Adam Aamann is another local chef credited with rebooting the smørrebrød tradition. He opened his original eatery, a laidback deli and takeaway shop called Aamanns, in 2006, topping his sandwiches with organic vegetables, cheeses, and free-range meats and winning an award from the Danish Academy of Gastronomy in the process. His smørrebrød menu (also available in the adjacent Aamanns Etablissement restaurant) changes regularly as ingredients come in and out of season; on one of my repeat visits, I happily devoured a perfect rectangle of rye bread topped with pork terrine, mustard seeds, thinly sliced plum, bacon, and celery, capped off with fluffy plumes of thyme and flowering cress from the chef’s own garden.
Then there’s “smushi,” the imaginative creation of the kitschy-chic, tea salon–inspired Royal Smushi Cafe. Set behind a courtyard between the Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen shops in downtown Copenhagen, the restaurant’s signature offerings are dainty, sushi-size takes on classic smørrebrød presented on beautiful Danish blue-and-white ceramics. Options include venison terrine, chicken mousse with pickled lingonberries, and fiskefrikadeller (fish cake) topped with a dollop of rémoulade, and their size allows you to sample a range of combinations (three pieces will set you back about US$20). The idea has proven so popular that owners Lo Østergaard and Rud Christiansen opened an offshoot of the café in Tokyo in 2010. Perhaps even more gratifying for them is that smushi now features on the syllabus at the Copenhagen Hospitality College.
Other fashionable restaurants, including some of the city’s most lauded dining rooms, have also embraced the once-humble smørrebrød. Claus Meyer, who co-founded Noma with René Redzepi in 2003, serves a regular selection of sandwiches at his high-end outlet Almanak. Likewise, the lunch menu at Tårnet, Rasmus Bo Bojesen’s “grandmother-style” haute eatery atop the Danish Parliament, centers on the chef’s take on old favorites such as the Stjerneskud (“Shooting Star”)—of the handful of smørrebrød recipes recognized by name, this is one—here topped with fried and poached plaice fillets, pickled white asparagus, and whitefish roe.
But it’s important to remember that while many New Nordic chefs are just starting to get on board, some of the earliest smørrebrød champions—like Restaurant Kronborg—never gave up on this working-class dish, sticking with it through thick and unfashionably thin to take their place among Copenhagen’s most celebrated family kitchens. This is true of Restaurant Ida Davidsen on Kongensgade, whose namesake owner’s great-grandfather began serving smørrebrød at his wine bar as far back as 1888. That tradition has continued through five generations, with Ida Davidsen now offering more than 250 variations of smørrebrød, a record-breaking repertoire that includes sandwiches named after famous patrons such as the Victor Borge (gravlax, shrimp, caviar, crayfish tails) and the Bendt Bendtsen (roast beef and pickles with a fried egg). Amid the lunchtime crowds here, it’s impossible to imagine smørrebrød ever going out of vogue again.
Where to Eat
Aamanns Deli & Take Away (Øster Farimagsgade 10; 45-35/553-344)
Fru Nimb (Nimb Hotel, Bernstorffsgade 5; 45-88/700-020)
Øl & Brød (Viktoriagade 6; 45-33/314-422)
Restaurant Ida Davidsen (Kongensgade 70; 45-33/913-655)
Restaurant Kronborg (Brolæggerstræde 12; 45-33/130-708)
Royal Smushi Cafe (Amagertorv 6; 45-33/121-122)
This article originally appeared in the December/January print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Open Season”)