To say 2020 was a unique year is a bit of an understatement. Like many of you, we had a calendar full of plans before the Coronavirus caught us by surprise in March. We had barely moved to Copenhagen when we were forced into a worldwide lockdown due to the pandemic. (I guess 2020 had other plans for us!) While we were disappointed to have many international trips canceled this year, we are grateful for all the time we have had to explore our new hometown. In 2019, we spent practically every week in a different country, but this year we had the opportunity to slow down, catch up on work, and enjoy lots more meals at home. But even a pandemic couldn’t stop us from supporting restaurants! It’s our yearly tradition to highlight the best of the best, the standout bites that defined this year of dining for us. That’s right, it’s time for the annual roundup of our top 25 best dishes of the year.
This year’s list might look a little different than in previous years. First of all, it’s very Scandinavia-centric. Last year’s list featured restaurants all over the world (in Japan, Mexico, Indonesia, Italy, and the U.S.), while this year travel restrictions kept us pretty rooted in the North. However, we were able to (safely) squeeze in a few trips. (Have we mentioned we’ve been tested for the Coronavirus fifteen times now?) We spent a week this summer on the Danish island of Bornholm, we explored the Faroe Islands (a first for both of us!), we popped over the bridge to Malmö for a weekend getaway, we visited both Oslo and Stavanger in Norway, and we even managed a trip to Austria to visit some winemakers during the harvest.
The Food Trends of 2020
Our year was defined by a lot of take-away food. When dine-in restaurants were forced to shutter, casual concepts flourished. 2020 was the year of burgers and fried chicken – not from fast food conglomerates, but from small, organic eateries with Michelin-starred chefs at the helm. The Noma burger drew long lines all summer, The Vandelay burger (from Maaemo) took Oslo by storm, and Amass, 108, Slurp, and Poulette all served different variations of fried chicken. We, of course, tried all these things and more, for the sake of our very serious scientific research!
What will 2021 bring? We are hoping to see a continued shift in focus from chain restaurants to small businesses as diners continue to support local restaurants they want to keep around for the long term. Our hearts are with the food industry after this particularly challenging year – we are hopeful that next year will be better for the chefs and restaurateurs we care so deeply about.
Support Our Work!
Running a small business is never easy, but 2020 definitely brought some added challenges. This year forced us to take a step back and make some changes in the way we work. Sometimes a crisis can result in something really beautiful, and maybe the most exciting thing to come out of 2020 for us is the launch of The Hungries, our new food community on Patreon. Join our club if you’re looking to make food friends around the world, if you love sharing your restaurant experiences, and if you absolutely need to hear restaurant rumors and reviews first! All our content will still be completely free, but The Hungries get first access, and VIP members get special perks at partnering restaurants and hotels. If you value what we do, this is a way for you to support our work and help us make a living. We’re really excited to have the opportunity to connect with you in a deeper, more personal way through this community.
One last thing – our YouTube channel hit the 35,000 subscribers milestone recently, so make sure to hit that subscribe button if you haven’t already. There will be lots of exciting food and travel videos coming out soon, so you can travel with us virtually even if you are stuck at home in lockdown.
Our Top 25 Dishes of 2020
This is one of the very few lists we choose to publish in ranked order, but please don’t put too much thought into that. No. 25 and no. 11 are not too far apart, really. Apart from that, we will follow the same rules as always. The dishes have to be 1) from a restaurant that is currently still open, 2) from the regular menu, and 3) extraordinarily memorable. This year, we did allow the inclusion of a few pop-ups that we felt were definitive of 2020, and we hope these pop-ups will become permanent restaurants soon. Without further ado, these are the very best bites from the top restaurants we visited in the last 52 weeks. Enjoy!
No. 25 – Söl in Stavanger, Norway
Three young chefs run Stavanger’s most exciting new eatery, Restaurant Söl, which crafts a mostly vegetarian menu with organic, local ingredients. We finally had a chance to visit the restaurant this year and it instantly became our favorite casual restaurant in town. The tasting menu is a great value for money, with some exceptionally delicious dishes – on our visit, the standout was the zucchini with lovage, potatoes, and a creamy løyrom sauce. Just a few simple, but high-quality ingredients combined to create an explosion of flavors.
