Going out in Copenhagen
Photo: Rasmus Weng Karlsen
Code Art Fair is starting today, and it's the only international art fair north of Berlin. It's curated, and it's in Copenhagen – which is great, because local gallerist and luxury food importeur Peter Amby has lots of tips for visitors about where to eat, drink, and be merry.
The food scene in Copenhagen is booming. For several years the new Michelin-starred restaurants that opened in the wake of the legendary eatery Noma (first opened in 2003 and re-opening this winter) were all the rage, and often they are truly admirable, but sometimes the endless descriptions of the dishes leave little room to enjoy the good company that you are having dinner with. Fortunately there has been more of a focus on simple dining in recent years.
If you live alone in a city like Copenhagen, where it is expensive to shop, it often makes good sense to eat out, alone or with others. I spend a lot of time in restaurants, with friends, clients and alone, and really enjoy it. I would call myself a regular in many of the places I recommend. Maybe too regular: several of the places mentioned here are owned by people that I see as good friends. One of them joked that I should start a “Restaurant Owners’ Association” because a few years ago, eight out of nine guests at my birthday dinner were restaurant owners. But I recommend them to you not for their friendship but because I really enjoy their food and spending time at their restaurants.
I rarely go out for breakfast, but enjoy a soft-boiled egg and maybe a bowl of oatmeal with my ten cups of morning coffee at home. If you like a soft-boiled egg for breakfast, too, I recommend going to Café Victor in Ny Østergade the city centre. I think most Copenhageners are ambivalent about the place, as it is seen as super yuppie, but I have gone there all my life and enjoy that it reminds me of the classic French cafés you can find in many cities. It is also one of the oldest cafés in Copenhagen. If you go in the morning, you’ll avoid most of the clientele – though they can be highly entertaining to watch. It is said that if the guests at Victor haven’t already been to jail they are most likely going).
On Sundays I like to either bike to the bakery Mirabelle on Guldbergsgade in Nørrebro or 108 by the canal and bicycle bridge in Christianshavn (they are the sister restaurant of Noma but also have a small café next door) for their very special pastries and great coffee.
If I happen to pass the foodcourt Torvehallerne (on Israels Plads) in the morning, I have a hard time not stopping by Brioche Dorée. Not because the place is super-special, but they are the only ones to serve a proper pain aux raisins, which I am highly addicted to.
The hottest place in town, though, is most likely Atelier September on Gothersgade. Famous for their matcha tea and very popular among the fashion and art crowd. On the other end of town, Granola on Værnedamsvej, almost fits the same description, as it is extremely popular, but it’s a very different kind of place. Probably the place to go for the extensive breakfast. Or Nabo in Christianshavn, the younger sibling of Kadeau. I haven’t been but I have heard many friends recommend it.
Torvehallerne, Israels Plads (Nørreport)
Guldbergsgade 29 (Nørrebro)
Værnedamsvej 5 (between Vesterbro and Frederiksberg)
Gothersgade 30 (Kongens Nytorv)
The corner of Hovedvagtsgade and Ny Østergade (Kongens Nytorv)
Strandgade 108 (Christianshavn)
Wildersgade 10a (Christianshavn)
The place where I have taken most clients for lunch is probably the bistro Pastis on Gothersgade. It is handy as it is close to the gallery and a great classic place for tartare, thon cru, etc and they have a nice bœuf rôti sandwich that I have once a month with my godmother. Unfortunately the owner is a huge dickhead, but he’s mostly away.
My favourite, all-time favourite lunch place is Bistro Boheme on Esplanaden. The owner, Per Thøstesen, was educated by Paul Bocuse, has a great kitchen and some of the best staff in town. The dishes can be a bit pricey, but I always order the “dish of the day” which is usually super good and much more reasonable.
The most reasonable place for lunch, though, is Apollo Kantine/Bar (the Kantine is unfortunately closed at the moment) at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. It both serves as a canteen for the students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the staff of Kunsthal Charlottenborg. But outsiders can also enjoy the wonders of Frederik Bille-Brahe (who also owns Atelier September) and his great team. Apollo Bar is also great for dinner and drinks. And I sometimes DJ there – last time while I was having dinner.
