This article is part of a new guide to Copenhagen from FT Globetrotter

Ask business or political leaders in Copenhagen for lunch, and the answer will invariably be smørrebrød. Ask them for dinner and the answers will be much more varied.

The Danish capital has gained a place on any foodie’s world tour thanks to restaurants such as Noma, Geranium and Alchemist. But Copenhagen’s elite are likely to be found elsewhere at night, in somewhat more modest, certainly cheaper and generally much easier to reserve establishments.

There is no single business hotspot in Copenhagen as in many cities, but most power diners — be they from the business or political worlds — congregate in the centre close to the main square of Kongens Nytorv, not too far from the Danish central bank and parliament. French cuisine still predominates with its rich sauces, neat tablecloths and burgundy and oysters — perfect for businesspeople looking to seal a deal. There is a slew of decent French-inspired places around Kongens Nytorv and nearby, which can become quite boisterous in the evening as the champagne flows and the locals let their hair down.

But there are also a number of newcomers, pushing Copenhagen’s power diners out of their cosy bistro rut into more global fare. Asian cuisine is on the rise thanks to buzzy restaurants such as Goldfinch, while there are also decent Italian choices. 

New areas are also challenging the very centre of Copenhagen for power diners — Carlsberg Byen, next to the brewer’s headquarters and site of its former factory, now has buzzy restaurants such as Studio and Kōnā, and Nordhavn, a trendy district by the sea still under construction, also shows signs of promise. 

Here is a smattering of favourites from some of my business and political sources that offer a decent mix of cuisines in the centre of the city.

1. Esmée

  • Good for: Business or pleasure in a relaxed, airy atmosphere

  • Not so good for: Pure French cuisine; the dishes have a good slug of Nordic inspiration

  • FYI: Booking advised. Possible to eat on terrace in summer. Open daily, noon–midnight

  • Website; Directions

Gougères with Comté and truffle, and salmon tartare with pomelo and white soy on a marble tabletop beside a glass of white wine at Esmée
Gougères with Comté and truffle, and salmon tartare with pomelo and white soy at Esmée
Esmée’s back terrace
Esmée’s back terrace. The restaurant is in a prime position on Kongens Nytorv © Stine Christiansen (2)

After almost a century and a half, Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, is about to leave its location next to Kongens Nytorv, sandwiched between the picturesque tourist hotspot of Nyhavn and the main shopping drag of Strøget. But the area’s status as the heart of the city for the elite and visitors alike is unlikely to be dented — and Esmée, with its French-inspired dishes lightened by a Nordic touch, is in a prime position on the square’s north side. Chef Andreas Bagh moved from the nearby Marchal (see below) with no desire, he says, to go after Michelin stars but merely to make good food.

 Esmée’s sleek dining space, with beige marble tabletops and lots of plants
Esmée’s sleek space is popular with a lunchtime business crowd © Stine Christiansen

Some of his classics came with him, especially among the starters such as gougères with Comté and truffle, and a decadent jamón ibérico croissant filled with mushroom duxelles. A salmon tartare with pomelo and white soy shows Bagh’s lighter side, and there are simple dishes such as “chips and dip”, as well as the caviar that is seemingly standard in most Copenhagen restaurants. There’s an extensive list of wines available by the glass. 

A dining room full of light and plants, relaxed service, an open kitchen and a well-stocked bar all mean that Esmée appeals to everybody from executives and politicians doing serious business to shoppers and tourists popping in for a brief respite. There are plenty of power diners at lunchtime but dinner is when the atmosphere goes up a notch, getting especially festive closer to the weekend as the business crowd kick back.

 A chef chopping herbs in the kitchen at Esmée
Esmée offers French cuisine with Nordic twists
A plate of rotisserie poussin and a bowl of truffle mac and cheese
Chef Andreas Bagh’s dishes at Esmée include rotisserie poussin with truffle mac and cheese for two © Stine Christiansen (2)

Main courses are a pleasing mix of heavy and light. A rotisserie poussin with truffle mac and cheese is balanced at the other end of the menu by a delightfully citrusy salad of endive, straciatella, grapefruit and toasted almonds. Snacks start at DKr85 (about £10), bigger dishes are DKr180–510 (about £21–60). A good restaurant for any occasion.

