This trip was a long time coming – the Danes’ reputation for beautiful design and delicious innovative food means that Copenhagen has long been a place I’ve wanted to visit.
Having said that, we decided to explore further afield and began our trip by getting a train to Aarhus, Denmark’s second city and a 2017 European city of culture. Like Copenhagen it has a reputation for good food – both fancy Michelin starred places but also cheaper options which cater to the city’s many students.
We arrived late on Saturday afternoon and found that many of the shops closed at 3pm. we did a little exploring and having had a look at the houses on Møllestien - pictured above - which is described as the prettiest street in Aarhus, we called into Vesterlauget, a cute bar where I enjoyed a glass of wine and David had a Danish beer. There was a lot of nice looking food being served around us but as we had a reservation at Nordisk Spisehus, we had to move on.
Nordisk Spisehus has an interesting approach - they collaborate with other restaurants to showcase guest dishes as well as their own, as part of a changing themed menu. When we visited the collaboration was with three Michelin-starred restaurants from Stockholm, although we only tried dishes from two as we chose one of the smaller menus on offer.
We started with a dish from Ekstedt, a restaurant that relies on traditional cooking techniques and which served up a dish of smoked bone marrow, fish roe and crispy kohlrabi – the intensely smoky flavour was a perfect pairing with the richness of the marrow and the subtly flavoured roe. This was followed by three of Nordisk Spisehus’ own dishes – grey mullet with pickled cucumber (I had this without the cucumber); a beautifully rich and intensely savoury beef carpaccio with crispy sweetbreads, vintage cheese and confit egg yolk; and fried cockerel breast with truffle and ramson oil. Pudding was courtesy of Restaurang Volt and took us back to our smoky beginnings, pairing a creamy almond ice cream with an intense caramel sauce that exuded layers of smoky flavours – we both loved this.
The following day we worked our way around some of the sights. We started at Aros, a fabulous art museum with a beautiful rooftop rainbow installation from Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson – pictured above - head straight to the top and work your way down. We then moved onto Den Gamle By, an open-air museum made up of historic houses and shops, grouped to showcase life in Aarhus in 1700s/1800s, 1927 and 1970. Aspects of Den Gamle By were interesting but to be honest, I wish we’d headed out of town to the Moesgaard Museum which has a beautiful new building in a pretty setting.
We also managed to pop into the cathedral - pictured below - which has beautiful frescoes on its walls and a large ship hanging from the ceiling, which was a sight we saw in several churches and cathedrals. in some cases these ships are present because the church has naval links but apparently they also symbolise our journey from cradle to grave; in Aarhus there is the additional story of this ship being a model from the early 1700s, which was shipped to the Russian tsar but lost when the ship carrying it was wrecked at sea; the virtually undamaged model drifted to shore and was eventually donated to Aarhus cathedral.
On our second day, we ate in Aarhus’ Latin Quarter for both brunch and supper. Brunch was delicious and very filling. we ate at Langhoff & Juul where we shared a couple of open-faced smørrebrød (sandwiches) – one topped with fish cakes, lightly pickled root vegetable ribbons and tartar sauce; the other topped with avocado, cottage cheese and sprouted seeds – as well as the “brunch” which is a selection of hot and cold dishes including scrambled eggs with bacon and sausage, ymer (similar to plain yoghurt) with muesli, breads, jam, cheese, ox rillettes, a couple of salads and some small cakes. The café has a large courtyard that I’m sure would be lovely in the summer.
Our Latin Quarter supper was at Le Coq, a little French bistro. We had great wine here but the food was a bit hit and miss, although there were aspects of all dishes that were good – I particularly enjoyed my quail with sweetbreads, ramsoms, turnip and browned butter with soy (delicious) and peanuts (unnecessary).
And that was it, apart from a stop at one of the few shops that was open, Summerbird, a Danish chocolate brand, where we stocked up on Easter eggs. We had lovely time in Aarhus and I wish we’d had a bit more time (I think we only needed half a day more), particularly when the shops and local markets might have been open, so we could have explored more widely.
Since visiting Aarhus, I've read a few articles about its upcoming year as a European city of culture and found out some lovely facts, which I wanted to share:
- every time a child is born in Aarhus, a three tonne tubular gong at the city's university clinic is set off (this is done by the new parents swiping the screen of a tablet computer) and this can be heard around the city. In December 2016 it would be heard on average 12 times every day.
- Dokk1, the biggest public library in Scandinavia opened in the summer after we visited, which is intended to be a public space that is about much more than books. From the pictures I have seen, I think it could be worth a visit. And if you're driving, use their fully automatic parking garage.