Text & Pictures: ANNA KÜFNER
I’m sitting in the sun soaked terminal of Copenhagen airport when I suddenly start to cry. Departures have never been my thing but it’s been a long time since tears rolled down my cheeks after security control. The ocean blue sky and warm rays of spring sun try to caress me after a few, what now feels like too few days of emotional eating. But don’t expect this to be a feature raving about restaurants whose names you have heard over and over again, it is more a personal attempt to explain how and why one can fall under a place’s and maybe even under a city’s spell – and it will guide you to some old and recent favourites in Denmark’s culinary wonderland.
I’ve been to Copenhagen a couple of times over the past years and of course its name brings to mind culinary connotations of noma, New Nordic Cuisine and natural wines, but things that affected me the most here were always written between the obvious lines. This time again the city’s food and wine scene off the fine dining track leaves me in an emotional state somewhere between overwhelmed and enchanted. There is a humble elegance effortlessly paired with just the right amount of self-confidence and taste which brings me ultimate comfort and pleasure. And this makes me, also known as a critical eater and restaurant-goer, wonder: one can judge food by ingredients, skills, techniques, flavour and creativity, a restaurant by its location, design and service – but what the hell is it that evokes that spontaneous smile and true satisfaction?
Cycling out on a sunny Saturday to eat lunch at Amass on Refshaleøen is without a doubt one fine thing to do. Out on the peninsula, a former industrial area of Copenhagen’s harbour, there is still a lot of space. It’s just a 15-minute bike ride from the city centre’s buzzing Nyhavn but it feels like being far off. For a short moment I imagine we would be the only people here until a taxi stops in front of the restaurant and unloads two other lunch guests and their heavy luggage. We enjoyed three extraordinary courses from Matt Orlando’s kitchen – I’m still craving their fermented potato flatbread - and go for a stroll through the restaurant’s garden and polytunnels, and that is when my friends Nana and Esben decide to take me to a baby blue cabin by the water that I won’t forget in a while. La Banchina is perfect to me: the tiny room is furnished with simple wooden tables and Danish design vintage chairs, merging a marine with a somewhat Tuscan feel. It’s simple and unpretentious. Outside, people including us on that sunny afternoon, sit on wooden planks by the water, sharing bottles of carefully selected wine, indicating that this gem is more than just a quayside bar. La Banchina opens at 8 in the morning, serving breakfast and (good!) coffee and stays open all day until dinner service starts at 6. Easy, tasty food is served in a casual but so well-thought manner that my heart melts. This spot is romantic in a way that I understand urban romance, if there is such a thing. It is the kind of place where you want to hold your birthday or wedding dinner, with friends and laughter and endlessly flowing amounts of wine. “Sure”, one could easily say now, “it is a café by the sea, of course it is nice!” But no, things are not that simple. Often I don’t even dare to enter one of the spots by the shore for more than a cup of tea. But here I would order anything, not ever doubting taste and quality of what is served to their guests. There’s a sauna, too, and funnily it not even feels weird that people jump into the cold water right next to you. Somehow, everything makes a lot of sense here.
Back in the city after the dreamy daytime escape which felt like a short vacation within my short vacation, I’m meeting up with friends at Den Vandrette, a natural wine bar, again, by the water. The guys behind it are wine merchants Rosforth & Rosforth who started importing wines back in 1994. With our first glass of Gamay there’s the mandatory sourdough bread to start with, thickly sliced, accompanied by butter and mushroom salt. More small plates come from the kitchen: a beef tartare that gently reminds of the classic at Manfred’s, another casual Copenhagen favourite, sautéed kale from the local organic farm Birkemosegaard, served on toasted sourdough with a creamy goat cheese, and then we get a simple but heavenly homemade squid ink pasta with a citrusy butter, bottarga and breadcrumbs. Everything tastes as it should. I have nothing to add or to complain about. It is the exact food that you want to have with the exceptional juices you drink here. Marc, our waiter, is taking more than good care of us, glasses are never empty and we’re leaving late, after some more accidental sips of sparkling things. Den Vandrette is a place that you want to have in your neighbourhood, where you meet friends on a Tuesday night over a glass of wine and a small bite. Maybe you come back on Friday. And Saturday as well. On my bike ride home I could actually not be any happier. I had friends around me, sunshine and spring vibes all day which is hard to beat anyway – but I feel people here just care a little more for what they do, providing their guests substance and authenticity. And I can also feel a little more appreciation from the guests for what they experience.
The next morning Nana and I go for breakfast at Admiralgade 26, tucked away in a beautiful old street in the city centre. It’s a former theatre that has been taken over by the talented team of Ved Stranden 10, a wine shop and bar and one of my all-time favourites which is located just around the corner. I’d describe their style as grown up, the space is airy and timeless, and only looking at the breakfast and lunch menu makes the smile come back. Admiralgade 26 puts together Danish and Japanese elements, a winning combo that matches the bright and calm atmosphere of the room like a perfectly sitting suit. The small menu reads refreshingly well: for breakfast you’ll find a classic Japanese Chōshoku, a board including lightly pickled fish, dashi, greens, rice and kimchi and in case this seems too funky for your early taste buds, there are more classic options, too. The dark Danish rye bread with a soft boiled egg and cheese, a daily selection of pastries, and I decide to order the omelette (the menu says nothing more about it than omelette. I like that). The carefully cooked eggs come topped with fresh herbs and leafy greens that make my plate look like a spring garden. This is a compliment: my simple breakfast dish appears in such a gorgeous costume I almost don’t dare to take the first bite. Finally my personal breakfast-out-of-home dreams seem to come true. There’s no avocado poached egg in sight, instead I find simple ideas well executed. It’s quiet here and friendly, it’s a place that is different but not overly crazy, and there are people in the kitchen who surely know what they’re doing.
