Mention Copenhagen and my brain sweetly vomits Mermaid – Coffee Collective – Noma. No surprise there I guess considering my interests.
Everyone I spoke to had such positive things to say about Copenhagen and so many fantastic sounding recommendations that I found it all a bit overwhelming, stuffed a list of ‘must visits’ in my bag and hoped for the best. If I could only get out of the airport….Finally on the correct train, I find my ‘hotel’ literally minutes from the station in what you might call a less salubrious part of town, or more accurately, the red light district. It’s a good job I’m not precious ’cause I spend the next five nights in the tiniest, hottest hovel of a room in the whole of the city. Rather than picking one of the wonderful sounding bars and restaurants I have on my list, I slink off for a long, lonely but rather lovely walk around, peering into windows, busy on this Thursday night, but not feeling quite comfortable or welcome enough. I do what I often do when in a new and foreign place instead and scope out the local supermarkets, buy some snacks and retreat to my little pit. I’ll feel braver tomorrow.
I do. A new sunrise bathes Copenhagen once again in a bright light full of promise. I meet Jens at his restaurant Europa 1989 and we travel to what is to be my base for the next four days; a large white canvas tent next to the far more glamerous red rubber number that will, in due course, host a spangly and illustrious cast of speakers from the food and drink world. I’m here primarily for work, Tim Wendelboe has asked me to sort out the water so that the six coffee roasters, himself included, can showcase their coffees at their absolute best. It’s not a remotely tough job though, once I’ve got my little beastie installed and calibrated, he purrs away contentedly for the duration. I wrote more about MAD COFFEE over on the Bespoke Water blog.
It’s hard not to be a complete fan girl in situations like this, surrounded by folk I genuinely respect, meeting David Chang on that first day with Tim was a highlight and also finally meeting the lovely Anne and Charles from Koppi and Klaus from The Coffee Collective. But I coped. We were joined on the second day of set up by the remaining roasters, Koppi, Solberg & Hansen, Workshop Coffee, DaMatteo and The Coffee Collective. They’re a fabulous bunch and together they provided a super slick, friendly, attentive and informative coffee service. It was a beautiful thing to watch and an immense treat to have such easy access to some of the absolute best coffees around, I note with a sense of London pride that our own roaster Workshop really stands out as exceptional.
And what did I eat? In this land of creative and innovative cuisine I felt a little under pressure to do it justice and on a couple of occasions failed entirely I’m afraid. I didn’t make it to Noma (ok – that was never going to happen without a lot of planning anyway), Amass (despite it being practically on the site of the symposium), Ved Stranden 10, Mikkeller Bar, Manfreds. Damn, reading that list has me wanting to return immediately.
Having heard some good things about Europa 1989 and it’s brunches I was pleased to find myself there for lunch. It’s right on the corner of one of the piazza’s, right in the centre of town, with seating positioned out onto the square to enable voyeurism. A plate of veal carpaccio is tender and beautifully presented, served with a little side bowl of salad, far, far removed from the uninspiring side salads I’d expect back at home, and a stunning rye bread roll, bursting with nuts and seeds. We find ourselves back again on our final night where bread served with lardo and butter is the precursor to a hearty main of lamb shank (pronounced ‘skank’ by a nameless member of our party to much hilarity) with polenta, olives and onions. I can also highly recommend the Negronis here!
I accompany Tim and the lovely Steph to Cafe Sokkelund, sold to me as the best burgers in Copenhagen. Easy sell. Amongst slightly dated brasserie surrounding we sip free champagne (Tim apparently knows the owner) and inhale very good burgers and triple cooked chips, peculiar only in the rather odd mash up of burger toppings. As a condiment whore I’m a big fan of the pre potted choice lined up along the side of our plates. We decide cocktails are called for and head back to more central to Fiskebar. Now I hear the food and wine are excellent however our cocktails are not; massively inconsistent, and certainly our bartender didn’t have a grasp of the basics…fun though with it’s mirrors designed for spying, giant fish tanks and large circular bar.
Saturday night’s meal stands out as a real highlight. I have a slightly random reservation at Restaurant BROR with five strangers, one of whom contacted me on Twitter. I know -sorry Dad. As it turns out one of them is a tea supplier I’ve bumped into before, one is a friend of other Twitter friends as well as living locally to me, and the couple on the table know the guys in Paris I’ve started working with. Small world, and honestly I’m not just making excuses for myself because I wanted in on the reservation. Well, only a little bit….
I’ve been warned Bror is challenging but I find Tim and Steph still there, nearly four hours after their reservation, contented smiles on their faces (and yes, as you might imagine, as a group, we were constantly tripping over each other eating and drinking around the same places). Yes, I found the cooking here to be gutsy, in keeping with the theme for MAD, and not necessarily easy eating but very, very enjoyable indeed. We decide to leave ordering up to the restaurant and before long bowls and plates start arriving magically at our table.