No. 24 – Angelika in Copenhagen, Denmark
In response to the pandemic, chef Rasmus Kofoed of Geranium shifted his focus from fine dining and opened a casual restaurant with comfort food. Angelika serves a completely plant-based tasting menu inspired by chef Kofoed’s home cooking. His goal is to inspire his guests to eat more vegetables after showing them just how delicious they can taste. Well, it worked – if all plant-based food was this good, it would be easy to be vegan! The highlight for us was a simple bowl of red lentils topped with sweet tomatoes, tart strawberries, and fresh herbs. This dish tasted of fresh summer fruit, and was balanced by mouth-watering savory elements like vegetable stock, onions, olive oil, thyme, and basil. We have rarely had such tasty vegetables and honestly didn’t even miss meat. Currently, Angelika is only a pop-up restaurant, but Kofoed hopes that one day Angelika will get a space all its own.
No. 23 – The Vandelay in Oslo, Norway
One of 2020’s hottest openings was The Vandelay, Maaemo’s casual little sister. Norwegians flocked to the American-style diner for the cheeseburger, but the dish that took our breath away was the port wine and vanilla ice cream. You might be thinking, port wine?! We, too, feared that the heavy wine flavor could easily be too dominating in this combo, but the port was nowhere to be seen, used only as an invisible flavor enhancer. There was also a nice saltiness that left us craving spoonful after spoonful. The texture is so light, so airy, and so creamy, practically like whipped cream. The chefs told us if they churn it a little longer, they’re pretty sure it would become butter. Pro tip: it works like a charm on top of the pancakes!
No. 22 – Skaal Matbar in Oslo, Norway
An Oslo newcomer that has become an instant favorite hangout of ours is Skaal Matbar. We love it as a natural wine bar, but Skaal also serves really tasty simple dishes. The layered potato fries are a must-order here; we enjoyed variations of these fries in several places this year (Den Vandrette and Hyde, to name a couple) but Skaal’s version was our favorite. Meticulously layered slices of potatoes are deep fried, sliced into long “fries,” and served with whipped crème fraîche and dill oil. These playful, elevated bar snacks perfectly capture the fun vibe at Skaal.
No. 21 – POPL Burger in Copenhagen, Denmark
When life gives you a pandemic, make burgers! That’s what René Redzepi and team Noma did during the summer of 2020. When the lockdown was lifted in May, Noma decided to reopen as an outdoor burger bar instead of serving their fine dining tasting menu. And thus, the Noma burger was born! When one of the world’s best chefs decides to make a cheeseburger, you can expect it to garner some attention. Noma drew hours-long lines all summer long and sold out every day. Well, we can assure you that this burger is worth the hype. Let’s break it down: a Danish dry-aged beef patty is brushed with a glaze of beef garum, and topped with cheese, onions, and pickle mayo, and served on a potato bun from Hart Bageri. The flavors are fairly simple – the Noma chefs use beef garum to pump up the umami notes and enhance the beefiness of the burger, but other than that, it’s delicious because it’s made with organic, high-quality ingredients. Luckily, the summer’s hottest pop-up has become a permanent restaurant – POPL Burger has taken over the former 108 space in Christianshavn.
No. 20 – Brace in Copenhagen, Denmark
Restaurant Brace in Copenhagen has been steadily improving its level over the last four years, and we had our best ever meal there this summer. Chef Nicola Fanetti cooks with organic, local produce and also imports his own truffles from Italy. His style straddles the line between Italian and New Nordic food, and one dish that perfectly showcases that was the decadent white truffle risotto with pine shoot pesto and white asparagus cream. A perfect balance of fresh herbs and acidity with creamy, rich flavors. Plus, some truffle shavings never hurt anyone…
No. 19 – Konstantin Filippou in Vienna, Austria
We spent a couple days in Vienna this autumn, and finally had the opportunity to visit the two Michelin-starred eatery, Restaurant Konstantin Filippou. Chef Konstantin Filippou draws from his Greek and Austrian heritage to craft his seafood-centric tasting menu. There is no meat served at the restaurant; however, there are many incredible fish courses served swimming in buttery sauces. Our favorite was the trout, served in a Café de Paris sauce (made with fresh thyme, cream, and white Dijon mustard), with dill oil, and tapioca. The perfectly cooked fish melted in our mouths, and the creamy, herbaceous butter sauce was sinfully delicious.
