On a quest to see what all the hype was about Copenhagen, I took an impromptu long weekend to check out the latest food crazes and trendiest cocktail lounges. (Living in Europe allows for such excursions.) Silly me, thinking I could get into Noma at the last minute just because I was dining alone on a holiday weekend. For those of you who don't know, it's arguably the top restaurant in the world. Their Web site allows you to sign up in case a table becomes available, as do many of the other top restaurants in Copenhagen. But, unfortunately, I never made it off the waitlist.
Despite the lack of a reservation, I still hoped I could find a spot at Noma's bar. Nope. It didn't exist, at least for eating purposes. Fortunately, they were gracious enough to recommend Fiskebaren -- aka Kodbyens Fiskebar -- in the meatpacking district.
But the smells made it clear that it was fish, and not beef, being packed. Unlike the meatpacking district in New York City, you won't find a bunch of tourists here. Even though I wasn't a local, I managed to walk in and grab a seat at the bar. Oysters were outrageously expensive, and since I'd had my fill at $1 happy hours back home, I passed on that option. Instead, I broadened my horizons with the lumpfish roe with smoked cheese, a cucumber gelee and pea shoots.
A bit crazy, but delicious. There was even bacon in the crackers that accompanied it and, as we all know, bacon makes everything better. Then I tried the pan-crisped brill with braised celery, cucumber and oyster sauce and a spinach puree. Outstanding. Not a cheap meal, but way less than I would have spent at Noma.
To my delight, this wonderful gem of a restaurant was recently featured in Departures. Although they had plenty of pics (including some of the items I tasted), they gave little description about the food. I can assure you that it was every bit as good as it looks.
After my very satisfying meal, I decided to go on a bar crawl to find the best cocktails in the city. I was only in town for two nights and one of them was a Sunday, when everything would be closed, so I had no choice but to fit it all in one night.
My first stop was 1105, recommended to me by the people at Noma and widely acknowledged as one of the best spots for a well-made cocktail. This little place is by the Stroget, the major pedestrian shopping area, and was the farthest from my hotel. I figured I'd start there and imbibe my way back.
Although it was a Saturday night, many locals were out of town for the holiday, so I was again lucky enough to get a seat at the bar. I chatted up the mixologist, originally from Scotland, who'd come to Copenhagen by way of Vancouver -- a strange path indeed. I asked for something indicative of the bar, that I couldn't get in NYC and not too sweet.
He recommended the Snap Fizz, a gin-based cocktail with sugar snap peas in it, one of their signature drinks and an award winner of some award I'd never heard of. It was topped with burnt sugar bay leaves. Pretty fantastic, and it better have been for almost $20 a drink. My next drink also involved gin, but this time with eucalyptus oil and egg whites. This, too, was delicious, but did not wow me like the first one. So it was time to move on.
Next was Ruby, a bar in a townhouse. It looked perfect, just the kind of place I would go to back home, except that there was a line out front. You may not believe it, but I actually waited in the line. And it was a pointless one so that the bartenders had time to make drinks for the larger party that had just gone in, not because they were over-capacity. I know this because I kept trying to get the bouncer to let me in, since I was just one person and only wanted one drink. I was on a tight schedule, after all.
Downstairs there were funky couches and dark, mood lighting. Upstairs, it was younger, lighter, livelier. But the drinks were nothing special. I had a "hangover cure" with all manner of alcohol and fake absinthe in it. It took painstakingly long to make. I was getting a hangover while I waited. But the funniest part, and my favorite, was the location of the Georgian Embassy as its neighbor. Must really annoy them to have a bar there...
I asked the bouncer about my next stop, Salon 39. He'd heard of it, but wasn't sure if it would be open because it was more of a local place. I wasn't going to let him dissuade me. So I hopped in a cab to try to make it before closing time, if it was even open. This place apparently had bacon-infused tequila ... how could I not try to go there?
Fortunately, it was open and I tasted the infamous Spotted Pig that I came for (sniff, sniff, tear for you ex-pat New Yorkers). Of course, I had to try another of their intriguing concoctions, the Ox Blood -- like a Bloody Mary with ox bouillon. I had them leave out the tomato juice, so basically it was just a spicy tequila drink. Yum!
Had a nice chat with the employees who were familiar with places in NYC, like Death & Co and Employees Only. Drinks at Salon 39 were the most interesting, cheapest and largest of all the spots I tried. A perfect way to end the night.
In addition to wonderful food and bars, there's plenty more to see. You won't be disappointed if you check out the Carlsberg Brewery, Rosenborg Castle, which houses the jewels, the Botanical Gardens -- free, but only worth a trip if flowers are blooming -- the infamous Little Mermaid statue and Amalienburg Palace, where the Royal family currently lives. Or simply stop for a pint by the charming waterfront.
But do not miss Tivoli, the amusement park that is said to be Disney's inspiration. I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny day than roller coasters, upside-down spinning rides and vertical drops. It was no Six Flags, but the lines were shorter.
After riding everything once, well, everything that was not for kids under six, I grabbed a beer before heading to a fabulous dinner at Nimb Brasserie, which happens to be one of the many outstanding food options right inside Tivoli. The bar upstairs has a spectacular fireplace; the drinks are as equally good as the service. There's an open kitchen and the chefs may even bring out your dishes. From succulent, fresh oysters to local veggies, everything was fabulous. When I asked how my lovely lamb was prepared, I learned that they don't use gas stoves because they can't get them hot enough. Strange. But this place is a little different. The chefs not only do the cooking, but they also break down the kitchen and thoroughly clean it. A very cool experience all around.
While I didn't get to try Noma, I had no regrets about my time in Copenhagen. And should you be lucky enough to visit this charming seaside city, you won't either.