Although only one-third complete, Carlsberg City District will include Michelin-starred restaurants, galleries and much more across its 25 public squares and piazzas.
I VISITED the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen just before the iconic Danish beer maker moved its production facilities to Jutland in 2008. The historic weight of 160 years of brewing was everywhere. We passed under a gateway emblazoned with swastikas and the executives showing us around tried their little joke. Unfortunately for them, I and several others in the group knew there wasn’t a Nazi connection and the building pre-dated Hitler’s rise to power by decades. Quite rightly, Carlsberg had incorporated the Hindu symbol for prosperity and good luck into the then-new brewery and today the company is a global powerhouse with annual sales of $10 billion.
The red brick bones of the original brewery are still there, but now they form the core of Copenhagen’s most exciting urban renewal project. Carlsberg City District is only 10 minutes from the Danish capital’s city hall and the three-year-old Carlsberg Station is one of the busiest connection hubs in the city. The first residents moved in at the same time, but by 2024 the 600,000 square metre area will house residential buildings, offices, shops restaurants and culture and sport facilities. A striking blend of old and new, the development company called – yes – Carlsberg Byen is owned by Carlsberg Breweries and three local pension funds.
The whiff of hops has long faded and the brewery’s former warehouse facilities have been transformed into the Hotel Ottilia, a 155-room luxury boutique hotel. Opened at the beginning of the year, it’s the perfect place to stay for beer and eco-luxury lovers alike. The architects have teamed original grain silos and malt chambers with a three-level light sculpture and bowed windows that echo the shape of beer bottles. I stayed in one of the suites in the Round Tower which offers panoramic views of Copenhagen.
The property is named after Ottilia, the Scottish wife of Carl Jacobsen, son of Jacob Jacobsen, the company’s founder, who also named the brewery after him. The younger Jacobsen was a noted art collector and thistles are the dominant design motif. The redevelopment of the entire Carlsberg City District has a budget of $3 billion and is a cornerstone of Copenhagen’s goal to become the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.
The Hotel Ottilia boasts another feature to keep environmentalists happy. A revolutionary self-disinfecting technology called CleanCoat helps the rooms to clean themselves. The system was tested at the nearby five-star Herman K hotel, housed in a re-configured industrial transformer station, and also removes odours and contaminants without the use of chemical detergents and cleaners. The rooftop Tramonto restaurant offers great views of Copenhagen and an all-organic breakfast menu. There’s also a natural trend in the free daily wine tour that sets off from the lounge bar.
Although only one-third complete, Carlsberg City District will include Michelin-starred restaurants, galleries and much more across its 25 public squares and piazzas. Yet for all the scrupulous planning and modernity, one of the most arresting and nostalgic sights is the Elephant Tower, the old entry gate to the brewery which is still held aloft by life-size pachyderms hewn out of granite.
Rene Redzepi’s Noma restaurant is credited with bringing modern Danish fine dining to global attention. But the Danes were shaking up the culinary scene decades ago. The movie Babette’s Feast was the first Danish film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is still showing on SBS and Netflix, and one of its biggest fans is Pope Francis. Way back in the 1980s, chef Jan Pedersen, of La Cocotte in Copenhagen, was welcoming hordes of international foodie pilgrims with his menu based on the film’s sumptuous food scenes.
As Rick Stein pointed out in his long weekend away TV series, even he couldn’t get a table at Noma because the producers hadn’t booked weeks ahead. Fortunately, there’s plenty of seriously good restaurants in Copenhagen if you haven’t planned a visit months ahead. I am a big fan of classic Northern European dishes cooked really well without the need to add contemporary touches. That’s what’s on offer at Barr, located in the former Noma premises on the waterfront. Perfectly cooked waffles, frikadeller meatballs and crumbed veal can be washed down with first-rate beers and aquavits.
Noma isn’t the only restaurant in Copenhagen with two Michelin stars, AOC also has two twinklers. Situated in a sparkling white basement matched by snowy tablecloths, chef Soren Selin offers the sort of tweezer-perfect fine dining Nordic haute cuisine has become famous for. Yes, it’s fussy but well worth the prices.
Like compatriot, Crown Princess Mary, Aussie chef Beau Clugston has settled into Danish life following a seven-year stint at Noma. His Iluka restaurant, secreted behind a sleek graphite-coloured door, is one of the Danish capital’s best seafood fine dining restaurants. The oysters here are amazing and so is the sea urchin from the Faroe islands served raw in the shell, accompanied by an unsalted buttered slice of grilled sourdough bread.
I could live for a week on smorrebrod, the justly famous Danish open-faced sandwiches. The gastro temple of the art is Aamann’s 1921, a bright, airy space with contemporary chandeliers which dishes up exquisite traditional and modern gourmet versions. Conditori La Glace, Denmark’s oldest cake and pastry shop, was founded in 1870. Pink and green walls and the lavish use of brass seal the back-in-time feel. You will need to do some brisk walking to work off a slice of the house speciality, sportskagen (sportscake), a high calorie mix of crushed nougat in whipped cream on a macaroon base
It comes as a surprise to many visitors that Geranium – not Noma – is Copenhagen’s first and only Michelin three-star restaurant. Rick Stein did manage to get in here to film for his long weekend series and chat with chef Rasmus Kofoed. The cameras focused lovingly on the razor clams, salted white salmon, dill pebbles with frozen dill juice and fresh cream with horseradish dished up to the wandering TV host, which must have sparked thousands to make a booking.
Other Noma alums besides Beau Clugston have set up shop all over town, as you would expect. In the edgy Vesterbro district, once a working class area and red light district, which has reinvented itself as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 coolest neighbourhoods around the world, Rosio Sanchez offers her take on Mexican cuisine if you need a bit of heat on the plate. Kristian Baumann runs the ranges at 108, another former Noma location. Born in South Korea, he was adopted by Danish parents when he was a baby and is totally global in outlook. Like his mentor, Rene Redzepi, he has made the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and has cooked in guest spots overseas. The prices at 108 aren’t as stratospheric as Noma but you also have to book weeks ahead.