Pizza, Pasta and Limoncello: The New, New Nordic Cuisine

Pizza, Pasta and Limoncello: The New, New Nordic Cuisine

New Nordic cuisine was so 2010s. As we chart the rise of
Copenhagen‘s Italian dining scene, we find
tables dominated by mountains of nonna’s spaghetti, leopard-spotted
pizzas and the best aubergine parmigiana we’ve ever
tasted.



Here’s
something you might not know about Copenhagen, the city
of foraging and fairy tales, mushrooms and mermaids: the Danish
capital is home to a Michelin-starred Italianate ristorante that
opened a whole two decades before Noma was even a twinkle in Rene
Rezdepi’s eye – and its impact has been vital in keeping people
bibbed and carbohydrate-sated in a time when razor-clam broth with
a side sprinkling of live ants has become de rigueur. I’m certainly
not the only Copenhagener that’s grateful for the enduring magic of
a simple Italian dinner.



New Nordic vs Neo Nordic

Living in Copenhagen, you can smell the sea. I grew up in
England and had lived always in
cities far inland, and so spent two years dousing myself all over
in The Sound’s seawater, gulping salty air blown down from Sweden,
pummeling my skin with saunagus rituals and essential
oils from the forests and frolicking in the water. I ingested
Danish culture by way of the quintessential New Nordic cuisine I’d
heard so much about. I sampled the mahogany clams, the West Coast
oysters, Limfjord mussels and other fruits de mer – foraged and
fished Dansk style – that twinkle on
chic ceramics in starkly lit dining rooms. I saw how culinary
experiments were revolutionising traditional open faced sandwiches,
fish pickled to oblivion and meat obliterated by roasting.

Notably since the appearance of New Nordic’s titanic champ,
Noma
in 2003, Copenhagen’s chefs have eschewed the use of non-indigenous
ingredients. Stark seasonal tasting menus became one big white-hot
purity test.


Yet 20 years before Noma opened its doors, a celestial thing
happened in Denmark – a Full Moon menu was created in a romantic
waterside restaurant in Christianshavn.

The ristorante in question – one which arguably launched a
thousand trattorias thereafter – was opened in 1983 and named
Era
Ora
. It prematurely borrowed from the as-yet unborn New Nordic
Kitchen Manifesto (coined in 2004), compiling a menu that
celebrated the length, breadth and surrounding landscape and waters
of a nation. Era Ora, somewhat controversially for sleepy, early
80s Copenhagen, got excited tampering with fixed, ancient regional
Italian tendencies and created hybrid recipes. Not far away from
point seven of the Nordic manifesto that would come to be, the
restaurant and its contemporaries found new possibilities,
procedures and variations on the traditional. Scandinavia with its
future-forward sensibilities was a hotbed for such ideas.

Serving self-dubbed “Italian inner fusion”, Era Ora hides
unassumingly between old pubs and smørrebrød restaurants. Inside,
it’s all warm terracotta walls and futuristic chandeliers adorned
with moons and stars. Run by the enigmatic Italian-Brazilian couple
Elvio and Edelvita, its kitchen churns out marinated amberjack,
Tuscan blue cheese, wild-boar ravioli and insanely pretty chocolate
mousse made up like a lurid toadstool. Pasta usually makes a cameo
on its tasting menu, and its wine cellar stocks more than 600
Italian bottles.

Elvio discusses the landmark moment when Era Ora gained its
first Michelin star – which has since been re-awarded year after
year. “We received our first Michelin star in 1997, back when we
didn’t know anything about Michelin stars. I remember when I got
calls from friends and family congratulating us for receiving a
star. I was like: ‘What star!? Leave me alone I’m working!’
Afterwards when my friend told me what I actually was, I realised
that this is something big.”


Why does Elvio think Scandinavians need Italian
cooking so badly? “It brings the warm atmosphere of a country where
any visitor gets wrapped in a combination of light, fullness,
beauty and joyful times – where life gets another dimension, and
conviviality wins over.” Saluti to that.

Like H. C. Andersen fairy tales but with happier endings, many
of Copenhagen’s Italian kitchens are the brainchildren of a power
duo: husband and wife/ bosom pals/ star-crossed globetrotting
foodies/ the entrepreneurial equivalent of chalk and cheese – all
coming together in the name of liquid gold. That being, olive
oil.

