It’s a sunny afternoon in Copenhagen and the waterfront is fringed with locals soaking up every ounce of Vitamin D. At La Banchina, a small blue-slatted waterside café, Danes lie on the sundrenched dock, their feet swirling in the water, their eyes closed as they tilt their heads to the sky. Inside, a woman behind the counter pours a glass of rosé for a customer and slices a piece of cake for another as Bon Iver drifts from the speakers. Strolling into La Banchina on a sunny afternoon is like stumbling into a locals-only summer house party. Given that it’s located on the outskirts of Copenhagen Central, away from the tourists, within the far-flung waterfront area of Refshaleøen on the western part of the city, this could almost be the case.
But Refshaleøen probably won’t remain a local’s playground for long.
The second iteration of one of the world’s most renowned restaurants, Noma, has made its new home in a formerly abandoned industrial building in Refshaleøen—minutes from La Banchina. Noma 2.0 (which opens February 16) is the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2018 and will likely (read: definitely) draw hordes of tourists looking to experience the $370 (before drinks) tasting menu. Reservations are already sold out through June 2 as of press time, and the next batch of prepaid reservations will be released February 22. All this is to say: Refshaleøen will probably be turned on its head.
The neighborhood, however, was already in the process of blossoming into a food and design destination in its own right. Over the past few years, the former shipyard area has seen a slow stream of openings: La Banchina; a showroom for RAINS, a high-end outerwear company; Halvandet, a beach bar; Naturs, a tiny wine bar set in a pink shack in a rambling garden; Aamanns Køkken, which serves open-faced sandwiches; and Mikkeller Baghaven, a beer bar from cult Danish microbrewery brand Mikkeller. Another opening this year is Copenhill, an artificial ski slope that will run down the futuristic Bjarke Ingles–designed power plant.
Surprisingly though, it wasn’t the news of Noma 2.0 that pioneered the development of Refshaleøen. It was another high-end restaurant with a little less star power.
Five years ago, the only reason to visit Refshaleøen was to dine at Amass, the seasonally driven restaurant opened by former Noma chef Matt Orlando. With a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in Copenhagen, a trek to Amass’s out-of-the-way location never deterred eager diners. It wasn’t the location that was the problem; it was getting a reservation.
So, why would one of Copenhagen’s top restaurants open in an up-and-coming former shipyard? You only need to look at the lofty, glass-fronted industrial dining room and the sprawling chef’s garden that sits on the water’s edge to see.
Copenhagen, a city of many islands, has been expanding west over the harbor basin for some time. Space is a luxury few restaurants in Copenhagen have, and the western part of the city offers just that. Since Noma opened in Christianshavn and Copenhagen Street Food opened on the adjacent Paper Island, it was only a matter of time before restaurants and bars started spilling onto Refshaleøen (the neighboring island).
Soon, the low-key area will brace for more tourists and, most likely, even more development—Noma has been known to have this effect on neighborhoods. When the restaurant first opened in an old warehouse in the waterfront area of Christianshavn, it was a working-class neighborhood where families, students, and artists lived. Today, part of Christianshavn’s harbor basin is lined with modern glass-fronted buildings. Tour boats chug past the old Noma building, giving those who couldn’t snag a reservation a chance to catch a glimpse of the former gourmet fortress.
To aid this rise in traffic to the waterfront neighborhood, Copenhagen’s public transportation is stepping it up: Yellow water buses (991 and 992) will start making stops, the canal boats will stop during the summer, and the 9A bus route has been extended. Previously terminating at the Opera House, the bus now travels up through Refshaleøen and restarts its route directly outside Amass—the perfect stop if you rode your bike to a six-course, wine-pairing meal and need an alternative ride home.
The rise of Refshaleøen is inevitable with or without Noma. And while, yes, owner and chef Rene Redzepi will draw the culty culinary crowds, you and the locals can still soak up La Banchina’s sunny dock and afternoon spritzers. At least, for now.
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Mary Holland Mary Holland is South African writer based in New York. She has written for WSJ Magazine, the Financial Times, HTSI, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler, and W Magazine. She is the New York correspondent for Monocle Magazine.