Photos by David Egui
Photo by Blank Space Studio
At the luxurious, but approachable, Esmeé desserts—such as strawberry soft serve on chantilly cream—hit that sweet spot.
Just when it seemed this foodie city couldn’t get any more delicious, a new round of restaurants, wine bars, and bakeries took flight.
Something unprecedented happened this year when the World’s 50 Best Restaurants announced its list for 2021: For the first time in the organization’s 20-year history, two restaurants in the same city took the top two spots. For Noma to reclaim its position at number one and Geranium to rise to number two confirms something that international gastronomes already know: Copenhagen is one of the world’s great food destinations.
What they may not know is that there’s way more to the city’s culinary preeminence than just fine dining. Consider the capital’s superior smørrebrød, open-faced sandwiches that are Denmark’s great culinary legacy (try Schønnemanns for old school; Selma for a modern take).
These days the city is also home to some of Europe’s best burgers (Gasoline Grill, Popl), pizza (Surt, Bæst), fried chicken sandwiches (Poulette, AFC), tacos (Hija de Sánchez, Donda), bread and pastries (Juno, Hart, Lille, etc., etc., etc.), thanks to an influx of talented chefs, sommeliers, bakers, bartenders, and servers from around the world. In fact, the Copenhagen food scene is positively bursting at the seams—and not even a global pandemic has slowed it down.
At the high end, 2021 brought the intimate (there are just 16 seats) Connection by Alan Bates, and the Samuel, which has already been awarded its first Michelin star. Midrange spots worth a visit include chef Jessica Natali’s new omakase kitchen at Kōnā, the vegan Bistro Lupa, whose owners grow their own mushrooms at a farm right in the city, and Bottega Estadio, where the menu is a mashup of Mexican and Spanish dishes off the plancha. On a nice day, the terrace is one of the most popular in town.
Copenhagen continued its march toward global carbohydrate domination with the launch of several outstanding bakeries including Benji, Collective, Rondo, Galst, and Buka, plus a new outlet (with evening wine bar!) for Hart, and a new coffee shop from neighborhood favorite Alice, which definitely wins best name of the year: Sneezing Fruits.
Among all the great new restaurants that opened in 2021, three in particular stand out:
Two of the biggest losses of this past year were Manfreds and Relae, the wine bar and vegetable-forward restaurant, respectively, that quite literally helped transform the city when Christian Puglisi opened them a decade earlier. But with his eponymous bistro, chef Mathias Silberbauer, who used to cook at Manfreds, has more than compensated for the loss, transforming the former Manfreds space into the restaurant Copenhagen didn’t know it needed.
Inspired by the beloved bistros he encountered while working in Nice, Silberbauers is meant to be the kind of informal place whose regulars come weekly for simply prepared but high-impact cooking. Written on a single chalkboard that servers move from table to table explaining as they go, the menu changes with what’s in season.
In summer that means whole fish, like a buttery turbot, roasted on the bone; winter makes way for a satisfying sausage with lentils and a tangy vitello tonnato. But year-round, there are already some classics: blue mussels served cold with a perfect aioli, a savory pissaladière filled with nothing more than onions and olives, and, for dessert, a lemon tart that is a model of the genre.
Smack in the center of the city, Esmée delivers cosseted luxury without the usual pretension. Chef Andreas Bagh previously headed the kitchen at Marchal, the restaurant at Copenhagen’s grande dame Hotel Angleterre, and his cooking at Esmée reflects his predilection for French cuisine, but with enough attitude to keep it down to earth. The sophisticated gougères filled with Comté cheese and topped with fat slices of black truffle are one of the city’s must-order bites, but the herby garlic bread is also a favorite.
Classic brasserie dishes like an exemplary beef tenderloin with bearnaise sauce are served cheekily with tater tots, and soft serve ice cream, plus season-appropriate fruit, grounds the dessert list. Under the guidance of manager and award-winning sommelier Peter Pepke, both the cocktails (like the Bellehattan, where traditional rye whiskey meets cacao bitters) and the wine list, which includes a huge range of both classical and natural wines poured by the glass, play starring roles. The interior—elegant without being stuffy—is beautiful, but on warmer nights, the real catch is a table in the patio garden out back.
Technically, this place opened in 2020: Chef Kristian Baumann launched Koan as a pop-up a week after the pandemic forced him to close his restaurant 108. But in May 2021, he set down firmer roots in the old Relæ, and from there, Baumann has been imbuing his precise and deep approach to Nordic cuisine with an exploration of his Korean heritage. The dishes are as visually striking as ever—witness the langoustine wrapped in a neat square of nori with rhubarb and a healthy dollop of caviar—but additions like a tender braided milk doughnut and a mandu dumpling stuffed with fjord shrimp and doused in a Korean chile sauce add soul.
The coming year looks to be just as exciting, as several of Copenhagen’s heavy-hitter chefs prepare to open new places later in 2022. But a handful of intriguing openings that are coming up fast—all of them, interestingly enough, Asian—promises to start the year off right.
Three dynamite restaurants to travel for in 2022.
Slated to open at the end of 2021, Propaganda is what happens when the fever dreams of restaurateur and sommelier Riccardo Marcon meet the confident, Korean-inspired cooking of chef Youra Kim. Marcon’s restaurant Barabba is one of Copenhagen’s true gems, a gloriously idiosyncratic place where the creative Italian cooking is matched with a sensitive wine list and an atmosphere that manages to be both irreverent and nurturing at the same time.
Propaganda looks like it will have just as much personality. From the amply stocked bottle shop on the premises, diners will be able to select the wines they want to pair with Kim’s punchy kimchi-filled bao and fried chicken, and Marcon has monthly breakfasts and late-night desserts in the works as well.
The former head chef of the beloved Copenhagen restaurant Relæ already had plans to open a restaurant that would draw on his Chinese heritage. And then he accepted a residency at the Stone Barns Center in Westchester, New York, which gave him the opportunity to combine his interest in creating classic Chinese condiments from scratch with the dedication to farm-to-table cooking he had cultivated during his 10 years at Relæ.
When he opens his own place, Jatak in a former Nørrebro cocktail bar early next year, it promises to be a faithful reflection of who he is as a chef, in all his complexity. So, yes, there will be those Cantonese condiments, but there will also be nods to the Vietnam where his parents lived, and the Nordic kitchens where he’s spent much of his career (the restaurant’s name is a tribute to the first words he learned in Danish: yes, thank you). And the interest that he and his partner (in life and now, in business) share in design is evident in everything from the handcrafted cabinets to the custom-made grill.
Though he previously worked in acclaimed fine-dining restaurants in both Sydney and Copenhagen, Will King-Smith has spent the past three years serving some of the latter’s best dan dan noodles and dumplings from behind the counter of his street food market stand. Now, he’s opening a proper restaurant. Located in the center of the city, the 100-seat Goldfinch (it’s named after the kitschy café in In the Mood for Love) will serve an ingredient-driven rendition of the satisfying Cantonese cooking that was a regular part of his diet in his native Australia and which, until now, has been sadly lacking in his adopted home.
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