Famo now has a handful of ristorantes with many native
Italian chefs at the helm. Its restaurants consistently serve the
best aubergine parmigiana in town while rapturously celebrating
Danish and Italian produce combinations, a little like the manner
of Italian fine-dining concept Brace. My favourite Famo branch
is Saxo, which sits on a cobbled street near the central
station of Vesterbro. It’s the oldest member of Famo’s
four-restaurant family. Here you can expect a happy chaos and
ever-changing menu of regional dishes such as fried courgette
flowers, buckwheat ravioli with sage butter and tender osso buco –
affordable upper-tier trattoria action. Close by is Bevi
Bevi
, a resounding favourite among locals, with its spin-off
tonic and spritzes and its snip of a seven-course bar menu with
delights including polpette in umido (meatballs in a thin sauce). A
diehard vegan friend of mine even tried its tartare with pistachios
and cornichons: she simply felt she had to.


Non si frigge mica con l’acqua literally translates to “you
don’t fry with water” – you shouldn’t do things by halves it means;
do it really, really well. With this in mind, the best family-run
trattoria in Copenhagen is probably Public, a self-proclaimed “Social Italian Eating Bar”
which has made its name not least for its sea bream cooked in
“crazy water” as well as traditional staples. Owners Johan (Danish)
and Cindy (Venetian) have created a low-key glamourous ambience,
impressive for such a new spot that graduated from a street food
stall. Enjoy Public’s delectable deer stew with gratinated fennel
and a grappa, and you’ll likely spot the couple. To quote Tony
Soprano: “When you’re married, you’ll understand the importance of
fresh produce.”



If you enjoy a more Italian-American vibe, visit tourist vortex
Nyhavn and nab a coveted
backyard table at feasting spot Fiat that’s all candles, plants and
dark wooden floors. Order the Sardinian pasta fregola and grilled
dorado. You can also book wine tastings with its charming staff,
who are amazingly diligent for such a bustling restaurant. It’s
reliably the kind of place you take your mother, whose appreciation
of anything raw or carpaccio or deconstructed is slim – and the
orange tiramisu is worth the trip alone.


To quote Tony once more, because Osteria 16 only has a set
eight-course option: “I went ahead and ordered some for the table.”
Here is a gloriously fuss-free osteria (actually, one of three
peppered around Copenhagen) serving nothing but the freshest stuff
that delights even the most philistine of Italian-enjoyers. You’ll
never order carbonara again after experiencing the metal-platter
primi of raw scampi and peaches drizzled in oil or Piedmontian
vitello tonnato or arancini. A secondi of pork neck with anchovy
salsa verde or fresh spaghetti with shaved bottarga proves that
Osteria 16’s second, newest outpost’s nonchalant point that great
food is often best served on unpretentious crockery. When we rose
to leave, owner Morten bounced out of the kitchen and invited my
comrade, a budding chef, to join him at the vegetable market the
next morning.


If it’s pizza you’re ravenous for in this neighborhood, take a
detour from the oversubscribed, over man-bunned and very busy
BÆST and enjoy the wood-fired sourdough brilliance in
the fun pink-and-white, lakeside joint Frankie’s Pizza. Try its “Honolulu” with spicy
pineapple chutney or the controversial but slightly wonderful
Danish iteration: the steak bearnaise pizza.

Pizzeria Luca is Copenhagen’s best place for
all-purpose antipasti (meatballs, burrata and to-die-for marzano
tomatoes) and 72-hour cold-leavened Neapolitan dough – and despite
the fluffy, leopard-printed wonder of its pizzas, the restaurant
remains free of the Instagram influencer brigade. Its owner Lasse
backpacked for years before landing broke and destitute, washing
dishes in Italy, learning the language and obsessing over the food.
On returning to Scandinavia, long-ruminating on the idea of giving
Danes convenient, excellent Italian fare in a convivial setting, he
built a mini food-and-cocktail empire across the capital, including
this restaurant named after renowned pizzaiolo Luca Platania.



Luca is found by the water, near the pretty parliament
buildings, just outside the bustle of the inner city and on my way
home. It’s a please-all locale – they also do wild boar
pappardelle, for all my sins, and the Tanqueray negronis are
unavoidable. At just two months young, Pizzeria
Luca
was placed at number five in the 50
Top Pizza
ranking, which is an almighty deal in the pizza
universe.

On some chilly Copenhagen night soon, order the puttanesca or
nduja, and raise a glass of limoncello to the stars that owe to the
rise and rise of pizza, pasta and so much more.