After a few years of aspiring to the idea, my husband and I finally pulled the trigger and planned a trip to Europe this past Spring. Wait, Spring? Isn’t it January? Yes, this post has been a long time coming. But I knew I wanted to see it through since we had some pretty memorable eats along the way I wanted to document for others or in hopes of getting the chance to return again.
After debating a number of possible travel options, we settled on Iceland, England, and Denmark. We also made a brief day trip to Malmo, Sweden via train. Due to a number of food sensitivities (particularly gluten and dairy), I researched restaurant and food destinations ahead of time and we ended up visiting a good majority of them. While most were friendly to dietary restrictions, they could be equally enjoyed by anyone and are highly recommended if you pass through this region of the world.
Cafe Loki – Cafe Loki was our first food stop upon arriving in Iceland. Jet-lagged and starving after a couple hours in the Blue Lagoon on our way into Reykjavik from the airport, we headed to Cafe Loki for a late lunch. Cafe Loki is a quaint Icelandic cafe recommended by a friend of mine, and also suggested across travel sites on the internet. The restaurant is located across the street from Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral (pictured below). The second floor of the cafe was open for lunch and we were fortunate to claim the last open table which was situated in the corner of the restaurant next to the window with a view of the cathedral. The cafe itself was cozy and relaxed, and I wish we had more time to sit and enjoy our meal but needed to check-in at our AirBnb a short while later. For our meal, we ordered the Icelandic meat soup and homemade flat bread with smoked lamb. Both dishes were unique and satisfied our taste for a more traditional Icelandic meal. While we were in a bit of a fog from our long travels and lack of sleep, I feel confident stating that Cafe Loki is definitely an iconic Icelandic experience for anyone visiting Reykjavik.
Reykjavik Coffee Roasters – Local coffee house and roaster in Reykjavik. We ordered a black Americano (no cream) to go. The coffee reminded me of Stumptown in the States with it’s smooth but slightly bitter taste. The coffee house was off the main shopping street a few blocks and instantly reminiscent of Lighthouse Roasters in Seattle, both in location and ambiance. They offer a few pastries as well (i.e., croissants, buns, etc.) but we didn’t try them during our visit and there weren’t any gluten-free options available.
Sea Baron – The Sea Baron was one of our best and most rewarding meals of the trip. We stumbled across the Sea Baron somewhere on the internet. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is nestled in a strip of cafes and shops near the harbor. It is extremely small inside and tightly packed (as is often the case with authentic, well-known restaurants it seems) with glass display cases for the food, walk-up order counter, long wood tables, and marine buoys serving as seats. The rows were packed so tightly that it was difficult for more than two people to sit back to back at one time, but rather required customers to stagger themselves which greatly reduced the capacity of the restaurant. The main attraction at the Sea Baron is the Lobster soup and fresh fish skewers. After waiting in line to order, we found a seat and waited some more. And waited. Meanwhile, we listened to the stories of a friendly Australian couple next to us who excitedly shared about their chase for the Northern Lights the night before. Their company kept us distracted from our hunger as we waited roughly 45 minutes (after 9 pm) for our food to arrive. We didn’t order the Lobster soup and regretted this immensely after finding out it was one of the highlights of the Sea Baron. However, the food we ordered did not disappoint. We had salmon, cod and vegetable skewers served with slices of lemon and grilled to perfection. The fish was freshly caught that day. After finishing the juicy, fresh, and perfect Icelandic fish, we hopped in the car and drove into the pitch black mountains to pursue our own chase of the North Lights, inspired by the couple next to us.
Joe & The Juice – Jo & The Juice was a pleasant surprise in a number of airports and cities in Europe, including the Reykjavik airport. The chain sells juices, smoothies, and flat-bread sandwiches. They also have gluten- and dairy-free options. While the sandwiches were nothing special, I really enjoyed their fresh juice. My favorite was a grapefruit, apple, and ginger combination which helped revitalize me after our long flight. I’d recommend Jo & The Juice as a healthy and quick airport option.
Eldur and Ís – We stumbled across this small cafe after searching for a quick bite to eat on our way out of Reykjavik for a day trip. While walking down one of the main streets in town, we noticed a sign for gluten-free and vegan crepes. They also sell a number of regular options which my husband tried. The cafe is a funky little place that sells coffee, ice cream, desserts, and crepes. They did not have a lot of options for fillings that were vegan and gluten-free so I ended up with a more dessert-like crepe for breakfast which was filled with dark chocolate and strawberries. It was a little rich for me and overall “ok”. The crepe itself was a little bland and did not have the more decadent, buttery taste per usual in France. We also ordered coffees which were nothing special, especially after Reykjavik Coffee Roasters the day before. While I hesitated whether to include this place, they have decent reviews on Yelp and I appreciated the availability of a clearly marked gluten-free and vegan option in town.
