“The harbour here in Copenhagen is like one big field for growing food” enthused Joachim, the organiser of the gastro-cruise we enjoyed in February as part of the Copenhagen Cooking festival. “The water is clear enough to swim in and now to grow food, so by organising events like this we can celebrate the produce of the sea even when the land is barren”.
The featured seasonal ingredient of this event, organised by Konvers in conjunction with Copenhagen Cooking, was blue mussels, while previous events have focussed on oysters and fish roe. Our afternoon’s gastro-cruise around the harbour in Copenhagen was to take us to six different restaurants, each offering a different dish using mussels, challenging the chefs to use this once poor-man’s ingredient in ever more inventive ways.
We leave from Soren K in The Royal Library
Our gastro-cruise began around lunchtime at the dark, angular building of The Royal Library, which is faced in polished black granite giving it the local name of The Black Diamond. Having arrived a bit early, I left Guy relaxing with a coffee in the ground floor cafe, while I took myself and my camera up to one level after another to admire the architecture of the building and the view of the harbour framed through the glass wall at one end.
At 1pm we gathered outside the Soren K restaurant for Joachim to give us an introduction to the gastro-cruise, but as it was in Danish I didn’t understand a word and just soaked up the good humour and laughter at all the jokes. The thing that didn’t require too much translation however, was the brass bell that Joachim held in his hand. With six restaurants to visit, the temptation to linger might be too much for us, so the bell was there to remind us when it was time to get back on the boat.
Moving outside to the quay we boarded the glass roofed tour boat that was to take us around the harbour and introduced ourselves to the others on our table, who fortunately spoke excellent English, like most Danes. As the boat moved through the harbour we could see the old warehouses with pitched roofs and flat fronts, studded with small windows, while in between them were the more modern and architecturally striking buildings.
Already laid out on the table were sharing plates with two different types of canapés; a crisp toasted curve of rye bread topped with a paste of mussels, fennel and potato while on the white bread was a mixture of cooked oysters with a shaving of raw fennel. This was all presented on a bed of samphire which gave a salty crunch to the canapés and was accompanied by a 2011 Chateau de Passevant chardonnay.
As the chef came to our table, he described how the cold waters of the River Arde descend from the mountains to the warm valley to make a wine with a hint of sweetness that works well with the seasonal winter produce of apples and cabbage. The wine had then been transported to Copenhagen on the Tres Hombres sailing ship owned by FairTransport to ensure that the natural growing process was enhanced by the movements of wind and waves to ensure a perfect wine. Never say that the Danes don’t take their food and drink seriously!
Memorable Moment: Climbing to the top floors of the Royal Library where Soren K is situated, for the view through the building’s glass wall out into the harbour.
2nd stop – Bojesen at The Royal Opera House
Before long we were arriving at the Royal Opera House which is the view that Queen Margrethe gets when she looks out of her window from the Amalienborg Palace on the other side of the harbour. We all hurried through the biting wind into the foyer of the Opera House to sit under the curved outside of the auditorium clothed in orange maple wood.
The tables were already laid out for us with our food and wine and once again both the chef and sommelier gave an explanation of the food inspiration and provenance of the mussel dish and wine we were about to enjoy. Our bowl of mussels here had been cooked in white wine and made into a cold salad with pickled apples, brussel sprouts and winter cabbage garnished with dill and bronze fennel served with a Morillon Blanc 2011 wine from Pays de l’Aude in Southern France by Jeff Carrel.
Memorable Moment: Wandering around to admire the architecture of this iconic building although the locals told us that the sides of the circular auditorium are so steep that you can be in danger of falling down them.
Bojesen at the Opera: The restaurant specialises in serving small dishes during the Opera performance which can be served before the performance or split up with some dishes during the interval. 5 course 275 DKr, 7 courses 365 DKr, 7 courses + half bottle wine 525 DKr
3rd stop – Salt at The Admiral Hotel
Ding-a-ling and before long we were back on the boat and on to the next stop just across the harbour at the Admiral Hotel in one of those old warehouses on the quayside where the tall ships moor up in summer. By now things were getting a bit merry as we trooped into the elegant but cosy dining room of Restaurant Salt with painted brick walls and old wooden beams.
Salt specialises in food using seasonal Danish ingredients with dishes from a classic tradition that have been given a modern twist. As the chef explained to me, the mussel soup that he had made was a version of what every working family would have eaten, made with local mussels easily available from the harbour. The difference was that his creamy mussel soup was spiked with pools of bright green dill oil and accompanied by round toasted canapé with a tartare of smoked mussels freshened with a squeeze of lemon.
Salt was one restaurant where I could easily have lingered all evening but all too soon it was ding-a-ling and we had to knock back our Riesling which aptly declared on the bottle that it had been made by Happy People.
Memorable Moment: Comparing the three different kinds of salt on the table from Laeso in Denmark, Guerande in Brittany and Maldon in Essex – this restaurant lives up to its name!
Restaurant Salt at the Admiral Hotel: Toldbodgade 24–28, DK-1253,Copenhagen, serving Nordic cuisine with some French inspiration, typical set menu: 2 courses 315 DKr, 3 courses 375 DKr, 4 courses 445 DKr
4th Stop – Verandah at The Standard
By mid-afternoon we arrived at the striking green building of The Standard, an old customs building which is now part of the gastronomic empire of Claus Meyer, the Danish chef and food entrepreneur. The building is home to three different restaurants as well as a jazz club upstairs so you can combine a dining and musical experience every evening.