No. 18 – La Banchina in Copenhagen, Denmark
Every year in the winter months, Copenhagen’s favorite summer watering hole (La Banchina in Refshaleøen) transitions into a new concept for the cold season, serving a twelve-course tasting menu of sustainable seafood in the cozy blue cabin on the water. We are beyond impressed with the level of cooking chef Brendon Walker is churning out of their tiny little kitchen. He sources only local, organic ingredients, and the dishes are pretty simple, often based on just a few elements that help highlight the high-quality produce. Our favorite flavor combination was a dessert of milk and honey ice cream with a brown butter oat biscuit, bergamot curd, and black tea. It’s a comforting dish, reminiscent of a hot cup of tea with a dash of lemon and a drizzle of honey – a nod to Brendon Walker’s British roots.
No. 17 – Den Vandrette in Copenhagen, Denmark
After a trip to the country of Georgia, chef Dave Harrison was inspired to add khachapuri to his menu at Den Vandrette. This Georgian cheese bread was the dish that defined our summer – the outside is golden and crispy, with a soft, doughy center that reminds us of a bagel. The bread is served with a serrated knife; cut it in half to reveal the gloriously cheesy filling. Inside, you’ll find three types of cheese (gouda, cottage cheese, and brined goat cheese), as well as spring onions and herbs, which add some much-needed freshness to balance out the creamy, salty cheese. We’d venture to guess we ate twenty khachapuris this year – but honestly, we lost count.
No. 16 – Donda in Copenhagen, Denmark
Donda is a bit of a hidden gem in the Copenhagen dining scene, popular with locals but not yet on the radar of the destination diners who travel to Denmark for a food trip. Well, that might soon change – this Christianshavn eatery is making some of the most authentic (yet creative) Latin American food in Copenhagen. It’s a casual neighborhood restaurant with a buzzy vibe, and dishes that are exploding with flavor. Their house-made flour tortillas are some of the best we’ve tried, but it was the tuna tiradito with truffle emulsion, chicharron, and nasturtium that stole the show on our last visit.
No. 15 – Mutantur in Malmö, Sweden
The creative, bite-sized dishes at Mutantur look like they could be part of a fine dining tasting menu, but the best part about this place is that everything can be ordered á la carte. You can eat the whole menu if you’re feeling famished, or you can just drop in for a snack and continue on your way. Every bite leaves you craving more – it’s extremely high-level cooking in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. Our favorite dish was the butter-fried toast with lobster and black garlic mayo – oh, we could have eaten twelve of these!
No. 14 – Amass in Copenhagen, Denmark
Amass just might be the most sustainable restaurant in the world. Since opening in Copenhagen seven years ago, chef Matt Orlando has championed issues regarding food waste and respect for the environment. Amass was the first to ban single-use plastics from their restaurant (inspiring many others to follow), and they were named the most sustainable restaurant in Scandinavia in both 2019 and 2020. But most of all, they serve incredible food. The standout dish on their tasting menu this spring was a bergamot miso-cured scallop from Norway with brown butter. Salty, floral, and incredibly memorable!
No. 13 – Koan in Copenhagen, Denmark
Only a week after closing Restaurant 108, chef Kristian Baumann opened his new restaurant Koan as a temporary pop-up on Refshaleøen. Koan served an eleven-course tasting menu, inspired by Baumann’s South Korean roots and the Nordic ingredients available to him. For us, this was one of the most inspiring meals of the year – it showed us that this pandemic might close some restaurants we love, but it will not kill this industry. Our favorite dish was a buttery, creamy bowl of smoked sturgeon and cauliflower, topped with compressed chestnut shavings, almond oil, and lemon zest. We wouldn’t have even guessed there was fish in the cream since the flavor was so subtle – the cauliflower was the most obvious ingredient in this dish, and the lemon zest added a nice pop of acidity. Good news for those who didn’t make it to the pop-up – Baumann hopes to continue in a permanent location next year.
