5 October 2015

"Mars Will Come To Fear My Botany Powers"

The 2010s have been a great decade for films that capture the sense of adventure, ambition, beauty and wonder of space exploration. Alfonso Cuarón's beautiful and breathtaking Gravity and Christopher Nolan's emotional and visionary Interstellar are two such examples that I particularly enjoyed.

Ridley Scott's The Martian draws on these films and others, from Silent Running to Apollo 13, injecting humour, 1970s pop music and a strong central performance from Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut left for dead on Mars after an accident during a freak storm separates him from his team who are forced to abort. It turns out that Watney isn't dead after all, but when he wakes up in the middle of the dusty Martian landscape, he realises that he has no way of communicating with his crew or with Houston. This is the least of his worries, however, as he must first make it back to the Hab (base) before his oxygen runs out and then perform surgery on his stomach where part of an aerial has become lodged.

Watney knows that the odds of him surviving for long enough for the next Martian mission to arrive — several years in the future — are slim, but with his inventive and methodological problem-solving skills, even this incredible feat starts to seem reasonable. "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this," he explains to his video diary. One of his biggest challenges is to find a new food supply as the Hab's supplies will only last for a year or two. "Luckily, I'm a botanist," he says, and before too long, he has planted potatoes, fertilised using his own biological waste, and worked out a way to create water by reacting hydrogen and oxygen — no mean feat given NASA's fire-retardant equipment.

Eventually, NASA finds out that Watney is still alive and they are able to work out an extremely rudimentary way of communicating with him using pathfinder equipment from the 1990s. Jeff Daniels' steely-eyed Director of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Director of the Mars Missions and their crews are left to try to find out a way to get some food supplies to Mars that will last Watney until the next Ares Mission arrives. But will he be able to survive that long?

Scott's visually stunning movie is long, clocking in at 2h20, but it never dragged. The last act is extremely suspenseful and nerve-wracking — like Gravity, it left me literally breathless — but although the earlier parts of the film were less tense, they were also very entertaining. Damon's charisma and the humour and realism of the script (by Drew Goddard, based on Andy Weir's novel) contribute strongly to this. The Martian isn't a comedy, but there are some funny lines — often involving Watney swearing into his video diary or at NASA, or complaining about the his commander (Jessica Chastain)'s 1970s music collection that forms the bulk of the audiovisual repertoire he has been bequeathed. I'm not an ABBA fan, but this film may represent the best use of Waterloo in a cinematic work. I also enjoyed the tracks from David Bowie and Gloria Gaynor and more generally, the soundtrack helped to give the film a more upbeat vibe than many others in the genre.

Although Damon is great, The Martian has a talented, if sometimes under-used, supporting cast. Chastain and Ejiofor are, as always, excellent and on a personal note (as I work in science communication), I enjoyed Kristen Wiig's turn as NASA's Director of Media Relations, who has to advise her bosses to try to avoid total PR disaster.

Ultimately, The Martian manages to tell a highly engaging story about a courageous and tenacious man who will do what it takes to survive in formidable circumstances. But I defy anyone to see the film and not to be proud of all of that humanity has accomplished so far in spaceflight and to be optimistic about what we might yet achieve.

1 October 2015

September Favourites

It's now officially autumn, but London is finally getting a bit of Indian summer — or sunshine, at any rate, which is almost as good. My long weekend in Copenhagen and another imminent European getaway have meant that I have tried to cut down on my eating-out and entertainment expenses this month. As such, culcha picks outnumber food and drink in my list of favourites for this month.

1. A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell.
When I travel, I like to read books about or set in the country I am visiting. Russell, a journalist, and her husband moved to Denmark for a year and this book reveals what it's like to live in Europe's happiest country. There are long winters, huge taxes and plenty of rules, but the welfare system, the snegl (pastries) and the hygge more than make up for it. Russell's writing is sharp, funny and engaging — her book reminded me a lot of Bill Bryson's travel writing.