Our fourth mussel dish of the afternoon was at Verandah, the Indian restaurant among the trio of restaurants in The Standard. Here the mussels were cooked in their shells in a more traditional but perfectly delicious manner with the flavours of chilli and coconut by the chef from Kerala in Southern India. After eating the mussels out of their shells washed down with beer we used the bowls of plain rice to mop up the creamy yellow sauce left at the end.
Memorable moment: Exploring the different restaurants within the Standard Building and plotting to come back another time for an evening listening to the top jazz artists upstairs after a good dinner downstairs.
Verandah at The Standard, Havnegade 44, 1058, Copenhagen with 5 course menu 495 DKr or 5 course vegetarian menu 475 DKr.
5th stop – Lumskebugten – the dangerous sandbanks
By 4pm our boat was reaching the mouth of the harbour and we were stepping past the warming brazier in the courtyard and into the Lumskebugten restaurant in the wooden building that was once a Customs House. This was the part of the harbour where the currents formed sandbanks that could ground the unwary ship and there was a tavern on this spot where the sailors arriving in Copenhagen might also get into trouble. Lungskebugten, meaning dangerous sandbanks, was the local name for this part of the harbour and is now also the name of the restaurant.
The restaurant was taken over a couple of years ago by chef Erwin Lauterbach who is a household name in Denmark, and the forerunner of the current breed of celebrity chefs. The restaurant specialises in using seasonal vegetables which was emphasised by the table decorations of broccoli and fennel placed in glass jars. The style of cooking here is more about classic Danish dishes and we were served with a pastry tartlet of mussels in a creamy sauce acccompanied by a dry sherry. The locals at our large communal table in the private dining room area where we happened to be seated explained that this was the kind of dish that was very popular in their childhood and which their grandmothers might have cooked for them with chicken or ham.
Memorable Moment: Hearing our Danish dinner companions reminisce about how their grandmothers’ cooking, brought to life with a new twist in the mussel tartlet.
Lumskebugten, Esplanaden 21, DK 1263, Copenhagen Typical Menu 3 courses 350 DKr, 4 courses 525 DKr, 5 courses 600 DKr
6th and final stop – Spisehuset 56 – the old bunker
Our final stop on the gastro-cruise took us to one of the more remote corners of the harbour where the broken ice that had formed throughout the harbour in a spell of cold weather the previous week had still not melted. We had to walk for a few minutes over a footbridge to get to the restaurant Spisehuset 56 which was set in a garden and would be lovely in summer if you rode there by bike.
The white brick building with a curved roof looked closed to the world but we entered through the cosy downstairs restaurant with sheepskin covered seats and flickering candles and headed upstairs to the larger open room on the first floor. The building was an old munitions bunker built in 1744 where bullets and ammunition were stored, with extremely thick walls which would deflect any explosion upwards to the much thinner domed roof, designed to be blown off to avoid injury to those nearby.
The restaurant works in co-operation with local farmers to source unusual produce like the purple carrots used in our dish that were laid over a puree of mussels and were then covered by a frothing creamy mussel soup. It was all washed down by what appeared to be fruit juice that held an unexpected kick.
Memorable Moment: Discovering that what we’d thought was orange juice was in fact sea blackthorn juice spiked with snaps!
Spisehuset 56 grader, Krudtløbsvej 8, 1439 Copenhagen, Typical evening 3 course menu 325 DKr
Ding-a-ling and it was back on the boat for the return trip to the Black Diamond where we had started several hours earlier, where a small surprise awaited us; hot coffee and chocolates to finish our gastro-cruise in the foyer where people were starting to gather for an evening concert. We felt that afternoon we’d enjoyed the best the harbour could offer; the blue mussels farmed in the clear, cold waters of Copenhagen, prepared in endlessly inventive ways by some of the best chefs around and all shared in convivial company. Certainly a celebration of the best blue mussels and the best of Copenhagen.
Visitor Information for Copenhagen
Our gastro-cruise was part of the Copenhagen Cooking festival, one of the biggest food festival in Northern Europe which takes place in August and February. The festival showcases the best of Danish and Nordic Cuisine with special events throughout the month of February that combine artistic, musical and gastronomic experiences hosted by different restaurants and venues around Copenhagen. Our gastro-cruise cost 485 Danish Krone per person and we were hosted by Copenhagen Cooking and Wonderful Copenhagen.
Look out for the summer edition of the Copenhagen Cooking festival in August. The Copenhagen Cooking festival is part of the wider Copenhagen Wondercool festival that covers fashion week, a jazz festival, an architecture festival as well as the food events.
Heather and Guy stayed at the Andersen Hotel in Vesterbro, Copenhagen’s Red Light District and trendy neighbourhood for restaurants and nightlife. The hotel is a colourful boutique hotel, decorated using Designers Guild and other designer furnishings, with friendly and helpful service and a convenient location close to the Central Station. Thanks to Andersen Hotel who provided a complimentary stay for our weekend visit.
Copenhagen Card – we used the Copenhagen Card during our stay for free public transport by bus, train and metro as well as free admission to 75 museums and attractions including a (non-gastronomic) harbour cruise which passes many of the places we visited.
For more information about visiting Copenhagen, see the Visit Copenhagen official Tourism website. Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen who supported our weekend visit to Copenhagen.
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