My favourite croque-madame in town is at Far's Dreng in Ny Adelgade, which I think is good place for a quick lunch close to the gallery.
But something I would recommend to most foreigners, is to go to a “Smørrebrød” place (traditional Danish open sandwiches). The best place at the moment is Restaurant Palægade in the street of the same name. The most classic (but also sort of pricey) place is Restaurant Sankt Annæ close by, but an all-time favourite is Toldbod Bodega. Their food is all right, but I love the place and the staff. Watch out with saying yes to “snaps” though.
Palægade 8 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Nyhavn 2 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Esplanaden 8 (Esplanaden/Kastellet area)
Gothersgade 52 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Ny Adelgade 7 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Restaurant Sankt Annæ
Sankt Annæ Plads 12 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Esplanaden 4 (Esplanaden/Kastellet area)
Copenhagen has really had a large boom of Italian osterias and trattorias. Most have chefs that originate from the Famo restaurants where I love to go at least once a week. At their Vesterbro and Østerbro locations there is a fixed menu and at their Frederiksberg location you can have à la carte. The food is simple, unpretentious and delicious and the staff is great. If you are going for Italian, you should go here.
Another place where people (and the staff) joke about that they can’t go without me being there is Pluto. The food is great (think Clown Bar or Bistrot Paul Bert in Paris), the place is always happening, and they have a great selection of natural wine, which is very popular in Copenhagen.
On Sundays, when most restaurants in Copenhagen are closed, I often go to Retour Steak on Ny Østergade, with my friends Anders and Ivan, to have tartare or their mini-burgers and smoke cigarettes outside.
At the moment I really want to try PMY which just opened behind the Royal Theatre. It is casual South American dining and the team behind it is great.
For Japanese I would always choose Jah Izakaya in Vesterbro. It is the only proper traditional izakaya in Copenhagen. Unfortunately most of the sushi places here are very generic, a bit average, and extremely expensive, but Jah is among my favourites and the price is fair. They recently hosted a dinner together with Restaurant Admiralgade 26, which also has an exceptional Japanese chef, which really was one of my best dining experiences this summer.
For dumplings I really like to go to Fu Hao with my friend Philip and his daughter, also in Vesterbro. Especially on Sundays when there is time to stay there for a long time. I have also been a regular at Royal Garden on the corner of Dronnings Tværgade and Borgergade. So regular that one of the waiters once said to me that he was terrified that I was ordering something else than the chicken with ginger he claimed I had ordered once a week for three years in a row.
If you insist on Michelin dining, I always recommend Relæ in Jægersborggade in Nørrebro, which is reasonably priced and very interesting. Remember to go for the wine-pairing menu though.
Ny Østergade 21(Kongens Nytorv)
Gasværksvej 21 (Vesterbro)
(has three different restaurants, on Saxogade in Vesterbro, Gammel Kongevej in Frederiksberg and Lille Triangel in Østerbro)
Admiralgade 26 (Amager Torv)
Colbjørnsensgade 15 (Vesterbro)
Borgergade 16 (Kongens Nytorv)
Tordenskjoldsgade 11 (Kongens Nytorv)
Dronnings Tværgade 30 (Kongens Nytorv)
Jægersborggade 41 (Nørrebro)
I have three favourite fast-food places. The best burger place in town is YoBurger. I always use the one on Gothersgade. For me they have found the perfect formula for the perfect simple burger and their magic sauce is the thing.
For Mexican I can only recommend Barburrito. Their soft tacos are great and I don’t know where else in town to get something like that.
And then there is Fala Fala. It is the only proper falafel in town. Unfortunately their only location is in the food court Copenhagen Street Food, which can be a bit too busy for my “many people in one place who will all bump into me or I will bump into them” anxiety but the falafel is so good that I have to eat all my neurosis and go there. Fortunately Copenhagen Street Food is next to Copenhagen Contemporary, my favourite art space, so I always combine the visits.
