Noma has regained the top position on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. A lot of opinions and discussions have stemmed from this: Does it make sense to name a restaurant the world’s best? Is the competition fair? Is the 50-best list accurate? How is the ranking decided? Is the list controlled by tourist boards, and on and on.
No matter how that discussion ends, Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a leading star in the restaurant world. It was founded on some radical ideas that changed the restaurant experience: a more informal setting with cooks who come to the table and serve guests; ingredients that are local and 100 percent seasonal; and dialog with the food producers is at the center. And although the meals at Noma are really well thought out, there’s also playfulness — eating with your fingers, eating things you never thought possible.
These ideas have turned dining out into a much more interesting and relaxed experience. But they have also added another dimension: Eating at Noma is about being told a story of time and place — it takes you on a poetic journey, the same journey other creative disciplines do: trying to get a better understanding of who we are.
Ripple effect of Noma on Copenhagen cuisine
Locally, Noma’s history on the list of the 50 best has had evident consequences. Copenhagen is now a global gourmet destination for people willing to travel long distances for food. I grew up in Copenhagen and have worked in the restaurant business for almost 30 years. Never has there been a more exciting time to be part of the business in this city. The ingredients have never been more varied, the food is better executed, and in a lot of places even the service is really good.
But would that have happened without Noma and René Redzepi? Probably not, because it did not happen by itself. It happened when the world saw what was going on and Noma and Redzepi brought the world to Copenhagen. So the importance of the 50-best list for my hometown cannot be underestimated.
Noma is unquestionably the best restaurant we have. Try to get a table there and enjoy the incredible experience of tasty food with great ideas, playfulness and a really convivial service where you feel at home. You walk away feeling enlightened and included.
Much more to see and eat in Copenhagen
But when you’ve done that and still have more time to spend in Copenhagen, where else to go? If you want to experience what was before the Noma era, go to Lumskebugten for lunch to have the classic Danish smørrebrød. Head chef Erwin Lauterbach rules here. He has been around since the 1980s and was one of the first to introduce local produce, thus helping people understand the season. Lauterbach also brought traditional recipes back to life in a new way, but his main focus has always been vegetables.
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If you still have the budget for another high-end meal, visit Kadeau, a New Nordic restaurant whose staff works with ingredients from the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. You’ll experience very interesting ideas, great fun and a stunning room in a great location not far from Noma in an old neighborhood of Copenhagen called Christianshavn.
For more casual dining, noisiness and more of a city atmosphere, get a table at Pluto. Fast, fun and lively, you’ll be served mountains of great food prepared with ideas from the whole world mixed with a bit of New Nordic. Shared plates get handed to the table, and the service is great, which isn’t always the case in Copenhagen.
On a gourmet trip to Copenhagen, the best way to get around is by bicycle. They can be rented from shops, or city bikes can be rented by the hour. Spend an afternoon at the food halls, called Torvehallerne. For Danish products, visit the stall called Omegn, which means the local area around us. It has a great selection of cold cuts, cheese, beer and Danish wine. Outside the halls, Omegn has a vegetable stall with 100 percent organic vegetables from local growers.
Torvehallerne is also a great place for an after-work drink at about 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday nights. Try the cava bar outside and enjoy the light during summer nights. Also look for spices at Asa and organic chocolate at Summerbird, which also sells quality marzipan, for which Denmark is famous.
For coffee and cake, go to Café Rosa. The baker bakes everything on the spot using organic ingredients and is often there herself. She is Swedish and inspired by Scandinavian children’s literature. The place embodies that playfulness and quirkiness, which belongs to Pippi Longstocking. You’ll get a great cup of filter coffee made to order and the best cardamom snurre, which can be enjoyed mornings or afternoons or taken home.
Adjacent to the city center, called Indre By, Copenhagen has three boroughs a 10-minute bicycle ride from the where a lot of interesting things are happening. In Nørrebro, for example, is Jægersborggade, which is a foodie street with coffee, restaurants and small independent shops. There is also a place where they produce toffee. Here you can by beautiful ceramics in New Nordic style. For restaurants on this street, don’t miss Relæ, which has 1 Michelin star. It is owned by Christian Puglisi and is almost 100% organic. Alternatively, try the little brother Manfred on the opposite corner. For a late-night snack and glass of wine along with some real local atmosphere, visit the wine bar Underwood.
After several late nights, an early-morning walk in Copenhagen can be a real treat. The city is a slow starter with amazing, clear blue morning sunlight. Walk to Vesterbro, another borough, and go to Café Risteriet, which is a small room in a basement with very good coffee and a simple breakfast consisting of a soft-boiled egg and home-baked bread and lots of friendly atmosphere.
Main photo: Unika, a cheese shop, at Torvehallerne in Copenhagen. Credit: Trine Hahnemann