2. Brunch at No 67
There are plenty of great places for brunch in Peckham, but No 67 remains at or close to the top of the list. You shouldn't have to wait for a table if you arrive soon after 10 am, and as well as the cosy front room and the larger, minimalist back room, there are a fair few tables outdoors. It was beautiful and sunny during my last visit, so we took advantage of the clemency and dined al fresco. There are a lot of great choices on the brunch menu, but I usually find myself choosing between the waffles with bacon and bourbon syrup (£7.75) and the scrambled eggs and bacon on sourdough (£7.75). This time I went for the latter (partly so that I could also have a muffin for 'pudding') and it was the right call. The food is always good and the bacon comes crispy as standard (they have a special grill, apparently). If you want a bit of post-brunch culture, you can drop by the adjacent South London Gallery.

3. Miss You Already
Catherine Hardwicke's film sees Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore star as two lifelong best friends who find their lives diverging rapidly, as Collette's Milly, a successful PR, receives a breast cancer diagnosis, while Barrymore's Jess tries to get pregnant. The story isn't especially novel, but the performances of the two actresses and the chemistry between them elevates the film, and Milly's spiky retorts and (perhaps justifiably) selfish or thoughtless actions keep it from descending in to mawkishness. There are also good supporting performances from Dominic Cooper and Paddy Considine, as Milly's and Jess's husbands, respectively. A lot of the film was shot in Southwark (particularly around Borough and on the river in Rotherhithe) and it was fun to see parts of my borough on the big screen.

4. The Coffee Collective coffee.
I waxed lyrical about this trilogy of cafés and roasteries in my Copenhagen Coffee guide, but since my return from the Danish capital, I have been sampling the beans I brought home with me. I bought the Finca Vista Hermosa beans from Guatemala and, brewed in an Aeropress, the variety works well for this time of year: the coffee has the chocolatey smoothness you would expect from Central America, but with some fruity, citrusy notes to keep it interesting. You can order online, but I'd recommend a trip to Copenhagen instead!

5. How To Get Away with Murder
I have to wait another week before the new season of The Good Wife starts and to whet my appetite, I decided to give this show a go — my curiosity was also piqued by its star, Viola Davis, just winning an Emmy. HTGAWM is a sort of mash-up of The Good Wife, Legally Blonde and either Desperate Housewives or Pretty Little Liars. Davis plays Annalise Keating, a formidable criminal law professor, who selects five students from her class each year to join her firm and help out on her cases. Each week, there is a case-of-the-week — often similar cases or loopholes to The Good Wife but not executed as well. There is also an ongoing investigation into the murder of a female student at the university and, possibly connected with this, regular flash-forwards reveal that the five law students and their professor become involved, to some degree, in another murder.

HTGAWM does feel a little flimsy at times, with rushed sub-plots, forgettable performances from most of the actors playing the students and under-used actors playing Keating's other employees. Davis is wonderful, though, as she plays a complex and often unlikeable, though impressive, character. For all its frothiness, the show is quite addicting: I rattled through the breakneck first half of season one pretty quickly, and although it seemed to lose its way mid-season, things start to pick up again as it rattles on towards the finale.

28 September 2015

My Top 5 Pizzas in London

My family has always eaten a lot of pizza: when I was growing up in Oxford, our Friday night family outings usually took place at Pizza Express and even a decade later, the UK pizza scene hadn't moved on very far. Thankfully, though, London finally has some great pizzerias that serve authentic and delicious pizzas. Here are five of my favourites:

1. Pizza Pilgrims
Pizza Pilgrims started its life as a Piaggio Ape van kitted out with a pizza oven based at Berwick Street Market. Founders James and Thom Elliot took the van on a pizza pilgrimage through Italy to learn the secrets of the perfect Neapolitan pizza from the experts. They now have two bricks-and-mortar pizzerias in Soho (Dean Street and Kingly Street), and a pop-up in Peckham, and the van still roams its way around London. The pizzerias are fun and funky and usually have a soundtrack of great '90s tunes.

I am something of a pizza purist and unless there are some really tempting toppings, I almost always order a margherita, sometimes with buffalo mozzarella. If the ingredients are good quality, there is no need for fancy toppings, and the ingredients at Pizza Pilgrims are top notch. The base is thin and the crust is puffy: slightly chewy and very moreish. It's well worth upgrading your margherita (£6.50) with a generous portion of the delicious, creamy buffalo mozzarella for £2.50. The wines are well priced and they even have Prosecco on tap. NB: there are a few sides and puddings, but no non-pizza mains. Margherita: £6.50. My full review.

Pizza Pilgrims is located at 11 Dean Street, London, W1D 3RP, and 11 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PW.

