Allan Schultz, the ruggedly handsome biker turned restaurateur, folded his tattooed arms and said wistfully, "In Copenhagen we all work so damn hard to create perfect interiors, cook perfect meals, wear perfect clothes. We have no time to enjoy ourselves." I surveyed the scene at his restaurant, Schultz, where a table of pink-tressed Barbies and their techno-cool dates were roaring with laughter over foie gras and expensive Piedmontese wines. I wasn't inclined to pity the Danes. "Them?" Schultz asked, as if reading my mind. "Swedes. They make up most of my clientele nowadays."
Thanks to the new ¯resund bridge linking Sweden and Denmark, stylish Swedes are descending in droves on northern Europe's latest capital of cool. So are Hamburg hipsters and Wallpaper-clutching Londoners determined to strip the city of every last Panton lamp, Wegner chair, and Jacobsen door handle. Instead of embodying quaint Scandinavian charm, Copenhagen resembles a vast design showroom teeming with restaurants where dinner is just as slick as the décor.
Today the décor is likely to be Mid-Century Modern, but it wasn't always so. Take Arne Jacobsen—Denmark's Le Corbusier. According to Kim Flyvbjerg, the 31-year-old editor of the zeitgeist magazine Copenhagen Living, in the past decade Jacobsen enjoyed only polite recognition in his homeland. True, his iconic chairs fetched good prices at auction houses, but trendier Danes preferred to park their derrières on Conran or Starck. It took a Wallpaper-sparked vogue to turn Denmark's youth on to mid-century style. Now, the SAS Royal Hotel, Jacobsen's austerely Modernist jet-age high-rise, has been given the jazziest of makeovers (purists gripe; guests love it).
The latest shrine to the architect is Restaurant Jacobsen, part of his white post-Bauhaus seaside complex in Klampenborg, a short train ride north of town. It was a thrill to lounge by the fireplace in a high-backed chair, holding the actual ergonomic steel water pitcher next to its photo in the Jacobsen tome on the coffee table. It was an even bigger thrill to jump from the Egg to the Ant to the Swan—Jacobsen's organic sculptures posing as seating. Tables were set with the futuristic AJ cutlery—you saw it in 2001: A Space Odyssey—designed for the SAS Royal and promptly retired because it was torture to use.
In the evenings, when the restaurant buzzes with theatergoers from the Jacobsen-designed Bellevue Theater next door, the menu runs to stuff like mushroom cappuccino with fried polenta, and ostrich with duck foie gras. My lunch was less ambitious but still good, featuring succulent Jutland mussels in a herbaceous broth and a huge club sandwich of whole grilled chicken breast under an avalanche of pickles, bacon, and capers. The amazingly flavorful local bird tasted even better once I abandoned the AJ knife—the thing had neither handle nor blade—and dug in with my hands. Ah, Functionalism.
STYLE AND SUSTENANCE
Schultz espouses a different aesthetic. The cool cavelike interior is a Scandinavian evocation of Santorini, with seashells and pickle jars gleaming like jewels on backlit shelves. Chairs are supremely comfortable, tableware is solid, and the lighting flatters those Nordic cheekbones.
In Copenhagen, Allan Schultz is known as a proponent of California cuisine, which he picked up during a stint with Joachim Splichal at Patina. Actually, my meal was closer to a Michelin-starred experience in Catalonia than to anything one might eat in Los Angeles. A coin of foie gras accented with sea salt and translucent petals of caramelized papaya was an impeccable morsel, both rich and restrained. Equally elegant was the silken salt cod carpaccio, its earthy tang mellowed by a flourish of leeks with saffron and a sweet beet vinaigrette. A salsa of pear and green almonds added intrigue to the moist and delicate roast whitefish. But the high point was the complex peppery consommé of tomatoes and mussels accessorized with a wafer holding bright basil sorbet. When I melted the garnish into the hot liquid, the soup sent whiffs of Mediterranean summer across the room. No doubt it reminded the pink-haired mermaids from Malmö of sun-baking topless on the Costa Brava.