Copenhagen's Danish restaurants clearly illustrate the refreshing revival of the national cuisine.
By Jane Graham
Copenhagen Local Expert
Copenhagen has a fine selection of Danish restaurants, both traditional, historic basement restaurants and more contemporary eateries that add a modern twist to Danish cuisine.
Reborn since 2000, the Danish kitchen is trendy throughout the world. Whether you’re up for an adventure into the New Nordic Kitchen of produce indigenous to the Scandinavian region or feel more like a lunch of herrings on rye or a hearty helping of traditional meat, potatoes and gravy, it's on the menu at Copenhagen's restaurants.
When it comes to reinterpreting Danish cuisine in new ways without abandoning the country’s best-loved dishes, two restaurants spring to mind: Paustian, in the building of the design firm of the same name in Osterbro’s harbor, and Aamanns Etablissement.
World-famous Christianshavn restaurant Noma uses Scandinavian ingredients to make dishes that originate in the Danish kitchen but can hardly be called traditional; much more Danish in spirit is nearby restaurant Kanalen, a long-established eatery combining the best of Danish and French cuisine with good, generous meals in a fine dining atmosphere.
Even more geographically specific is Restaurant Koefoed just off Store Kongensgade, where the menu and ingredients come from Danish island Bornholm.
Danish food is born of long cold winters and the portions at Cafe Petersborg, near Designmuseum Danmark, and Vesterbro’s Klubben are especially generous. Lunch restaurants like Kanalcafeen, Rabes Have and Ida Davidsen meanwhile clearly illustrate why the preparation of smorrebrod or open sandwiches is such an art form. Note however that many Danish restaurants still observe traditional vacations and close entirely throughout July.
Found at the far end of Vesterbro, just off Vesterbrogade near the border with the Frederiksberg district, old-fashioned Klubben serves very traditional Danish food like frikadeller meatballs with potatoes, cabbage and pickled beetroot and hearty steaks with bearnaise sauce - all in very generous portions. At lunchtimes, surprise yourself with three pieces of smorrebrod (chef's choice) or go for it with the platter for two people, available until 4pm. Being a little out of town, Klubben is not particularly touristy and attracts locals and a traditional crowd. There is outdoor seating in the restaurant courtyard during the summer. (33 31 40 15, 33 24 22 56)
Quite possibly Copenhagen's most famous smorrebrod establishment, this lunch restaurant has been adding the toppings to the national Danish dish, open sandwiches, for three generations. Ida's son Oskar now runs the establishment, along with a team of well-trained smorrebrod cooks that are as skilled as a Japanese sushi chef. Like a New York subway joint, new sandwich creations at Ida Davidsen are often named after famous people who have eaten here, including the "Victor Borge" (salmon, lumpfish caviar, crayfish tails and Greenland shrimp) and one named after Copenhagen's lady mayor, the "Ritt Bjerregaard". Though Oprah Winfrey is a fan, she's yet to have her own smorrebrod. Closed during July. (33-91-36-55)
This downtown restaurant in Copenhagen's elegant Frederiksstaden district serves the very best dishes from the Danish vacation isle of Bornholm, situated in the Baltic between Sweden and Poland. Koefoed prides itself on organic, free range produce, and can trace most of its meat back to source; the restaurant has its own cattle and lamb back on Bornholm. The food is fresh, light and colorful yet filling and tasty. Koefoed is decorated in a classic, upmarket style and provides an ideal setting for a romantic dinner as well as being able to cater to larger groups. Choose between a five-course set menu for DKK 495 (complimentary wine menu DKK 395) or from the a la carte menu. Booking advised. Dress: Smart but informal. (56 48 22 24)
This restaurant on Copenhagen's harbor north of Osterbro is located in the Paustian complex, next to the showroom of the world class furniture and interiors firm of the same name in a building designed by Sydney Opera House architect Jorgen Utzon. Paustian reopened in 2011 under new ownership with a more traditional Danish menu that places hearty Scandinavian fare in an attractive, modern setting. The husband-and-wife team of Lisbeth and Bo Jacobsen promise genuine Danish cuisine served with warmth, personality, service and commitment. The seasonal a la carte menu is simple yet good and includes a large range of locally-caught fish (there are at least three kinds of herring for lunch) as well as beef sirloin and pork cutlet; the much under-rated Danish dish 'tarteletter,' or small puff pastry tart cases filled with meat and vegetables is just one of the forgotten Danish classics on Paustian's menu. (39 18 55 01)