2. Caravan
The antipodean-run Caravan in King's Cross doesn't just do pizza, but it does pizza exceptionally well. The restaurant is based very close to my office so I usually go at lunchtimes and, in the absence of a weekday brunch menu, pizza is usually an easier choice than the tasty small and large plates that are also available.

The pizza menu changes from time to time and there is usually a pizza special, but I have rarely deviated from my usual margherita order (£9). The crust is puffy and crisp, and the tomato sauce is tangy and pairs perfectly with the creamy mozzarella. There is an extensive wine list, but I usually have one of the excellent single-origin filter coffees or for a special treat, the decadent salted caramel hot chocolate. My full review.

Caravan is located at 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA.

3. Franco Manca
Franco Manca has come a long way since its first location opened in Brixton in 2008. There are now 15 restaurants in its mini-empire, and to my great excitement, its 16th branch will be opening in my neighbourhood next week; I've been looking forward to Franco Manca's arrival on Bermondsey Street for over a year!

Franco Manca's pizzas are famous for their delicious sourdough bases, backed in a wood-burning brick oven. Although I sometimes don't finish my pizza crusts, Franco Manca's are so delicious that I've never been able to do so, no matter how full I am. The margherita pizza (AKA no. 2) is £5.90 and is my usual order. None of the other pizzas on the regular menu are really my thing, but I sometimes order one of the specials, such as the pizza with green beans, pine nuts and pesto pictured below. There are a few wines, beers and soft drinks on the menu too, but no non-pizza mains. The service is speedy and as they don't take bookings, you may sometimes need to queue. My mini-review.

Franco Manca has multiple London pizzerias. Find your local here.

4. Il Baretto
Since I moved from Marylebone to Bermondsey, I don't make it to Il Baretto, an Italian restaurant in Blandford Street, as often as I used to. It has long been a family favourite, though, and we often go for birthdays and other celebratory meals. The restaurant is located in the basement and is dark, sleek and intimate (this also makes photography very challenging), and the staff are lovely.

The menu has a lot more to offer than pizza, but as we usually share large platters of Italian deliciousness to start, I don't feel as though I'm missing out on the non-pizza options when I inevitably order the pizza. At £13.50, the margherita is by far the most expensive pizza on this list, but it is worth it — especially if you are looking for a more elegant venue to indulge in your pizza whims. For £16, you can have the bufala, but it comes with fresh rather than cooked buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. I usually stick to the margherita, which a generous amount of delicious mozzarella. If you can make it as far as the puddings, they are well worth the indulgence! My full review.

Il Baretto is located at 43 Blandford Street, London, W1U 7HF.

5. Pizza Union
The newest addition to my London pizza compendium is Pizza Union, whose second location opened up in King's Cross a few months ago. They serve Roman-style pizzas that are super-cheap, super-speedy and very tasty indeed. The margherita costs just £3.95 and has a thin base, tasty tomato sauce and decent mozzarella (not quite as good as some of the other pizzas on this list).

After ordering at the bar, you get a buzzer that vibrates when your pizza is ready — usually within about five or ten minutes. On Fridays, there are often big lunchtime queues, but the turnover is pretty swift. The restaurant is also beautifully decorated with its colourful tiling and industrial-chic neon lighting. My full review.

Pizza Union is located at 246–250 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY, and 25 Sandy's Row, London, E1 7HW.

25 September 2015

Summit Special: Everest Review

I first came across the 1996 Mount Everest disaster a few years ago when some of the details were used in the case-of-the-week in an episode of The Good Wife. Although the case itself fell into the background as the show focused on the difference between the UK and US legal systems — in particular, the UK libel laws that put the burden of proof on the defendant and not the plaintiff — I was intrigued.

Not intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Into Thin Air, journalist Jon Krakauer's controversial first-hand account of the catastrophic expedition until earlier this year, when I had heard that Baltasar Kormákur's movie, Everest, would soon be released. I didn't really get into Krakauer's book — maybe I didn't gel with his writing or maybe I was reading too quickly and, not being well-versed in climbing expeditions, found it hard to build a vivid picture of the mountain and the events that took place on it. Kormákur's film, which is visually striking and compelling, if emotionally manipulative, doesn't have these flaws, although it isn't perfect itself.

