The Copenhagen platter

Krutika Behrawala | Updated on March 13, 2020

Nordic accents: Dinnertime at Vækst, a restaurant in Copenhagen’s Latin Quarter   -  IMAGES: KRUTIKA BEHRAWALA

Eat your way through the Danish capital’s culinary offerings

“Did we order this?” my dining companion asks, eyeing a plate of microgreens on a bed of sauce. The dish’s hues match the ambience of Vækst, a restaurant in Copenhagen’s old Latin Quarter where the pièce de résistance is a glass greenhouse. The dish, we learn, accompanies our main course featuring a chicken thigh.

I think of dismissing the greens as ‘ghaas phoos’ but it justifies its presence by livening up the confit chicken with fresh flavours. The meal plays out like a symphony — the chive oil enhances the mushroom soup’s silken texture, brittle bites of rye bread uplift a cucumber and green tomato salad, and the burst of the pop rocks on the rhubarb compote evokes childhood memories of Magic Pops.

This simplicity and a seamless melange of the old and new underline the essence of the New Nordic cuisine that has propelled Denmark’s capital to the gastronomic world map. It started with Chef René Redzepi’s Noma, which opened in 2003. The restaurant put the spotlight on the region’s local, seasonal produce and revived practices such as foraging and fermenting to create inventive flavours. On every gastronome’s list, snagging a booking here could mean joining a wait-list of a few thousand diners.

There is, however, no dearth of interesting culinary experiences in Copenhagen, as I discovered, eating my way through the city. It is home to 16 Michelin-starred restaurants, including Marchal, which is housed in the historic Hotel D’Angleterre and serves Nordic dishes with a French twist (read: Mint and pea tarts with crème fraîche). It’s named after Jean Marchal, a Frenchman who founded the restaurant with his amour Marie Coppy, the royal palace chef’s daughter, back in 1755.

Meanwhile, budget hotspots offer grød (porridge) and Danish-style hot dogs. The pubs dotting the Insta-friendly Nyhavn harbour help you wind down after cycling through the neighbourhoods — Copenhagen is a bicycle-friendly city with dedicated lanes and bridges. And the city’s thriving craft beer scene is championed by Mikkeller, a gypsy brewery with a cult following. I enjoy the mild, floral notes in its hibiscus pilsner.

An omnipresent Danish classic is the smørrebrød — the open-faced sandwich. The Danes are a hardworking lot and this modest lunch staple fuelled them through long hours in 19th-century, newly industrialised Denmark. A slice of rugbrød (rye bread), smeared with butter or animal fat, would hold up toppings such as smoked fish or pickled herring, meats or leftovers.

It’s now getting sophisticated makeovers though. I meet the modern smørrebrød at Selma, a cosy establishment with a Michelin Bib Gourmand (a distinction awarded to pocket-friendly restaurants). Here, the rye bread is toasted and topped with yellow beets glazed with plum vinegar, confit celeriac (a root vegetable), buckwheat seeds, hand-dived scallops and more. The menu changes with the season and seafood is sourced through artisanal fishing techniques.

Such practices are also part of the farm-to-table Manfreds, located on the seedy-turned-swish Jægersborggade stretch in the Norrebro neighbourhood. The produce, used from root to tip, is sourced from chef-restaurateur Christian Puglisi’s farm, about 60km away. My lunch is a no-nonsense affair that celebrates each ingredient, whether it’s broccoli with the stem, trimmings of zucchini or a dish with three varieties of heirloom tomatoes that’s a sensorial experience of understanding the different acidic levels. This veggie-focused restaurant also does an excellent beef tartare (made with raw ground meat) and stocks natural wine, mostly produced organically.

Bake well: 150-year-old La Glace, Copenhagen’s oldest patisserie


The Danish lifestyle is also synonymous with hygge (pronounced as ‘hu-guh’) — the feeling of cosiness derived by lighting candles, wrapping fingers around warm cups of coffee to defy the biting winters of Scandinavia or smiling at strangers on the street. I find my hygge in the 150-year-old La Glace, the city’s oldest patisserie on the shopping street of Strøget. Its selection of 20-layered cakes includes their house speciality — Sportskage (sports cake). The recipe dates back to 1891, when it was made for a theatre production called Sports Man. The cake resembles a soccer ball with its macaroon base, crushed nougat, whipped cream and caramelised pastries. A lemony, nutty, white chocolate cake is dedicated to Copenhagen’s famous resident and fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen. Meanwhile, the hot chocolate, a cocoa-filled soul-warming bliss, is served by the pot to be savoured alone as you pause, relax and watch the world go by.

What’s shared among institutions and locals is the goal to turn Copenhagen carbon-neutral by 2025. As I hop onto a boat for a canal tour, I see smoke billowing out of Copenhill, an ambitious waste-to-energy project. I disembark at Reffen, a hip street-food market replete with diverse cuisines and lessons in waste management. The food stalls are set up in ship containers, the signboards and light bulbs are upcycled from old floorboards and discarded wine bottles. Owners get a rent cut if certified as organic. As I tuck into Nordic hot dogs and the African domodar stew (made with carrots, peanut butter and a homemade chilli sauce), I wonder if India could do with a Reffen. After all, wouldn’t you wish to enjoy the world on a plate that’s biodegradable too?

Krutika Behrawala is a Mumbai-based food, travel and culture writer

Published on March 12, 2020

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