(locations in Gothersgade, Nørregade and Østerbrogade)
Skindergade 36 (Nørreport)
Copenhagen Street Food, Trangravsvej 13, The Paper Island by Christianshavn and Holmen
My new favourite wine bar is Nr. 30 in Nansensgade. It is a super cosy place, has great natural wine and the owner, Simon, is as friendly and helpful as it gets.
The secret spot at the moment is Naturs in the old industrial ship building area of Refshaleøen, close to Mikkelers new place and Amass.
Every Saturday, Rosforth & Rosforth (located under the Knippelsbro bridge to Christianshavn) have some super wine tastings. They are wine importers who also often host pop-up dinners.
After dinner at either Famo Carne or Famo Saxogade we often go for a glass at Falernum at Værnedamsvej in Vesterbro. Another popular spot, especially on Friday and Saturday afternoons is Beau Marche.
Refshalevej 169 (Refshaleøen)
Nansensgade 45 (Nørreport)
Rosforth & Rosforth
Knippelsbrogade 10 (Christianshavn)
Nansensgade 30 (Nørreport)
Værnedamsvej 16 (Vesterbro)
(Ny Østergade 32 (Kongens Nytorv)
At weekends I mostly go for drinks at Pluto or Apollo. They both have the “restaurant-turned-party” feeling that I enjoy. There are many decent cocktail bars around town, but I rarely visit them as they will spend so long making your drink or ask so many questions about which part of their beard they should dip in one of their seven hundred types of gin (which they list in alphabetical order) that I go home thirsty because I neither have the patience nor the intellectual capacity to digest their sense of a good bar experience.
For the sort the classic Danish brown bars, where you can smoke inside and stay until too late, Malmø is the place to go.
For a select crowd, the top place is Panda Bar, but it is by invitation only and so secret that I can’t tell you more about it.
Havnegade 35 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Borgergade 16 (Kongens Nytorv)
Nyhavn 2 (Kongens Nytorv area)
Copenhagen has a lot of great parks. The one I use the most is Kastellet, but it can be a bit crowded from people taking a stroll or running. My favourite one, though, is the Botanical Garden. It is by far the most interesting park. Located in the city centre, it has endless nooks and corners if you want to enjoy a moment with nature without too many people.
I also really enjoy the Natural History Museum, which is between the Botanical Garden and the National Gallery. It is a bit outdated, but I like to go and look at all the gems that are growing out of mother earth. I think it is great, especially when you work in arts, to see that nature can create something so abstract and interesting by itself, without any kind of interference.
What I really like about Copenhagen is that it is on the water and has so many stretches on the harbour front. First of all I would recommend you befriend someone who has a small boat in one of the canals, and if not take a harbour bus or one of the cheesy canal tours to get a sense of it. You can also rent a GoBoat.
Another option could be to go to Christianshavns Bådudlejning, a cafe literally on the Christianshavn canal. Neither their food nor their wine is super great but the location is so charming that it should make up for it.
The rose garden behind the parliament used to be a favourite secret spot, but it was a bit ruined by Pokémon GO. But go there if you still like Pokémon or watching zombies playing it.
Another option is going swimming. You might say: Are you kidding me, the water is as cold as on the poles, even in the middle of summer! But the water is really nice, not too salty and you can have the unique experience of swimming in the harbour, right in the centre of town, as the water is so clean. I prefer to jump in the water right in front of Amalienborg (the Queen’s residence), but I also highly recommend finding a spot with a sauna. There is one at La Banchina in Refshaleøen. The place has become super popular even though their food is terrible, their wine un-interesting, the seating ridiculous and the staff slow and pretentious. But the location is ace and it is very special to be able to swim in an old military harbour and enjoy the view across the water afterwards. So grab a coffee and enjoy the water and the sauna.
Amalienborg Slotsplads 5
Gl. Hovedvagt, Kastellet 1
Overgaden Neden Vandet 29
Code Art Fair opens today and runs until 3 September.
PETER AMBY is a gallerist (co-owner of Last Resort) and art collector based in Copenhagen. He also imports luxury foods and is a very amateur dj.