I understand a restaurant like this one, I understand what it wants to say in its soft, understated tone. People around us who order steamed Danish potatoes with mussel sauce and trout roe for lunch now, seem to understand as well. The art of simplicity is performed the way it should here. Admiralgade 26 is a tiny piece of earth that feels very alright, affecting my felicitous emotions.
I had a similar feeling when I entered Atelier September for the first time some years ago.
I was hit by its personality and clarity. A light flooded and soothing room, and again: I couldn’t find anything I would have done differently. It is one of the few places I know where you can spend time alone without feeling weird or watched. Actually, maybe Atelier September is enjoyed best when you’re on your own, listening to Francoise Hardy while you sip on a cup of tea, staring out of the big windows. “Fine dining is like airports. You only go once in a while. I wanted to create more a train station or bus station”, said Frederik Bille Brahe, creative mind behind AS, in an interview published in Ambrosia magazine last year. I share his thoughts: I enjoy everyday places that are nice and accessible. I want to have the opportunity to go to the same place two or three times a week, to become a regular without getting bored or bankrupt. I want miscellaneous people around me, not only one of a kind. On my last day in town I’m back at the café for a breakfast meeting and for the third time this weekend I am told over morning coffee that Bille Brahe has just taken over the canteen of Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Nyhavn. “If you still have time, this is where you should go for lunch”, recommends my breakfast companion and trustworthy source Louise.
I decide to go later that day, my last lunch in town before I have to head to the airport. I’m not really sure what to expect, I had not seen any pictures of the space nor did I exactly know where it was. I walk into the historic yard of the exhibition space, it is very quiet and I have to ask someone to finally find Apollo Kantine. The moment I enter the room, I fall in love. A light-flooded space with high ceilings and massive old windows, casually dressed with large wooden community tables and Børge Mogensen vintage chairs. One large boquet of flowers. One more time I discover a place which proves taste and that special intuition you need to turn an ordinary site into a gracious and social something. I order, canteen-style, at the counter in front of the open kitchen. It’s obviously the least expensive meal I had all weekend, even for a non-student like me who doesn’t benefit from the discount. There are only two dishes on the menu, one with meat and one vegetarian, water is complementary, wine looks tempting but I skip it for once. Today’s dish is a mixed bean salad with slow roasted carrots, topped with winter cress and sheep’s milk cheese. I sit down and eat and what it provokes is that I am not willing to accept any other lunch standard than this in the future. I can see and taste that the team has put a lot of thought into the matter of everyday food. To me this is more fundamental than any finetuned dining concept. I’m almost to too excited about the beauty of the canteen and its food to finish my plate, but I manage and I peacefully walk out.
While I wait to get on board of my plane I cannot help but wonder what exactly caused that deep feeling of satisfaction and is now bringing me to tears-of-whatever. My food related emotions seem to awaken when I’m faced with places of simple aesthetics, quality and substance, it makes me happy to see good people turn some unassuming locations into something utterly precious. I experienced plenty of them in quite a short amount of time here, which can obviously be overwhelming for a Berlin born child. No city is perfect, nor are any places. But Copenhagen made me fall in love with restaurants and cafés that may not be perfect from an objective point of view but to me they were, in all their simplicity and realness. Fourty-five minutes later I arrive back in Berlin, giving up on my attempts to understand what exactly happened the past days, but just enjoying the sweet aftertaste. I appreciate the existence of planes in that moment, making these intense experiences possible. But the weekend also reminds me that sometimes I really enjoy taking the train, or the bus.
More (casual) recommendations for Copenhagen
Ancestrale – A new wine bar in the Vesterbro neighbourhood, their small „menu changes as the wind blows“.
Atelier September – Skip the most instagrammed avodaco-on-rye (it’s very tasty though) and try one of their daily vegetarian specials instead. Also highly recommended: their granola with zucchini & matcha on greek yoghurt for breakfast.
Hija de Sanchez – The one and only taco shack by Rosio Sanchez, former pastry chef of noma. The tacos are incredibly delicious and so is everything else on the menu. Don’t leave without trying one of their paletas or the churros for dessert. HdS has two locations, one in Kødbyen (Copenhagen’s meatpacking district) and one in Torvehallerne, the central market halls (only open April – October).
Manfred’s – Christian Puglisi’s down-to-earth restaurant across the street from relæ on Jægersborggade is one of the Copenhagen classics. Their beef tartare is maybe the best known in town but I recommend to try some of their vegetarian plates. Ask for the daily special!
Mirabelle – Bakery, café and restaurant in one location, also orchestrated by Christian Puglisi. I like to go there for breakfast and lunch and to take home one of their big and dark sourdough loaves (they are sold by weight). Puglisi’s pizza place Bæst is right next door.
Slurp Ramen Joint – Copenhagen’s latest ramen spot in Nørrebro. They have four different bowls of ramen (noodles are made in house) plus small sides like pickled cucumbers with katsuobushi.
The Corner at 108 – The noma sibling has a little corner spot that is providing you everything necessary to get through the day: coffee & pastries, a daily changing lunch menu and a nice glass of wine. Open early till late.
Ved Stranden 10 – The perfect place for a glass of wine in the afternoon. The team (don’t miss out on talking to them!) is lovely and so are the snacks they serve.