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Copenhagen — Europe's New Gastro Hot Spot

Copenhagen — Europe's New Gastro Hot Spot

If you’re going to go on a worldwide food tour, you need to add Copenhagen to your list (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

Stop working the phones fruitlessly trying to nab a table at Noma in Denmark, voted the world’s best restaurant for four of the past five years by Restaurant Magazine. Instead, eat like a local in Copenhagen! Last year, 13 of the Danish capital’s restaurants were awarded a total of 15 Michelin stars — which is more than any other Scandinavian city. Copenhagen’s certainly got plenty of top-notch options: dine inside a palace, stuff yourself with fancy sandwiches, or gastro-philosophize at a chic new eatery opened by Claus Meyer, the father of “New Nordic” cuisine.

Related: WATCH: Inside the Kitchen of Noma, Voted the World’s Best Restaurant — Yet Again.

Almanak at The Standard was opened by Meyer, a co-owner of Noma, with some of the same mantras: let hyper-locally sourced food and the seasons guide the kitchen. The atmosphere is more casual, and the design is in sleek whites and grays dominated by the modern furniture design for which Denmark is justifiably famous. Even the bread is delicious and fascinating: freshly baked sour mash bread with buttermilk, rose petals, and sunflower seeds. A prix fixe dinner (à la carte is also available) included quail with grilled romaine and baby carrots as well as mackerel with fresh peas and cucumber with oyster mayo and mussel juice. In line with their seasonal freshness rule, we finished up with a mouthwatering dessert of strawberry compote with meringue, granola, a burnt white-chocolate foam, and whipped cream, which tastes like the fanciest parfait you’ll ever see.


The mackerel is one of the prix fixe offerings at Almanak (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

The Standard building (which bears no relation to the American hotels) also houses the modern Indian restaurant Verandah, another New Nordic restaurant (Studio), and a jazz club. Perched on the Nyhavn Canal, the striking mint-green art deco building was built as a customs house in 1937 and converted into a terminal for the ferry to Sweden, which became redundant once a bridge was built.


The Standard is home to Almanak and some other fine restaurants (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

If you’re looking for the royal treatment, eat inside a palace! Tårnet lets you chow down inside the tower of the Christiansborg Palace, which is now used by Parliament and for royal engagements. Talk about breaking bread with the queen! After you ascend the elevator, chef Rasmus Bo Bojesen issues a cheeky warning: “Remember to close your mouth.” It’s sage advice; the architecture, the view, and the space are jaw-dropping. Massive domed arches dwarf you as you nestle into your nook, which is adorned by enormous plaster casts of stone sculptures. Once you approach the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, you can see the rides at Tivoli Gardens' amusement park. Matching the old-world feel, the kitchen is proudly bucking the New Nordic trend in favor of a refined version of an “old Nordic” menu, which includes fried mullet with a gooseberry compote and cured, roasted Danish chicken breast with peas, grilled romaine lettuce, and parsley glacé. Don’t leave without climbing up the observation tower for an incredible city view 348 feet above the ground.


If you’re going to eat like a king or a queen, it’s best to do it in a palace. Tårnet gives you that chance (Photo: Copenhagen Media Center and The Tower)

If you’re more interested in eating like a royal but spending like a peasant, look no further than Torvehallerne. The upscale gourmet food market has more than 60 stalls, including healthy takeout, Japanese, tapas, a “Stone Age” food joint (Paleo), and tons of authentic Danish food. You’re likely to get lost watching the locals shop, chat, and relax, but when you do finally finish your meal, rush immediately over to Granny’s House to grab a delicious hindbaersnitte — frosted shortbread squares with berry filling, sprinkled with freeze-dried berries. Many stands have bar seating, or you can make some new friends at one of the outdoor picnic tables.

Related: A Chance to Eat at the World’s Top Restaurant — and Other Exciting Pop-ups


A gourmet food lover’s paradise: the market at Torvehallerne (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

If it’s lunchtime, try Lumskebugten, which serves a traditional meal of smorrebrod, what most of us would call open-faced sandwiches. It caught on in the 1800s as a workingman’s lunch but is experiencing a renaissance in the 21st century. The Danish queen has dined here; I suppose it’s good enough for my discerning taste. The maître d’ makes you feel right at home and explains the epic lunch adventure upon which you are about to embark. The base of the sandwiches is made of rye bread — the thick, hearty kind made of rye flour, not the yellowish kind with the seeds offered in U.S. delicatessens. A variety of meats and fish is served on the bread along with an array of matching condiments. Favorites include herring with apple salad and potatoes with shrimp and salmon. Smorrebrod are to the Danish what hamburgers are to Americans: sacred cultural objects. So there are rules and traditions: Butter your rye bread before placing the cured fish and meat on it. Eat white pickled herring before red pickled herring. And the most important rule: always drink aquavit, a caraway-and-dill-spiced liquor, with your smorrebrod because, as the locals say, “the fish need to swim!”


Behold the Danish delicacy: the smorrebrod. Be sure to wash it down because, as the locals suggest, you don’t want the fish to drown (Photo: Kim Rittberg) 

If you’re a thrifty multitasker, head to The Laundromat Café, where you can wash your clothes, eat burgers, and be social all at once. The well-decorated spot, filled with color-coordinated books, has three Denmark locations, each stocked with chess and backgammon sets.


This is one laundromat where you won’t mind sitting through a long spin cycle (Photo: Copenhagen Media Center and Laundromat Cafe)

Related: 5 Cities, 15 Food Trucks: We’ve Got the Best Meals on Wheels in the U.S.

Another neat, new spot popular with the locals is Copenhagen Street Food, a market in the industrial area of Papirøen. The offerings already range from organic hot dogs to Mexican food to doner kebabs and should continue to grow. The market is located in a former paper warehouse, and its décor is made of recycled items; you’ll spot shipping containers, a Silver Stream trailer, and oil barrels repurposed as furniture.   


Why does food taste so much better coming from a food truck? There are plenty of them at Copenhagen Street Food (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

You’re probably so excited, you’ve already booked your flight to Copenhagen. Here are a few other recommendations to fill your visit:

Geranium — a two-star Michelin Restaurant

Uformel — a chic but pricey choice

Kadeau — a restaurant that celebrates the “tastes and smells” of the Danish island of Bornholm

Marchal at the lovely 18th-century Hotel d’Angleterre.

All of these places give you an authentic taste of this intriguing city. And if you can’t get into the world-famous, super-exclusive Noma, these are all very tasty consolation prizes. (Noma, if you’re reading this, no hard feelings. I could still probably be persuaded to have a little taste of your food. Call me maybe?)

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