My friend Mark was digging into a salad he had packed. The late-autumn sun was dropping quickly toward the tree line, and with it, the temperature. It began to rain, lightly.
The two of us were sitting up in a blind barely large enough for one of us. Packed in like canned sardines, standing practically chest-to-chest, I was scouting over his shoulder, and he over mine. With a sudden nudge, he pushed the salad toward me, as if asking me to take it. Confused, I chose the wrong instinct: instead of following his prompt, I whipped my head around to catch two hares scurrying across the field behind me. By the time I turned back around to free Mark of the salad, it was too late. He quickly brought his shotgun up to aim, just as the hares disappeared into the tree line.
This was my first time hunting with Mark in over a year, and it was the first time we walked away empty-handed.
I’ve spent some early mornings and beautiful sunsets amidst field and stream with Mark Lundgaard Nielsen. He’s the head chef of Kong Hans Kælder, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen about which I’ve written before. He’s also a skilled hunter. And I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying him on a few hunting trips, during which he’s landed fowl, deer, stag, and almost two hares. It has been these road trips, and others I’ve taken through Denmark, on my own or with other friends, that have not only revealed some of the lovelier, quieter corners of Denmark, but have also taught me an incredible amount about Danish history, culture, and tradition.
In my last post, I surveyed the dining scene of Copenhagen. In this post, I take you afield to a few of my favorite places to eat outside the capital city.
First, a little geography.
The mainland of Denmark is like a little claw that juts up into the North Sea from Germany (I have yet to determine if this is why it’s called Jutland – Jylland in Danish). Setting aside the country’s territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands far to the west, the rest of Denmark lies to the east of this mainland in a cluster of islands, the largest of which are connected by bridges. Directly east of Jutland is the island of Funen (Fyn in Danish), known as “Denmark’s garden”. And connecting Funen to the island of Zealand (Sjælland in Danish), still further east, is the Storebæltsbroen, the Great Belt Link, the third longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest outside of Asia. It is on the eastern side of this eastern island of Zealand that you will find Copenhagen, which is connected by a tunnel bridge across a narrow strait to Malmö, Sweden.
But this is not the end of the Danish domains. Still further east – too far for a bridge connection – is the island of Bornholm. It sits by itself, closer to the coasts of Sweden and Poland than the rest of Denmark.
Despite this splintered drift from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, the Danish lands are not immense. All told, Denmark measures just over 16.500 square miles. Slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts, Denmark would fit into my home state of Missouri four times, with room to spare.
Surely you could look up all of this information yourself. But I include it here to emphasize the smallness of the country, and how easily one could explore beyond Copenhagen, by car, train, or plane. I’ve done it all.
It only takes three and a half hours to drive from Copenhagen on the eastern end of Zealand clear across Denmark to Henne Kirkeby Kro on the west coast of Jutland. In this sleepy hamlet of the same name, Paul Cunningham runs a lovely little “kro” (Danish for “inn”), where you can have one of the best dinners in Denmark, and stay the night too.
The inn, which dates to the end of the 18th century, offers a dozen, recently renovated rooms. The one in which I stayed, located in the Jægerhuset – a building on property referred to as the “hunting lodge” – was as capacious as it was comfortable, with every modern amenity you might desire. But I didn’t spend much time there.
There was afternoon coffee, served in the inn’s salon, after which I spent the balance of the afternoon exploring the vast gardens out back, and around the 13th century Henne Kirke – Henne Church – on the adjacent plot of land.
Although Cunningham is every inch the jolly Brit that he appears to be, he is, an all other respects Danish: he moved to Denmark years ago, married a Dane, learned Danish, and now cooks food that is expressive of the terroir that surrounds him in his adopted homeland. My dinner included oysters from Limfjord to the north, and shrimp from Rømø, an island in the great tidal flats of the Wadden Sea, to the south. I had veal from Grambogaard – a slaughterhouse on the neighboring island of Funen, which only accepts livestock from farmers meeting certain standards. And of course, there were greens from the garden outside, including herbs that were baked into the bottom of a beautiful loaf of bread that arrived upside down to show off the leafy imprints. The Danes are good at a lot of things, and bread-making is high on that list. The crust was golden-brown and thick, with a well-structured interior. The Danes are also great at eating butter, and there was a generous curl of that too.
I woke up to an incredible spread. Breakfast, which was served in a separate building, included fruit, yogurt, muesli, eggs, and a selection of breads, jams, and cold cuts. Halfway through eating, a cook appeared with a sizzling skillet of thick-cut bacon and sausages. It was fragrant with sage and rosemary, sprigs of both having been thrown into fry in the fat. That was terrific.
Although I’ve only been once – earlier this year in May of 2016 – it’s not hard for me understand why Henne Kirkeby Kro was recently awarded its first Michelin star.
There are two restaurants on the island of Funen worth visiting. Both are just a little over an hour by car or train from Copenhagen.*
At Sortebro Kro, chef John Kofod Pedersen cooks classic, Danish cuisine inside a timbered inn dating to the early 19th century. No longer used as a working inn, this tavern is part of Den Fynske Landsby (or, The Funen Village), a collection of buildings preserved from the time of Hans Christian Andersen – the celebrated Funen native who lived in the nearby city of Odense. Artificially arranged as a 19th century working village, Den Fynske Landsby now operates as a museum. In fact, the structure that houses the restaurant – which now leans at alarming angles – was moved here from its original location near the sortebro (“black bridge”), for which it is named.