2. Sushi Anaba

  • Good for: Blowing the bonus on some of the best sushi in Europe

  • Not so good for: Getting a seat — there are only eight

  • FYI: Bookings open on the 7th of every month, two months in advance. Two evening sittings, Wednesday–Saturday

  • Website; Directions

Sushi Anaba chef Mads Battefeld, in a blue Japanese-style jacket and chef’s whites
Sushi Anaba chef Mads Battefeld learnt his art in Tokyo
Wooden chairs at the counter of Sushi Anaba, behind which a large slatted wooden circle hangs from the ceiling in front of net-curtained windows
The intimate space seats only eight at the counter for its omakase © Stine Christiansen (2)

A Danish chief executive — a repeat diner at Sushi Anaba — seated next to me at the chef’s counter had no doubts: “This is the best sushi I’ve had outside Japan.” Chef Mads Battefeld trained in Tokyo, and brought the skills back to this intimate space by the sea in the upcoming business district of Nordhavn, marrying them with the best of Scandinavian seafood. The restaurant seats only eight at a counter for its omakase experience as Battefeld prepares all the sushi in front of you.

The headquarters of shipping group DFDS and architectural firm BIG are close by, and customers are a mix of local businesspeople and international foodies. Slow classical music plays in the background as either champagne or sake are poured, and a few rice-free dishes are served including brill, sea bass and oysters, and monkfish liver with delicious pickled seaweed from local waters. Soon Battefeld is rolling the rice, applying the fish with a dab of wasabi — grated fresh on shark skin — and glazing it with a smear of soy sauce.

Chef Mads Battefeld’s fingers holding a piece of chutoro nigiri on a small square dish
Dishes on Battefeld’s set menu might include chutoro nigiri . . .
Tuna on rice with quail egg and caviar in a small brown-metal bowl
. . . and tuna on rice with quail egg and caviar © Stine Christiansen (2)
Battefeld preparing sustainably caught tuna from Portugal © Stine Christiansen

The chief executive was far from exaggerating — with beautiful, fresh fish and seafood from Denmark, Norway and the Faroe Islands (as well as sustainably caught tuna from Portugal), the nigiri are stunning, topped with everything from squid, raw shrimps and red mullet to trout roe, bluefin tuna and scallops. Perhaps the highlight for me is a sensational dish of plain rice, bluefin tuna rib and caviar, topped with a raw quail egg. The set menu is DKr1,700 (about £200), which is still, astonishingly, at the lower end of fine dining in the Danish capital. It is an intimate experience, better suited for a special occasion than a regular catch-up, but as the sake flows so does the conversation among the diners at the counter.

3. Bistro Boheme

  • Good for: After-work get-together over French fare

  • Not so good for: Light food

  • FYI: Chef Per Thøstesen trained under Paul Bocuse in France. Booking advised. Open Monday–Saturday, 11.30am–midnight

  • Website; Directions

Seating inside Bistro Boheme, with a gigantic vase of red and cream flowers beside the tables, and large windows to the right
Head to Bistro Boheme for classic French staples © Stine Christiansen

Close to Maersk’s headquarters, Bistro Boheme is not just popular with the shipping company’s managers but the broader business crowd keen to satisfy their cravings for foie gras or beef tartare. The food is rich and very much French-inspired. The wine list is long, with a suitably French/Burgundy bias. Evenings are filled with executives, mostly men, celebrating the end of their working day.

Starters are very much in the classical line with caviar, oysters and moules-frites all available, while truffles and foie gras appear in several dishes. The main courses are more varied with a couple of fish and meat choices. The signature dish, which is as delicious and overwhelming as it sounds, is called Thøstesen’s Fried Eggs after its chef/founder, and is served on potato purée with truffle, duck confit, truffle sausage, hazelnuts, croutons and more grated truffle than is probably decent.

Chef Per Thøstesen at a table in Bistro Bohem
Chef Per Thøstesen trained in France under Paul Bocuse
 A plate of Thøstesen’s signature fried-egg dish, served on potato purée with truffle, duck confit, truffle sausage, hazelnuts, croutons and grated truffle
Thøstesen’s signature fried-egg dish is served on potato purée with truffle, duck confit, truffle sausage, hazelnuts, croutons and (lots of) grated truffle © Stine Christiansen (2)

There are more French classics for dessert including crème brûlée, crêpes Suzette and a cheeseboard. Starters are from DKr140 (about £16), while main courses are DKr295–495 (about £35–58). Solo diners can eat at the bar, while there is a private dining room for bigger groups. 

4. Marchal

  • Good for: Sealing the deal

  • Not so good for: The atmosphere is often hushed, not lively

  • FYI: Situated in the Hotel d’Angleterre. Open for breakfast (Monday–Friday, 7–10.30am, hotel guests only at weekends), lunch (Monday–Saturday, noon–3pm; Sunday brunch, noon–3pm) and dinner (Sunday–Thursday, 6–10pm; Friday–Saturday, 6–11pm)

  • Website; Directions

The main restaurant of the upmarket Hotel d’Angleterre, occupying pride of place on Kongens Nytorv, is the Michelin-starred Marchal, offering sophisticated French food. The hotel’s house Pol Roger champagne is very much on offer, both as an aperitif and in a beurre blanc accompanying the delicate halibut starter with leeks and caviar.