Little bowls of starters come out, a squid dish I leave to others, but a bright and refreshing bowl of peas, beetroot tops and curds I quickly demolish. Chicken wings are soft and seasoned with savoury kale. Bull’s balls, yes testicles, are delicious once you get over the texture, served with a tartar sauce to cut through the richness. Swiftly follows a tartare of beef with ox blood jelly that is so intense I struggle to finish it, then a sweet kohlrabi dish that is anointed with lobs of pork fat; inspired. Always a fan of bread and butter, here’s it’s better than you can imagine; sourdough served with virgin butter from the Butter Viking – simple perfection.
It’s with the delivery of our mains that the fun really begins; quite simply a pigs head split in half, a couple of knives, two chopping boards and two aprons. I’m nominated as one of the butchers, and after some brief cutting suggestions, duly get stuck in. I don’t profess to have carried out my job with any skill whatsoever but I do love playing with my food and this certainly allows me full lible. Thankfully after such a jubilantly wobbly and glisteningly fatty main our desserts are a light berry number, I forget now quite what, maybe hay and some sort of crispy moss may have been involved. Perhaps not. It was tasty. What really made the meal at Bror though was the service; at once attentive and relaxed, not with the cold demeanor of nameless waiters but with all the warmth you’d expect from old friends welcoming you into their home. The dishes arriving with fluidity, punctuations to our conversation, delivered with knowledge and fervour. Delightful.
There was not the remotest chance I was visiting Copenhagen without a trip to at least one of the Coffee Collective locations, in fact I made two of the three. Saturday morning I headed to the Torvehallerne one, seeming to be a concession within one of a pair of two parallel large food and drink outdoor markets; one half seemingly dedicated to baked and sweet goods, the other to alcoholic beverages and savouries. The Coffee Collectives spot is bustling, a Kees Van Der Westen Spirit machine perkily busting out shots to an eager crowd, an equally busy brew bar is gleaming with kalita pour overs. I choose a pastry at the bakery adjacent and sit on a bench outside for a spot of people watching.
An invite to visit the Coffee Collective roastery for a cupping is received with extreme excitement, however I almost ruin the experience with an equally extreme hangover, it being the morning after the MAD after party…Apologies to anyone who was in the vicinity of my booze emitting person as I oozed the sad vapours of the previous night’s revelry. The beautifully calm, serene and welcoming, slender space of the cafe, with roaster behind a glass wall, is a soothing balm that gently washes over my pained brow (*cough* Ibuprofen may have helped too *cough*) as I join Klaus and a small group at the cupping table to taste a wonderful range of beans, lightly roasted and full of delicate flavours and juicy fruits. It’s a real treat and I feel guilty for marring the experience.
As for MAD Symposium itself, as is quite often the case with this sort of thing, I find myself just as happy to hang around behind the scenes. There’s enough vibrant energy bouncing off those attending the talks, in the down time chatter and heard in hearty laughter and applause through the tent’s walls during talks, to almost not require me to see any myself. I feel the overall effect, the feel, despite not watching and listening to the actual content (I lie, I do make it to a few and they are very rousing and inspirational indeed).
If I thought the lunch on day one from Souk el Tayeb was a delicious rainbow of flavours, although I remain still not *quite* convinced by raw ‘meat’, then the following day’s was a revelation. Treated to a taster during set up in exchange for coffee, all of us at MAD COFFEE were gagging to see what Mission Chinese had created for day two’s offering. We weren’t to be disappointed, the menus casually pinned to the walls read ridiculously well. Anticipation builds as we wait politely for attendees to file past and get the hell out of our way before we grab beers and plates groaning with food. The rockstar barista may now have become a tired cliche but Mission manage to pull off the rockstar chef thing that takes proceedings to another level, helped I expect in no small part by the blaring Smashing Pumpkins soundtrack and plumes of heavy Szechuan smoke. The tent takes on, for an hour or so at least, more of a festival vibe than that of a symposium, as we tuck into plates of food, vibrantly spiced with an eclectic fusion of flavours.
MAD symposium ends in a grand finale with the beheading of a chicken and a party under the bridges of Copenhagen, we chase this with a visit to Sam’s karaoke bar with the Mission Chinese guys. This picture discovered on my phone the next day, below, probably says far, far more than my words ever could….
Oh and the pastries. Did I mention that Copenhagen does pastries oh so very well? So much better than we could ever hope for back home; light and flaky, rich, crisp, gooey, twisted and coiled, layered and filled. I fear I ate far more than my fair share and yet there remains so many of those illusive and unrecognisable names still to try. Yet, it pleases me that there’s such an abundent number of palces I’ve missed, as it quite frankly warrants a return trip. I’ll miss my hour long walks along the canals and lakes every morning to ‘work’ and the beautiful buildings, the friendly and welcoming people and the bicycles, EVERYWHERE.
Coffee, food, water, bicycles, pastries, fun, burgers, Negronis, friends, inspiration, teaching, learning, romance, pain, love, shots, blood, death. Guts. Mad. Done.
Copenhagen you’ve been wonderful.