A recent morning found my purplish hands clutching a steaming mug of tea, which, along with toasted black bread, qualified as breakfast on our balcony overlooking a bracing Copenhagen. Known as “the port of the merchants,” this small city, with a population of just over a million, lies directly on the sea. My first trip this far north in Europe, I had come to be baptized in Danish design and hopefully find a few treasures for my shop, Heritage Culinary Artifacts, in Napa Valley.
The steel gray skies, streaked with painterly brushes of white, were reflected in the harbor’s dark waters. Anchored schooners, barely moving in the still chill, are a constant reminder of this Nordic city’s seafaring history. Copenhagen’s church spires and rooftops reflect its pleasingly symmetrical
Dutch Renaisssance architecture, which dates to the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
On the street below, running along one of the canals, a major bike race is taking place. Wide-eyed cycling enthusiasts are standing on street corners in the late morning chill cheering on the racers, dressed sleekly in Lycra and plastic and bearing the name of their sponsoring country.
To accommodate the cyclists, streets are closed to cars throughout Copenhagen, an already crazy-bike-loving city. 36% of its citizens bike to work or school; is there anything hotter than an executive in a fine European suit and brimmed hat biking to work, scarf flying in the breeze? And God knows it’s not difficult to bundle up stylishly in Copenhagen. There are dozens of small boutiques selling lovely clothes made by local designers.
Sweaters are de rigor in this chilly seaside city and I bought two enormous, marvelous sweaters from Danish wunderkind designer Ivan Grundahl, which I will wear for years.
I wandered to the small neighborhood of Christianshavn, which was founded in the mid-1600s by Christian IV, known as The Builder King of Denmark, for his many architectural projects. The ‘hood is renowned for a bohemian vibe. True to its rep, I scored a dime bag-sized bit of dope (…for $20…) from a guy
in a lovely park
near one of the canals.
Smoked the very average herb while watching large boats navigate the seemingly tiny waterways. The delicate buzz was decidedly perfect for a exploring an open market I’d read about. Aisles and aisles of antiques were set on tables alongside a canal.
My first find of the trip is very special: a very heavy, figural corkscrew of Popeye, The Sailor Man. Dating to the 1930’s, this guy even has an etched, anchor tattoo. He measures 5.5" tall and separates at his waist, hiding the corkscrew’s worm. A find for the avid collector. ($445)
Jens Harald Quistgaard (1919–2008) was a Danish industrial designer who worked with the American entrepreneur Ted Nierenberg to craft elegant and functional Scandinavian Design cookware for Dansk International Design. He was recognized with the Lunning Prize in 1954 and his designs are in the museum collections of The Louvre in Paris, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MOMA, both in New York. These two cheese boards he designed, dating to the mid-century, each sport a cheese knife that tucks away, creating a handle. Brilliant design! (Pair $145)
I had to have them. The cast, figural rabbit napkin rings are well done and make me smile. (Set of four $45)
Needing a bit of nourishment and warmth, I hit the city’s Latin Quarter. I found a corner couch at Cafe Petri in the swank First Hotel Skt. Petri. A pot of tea filled with lemongrass, lavender and peppermint and loads of local honey set the mood. I gratefully dug into a smoked salmon sandwich on thinly sliced dark rye. The bread in this part of the world is unlike anything I’ve I’ve ever had … dark, earthy, nutty. Studded with seeds and grains, the texture is dense, but it unlike breads made with white flour, it treats the body lightly. The sandwich was a Nordic classic: layered slices of fish
with horseradish cream, dill, radish, and lemon.
The last sips from a bottle of the local microbrew, Ørbæk, acted as dessert.
Thin, tall blond women in super tight leather pants are scattered around me. Indeed, the city’s inhabitants are breathtakingly beautiful. And they are warm and very welcoming. The language, however, is bizarre. As I grew frustrated struggling to understand any Danish at all, I was told by a native gentleman not to sweat it: after all, there are only 5 million people on the planet who actually speak the language!
Deeply nourished and warm, I strolled through several antique shops.
Marked ‘Denmark’ on his underbelly, this figural bottle opener mouse is pure mid-century charm. With a brass tail
bottle opener, and leather ears. Measuring 4" long. ($65)
This wall-mounted, cast iron match-strike is extremely handsome and very unique. With a indentation in the boar’s head for either a candle or matches, this beauty sports several different striking areas. A true, functional work of art
to light up
the cold evenings.
The embracing salt and pepper are classic mid-century modern, Danish design. The wood is in very fine condition and the aesthetic is elegant yet also utilitarian. Each measures 4" long. (Pair $85)
I was frankly overwhelmed by the quality of the food in Copenhagen. With 13 Michelin-starred restaurants, this town is a gourmand’s dream. The city is one of the most environmentally friendly on the planet; 45% of all food consumed is organic, and often sourced from a farmer’s field or forest,
or hauled out of the surrounding waters.