Pedersen’s larger dishes seem to have a French favor to them (see my previous post for a discussion on the influence that traditional French cuisine has had on the Danish dining culture): a strip of plaice with capers and chives; a tender slice of pork with a little jus. The cooking is straightforward and good, à la minute and hot.
But, it is for Pedersen’s lunchtime spread of Danish smørrebrød that Sortebro is especially celebrated. Truly, it is not to be missed.
The smørrebrød are presented in kits – trays brimming with all sort of goodies and condiments.
You might have, for example, a pot of tiny shrimp, with some dill, mayonnaise, and lemon wedges. Or, you might have a variety of herring – pan-fried, pickled, and marinated – served with onions, scallions, diced green apple, hard-boiled eggs, raw yolks, curry sauce, and potted lard coated with freshly chopped dill. There’s also eel, and sausage, and those buttery tartlets (here, filled with chicken and topped with bacon) that I’ve come to love.
Smørrebrød is incomplete without bread. Not surprisingly, the selection at Sortebro Kro is fantastic. Guard yourself – it’s easy to overcommit here. I have. But I’ve always left full and happy.
In the south of Funen, near the village of Millinge, is Falsled Kro.
This thatched wonder dates to the 16th century. Unlike Sortebro Kro, Falsled Kro is very much a working inn. In fact, it is the only Relais & Châteaux property in all of Scandinavia that offers overnight accommodations – the only other Relais & Châteaux properties in Scandinavia are restaurants: Lieffroy in the nearby city of Nyborg on the west coast of Funen, and Kong Hans Kælder in Copenhagen.
I’ve had the pleasure of staying here twice – both times on hunting trips.
Words cannot begin to describe how magical this place is.
Not only is the inn splendidly preserved, but it is located on a beautiful stretch of coastal land. The tiles in some of the rooms, alone, are worth a visit (here’s one room in which I stayed, here’s another). But so is the food.
I’ll never forget the very first dish I had at Falsled Kro: a plate of fat, white asparagus mounded with tiny shrimp and smothered in a rich blanquette sauce fortified with a sharp, Danish cheese. It was a magnificent example of the Franco-Danish style of cooking that I celebrate, and to which chef Per Hallundbæk subscribes: using the reliable techniques of classical, Continental cooking to showcase the unique flavors and sensibilities of the Scandinavian culture. And he’s particularly good at doing it.+
Hallundbæk grows much of his own produce on property, and he smokes his own salmon too. And he gets some of his meat from a farm just down the road.
Although the entire inn offers an idyllic escape to a different time and place – I especially loved the rainy afternoon I spent by the fireplace with a book in the inn’s sitting room – the original dining room is particularly so. It has not the expansive, panoramic view of the coast afforded by the new extension. Rather, it serves as a haven from the noise of modernity. I love it there. I know you will too.
I’ve heard it bruited that you can actually drive from Copenhagen over to Sweden and catch a ferry to the island of Bornholm. I worry about the time commitment involved. I flew instead – the flight is less than an hour from Copenhagen.
I only spent one day there in 2014, the purpose of which was to eat at Kadeau. Situated on a rise overlooking the Baltic Sea, with a lush garden attached, it’s one of the most beautifully situated restaurants I’ve ever visited. I only mentioned it briefly in my annual recap of 2014, and I’ll mention it briefly here again as a worthy destination on Bornholm. The original inspiration for Nicolai Nørregaard’s Copenhagen outpost of the same name, this location is only opened seasonally during the warm months (as is much of Bornholm, which depends heavily on summer holiday traffic).
While on the island, I was taken to Christianshøj Kro. Tucked away in the middle of a forest, this tiny inn employs mentally disabled workers, “who are capable of serving and working as kitchen assistants. They help to give the experience at the inn a special touch, where everything they do, ‘comes from the heart.'” It was a beautiful, balmy day, and my friend and I had lunch outside on the patio. And it was terrific. They offered juices from Bornholms Mosteri – a juice company located on the island that uses local fruit – and a simple, but incredibly well-cooked menu. If you find yourself on the island, make time for it.
I’ve heard chatter of new places on Bornholm. Not that I need a reason, but it’s time I go back.
As well, for the rest of Denmark, there are far more places to explore. I’d like to visit Aaarhus – Denmark’s second largest city – as well as the Faroe Islands, and one day, Greenland too. Please send your recommendations, if you have any. I’m always looking for good food and a new adventure.
To see photos from my meals at the places mentioned in this post, click on the following dates of my visits below:
Christianshøj Kro (2014)
Falsled Kro (2015/1; 2015/2)
Henne Kirkeby Kro (2016)
Kadeau Bornholm (2014)
Sortebro Kro (2015; 2016)
* Take a train from Copenhagen Central Station to Odense. From Odense train station take a cab.
+ I mentioned this in the footnotes of the previous post, but I’ll mention it here again: vol. 2 of Ambrosia Magazine has excellent interviews with both John Kofod Petersen of Sortebro Kro and Per Hallundbæk of Falsled Kro.
Photos: A table scene from Sortebro Kro; Mark Lundgaard Nielsen on the hunt in Funen; a six-point stag being dressed, Jutland; a curious door in the middle of the garden at Henne Kirkeby Kro; the dining room at Henne Kirkeby Kro; bread and butter at Henne Kirkeby Kro; the well-preserved interior of Sortebro Kro; pork with some jus at Sortebro Kro; a magnificent spread of smørrebrød at Sortebro Kro; steaks on the Molteni at Falsled Kro; the dining room at Falsled Kro; the sitting room at Falsled Kro; pork with cavalo nero at Christianshøj Kro on Bornholm; the view from Kadeau Bornholm on Bornholm; Kadeau Bornholm at night.