72 Hours in Culinary Copenhagen

We left it too late to get a table at Noma.

I admit I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get to eat dirt, ground ants and moss. I also admit I was gutted I wouldn’t get to eat at the place voted Best Restaurant of 2012 by Restaurant Magazine. And finally, I admit I was sad I wouldn’t get to try Danish chef René Redzepi’s world-renowned experimental cuisine. But, all things considered, I was relieved to keep the few extra kroner in my pocket and avoid the place that had just made the news for all the wrong reasons: for making 63 guests sick with Norovirus.

So, all thoughts of Noma cast aside. Instead, myself and a friend had 72 hours one chilly March weekend to explore the rest of culinary Copenhagen.

IMG_5398Saturday

11:30am: We begin with brunch at Bang & Jensen, a café-bar decorated with unmatched cinema chairs, quirky lamps and retro wallpaper in a converted apothecary at the heart of trendy Vesterbro neighbourhood

IMG_5276For the late risers, Bang & Jensen serves weekend breakfast or brunch all the way til 5pm, and the menu includes simple items such as a boiled egg and rye toast with butter (23 DKK, or about GBP 2.60), croque monsieur (73 DKK), or a grilled sandwich with chorizo (67 DKK). We each order a soft-boiled egg with dippy rye bread and, to share, a Grambogaard junket (33 DKK), which turns out to be a delicious bowl of yoghurt topped with granola, fresh fruit and maple syrup. The coffee is weak and lukewarm and the service not especially smiley, but we enjoy the food and the laid-back atmosphere.

IMG_52772pm: After an hour or two of wandering in the freezing cold, we stumble upon Maven, an elegant but down-to-earth restaurant and wine bar tucked away in the back of an old church in Nikolaj Square. Literally meaning ‘Stomach,’ Maven takes its name from the old nickname for the square, which was home to Copenhagen’s butchers shops in the 19th century.

We are immediately welcomed into the small, cosy room with its fur-carpeted floor and chairs and seated beside the wine cellar. The atmosphere is friendly and warm, a welcome escape from the bitter cold outside.

IMG_5278Between us, we order the coarse fishcakes with homemade remoulade and lemon (DKK 105), the roast beef with fried onion rings, pickles and salad (DKK 98), and a helping of fries with aioli (DKK 59). The term ‘fries’ doesn’t do justice to the huge basket of wedge-like potato chips I witness at a nearby table, but unfortunately ours never arrives, and by the time we catch the waiter’s attention, we’re too full to manage the chips. The very cheerful waiter does, however, compensate us with free Illy coffees.

Roast beef at MavenThe smoky, herby flavour of the fishcakes is terrific with the sweet, chunky remoulade and light salad, and the crispy onion rings provide the perfect bit of texture to go with the cold roast beef and pickles. We also manage to polish off a large basket of complimentary fresh bread and butter, which makes up for the missing chips. The restaurant also offers an extensive wine menu.

Despite the slight hiccup with the missing chips, Maven certainly delivers on food quality and super-friendly service. The restaurant is within a few minutes’ walk of the Canal Tours Copenhagen stop at Gammel Strand, making it an ideal place to stop before exploring the city by boat.

IMG_52824:30pm: We spend the afternoon ambling around unique freetown Christiania, an autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents. The quiet streets of this open compound give it an abandoned, desolate and almost eery feel as we wander around, taking in the colourful murals and abundance of bicycles, carts and other belongings left trustingly outside people’s homes. We eventually come to the heart of Christiania: ‘Pusher Street,’ where the sale of cannibis is legal, and photos are forbidden. It’s worth the trip for a glimpse at this alternative way of living.

IMG_52806pm: Exhausted from walking in the cold, we arrive back at our minimalist, Scandi-style apartment in Vesterbro and crack open a box of chocolate treats bought earlier in the day from the Lagkagehuset bakery chain. I go for a giant chocolate rum ball and a Sarah Bernhard (DKK 25), a meringue-like chocolate creation a little like a Walnut Whip, that apparently takes its name from the eponymous French film actress. Both are delicious.

IMG_52978:30pm: We manage to secure a last-minute table for two at trendy Madsvinet, an old butcher shop converted into a restaurant on Enghavevej. The room retains its butcher-shop feel with white-tiled walls and meat-hook coat stand, and an intriguing Allan Bestle painting on the wall.

Expecting it to be packed and pretentious, we’re slotted in to the busy but totally friendly butchers-shop restaurant immediately. We order two glasses of mid-price-range red wine and are upgraded to the most expensive glass of Pinot Noir by the restaurant manager, who cheerfully explains they need to sell it within two days because the bottle has already been opened.