I was positively sure I’d eventually score reservations to Noma.
Ranked the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010 and 2011, acclaimed
Chef René Redzepi forages the city and its Nordic coasts for wild foods to add to his inventive menu, arranged on a plate that is pure culinary art.
Or so I’ve read.
I tried every fucking avenue I could think of to snag a seat.
Called influential chef friends.
Left pleading messages on Noma’s voicemail.
Tried to bribe my concierge with cash or contraband.
All to no avail.
I was more than mollified with a reservation at Radio, a small, rustic dining room headed by Noma alumns. Various crops are harvested from duo chefs Jesper Kirketerp and Rasmus Kliim’s own gardens, fresh fruits are brought in from the nearby island of Lilleø, and hunters drop by their latest, seasonal kills.
An older bottle of Cornas from Clape was decanted, its earthy perfume mesmerizing. A bowl of local barley with foraged mushrooms in a broth made from game birds was Nordic autumn in a bowl.
Copenhagen’s food cred is picking up international steam. MAD Foodcamp, aptly named, as MAD means ‘food’ in Danish, took place in late August. Visitors mingled with chefs from around the world to eat, drink and exchange ideas. The venue was a fruit and vegetable market larger than anything previously seen in Northern Europe and featuring wild as well as cultivated crops from
fields and beaches
of the Nordic region.
Awoke late to a spitting, sobering, icy rain. No better day to amble through the Danish Museum of Art and Design. I’m a sucker for the elegant, curvaceous furniture, with gorgeous woods and clean design from this part of the world: it always grabs my eye. Arne Jacobsen is often regarded as the godfather of Danish design and one of the pioneers of functionalism. His buildings define not only an architectural movement, but an era of design. One of his greatest works is the 1960 Radisson SAS Royal Hotel across from Tivoli in downtown Copenhagen. This mad genius oversaw all details, right down to the door handles. The hotel was Copenhagen’s first skyscraper, and as a tribute to its designer, room 606 remains to this day a shrine to its designer,
featuring the original furniture and fittings he created for it.
But it’s the work of Dane silversmith Georg Jensen that moves me. The sterling silver serving pieces from the early 1900s are striking. I lucked out finding this handsome cutlery set. This substantial, sterling silver carving set was made by Johan Rohde for Georg Jensen in 1915. The acorn pattern is my personal favorite – and one that is highly sought after. Knife measures 12" and fork measures 11" in length.
(Knife and fork $495)
This salt shaker and pepper grinder combination is functional and economical of space, while being tactile and elegant. Created by Dansk. Mid-century. ($110)
It was classic.
I fell in love with dozens of chairs throughout this design-centric city, but what did I wind up shipping home? American designer Allan Gould’s “Compass Chairs’, designed in 1949. Teak bodies and upholstery seats,
measuring 26¼” high; 20½” wide; 19” deep.
(Set of 6 $2450)
I’ll admit to feeling a bit obligated to try the herring, a regional specialty. Grabbed an outdoor table at one of the many cafes lining one of the many canals. Thoughtfully, throughout much of the city, many of the cafe’s comfy outdoor chairs are draped with a thick blanket to help counter the chill. I ordered the house selection of five herring, each prepared in a different manner. I had expected something magical.
Instead, my mouth was filled with this nasty, foul, almost rancid flavor.
The texture was mushy and oily.
I quickly ordered an aquavit to numb my taste buds and warm my toes.
I strolled further as evening began to descend on the city, the wind making me pull my cap down tightly over my ears. I was fortunate to find a dealer who had wonderful wine antiques.
This cast iron wine cradle was designed specifically for magnum-sized bottles. With intricate scrollwork of grape leaves and a solid design in impeccable condition, this wine cradle allows decanting and service with great ease. Late 1800s, from Germany. ($510)
Our final evening was spent in the clean, modern dining room of Kikkoreit;
Danish food prepared with French techniques.
Our host, a warm Dane named, not unusually, Niels Nielson, is a man of voracious appetites; a passionate eater and drinker, and a good client of the restaurant. He took charge of our table, ordering the chef’s menu for the six of us. We started with caviar and finished with local cheeses and drank Austrian Gruner Veltliner with the fish crudo and red Burgundy with roasted partridge.
The service was sublime; the kitchen a quiet whirr of focused activity.
I was shocked and delighted that we had spent almost five hours at the table…… which, in essence, nicely encapsulates up my feelings about this lovely seaside city in northern Europe.
If any of the treasures in this newsletter move you, or would make a wonderful gift for someone you know,
write to me.
May I be of assistance?
Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
and I would be very pleased to discuss details.
Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind,
so when they’re gone, they are gone.
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.