Copenhagen’s gritty gastronomic quarter
Dyrehaven was revitalised by its new owners, but retains its original wooden bar.
Hip, gritty Vesterbrø – once Copenhagen’s meatpacking district with more butchers per square metre than anywhere else in Europe -- is fast evolving as the city’s hub for unconventional bars and post-industrial hygge (the all-encompassing Danish term for anything cosy).
It is also an epicentre for affordable, New Nordic cuisine, where simple, authentic ingredients are creatively served to enhance their naturally vibrant flavours. In a clear indicator of Vesterbrø’s growing culinary trendiness, this formerly insalubrious neighbourhood west of Central Station is now where many of the staff from Noma hang out when they are not working at the restaurant crowned best in the world two years in a row.
Kødbyens Fiskebar (which translates to Meat Market Fish Bar) was one of the pioneers in the district, set up by former Noma sommelier Anders Selmer in 2010. Located within an austere former meatpacking store, the restaurant has a rough-hewn chic interior and a dramatic cylinder-shaped aquarium in the centre that doubles as a raw bar, with stools around its diameter. The menu offers some of the Danish capital’s best seafood: must-order small dishes (which are great to share) include Limfjorden oysters, North Sea razor clams with fennel, parsley, dill and garlic cream, and bleak roe with red onions, sour cream and pea shoots. Outstanding among the main dish offerings is the quintessentially New Nordic smoked cod roe with pickled vegetables. The sweet, salty and smoky flavours mingle expressively. Pair your meal with a Danish white wine from Lilleø island in southern Denmark. Selmer created the crisp blend of sauvignon blanc, riesling, silvaner and solaris grape varietals, naming it “Arwen” after the daughter of Rene Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma.
Among the newest arrivals is Madsvinet, which opened this spring. It is located by Enghaven Park and was converted from a former butcher's shop, adding an open grill, masses of local art and candlelit tables to the shop’s original tiles and meat hooks (now adjusted for hanging coats). Madsvinet's rustic gourmet menu includes sharing platters such as local cheeses, salt-baked celery, quinoa and pickled mushrooms, ceviche of Gotland scallop, zander with beetroot, hazelnuts and broccoli, and grilled calf with blackberries, lime and liquorice.
The New Nordic ethos of changing menus to reflect the seasonal local landscape is evident at a number of keenly priced restaurants in the area, many of which have opened in the past year.
Overseen by Bocuse d'Or winner Rasmus Kofoed and chef Nicolai Nørregaard , Kadeau Copenhagen is the sister restaurant to the equally cosy Kadeau Bornholm, located on Bornholm, a Danish island south of Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea. Kadeau Copenhagen showcases several specialities from Kadeau Bornholm, including fried herring served with porridge oats, kale, apples and malt, octopus and oyster partnered modishly with celery, Jerusalem artichokes, dill and cucumber, and an earthy rustic dish of sweetbreads with cauliflower, black trumpet mushrooms, brown butter and rowanberries.
Local and sustainable are the defining mantras at airy, minimalist canteen Bio Mio, housed in a converted Bosch warehouse dating back to 1920. Bio Mio's ethos is impeccably thought through in carefully sourced dishes such as smoked halibut and roasted vegetables with horseradish cream, and balsamic baked beetroot with homemade taro chips. Nostalgia can be as cool as modernity in Vesterbrø, which is, after all, a heritage neighbourhood, where the traditional architecture has been preserved. Food writer Trine Hahneman's favourite lunch spot is Dyrehaven, a classic eatery that has been revitalised by its new owners but retains its original wooden bar. Here, the menu focuses on rustic smørrebrød (open sandwiches usually on rye bread with garnishes such as pickled herring, pork with sweet and sour red cabbage, and smoked salmon with shrimp, and there is a huge terrace for sitting outside in summer.
The thriving bar scene, which includes microbrewery MikKeller with at least 10 of its own rich, malty brews on tap, is all the more appealing for its unconventionality. A former pharmacy is home to Bang & Jensen, with its pleasingly kitsch collection of mismatched sofas and lamps. Breakfast is served until 6 pm alongside cocktails, pinball machines and football tables. More unusual still, and entirely fitting for the district, is Butcher's Lab (Vaernedamsveg 16; 453-322-3089), which combines a bar and a gym.