No. 12 – Sushi Anaba in Copenhagen, Denmark
With only eight counter seats, Sushi Anaba is one of the hardest-to-snag reservations in Copenhagen. Chef Mads Battefeld trained in Tokyo before opening his own sushi restaurant in Nordhavn. The omakase primarily features sustainable seafood from Denmark and Norway – not only is it the best sushi we’ve had in Scandinavia, it’s the best omakase we’ve had in our entire lives. Perhaps the most delectable dish was a bowl of rice topped with GASTROunika caviar and a quail egg yolk – talk about yolk porn!
No. 11 – Kadeau in Bornholm, Denmark
You know a dish is good when you have to ask for a second helping. At Kadeau Bornholm this year, we begged for more of the hot and cold smoked salmon. This fish serving has become a bit of a signature for Kadeau, but this summer’s version of the dish was absolutely next level. The salmon was topped with a sauce of havgus cheese and buttermilk whey, a pesto of rosehip and wood ants, and pickled elderflower. It was cheesy, creamy, buttery, and floral – all of the flavors you crave, and then some!
No. 10 – Ti Spiseri in Sandnes, Norway
Who would have guessed that a tiny restaurant in the small town of Sandnes, Norway could make pizza that rivals that of the top pizzaiolos in Naples? That’s right, Ti Spiseri is serving the best pizza in Norway (and it’s a strong contender for the best pizza in Scandinavia, too, right up there with Lilla Napoli and Bæst). While you can’t go wrong with any pizza you choose, our favorite pie at Ti comes topped with mortadella, stracciatella, and pistachios, but it’s the ultra fluffy dough that makes this pizza top notch. Bouncy, pillowy perfection!
No. 9 – Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark
Even in 2020 we managed to visit Noma every season. (Perks of being “locked down” in Copenhagen, I guess!) The most memorable meal for us was during the summer, partly because we surprised Kaitlin’s parents with a reservation (it’s so fun to watch first timers at Noma!) and partly because the menu was “the best of the best.” The Noma R+D team was busy making burgers when the lockdown first ended, so instead of coming up with a brand new menu, they decided to showcase signature dishes from previous menus alongside new creations. The showstopper for us was a skewer of barbecued lobster and rose petals – buttery, juicy lobster meat with a sweet, floral glaze.
No. 8 – Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark
Oh, Alice! Our sweet, sweet neighbor who just so happens to make the world’s best ice cream. Owner Anders Lorenz takes a scientific approach when crafting his frozen treats – he never works with an ice cream base and develops each recipe from scratch. His style is ingredient-driven, and focused completely on flavor. The milk ice cream is a signature, made with milk from the small Danish dairy farm Søtoftes. While it might sound simplistic, that’s what makes it so good. It’s pure, clean, and extremely creamy, with a silky soft texture. Put a scoop in one of Alice’s homemade tonka bean waffle cones for the ultimate dessert. Its deep, buttery, vanilla flavor makes it taste like a cookie – it’s the best waffle cone we’ve ever had.
No. 7 – Esslokal in Hadersdorf, Austria
Just an hour outside of Vienna is a cozy little bistro with an extremely high-level of cooking. Chef Roland Huber previously worked at fine dining restaurants around Austria before deciding to open his own restaurant near his hometown. Unlike the schnitzel-focused eateries in the rest of the region, Esslokal (“eating locale”) serves modern dishes, lots of which play with Asian spices and seasoning. We were expecting a simple dinner in a local tavern, but we were absolutely blown away by what this small town eatery had to offer. The dish we can’t stop thinking about was the main course: Austrian wagyu, with Jerusalem artichoke, onions, mushrooms, and beef tea. There are only a few other times we can remember having such high-quality beef (trips to Tokyo and Los Angeles instantly come to mind), and the condiments really amped up the savory, umami notes. Mouthwatering!