Everest tells the story of a severe snow storm on Mount Everest in May 1996, which devastated several climbing expeditions that were attempting to reach the summit. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is leading the Adventure Consultants expedition, leaving his heavily pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) back in New Zealand. He and his team are guiding eight clients, each of whom has paid up to $65,000 for the chance to reach the summit of Everest. The group includes Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), who will be writing a profile for Outside magazine, American doctor Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and postman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who took part in a previous Adventure Consultans Everest expedition but didn't reach the summit. While Rob worries about his wife, his base-camp manager Helen (Emily Watson) worries about the company's finances.

By 1996, commercial hiking expeditions to Everest have really taken off and when Rob's group arrive at base camp, it is hectic and crowded. Rob's old friend Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who runs a rival company, Mountain Madness, is leading another expedition. Scott seems to think that Rob has 'stolen' Jon away, and he also implies that although his own clients are all serious climbers, Rob's group need a lot more of a helping hand to get to the top. Meanwhile, the volume of hiking traffic means that there are big queues for all the ropes and bridges on the training hikes.

The conditions are looking good, though, and just after midnight on 10 May, several groups, including Rob's and Scott's, begin their attempts for the summit. When the sun comes up, it's a beautiful day and spirits run high. Although bottlenecks arise at some of the more challenging parts of the journey, many of the climbers reached the summit, celebrating with that kind of exhausted, oxygen-deprived jubilation you can only get when you're literally on top of the world. Others struggle, however; Rob tries to encourage them to descend, but some people are so desperate to achieve their dream that they persuade their leader to allow them to continue. And then disaster strikes when a huge storm hits.

I won't go into any more detail about what happens, but suffice to say that not everyone makes it back down from the mountain. Kormákur's film has a good ensemble cast, with many of the actors putting on their best Kiwi accents (I wondered if the film should be called Uhvuhrust). None of the performances were truly outstanding, although Emily Watson and Robin Wright, in a small role as Beck Weathers' wife, were great as always.

Everest is a tale of survival, friendship and heroism, but it is also one of great hubris — it is hard for a non-climber to understand why so many people are willing to give up everything for the chance to spend a few moments on the summit of Everest. Maybe it's different when you don't know the ending, but I found myself being swept up in the emotional ebbs and flows of the story. And yes, I cried. Of course, the film is beautifully shot and the first half, at least, is a great advert for Himalayan climbing expeditions. I saw the film in 3D and although I would have liked to turn off the 3D effect in the 'hangin' round in New Zealand/Kathmandu scenes, it was particularly effective for the mountain scenes.

We can never fully know exactly what happened up there and who deserves praise and who — if anyone — deserves blame. There are eye-witness accounts and satellite phone call logs, of course, but they only tell part of the story. Human memory is always imperfect, particularly among those who are sleep-deprived and suffering from oxygen deprival and frostbite. The conditions at the time made identifying fellow climbers very challenging, and there were several cases of mistaken identity, which complicated matters further.

If you have seen Everest and are keen to know more, check out Storm Over Everest, a documentary by cinematographer David Breashears (who was on Everest at the time with the IMAX team), which
makes a nice companion piece to Into Thin Air and Everest.

23 September 2015

Open House London 2015: St Pancras Renaissance and Chambers Apartments

I was away from London for most of this year's Open House London weekend, in which hundreds of London's famous, infamous and secret buildings open up to the general public. Naturally, big queues form for some of the most desirable locations on the list, including 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) — a personal architectural favourite — and I only had a few hours on Sunday afternoon.

Instead, I decided to go on a tour that I could book and I picked a venue that I see from the outside almost every day — in fact, I can even see it from my desk at work: The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and St Pancras Chambers apartments. We met our guide in the hotel forecourt and learned a lot about the history of St Pancras station and the former Midland Grand Hotel, whose building is now occupied by the Renaissance Hotel and the apartments. It was a beautiful sunny day — perfect for a little Open House adventuring.

St Pancras station was built as the central hub for the Midland Railway, with the grand (some said too grand) Renaissance Hotel as its pièce de résistance. It isn't surprising that the neighbouring King's Cross station, home of the Great Northern Railway, developed something of an inferiority complex. King's Cross itself has smartened up considerably over the past few years, but St Pancras is still the more striking and elegant of the two. Although the Midland Grand Hotel, which opened in 1873, used to occupy the whole of the building, the Renaissance just takes up the first floor (with a separate, west wing that has further rooms); the upper floors are made up of offices and apartments.

