The long-held acclaim of New Nordic restaurant Noma helped Copenhagen to become the world’s number one culinary hotspot.
From a booming annual food festival to a string of Michelin-starred spots, this is where to go in Denmark if you place food above all else.
The culinary scene here is beginning to take on a life of its own, thanks in no small part to the treats found in the waters of the Bay of Aarhus. Jellyfish, lobster and pungent-smelling seaweed are all harvested here: unique, hyperlocal ingredients such as these are readily available for the city’s chefs to work wonders with.
Who’s who and where to go
For a city of just over 300,000 people, Aarhus is blessed with some seriously swanky spots to grab a bite or to spend a few hours blowing your budget on food. On a cobbled street behind the imposing towers of the Aarhus Domkirke is Gastromé (gastrome.dk). It’s one of the three Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, the only places in Denmark outside of Copenhagen to earn that accolade. What’s more, Gastromé was awarded its star just six days after opening its doors.
Here you’ll find dishes created using locally-sourced ingredients such as mussels with seaweed from the nearby bay, and veal tenderloin with chanterelles sourced from the Vilhelmsborg Forest, just out of town. They’re the creations of Soren Jakobsen and William Jorgensen, locals who have been cooking in different spots around city for ten years.
Tasting Aarhus’ best local ingredients needn't mean spending your entire trip’s budget on a single meal, though. The restaurant at Hotel Ferdinand (hotelferdinand.dk), serves up the best in local seafood, including huge oyster platters. Plates feature Danish food with a French twist; they're less avante-garde than some of the modern Nordic creations at joints in Copenhagen, but they're none the worse for it.
For those who want a truly hip experience, where only the finest ingredients are used, then Haevaerk (restaurant-haervaerk.dk) is the place to be. Its offerings change constantly and there is no set menu. You get what you’re given, with tasting menus differing from table to table. Think calves' liver with beetroot, and some of that succulent local lobster with cauliflower and lardons. Essentially, it’s New Nordic without the wallet melting price tag; just 350kr for seven courses.
Once you’ve finished eating, be sure to explore the city’s narrow streets, especially the area around the stunning Aarhus Teater and down towards the docks. With the city gearing up to be a European Capital of Culture in 2017, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Den Gamle By open-air museum are well worth seeing, even if it is just to walk off that hefty lunch.
Trends to watch out for
The best way to get to the heart of the city’s food scene and sample some of Jutland’s best ingredients is to visit the annual Food Festival (foodfestival.dk), held in a park by the southern sweep of the bay every September. Traditional houses and verdant forests overlook the festival site, giving it a truly Danish feel.
Around 300 participants, including cheesemakers, fishermen, farmers and famous chefs such as Paul Cunningham from west Jutland’s renowned culinary outpost Henne Kirkeby Kro, have been coming to Aarhus for five years to show off their wares.
Meat eaters are very well catered for. There’s succulent 30-day-aged pork, and veal which has been hung for 60 days, techniques not used elsewhere with pig or calf meat. A dedicated 'sea' area serves up treats direct from the water, including delicious fish cakes with remoulade and rye bread from P. Clausen Fiskehandel (clausensfiskehandel.dk), the oldest fish shop in Denmark. Meanwhile, vegetarians can delight in the best organic treats grown in the farm fields around Aarhus.
For those after some traditional fare, the National Hotdog Contest, held at the festival each year, has become something of a beacon for those trying to reignite the passion for a Danish dish which has fallen out of fashion in Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole.
There are two categories: traditional and modern. It’s the latter which shows just how far Nordic cuisine has crept into everyday eating here, even if the aim is to return the humble hotdog to its rightful place as Denmark’s favourite dish. Last year’s winner, crafted by Paul Cunningham, was an ox heart and snail creation. You might not find that particular treat on menus in Aarhus, but check the city’s best restaurants and you'll see that many of the ingredients and dishes on show at the Food Festival are available to try all year round.
Bizarre and brilliant booze
For those after a local tipple, the drinking scene in Aarhus and Jutland has also taken on some of that New Nordic buzz. Whisky maker Stauning’s concoctions are every bit as good as ones you’ll find in the Scottish Highlands, especially their peated bottle, which uses Jutland peat for its distinctive flavour.
Likewise, the fruit wines made by Jens Skograd Pedersen are an unlikely and tasty treat, using only the best Danish apples and cherries. His Outcider, an apple wine created using the same methods that champagne makers employ in France, is a boozy treat. Meanwhile, his cherry wine is so good that it’s made it onto the tasting menu at Gastromé.
While Aarhus might lack Copenhagen’s edgy buzz, its abundant waters and easy access to some of Denmark’s most beautiful countryside means the city has become a real contender as the go-to destination in Scandinavia for food fanatics. Get past the whiff of the seaweed and you’ll find food in this laid back coastal city that’s like nowhere else in Europe.