No. 6 – Alouette in Copenhagen, Denmark
Over the last year, Alouette has become one of our favorite restaurants in Copenhagen. It’s the first place that comes to mind whenever people ask us where to celebrate a special occasion – and maybe that’s because it’s where we’ve chosen to spend our own birthdays and holidays this year. It’s a completely unique restaurant, unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been to, and the food is always banging. But if we had to pick one thing that keeps us coming back, it would be the SOVS! (Translation for the non-Danes: SAUCE!) Oh yes, sauce is indeed boss at Alouette. The signature sauce of chicken and turbot bones with cream and lemon thyme first appears spooned over a serving of monkfish, but (spoiler alert!) after you clean your plate, the chefs quickly return to drench your plate with more sauce. Of course, an extra bread serving of their open fire-roasted pain au lait is also provided. Be warned, they will keep saucing you, round after round, until you’re pleading for mercy, begging them to stop. The sauce always wins in the end.
No. 5 – LYST in Vejle, Denmark
Another fine dining surprise for us in 2020 was Restaurant LYST, located just a two hour train ride outside of Copenhagen. The second we laid eyes on the building, we realized we were in for a spectacular meal. Everything at LYST is a work of art, from the food to the plates to the architecture. All ingredients are local and organic – sourced from a 100-mile radius of the restaurant. The tasting menu changes almost every day, depending on the season and even on the weather. The one dish that remains constant, however, is the baked potato with butter and leeks, a foam of egg yolk, and local Danish caviar. A comforting, buttery potato with a creamy, cheesy sauce and a spoonful of caviar for a little extra saltiness. What else could you add to make it a more perfect dish? A glass of Krug? Oh yeah, they did that, too.
No. 4 – Re-Naa in Stavanger, Norway
The Re-Naa train is not stopping, it is full speed ahead! Chef Sven Erik Re-Naa has barely received a second Michelin star before he began aiming for the third. On our most recent visit this autumn, there were several contenders on the tasting menu that could have made this list, but perhaps the most unique serving was the grilled Frøya scallop. There’s no doubt that Norwegian scallops are the best in the world – they’re big and meaty in texture, with a deliciously sweet flavor. Re-Naa served their scallop with a sea buckthorn sauce, paprika, and pumpkin cream. Then, they drizzled it with leftover fat that the scallops were cooked in, which gave it an almost spicy, ‘nduja-like flavor. Out of this world!
No. 3 – Maaemo in Oslo, Norway
One of the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2020 was Maaemo 2.0. The new space is absolutely incredible, and the team is serving food that is better than ever. Chef Esben Holmboe Bang transforms unparalleled produce into spectacular works of art. Take, for example, the langoustine tail that has become a signature dish at Maaemo. (Spoiler alert: the latest variation is the best so far.) The Norwegian langoustine is arguably the best piece of seafood in the world. It’s rich and buttery, with even more flavor and elegance than the lobster (and it’s about as big!). Maaemo’s chefs grill the tail over burning embers, while brushing it with a syrup made from blackcurrant branches. This creates an almost crispy, sticky, caramelized crust that traps the sweet juices inside. Combined with a creamy sauce flavored with blackcurrant leaves, the dish hit on all the right notes. The flavors perfectly capture that sweet and salty balance that make you lick up every last drop.
No. 2 – The Tea Room in Oslo, Norway
After a few courses at The Tea Room, we turned to each other and said “this is the best meal we’ve had all year.” Chef Luke Henderson (previously of Maaemo) has crafted an exceptional tasting menu inspired by his British heritage, but using local Nordic produce. It was exciting to see this ambitious young team pushing at such a high level right out of the gate. The cooking is super sharp, opening at an instant two Michelin star level. Since each dish on the menu was impossibly better than the last, I guess we’ll pick the last dish, a woodruff egg tart, as the highlight of our meal. This stunning tart is topped with a preserved strawberry jelly, dots of champagne gel, and lemon thyme. It was so tasty that we begged Luke for another slice, and, lucky for us, he obliged.
No. 1 – Barabba in Copenhagen, Denmark
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Barabba’s off-menu spaghetti with anchovy butter and caviar was THE dish of 2020. (And if you’ve tried it, you know why.) This plate of pasta is comfort food at its finest – sweet and salty noodles with a generous amount of butter and a glistening dollop of caviar on top. While it sounds fishy (anchovies can sometimes be overpowering), it’s not at all – in fact, it tastes quite sweet, almost as if it was seasoned with brown sugar or maple syrup. It just might be the best plate of pasta we’ve ever had.
What were your favorite dishes in 2020? Please share in a comment below.