The dining room of Marchal in the Hotel d’Angleterre
‘It’s easy to imagine big mergers negotiated in the hushed tones of the dining room’: Marchal is the main restaurant of the grand Hotel d’Angleterre © Stine Christiansen

This is a meal for a special occasion: it’s easy to imagine big mergers negotiated in the hushed tones of the dining room amid the discreet service. I overheard a group of women and men discussing their non-executive board assignments and tactics for an upcoming job interview.

The menu also tends towards the budget of top executives or those spending their bonus, with no fewer than six caviar choices and a signature dish featuring a whole black lobster and the sturgeon roe (DKr1,900, about £225). There are a number of interesting canapés to begin with (those who have dined at Esmée will detect Andreas Bagh’s continuing influence at Marchal, with gougères and jamón ibérico present). Service is professional and smart, while the atmosphere is more formal than most of the other choices on this list.

 A female sous chef preparing stuffed quail with morel sauce
Stuffed quail with morel sauce being prepared in Marchal’s kitchen
The Marchal ‘Gold Bar’ dessert with chocolate ice cream on round plates with thick, textured gold borders
Marchal’s puddings include the ‘Gold Bar’ with chocolate ice cream © Stine Christiansen (2)

Marchal offers suitably refined starters and main courses. Stuffed quail with morel sauce and carrots, pickled onions and gooseberries is rich, delicious and well balanced. Other choices include turbot in a mussel sauce and agnolotti with gruyère, truffle and pumpkin, as well as lobster raviolo and tomato confit. For those wanting to push the boat out, there is canette à la presse, Marchal’s version of pressed duck, for two. And for dessert, there are a few elegant choices including a blood orange and yuzu sorbet with liquorice meringue, and the Marchal “Gold Bar” with chocolate ice cream. The six-course menu costs DKr1,995 (about £235); à la carte starters are DKr175–395 (about £20–46), while main courses are DKr275–695 (about £32–80).

5. Barabba

  • Good for: Letting your hair down with natural wine and pasta

  • Not so good for: Intimate work meetings — it’s compact and often crowded

  • FYI: Worth asking for any off-menu options. Lunch: Friday–Sunday, 12–2.30pm. Dinner: Wednesday–Sunday, 5pm–“midnight-ish”

  • Website; Directions

A bowl of grilled white asparagus with cured egg yolk at Barabba
Grilled white asparagus with cured egg yolk at Barabba
Tattooed Barabba owner Riccardo Marcon and head chef Gianluca Gatto
Barabba owner Riccardo Marcon (left) and head chef Gianluca Gatto © Stine Christiansen (2)

If you want to see where other chefs hang out in Copenhagen, Barabba is one of your best bets. A cross between a wine bar and neighbourhood Italian, it is often packed with those from the restaurant world enjoying a drink or meal after their shifts as it is open late, even on Sundays. It is also popular with those from the creative industries and attracts a younger crowd than many on this list, drawn by the buzz of its small dining room. It is probably better suited to pure enjoyment than bashing out the fine print of a deal.

Barabba owner Riccardo Marcon’s tattooed arm and hand holding a bowl of spaghetti with gambero rosso and preserved candied lemons
Barabba’s contemporary Italian fare includes spaghetti with gambero rosso and preserved candied lemons . . . 
A bowl of grilled octopus with ceci neri and peperone crusco at Barabba
 . . . and grilled octopus with ceci neri and peperone crusco © Stine Christiansen (2)

As befits any trendy place in Copenhagen these days, natural wine features prominently on the drinks list but there are plenty of other choices in this informal restaurant. The food is far from standard Italian fare. Antipasti (from DKr180, about £21) includes potato and waxed cheese, grilled octopus with chickpeas, and crispy veal tongue. Among several outstanding pasta choices (from DKr180) are spaghetti with butter colatura (fish sauce) and Copenhagen’s favourite ingredient, caviar, as well as pumpkin gnocchi, malloreddus with duck ragù and spaghetti with cime di rapa, razor clams and candied orange. Secondi (from DKr260, about £30) include monkfish and golden beetroot with caper leaves, while a tasting menu is available for DKr600 (about £70). Regulars whisper fondly of several off-menu options.

Do you have a favourite place for power-dining in Copenhagen? Tell us in the comments

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