The very simple menu is in Danish but we manage to get by with the help of Google translate and the very friendly staff, who speak perfect English and are delighted to explain everything in great detail. IMG_5315We share a mango, broccoli, beef and hazelnut salad (DKK 95), followed by the Danish veal fillet with cabbage and apple, and the braised pork neck with cabbage and radish (each DKK 185). Both mains are absolutely bursting with flavour and tenderness, with a completely unique combination of textures and flavours. We both agree the pork is the best we’d ever tasted.

IMG_5314Dessert – there is only one option on the menu – is a sweet, soufflé-style cake with mouthwatering beetroot ice cream (DKK 75), and we finish off with a good espresso martini, made and poured right in front of us.

The food at Madsvinet is some of the best I’ve tasted in a long time, and the value for money is spot on. The place has a completely chilled, super-cool vibe and all the staff are incredibly friendly, knowledegable and helpful. Maybe we don’t need to go to Noma after all?

IMG_530411pm: The rest of the evening is spent in the trendy Meatpacking District, where we wander around in search of a busy bar. Highly recommended pizza restaurant Mother is brimming with diners, but the bars are fairly quiet and the area seems abandoned. We go for one drink in a bar before walking home, where we spot this mural, part of the global Before I Die project.

Sunday

12pm: Sunday, sensibly, is a slightly quieter food-day for us, after Saturday’s over-consumption. We begin at Café Norden, a heaving café and tea rooms on Ostergade, overlooking Hojbro Square.

IMG_5310While my travel companion wisely chooses a simple Danish pastry, I greedily go for the enormous all-in brunch of orange juice, bread, ham and cheese, pancakes with maple syrup, fresh fruit, a large slice of carrot cake, coffee and a biscuit. (DKK 180). While most of the brunch dish isn’t interchangeable, the pancakes can be swapped for eggs and bacon. Sadly, the food isn’t quite up to scratch and certainly isn’t worth the money – the fruit is pretty standard and tasteless, the bread not 100% fresh and the service fairly slow. Still, at least I don’t need to eat (MUCH) for the rest of the day!

2pm: We spend the afternoon on a canal-boat tour, taking inIMG_5351 Nyhavn with its colourful buildings and plentiful bars and restaurants and the touristy Little Mermaid, which is covered in icicles. Finally, we arrive at the famous Round Tower just before it closes at 5pm and are kindly given a free pass to make a quick dash to the top of the tower to see the stunning views over the capital. Then we wander around the expensive upmarket shops and department stores around Pilestraede. We try to go to Madklubben, a recommended steak restaurant, but all its branches are closed for a staff party.

8pm: Sunday evening, we head back to our local café Bang & Jensen, which also serves decent evening meals in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by pinball machines and quirky furniture. My first choice of lamb curry is sold out, as are several other dishes on the menu, despite the restaurant’s emptiness. Instead, I have an excellent chilli con carne with chocolate (Mexican-style!) and rice (DKK 89), and my companion has a very warming Thai-style coconut-chicken soup with toasted bread (DKK 78).

IMG_5275Monday

11am: First thing Monday, we head to Granola, a café-restaurant in Vesterbro that was completely heaving on Sunday. This time, we manage to get a table for brunch.

I’m fascinated by the amount of old-school prams left outside on the street in Copenhagen with sleeping babies inside (see left). Apparently the tradition in Scandinavia is to leave your baby to sleep outside in the cold. There are unlocked bikes and baby prams on pretty much every corner – the Danish certainly seem to have no problem trusting their compatriots!

IMG_5424I have an enormous goats cheese salad (DKK 90) and we finish up with pancakes and maple syrup (DKK 45) and a serving of apple cake with roasted hazelnuts and whipped cream (DKK 45), which turns out to be more a disappointing pile of sweet, chopped apples than anything remotely resembling a cake. The pancakes are perfect, but the coffee weak – a seemingly common trait in Copenhagen’s cafés.

My final meal in Copenhagen is a pulled-pork takeaway sandwich from restaurant chain Cofoco- absolutely bursting with meat and flavour and ideal to get me through the journey to the airport and home.

All in all, Copenhagen doesn’t disappoint on the foodie heaven scale. Who needs Noma anyway?

Tips:

We booked our apartment in hip Vesterbro through airbnb, which is ideal if you want flexibility as well as a taste of the real Scandi experience.

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