First, our guide took us inside the Renaissance. I've been to the lovely Booking Office bar for cocktails a few times, but I have never explored the rest of the hotel. We walked over to the hotel's grand spiral staircase, which has been the setting for various TV shows and, most famously, for the music video for the Spice Girls song Wannabe. It hasn't changed much since then! I was more interested, however, in the beautiful hand-painted ceiling with its golden stars on a teal background. We didn't go upstairs but the view from the ground floor was still impressive.

Our next stop was to the apartments upstairs. Looking up at the ceiling from the ground floor, it is hard to ignore the influence of Islamic architecture — although the roof has a glass ceiling, the light streams through. The building is also designed so that the ceiling on each floor is a couple of feet lower than than that of the floor below. Naturally, the servants used to bunk down in any free space they could find on the top floor.

Our guide couldn't confirm the urban legend of the West Indies cricket team setting up nets in the long hallway on the fifth floor, but did tell us about some of the design constraints faced by owners and tenants in this listed building.

Finally, we visited one of the clock tower apartments on the fifth floor. We didn't get to go right up to the clock, but enjoyed looking at the period features (the wooden box that looks a bit like a wardrobe or a phone box used to house the clock's winding mechanism before it was automated).

The views through the windows out over King's Cross were pretty nice too.

Another tour group was right behind us, so we had to leave the apartment before I had the chance to take any more photos. It's such a beautiful space and you can even rent it out on Airbnb. I'm seriously tempted, even though I live in London. We filed back down the spiral staircase, stopping briefly to peep out at The Lovers (AKA Paul day's The Meeting Place) in the main hall of St Pancras station.

There are, of course, plenty of places worth visiting during Open House London, but I would definitely recommend the St Pancras tour. You do need to book early, though, as they sold out pretty quickly this year.

21 September 2015

Copenhagen Coffee Guide

With only three and a bit days in Copenhagen, I had to prepare my plan of coffee attack very carefully, especially as good coffee shops are quite scarce in the area in which I stayed — the central station end of Vesterbro. But I did manage to visit five different coffee bars and spotted a few more that looked promising.

The Coffee Collective — @coffeecollectif
At the top of my Copenhagen coffee to-do list was The Coffee Collective, a coffee roastery with three central shops and great beans sourced from small farms from around the world. Any coffee tour of the city should include a visit to at least one of the branches.

I first visited the branch in Torvehallerne, the gourmet food market near Nørreport station. Although the market itself doesn't open until 11 am on Sundays, The Coffee Collective was already buzzing by 9 am. There are a dozen or so seats at the window and an impressive brew bar. After failing to acquire a hand-brewed filter coffee the previous day, I was very keen for a pourover. There were three different coffees on offer, but I opted for a Guatemalan variety from Finca Vista Hermosa (38 krone, or about £3.80). The coffee was brewed with a Kalita Wave dripper and it tasted great: chocolatey and smooth but with a little citrusy aftertaste. Vendersgade 6D, Nørreport, Copenhagen.

On my last day in Copenhagen, I visited the original Coffee Collective café and roastery in Nørrebro, which is located on the lovely Jægersborggade. There are a few tables on the pavement, a couple of seats in the window and a several small tables in the back room. The main room, which houses the roaster, is a little cramped, especially when there is a queue, but the lack of counter between the baristas and customers means that there is an intimate atmosphere.

I really wanted an Aeropress brew, but I also wanted to try Coffee Collective's espresso-based drinks, so I ordered a cortado (33 krone), which I enjoyed in the back room. The coffee was expertly crafted and had impeccable latte art. I also bought a bag of the Finca Vista Hermosa beans to take home (97 krone). Jægersborggade 10, Nørrebro, Copenhagen.

The final Coffee Collective location is in Fredriksberg, but sadly, I didn't have time to visit this trip. Godthåbsvej 34B, Fredriksberg.

Copenhagen Coffee Lab
Located just south of Strøget and just across the canal from Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen Coffee Lab occupies the lower-ground floor of a building on the pretty Boldhusgade. There are a few tables outside and others, of various sizes, inside the cosy café. There are big tables suitable for the MacBook crowd, armchairs with reindeer pelts and smaller tables for more intimate conversations.

