Stephen Jardine: Food is so good in wonderful Copenhagen

Denmark is home to one of the world's best restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen. Picture: Getty Images
Denmark is home to one of the world's best restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen. Picture: Getty Images
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No reason why Scotland can’t have same success as Denmark says Stephen Jardine

It’s 20 years since I last visited Copenhagen. I vividly remember a river cruise, Tivoli Gardens and a visit to the Carlsberg Brewery. What I don’t remember is much about the food. Danish pastries and picked herring aside, it was utterly unremarkable.

Earlier this week I returned and everything has changed. From being invisible Denmark is now blazing a trail as a culinary destination and flying the flag for the new Nordic food revolution. At the pinnacle of that is Noma, named best restaurant in the world four times. In just three weeks time Chef Owner Rene Redzepi will close the doors for a final time before giving Noma a new lease of life early next year on a farm outside Copenhagen.

But there is a lot more to Danish food than just one very famous restaurant. Over the past decade, many chefs from Noma have left to go it alone so the city is scattered with brilliant restaurants. On Monday night I ate in one of them and the food was out of this world. From the scallop with juniper and pickled pine needles starter to the beer porridge with white chocolate and liquorice it was without doubt my meal of the year. Despite the poor exchange rate, it also cost less than some of the worst meals I’ve had this year.

But the big change in Denmark has not just been the appearance of great restaurants. The co-founder of Noma says public attitudes to food illustrate the real difference. “People in Denmark believed it was a sin to put much time into cooking or into exploring the pleasures of eating,” Claus Meyer said in an interview last year.

“It was because of the Puritanism handed down from the past. In Denmark we gave ourselves the worst food, we had what was left after everything else had been exported.”

A decade has changed all that. Just along the street from the restaurant where I had such a good experience is Copenhagen’s indoor food market. Opened five years ago, Torvehallerne takes up two glass buildings on a cobbled square and offers space for 80 food vendors ranging from fishmongers to bakers and brewers.

When I visited at lunchtime it was mobbed with office workers eating but also with shoppers picking up the ingredients for dinner. So what lies behind this revolution in food culture and could it be replicated here? The seeds of it were planted ten years ago when, sensing things needed to change, Claus Meyer and 14 other chefs sat down and wrote a Nordic food manifesto. It championed seasonal cooking, sustainability, the use of more vegetables as well as indigenous and local foods, sound animal welfare and a focus on health. Nordic food and agriculture ministers gave their joint backing and found three million Euros to back a roll out of the project. The rest is history.

With the groundwork done the next phase has been unveiled with emphasis going on improving food in the public sector, establishing a Nordic food award and using food to boost tourism.

When it comes to food and drink, Scotland and Denmark have much in common. We too have seen massive changes in the food and drink sector but much of the emphasis here has been on growing the value of exports. That is vital to build a successful economy and provide employment but we also need better and varied food choices to improve the health of the nation.

The Scottish Government is pumping money into local projects aiming to do just that but our local authorities also have a part to play. With a population similar to Glasgow and Edinburgh, if Copenhagen can support a thriving indoor food market surely so can our biggest cities.

If not a new building, an empty local authority space could at least be a starting point for something. If the Danes can do it, why can’t we?