Our obsession with all things Scandi, from addictive nordic noir TV dramas to the marketplace in IKEA, compelled us to look at a weekend exploring the Danish capital of Copenhagen. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit the home of pastries, smorgasbord, Borgen, THAT bridge and more wind turbines than you can shake a stick at…
We decided to stay for four days, flying out with EasyJet from Luton on a Sunday morning (very early, but the plane was half empty), and back on Wednesday afternoon. All fairly civilised and straightforward, plus the flights were incredibly cheap (£19 p/p out, and less than £7 p/p back (Sept 2016)), so a no brainer really. The flight was one hour 30 minutes and the train links from the airport to city centre were fast, easy and uncomplicated.
Having investigated some Airbnb options in the city, but discounted most of them on the grounds of cost, no lift and looking too much like you were crashing in someone’s home, we eventually found Hotel Andersen, which described itself as a boutique hotel and looked rather stylish on the site. It was relatively good value, offered breakfast included in the room price, and was very centrally located. Our room was small, but attractive and clean, and the breakfast was plentiful and varied, with the usual cereals, pastries, cold meats, smoked salmon, cheeses, plus a couple of hot options like pancakes and scrambled eggs. All good. The hotel did turn out to be on the edge of the red light district, which wasn’t a problem at all during the day, but made the area seem slightly seedy very late at night. However, in terms of location that was the only minor downside – in all other respects its position just around the corner from the main train station, and within easy walking distance of good restaurants, the Big Bus tours and the main shopping district meant it made an excellent base.
Having taken the liberty of tweeting Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark and the food writer Nigel Slater for their restaurant recommendations (I knew they’d both been to the city relatively recently) it was a thrill to receive their feedback via Twitter. Kirsty suggested BROR as being ‘adventurous and delicious’, and Nigel explained that he’d ‘had a very jolly time at Kodbyens Fiskebar‘ in the old meatpacking district (also just around the corner from our hotel). So I immediately went online and booked both.
We went to BROR first, walking the 20 minutes from the hotel in pouring rain but arriving to a warm and solicitous welcome as we were led to a table upstairs and offered a drink and the menu. When it came the drink was a geranium infused gin and tonic (utterly refreshing) and the menu contained no more detail than two options of either a four or five course tasting feast, with or without wine pairings. We opted for the five course menu and ordered a bottle of wine separately.
The staff informed us that the five courses would be preceded by three ‘snacks’, and proceeded to bring to the table a series of dishes that challenged and delighted us in equal measure. It all started with bull’s testicles with tartare sauce, continued with bull’s penis ‘scratchings’ and included a whole cod’s head, duck livers and beef lungs somewhere along the way. The individual chefs who cooked each dish brought it to the table and explained what it was and how it could be eaten, and the owner/patron circulated around all the guests explaining the concepts, cooking methods and inspirations. This very personal approach added a great deal to the overall experience and made the evening feel informal and inclusive, which was a nice touch.
With hake, mackerel, egg mayonnaise, melted cheese, tarragon meringue, bone marrow creme brûlée, various foams, granitas and edible flowers adorning individual dishes, we mmmmd, oohed, ahhhed and hesitated our way through each course, learning not to judge with our eyes but taste with our mouths (obvious really!). It was an experience, and a good one overall, but perhaps not for a faint-hearted vegetarian! Personally I couldn’t get on with the barely-cooked taste and texture of the cod’s head and hake fillet, but everything else (and there was lots) was utterly delicious and amazing. A culinary adventure indeed, but at a fairly steep price! The meal, with two gins and bottle of wine cost over £100 each. The concept is fine dining, and you can appreciate the skill and care that goes into each course, but the restaurant takes great pride in showcasing the ‘nose to tail’ food concept, which made me wonder just how much they can justify these prices when the ingredients were so cheap?!
The next evening we walked through the city to the Nyhavn area, where the colourful old dockside houses have mainly been converted into restaurants, thereby creating a touristy hotspot. But no matter, outside heaters, blankets and a brisk service meant we could enjoy sunset amid the bustle, chatter and sights of everyone passing by. After a slow stroll up and down checking menus and prices we opted for dinner at HEERING, which offered fairly standard Danish options from which we chose salmon and herring starters, plus steak with béarnaise sauce and lamb for mains. It was excellent value, especially the three-courses set menu. Service was efficient and we seemed to be surrounded by Danish people, which is always a good sign!
But it turned out that we had saved the best restaurant until last by booking Nigel Slater’s recommendation: Kodbyens Fiskebar, for our final evening. We strolled the ten minutes from our hotel to the meatpacking district and found ourselves in a converted industrial unit which retained its original white tiled walls and utilitarian feel, but had added fish tanks, lovely lighting, a central bar area, chill out music and a wonderful buzzy vibe that made the whole experience one to remember. The staff were friendly, helpful and accommodating, the tables were close and intimate, and the food was divine – fresh, clean, simply presented but with complex tastes and textures. You choose from a variety of small, medium and large plates of mostly fish and shellfish, including oysters (there are other options), and off you go on a culinary pescatarian experience par excellence.
We ordered lobster, scallops, fish and chips, mussels and cod’s roe, devouring every delicate mouthful with gusto. It was all mouth-watering. The atmosphere was wonderful, but it was busy, busy, busy, so definitely book ahead if you plan to go. According to the chef/patron at BROR, Kodbyens Fiskebar is allegedly the best fish restaurant in Copenhagen, and our experience certainly backed claim that up.
Our last course was late in coming so the staff offered us a tour of the kitchen to compensate – what a treat to step into the hectic atmosphere, watch the chefs work and say hello to the section heads. A quick stop at the dessert station on the way back to our table saw us try their intriguing mushroom and goat’s cheese ice creams (yes, you read that right). Incredible flavours, adding sweetness to an earthy undertone. Definitely worth a try if you’re not too full already!
10 great things to do in Copenhagen:
Take a harbour boat tour
Cross the Oresund Bridge
Catch a train to Louisiana
Try the waterfront Paper Island Street Food Market
Hop on a Big Bus trip
Eat at Kodbyens Fiskebar
Browse the shopping district
Have dinner in Nyhavn
Stroll through Christiania
Explore the old University area
WHAT DID WE THINK OF THE CITY?
Quite simply: we loved it. Copenhagen is vibrant, neat and compact, easy to navigate with excellent transport links. It’s clean, interesting, and an attractive mix of old and new. The architecture is stunning (in particular new buildings like the Opera House and Theatre on the waterfront), everywhere felt safe and friendly, there’s lots to do, great places to explore and it’s easy to take a trip out of the city over to Sweden or up the coast to Louisiana. Yes, prices for food, drink and accommodation are high, but that’s why it makes sense to go for a few days only. Our checklist of things to do are based on what we managed to cram in in four days. You obviously may have other priorities and must-sees.
One word of warning: don’t bust a gut to see the Little Mermaid. The Danes seem faintly embarrassed by her: she’s small, insignificant and faces the shoreline if you rock up on the boat tour. She’s also never alone…