I arrived around 12.30 on a Saturday and the queue was extremely long, with only one hard-working barista trying to take care of everyone. Unfortunately, this meant that even though Copenhagen Coffee Lab is one of the few places in the city that serve hand-brewed filter coffee (which was one of the main reasons I went there), I had to stick to an espresso-based drink. As I left, I looked on enviously as the barista made another customer a pourover; I guess I'll just have to come back another (quieter) time.

The cortado (30 krone) was, however, excellent and the café itself is beautiful and stylish with its copper grinder (and matching pouring kettles) and mid-century furniture. I'm sure it's a particularly lovely place to retreat to in the midst of the brutal Danish winters. Oh, and they also have a mobile location in LisbonBoldhusgade 6, Copenhagen (city centre).

Kent Kaffe Laboratorium
Just around the corner from Torvehallerne market, Kent Kaffe Laboratorium is another player in Copenhagen's cosy, lower-ground-floor café game. They have a roaster of their own and an extensive range of hand-brewed coffee options, including V60, Aeropress, Chemex and siphon, and two coffee varieties. I selected an El Salvadorian Las Nubes coffee, brewed with an Aeropress (35 krone).

I stood at the long brew bar to watch while the barista prepared my coffee and then I carried my drink over to one of the window seats, which let you peek out onto the street. The coffee was quite full-bodied but had a citrusy acidity to it — just what I needed to cut through the day's grey drizzle. Kent Kaffe is pretty spacious, with two rooms that have a variety of seating options. Once again, wooden mid-century furniture abounds! Nørre Farimagsgade 70, Nørreport, Copenhagen.

Risteriet — @risteriet
I visited Risteriet, a café and roastery located within the grid of shopping streets just north of Strøget called Pisserenden, just before heading back to the airport at the end of my trip. I had hoped they would serve pourovers, but alas, they only do espresso-based drinks. The café itself is bright and cheery — perhaps a little less cool than some of the other coffee spots I visited — and houses its roaster in the back room, along with a large selection of coffee beans and coffee-making equipment.

My cortado cost 30 krone and it was pretty good, although was a little on the hot side and also a little longer than I usually prefer. I would still recommend it as a good place to head for coffee and/or a rest when you are shopping in the Strøget area. Studiestræde 3, Copenhagen (city centre).

Kafferiet — @kafferiet
Located on leafy Esplanden, Kafferiet is a good place to stop for coffee before or after visiting Kastellet and the Little Mermaid. The petite café occupies the ground floor of a pale turquoise building that faces Churchillparken. When doing my coffee research for this trip I had obviously read somewhere that there are 15 types of coffee available at Kafferiet. I couldn't find any evidence of this, however, so I just ordered a macchiato (30 krone) and took a seat at the window — next to a small model of the outside of the building.

The coffee lacked latte art but it was good and had a rich, smooth taste. The staff were very friendly and the café itself is decked out with various Japanese design touches — the owner, apparently, is a big fan of Japan. Esplanaden 44, Copenhagen (city centre).

Other possibilities
  • Rist. This small café, just across the road from Granola, looked good and I have heard good things about the quality of the coffee. Værnedamsvej 4B, Vesterbro, Copenhagen.
  • La Esquina. A café with a Spanish influence, which is said to be beautiful and to serve great coffee. Ryesgade 76, Østerbro, Copenhagen.
  • Parterre. A good spot for canal-side Christianshavn caffeination. Overgaden Oven Vandet 90, Christianshavn, Copenhagen.
  • Riccos. There are branches of this coffee shop all over the city centre. They looked like a good bet, although I didn't have time to try the coffee.

18 September 2015

Copenhagen Day 4: Shopping in Nørrebro, Strøget and Vesterbro

Monday was my last morning in Copenhagen and the sun was finally poking through the clouds. I decided to try to burn off some of the pastries by running along the waterfront, past the Little Mermaid (who had fewer visitors early in the morning) and back down along The Lakes.

Nørrebro and Nørreport
After checking out of my hotel, it was time to hit the shops. I made a beeline for the creative-cool neighbourhood of Nørrebro, just north of The Lakes. It was a pleasant, 30-minute walk from my hotel near the central station. My first port of call was Jægersborggade, a lovely street with many cafés, restaurants and independent shops. At no. 9 is Meyers Bageri, a superb bakery and patisserie. I picked up a kanelsnegle with molten chocolate poured liberally on top. Perhaps not the healthiest breakfast but it was supremely delicious.

