Since the U.S. election, I’ve been thinking a lot about Copenhagen. My husband and I visited with friends last fall. Denmark is one of the world’s happiest countries and when in the capital city it’s hard not to notice how content the residents are despite the dark, dreary weather that persists for much of the year. Dane’s pay some of the highest taxes in the world and while the prime minister has made remarks that it’s not a planned socialist economy residents do get access to child care, state-guaranteed medical and parental leave from work, free college tuition and free health care. The system really ensures a high standard of living to all citizens rather than promoting unbridled capitalism. I once read that René Redzepi, co-owner of Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant noma, felt guilty about increasing tasting menu prices to a level quite out of reach for many people. That’s just not the way things are done here.
We had one experience in Copenhagen that I think says a lot about the difference between the United States and Denmark. When we checked into our Airbnb in Vesterbro, the owner recommended we eat at Absalon, a community center in a renovated church. These are not words that would normally make my palate excited, but she assured us the cuisine was excellent. Infact, she told us it was so popular it filled every night. The wealthy Danish businessman Lennard Lejboschitz bought and renovated the church as a way to give back to the community. Among many other activities, it hosts communal dinners each night that cost no more than 15 euros. Our group of six arrived just before doors opened at 6pm. We hurried inside with other hungry diners barely making the cut off. We found a place at a long table next to a Danish family of four beneath the cathedral height ceiling.
It didn’t take long for the food to arrive. It was served family style and included a platter of tender lamb, a butter lettuce salad on top of a pea puree as well as a side of roasted potatoes. It was delicious comfort fare. Children had the freedom to run around and play. There was even a bar where adults could buy beer or a glass of wine. Everyone mingled. It was a lovely and heartwarming evening.
There are plenty of reasons why the US is not just like Denmark. Denmark has a population of just 5.6 million, roughly the size of Minnesota, while the US has more than 300 million and it’s not very ethnically diverse. Still there’s much too take away from this country where spreading the wealth is the ethos. At the very least, it would be nice if more of our billionaires felt inclined to give back in a similarly simple and meaningful way.
If you go:
Noma is moving to a new location and scheduled to reopen in 2017, in the meantime try this restaurant from the same team. 108 offers an à la carte menu, with some dishes served family style, but the highly seasonal, foraged cuisine is a glimpse into the brilliance of the well-oiled noma machine. Dishes include pumpkin with fresh goats milk cheese or a lamb roast with blackcurrant leaves.
1401 Copenhagen K
+45 3296 3292
Denmark is famous for its open face sandwiches known as smørrebrød. Dense rye bread is typically topped with pieces of meat or fish, cheese and spreads. Aamans makes some of the best of the genre in Copenhagen from cured salmon with creamy mustard sauce and lingonberries to grilled rump steak with root remoulade and horseradish.
Øster Farimagsgade 10
2100 Copenhagen Ø
+45 3555 3344 (dial 1)
The aforementioned community center/restaurant in a church on Vesterbro’s Sønder Boulevard. Make sure you arrive early. They serve about 180 people a night but the spaces fill quickly. Dinner starts at 6:00pm, but you might want to arrive as early as 5 or 5:30.
Sønder Blvd. 73
1720 Copenhagen V
+45 3645 9549
This bright cafe, with a workshop in the back, serves delicious artisanal coffee and pastries like a danish with poppy seeds and a creamed butter and sugar filling.
1123 Copenhagen K
Copenhagen’s best wood fired oven pizza restaurant uses only the best organic meats and produce. House made charcuterie is a standout as are the pies that are made with local flour and cooked in a blistering oven from Naples, Italy.
2200 Copenhagen N
This sustainably-minded restaurant graces many of the world’s best restaurant lists so if you want to eat here make reservations when they’re released 30 days in advance. While the level of cooking is extremely high, the restaurant’s ambience is unpretentious and relaxed. Almost 100% of the ingredients are certified organic like wild duck with white onion noodles and elderberries.
2200 Copenhagen N
+45 3696 6609
This indoor/outdoor market has stand after stand of delectable prepared food as well as fresh ingredients from gourmet baked goods to spices. Two must try booths include the coffee roaster Coffee Collective and Hija de Sanchez, a taco stand from noma’s former pastry chef.
1360 Copenhagen K
Lidkoeb is a very cool three story bar located in a pharmacy laboratory from the 1800s. The main bar on the ground floor has leather banquettes and crisp white walls while the first floor is a cozy bar and event space open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. The very best level may be the attic, a whiskey bar with brick walls, wood beamed ceilings and a fireplace. Make reservations and peruse the 200+ whiskey list. It too is only open on Fridays and Saturdays and reservations are recommended.
1620 Copenhagen V
+45 3311 2010
This natural wine bar also serves small plates like poached egg yolk with charred onions. If you want to eat make reservations for a table, it’s a tiny spot. If you just want to pop in for a glass of wine and to nosh, take a seat at the bar.
2200 Copenhagen N
+45 3696 65 93
Copenhagen’s Hotel D’Angleterre is a splurge, but at over 260 years old, it’s a local landmark and a recent renovation has made the guest rooms some of the largest and most comfortable in town. Historic features like the elegant cupola in the lobby, thankfully, have been preserved. Even if you don’t stay here you could go to the hotel’s champagne bar Balthazar for a drink to soak in a bit of the property’s grandeur.
34 Kongens Nytorv
1050 Copenhagen K
+45 3312 0095
The four star Hotel SP34 has minimal Nordic style, organic breakfasts and Wine Hour where guests each receive a complementary glass of red or white wine or port between 5 and 6pm. It’s located in the Latin Quarter, a bohemian neighborhood with bike shops, bakeries and design stores.
Sankt Peders Straede 34
+45 3313 3000
Travelproper tip: Get outside of the city. Renting a car in Copenhagen is easy. There’s very minimal traffic for a city this size and plenty of wide boulevards so you aren’t constantly having to navigate narrow winding streets.
This castle hotel a little over an hour from Copenhagen is very romantic and has an excellent restaurant. It’s also surrounded by parkland and less than a mile from the Nekselø Bay so there are plenty of opportunities to walk and breath in the fresh air.
+45 5965 3300
40 minutes outside of Copenhagen is one of Europe’s best modern art museums. The sprawling museum overlooking the Øresund Strait includes a sculpture park and a variety of indoor gallery space home to the museum’s permanent collection that includes works by sculptor Alberto Giacometti, and Pablo Picasso as well as temporary exhibitions like a Yayoi Kusama retrospective.
GL. Strandvej 13
+45 4919 0719
If you want to visit Sweden all you have to do is cross the Øresund Bridge and you’re in Malmö. The bustling city has beautiful historic architecture and a waterfront warehouse district where you’ll find Saltimporten Canteen, a superb restaurant that serves only lunch. A chic crowd lines up on weekdays at the cafeteria-style counter for a delicious meal that might include lamb stew with sliced butternut squash. Beware, if you do decide to make the trip you pay a pretty pricey toll going both ways.
211 20 Malmö
+46 70 651 8426