.
But after landing in this pretty, magical city and eating your Noman meal of roots, herbs, rye, seafood, game and flowers, you might wonder, “Where else am I going to eat?”
Over two trips, I set out to provide some answers; it turns out that there are choices galore. Though the streets, especially in winter, can seem eerily quiet, the restaurants I visited are bustling. Of those I liked best, Relae is run by Noma alumni, and shows it; Geist is stunningly creative, risky and largely successful. Two others, Paustian and Schonnemann, are well established but maintain high culinary and atmospheric energy. In fact, from inside these restaurants you might think that everyone in town who can afford to eats out every night, à la New York, though friends insist there’s only a small restaurant culture. Possibly every other person is a tourist.
In addition to the restaurants detailed here, I want to recommend one and mention some others. The recommendation is for Kodbyens Fiskebar (Fish Bar), which I visited in 2010. I loved it, but took no notes (I was there for the fun of it), and had no time to visit on my most recent trip. First among the others is Radio, run by the Noma partner Claus Meyer. Were it not for its pedigree I wouldn’t mention it at all, because I found the food disappointing and the service annoying, but it could have been an off night. Finally, Gronbech & Churchill and Mielcke & Hurtigkarl are two well-regarded restaurants I wanted to get to but ran out of time.
You can walk to all of these from any central hotel, and the walks, especially to Relae and Schonnemann will take you through some lovely neighborhoods. (The Rosenborg Castle Garden near Schonnemann should not be missed in any case.) Note that the Danish krone is more than 5 to the dollar, which is worse (for us) than normal, so even reasonable prices will seem high. (Cab fares, for example, appeared outrageous to me.)
This was my second trip to Copenhagen in 14 months, and I was determined to get in to Schonnemann, which isn’t easy; it’s so filled with politicians, businessmen and other regulars that not all that many tourists actually can get in. (I booked before I left home, and you should, too.) The place, which serves only lunch, is in an old, well-preserved wood-and-gleaming-brass barroom, brightly lighted (though there’s good ambient lighting as well). It makes traditional smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches, not a buffet), most properly eaten with beer and schnapps, in the form of aquavit. I suggest going when you’re supremely jet-lagged or about to leave town, or some other time when you can afford to pass out afterward, and make an afternoon of it. You will not need dinner. The bread is superior, as is the service, and you can have sandwiches like fat herring with curried hard-boiled egg, capers and onion; superb smoked eel with (perfectly) scrambled eggs and chives; steak tartare; smoked salmon with langoustine; or a variety of nonsandwich dishes containing chicken, fish or meat, all of which are equally classic. (I’d stick with the sandwiches.) Dessert: fried cheese with berries. Might as well go all the way. Schonnemann, Hauser Plads 16; (45) 3312-0785; restaurantschonnemann.dk. Average meal for two: 150 krone.