The only restaurant in Copenhagen to have been awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide, Noma stands for 'Nordisk Mad' or Scandinavian cuisine, and this gourmet restaurant has become world famous for producing imaginative, beautifully-looking and wonderfully ingenious seasonal set menus made only from produce sourced in the Scandinavian region. From Greenland musk ox and Icelandic skyr curd to Finnish berries, Swedish truffles and Baltic seaweed, a meal at Noma is a sensory adventure into the ecosystem of the Nordic region. While these menus seemed like a gastronomic gamble for co-owners Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer when the eatery first opened in 2004, it paid off: Noma was voted world's best restaurant for the third consecutive year in April 2012. Noma is part of North Atlantic House, a regional cultural center located in an old warehouse overlooking Copenhagen's harbor in the Christianshavn district. (32-96-32-97)
One of the few dining options close to the Slotsholmen district of museums and attractions, Kanalcafeen is situated on the opposite side of Frederiksholms Kanal. This location, added to its old-fashioned ambience and long history, makes it a popular place for politicians on a break from meetings at nearby Christiansborg. Dating from the 1850s, this basement lunch restaurant is a real taste of old Copenhagen. Its maritime feel is emphasized by the variety of objects and pictures on the walls and window sills, which can also make the cafe seem a little cluttered. The cafe has a vast list of toppings on its smorrebrod list (prices start at 49kr); though we recommend you share one of the cafe's selections with your companion or group. (33 11 57 70)
You're unlikely to stumble upon Rabes Have as it's located out of the way at the south-west end of Christianshavn, past the canals and along the old defensive bastions of the city at Christianshavns Vold. From the road it might look a little abandoned, but this traditional Danish lunch restaurant is one of Copenhagen's oldest and most authentic eateries, dating right back to when grocer Rabes opened it in 1678, and has a great dining terrace around the back (in Rabes' "Have" or garden). Though the restaurant's history radiates from its heavily varnished interior, we recommend heading out into the quiet, secluded courtyard: A pleasant place to get to know Danish cuisine. (32-57-34-17)
You could be forgiven for assuming there was a Russian menu on offer at Cafe Petersborg, but this traditional Danish eatery takes its name instead from its past connections with the Russian Embassy that was previously located in the same building; the restaurant thus became a favorite with Russian sailors. It's one of Copenhagen's oldest restaurants and can trace its roots back to the mid-1700s. Petersborg is a well-established, traditional Danish restaurant that's particularly popular for lunchtime dining but also open for evening meals. In addition to the open sandwiches on offer, Danish dinner classics served here include frikadeller meatballs with red cabbage and potatoes and the restaurant's homemade 'biksemad', made with cubes of potatoes, meat and onions, and served with the traditional fried egg on top. Cafe Petersborg is located at the far end of Bredgade, close to Kastellet and Churchillparken. (33-12-50-16)
One of Christianshavn's best restaurants can be found in this old building - a former customs office - right next to the canal, with boats gently rocking outside the windows. While lunches are traditional Danish fare, the seasonal evening menu combines inspiration from the French and Italian kitchen with fresh Danish produce in dishes like fresh lamb and North Sea lobster tails. You can dine inside the old building, with bags of maritime atmosphere, or outside on Kanalen's terrace, under large parasols. There is a focus on good service and portions are certainly not skimpy. (32-95-13-30)
This modern yet traditional restaurant tucked away between national gallery Statens Museum for Kunst and the leafy Osterbro district has reinvented Denmark's national dish, smorrebrod. Described by some as "Danish tapas" and by others as "Danish sushi", smorrebrod chefs take a slice of rye and create magic. Aamanns refuse to translate the specialty into the oft-used "open sandwiches", as many do, and even kept the term smorrebrod when they opened a branch in New York City in 2012. Aamanns Copenhagen is open for lunch and dinner -- while lunch is more about the smorrebrod, evening meals are more substantial and offer the chance to sample a range of starters, mains and desserts that are all classics of the Danish kitchen -- presented in new and challenging ways at this stylish, elegant eatery. (35 55 33 10)
About Jane Graham
After touring most of Europe in her twenties, Jane was charmed by Copenhagen's relaxed tempo and moved there from her native northern England in 1999. Four young children at home has meant there's no shortage of taste testers for her traditional Danish cuisine – or excuses for missing out on the country's vast array of family-friendly activities. Armed with diapers, stroller and snowsuits, Jane continues to find art and culture wherever she goes.
Read more about Jane Graham here.