Just across the road, at no. 10, is the original Coffee Collective location. There are a few tables inside, squeezed in between the brew bar and the roaster, and a couple on the pavement. I will be doing a separate Copenhagen coffee post, but suffice to say that my cortado (30 krone) was very good. I also picked up a bag of Guatemalan beans to take home (95 krone).

Other places I spotted on Jægersborggade included: Kaktus (no. 35), a shop selling cacti and beautiful pots; Vanishing Point (no. 45; pictured below), which sells a beautifully curated collection of hand-made accessories; Gågron (no. 48), which offers homewares that are beautiful and sustainable and/or environmentally friendly; Manfreds (no. 40), a lovely, cosy-looking neighbourhood eatery; and Grød (no. 50), a restaurant specialising in the eponymous porridge.

I walked back down Nørrebro's main drag, Nørrebrogade (they're very creative with the street names here), crossing over The Lakes to Nørreport. A small homewares and toy shop called Maduro (Frederiksborggade 39; pictured below) caught my eye; they had some really pretty ceramics, lighting and rugs. For lunch, I stopped by Torvehallerne (Frederiksborggade 21), which was fully open this time. I had a final smørrebrod lunch at Hallernes, selecting one smoked salmon and one potato and onion open sandwich, which cost 95 krone.

Strøget (pronounced, appropriately enough, 'stroll') is one of Europe's longest pedestrianised areas, running for around 1km. Strøget itself has a lot of the department stores, big shops and chains. I revisited Hay (Østergade 61), which has so many beautiful homeware and lifestyle products. I also went back to Illums Bolighus (Amagertorv 10), but left empty-handed, partly because I had spent a lot of money on food, and partly because the Scandinavian aesthetic is such that it's hard to buy just the odd item — you really have to go for all or nothing.

I also discovered a few cool shops on Købmagergade, including: Plint (no. 50; first picture below), which sells kitchen goods and homewares in a range of cheery colours; Message (no. 46; chain) and Samsøe ø Samsøe (no. 44), both of which specialise in good-quality Scandi style (lots of good basics in neutral colours). NORR (Pilestræde 36) is a boutique that sells a large variety of clothing, locally produced jewellery and beauty products. There's a café/juice bar inside the store and there's also an outlet selling sale items across the street. A little further west is a lovely little design store called Stilleben (Niels Hemmingsens Gade 3; second picture below), which has nice jewellery and bags and a great collection of prints. I had hoped to visit CPH Made (Brolæggerstræde 6), a local designers collective, but it's closed on Mondays.

By this point, I was in need of another coffee, so I popped into Risteriet (Studiestræde 36), a café-roastery, which sells its own whole beans and assorted coffee-brewing kit. They don't do hand-brewed filter coffee so I had another cortado (30 krone), which was pretty good, although a little longer than I usually prefer.

On Saturday, I discovered the delights of Værnedamsvej, a quiet street just off the main Vesterbo drag (Vesterbrogade), which has various cool cafés and shops. Dora (no. 6) has a well-curated collection of homewares, including some vintage crockery and blankets that need instructions. Just next door, Playtype (also no. 6) is a font-lover's paradise. They sell notebooks, prints, ceramics and more decorated with Danish fonts. I liked the marble-print notebooks, but they only had the letters F, A, U and X (for obvious reasons).

On the other side of Vesterbrogade, on Oehlenschlægersgade (no. 13), is Just Spotted, which sells locally inspired and/or designed prints at various sizes from postcard to poster. It's worth making the detour west along Vesterbrogade (no. 137) to Designer Zoo, a store and gallery space split over three levels, with a particular focus on glassware, ceramics and jewellery.

I walked back towards my hotel along Istedgade, another good destination if you're looking for independent clothing boutiques and design stores. Some of the shops that caught my eye included: ES-ES (no. 108-110),  Girlie Hurly (no. 99), Kyoto (no. 95), Rude (no. 112) and DANSK (no. 80, interiors; no. 64, kitchenware). 

This is my penultimate Copenhagen post — the last post will be a coffee guide — but I loved the city and I'm sure I will be back before too long.