Honest Burger – We arrived in London from Iceland mid-day and headed out to find lunch. Honest Burger came highly recommended for gluten-free eating. There are several locations across London. We visited the location on Portobello Street near Notting Hill and Regent’s Park/Primrose Hill. Honest Burger did not disappoint. They pride themselves on simple, quality-centered food. The service was friendly and quick, and the food was on spot. The burger and gluten-free bun were excellent. The burgers were served with rosemary -salted chips (fries) and sauce as well. Great place for a bite while walking around the city.
Nopi – This was hands down our favorite meal of our vacation. We scheduled a reservation for noon, which is recommended as the restaurant is in a bustling part of town and filled up quickly at the lunch hour. While the food was exceptional, the interior decor was quite remarkable as well. The restaurant was bright, with lots of white and simple gold features. We started the meal with a carrot, apple and ginger juice, followed by a number of small vegetable plates. The juice was vibrant in color and very smooth, likely the best I’ve had. Once we were ready to order, we were provided a separate menu for gluten- and dairy-free options and given five plus minutes of individual attention while the waiter reviewed each item with us, taking care to meet our needs. We ended up ordering five or six small vegetable plates in lieu of a larger menu item. Our favorites included a charred broccoli dish and cold roast sweet potatoes with goat cheese and honey. My husband, never a vegetarian and rarely filled by vegetable-based dishes, declared this to be his favorite meal of the trip. I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary if in London.
Borough Market – A good friend of mine recommended checking out Borough Market in the Southend of London. Borough Market is one of London’s open food markets with an wealthy array of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, bread, pastries, charcuterie, food stands, and fresh juice. It was extremely busy mid-day and seemed like a prime spot to grab a quick bite to eat. After wandering around for a while, we grabbed some gluten-free bread, salami, and prosciutto carved from the pig’s leg, right in front of us. We ended our meal with a slice of Victoria Sponge cake from Free From Bakehouse, a bakery free from all allergens, which was one of the best desserts we tried during our travels.Mildred’s (Camden) – Mildred’s is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant (including many gluten-free options) with three locations throughout London (Soho, Camden, Kings Cross). The interior is retro/mid-century inspired and the place was bustling with locals. Despite a busy evening and no reservation, we were able to get right in without a wait. We decided on a stir-fry of sorts (based on feedback from the waiter) and the Sri Lankan sweet potato and green bean curry with roasted lime cashews, pea basmati rice and coconut tomato sambal. The curry was by far the favorite and an exceptional one at that. I highly recommend ordering it if you find yourself seated at a table at Mildred’s next time you are in London.
Shoryu Ramen (Soho) – Shoryu was an exceptional surprise. After having to abandon our earlier dining plans, we discovered London has quite the ramen scene. In addition, we came across this particular place, also with several locations across London, which offered gluten-free noodles. The place was packed and we ended up waiting nearly 45 minutes outside on a chilly evening for a table. However, in the end, it was definitely worthwhile. The main highlight was the execution of the gluten-free noodles which were similar, if not indistinguishable from my husband’s regular ramen noodles. The wait staff was also very friendly and helpful with the menu. Overall, a worthwhile visit.
Dishoom (Shoreditch) – We traveled across town to the hip Shoreditch neighborhood in hopes of obtaining Indian food. We were disappointed to find a number of cliché Indian restaurants with hosts outside on the sidewalk hassling us to dine in their establishments. This was not the experience we were looking for and we ended up wandering around Shoreditch looking for another place to eat. Eventually, Yelp directed us to Dishoom which had quite impressive reviews. There are multiple locations across town, which we did not know at the time. We excitedly hopped in line and asked the hostess for the wait time only to find it was at two hours and we were starved. We abandoned the line and headed back to Soho for a bowl of ramen (see above). Sadly we didn’t achieve our goal of trying Indian food in London on this trip but we will surely make it here the next time and prepare ahead of time for the long wait.
Torvehallerne Market – Torvehallerne Market reminded me of a better executed Santa Barbara Public Market. This is a must-visit in Copenhagen for a quick bite to eat, people-watch, or mingle with the locals. It is made-up of two buildings which each house over 60 stands selling everything from fresh produce, fish and meat to gourmet chocolate and spices, as well as small places where you can have a quick bite to eat. It also houses a number of our favorites below such as GRØD, Hija de Sanchez, and The Coffee Collective. Additionally, there is an open air produce market between the two buildings and a covered area with tables for communal seating. Torvehallerne is right off the underground transportation and near the main tourist street as well, so it is a great place to stop by on your way into the heart of Copenhagen.
GRØD – GRØD was our go-to breakfast place during our stay in Copenhagen. There was a location in Nørrebro on Jægersborggade which we ventured to our first day. However, due to a lengthy wait for our food, we grabbed take-away porridge at the location in Torvehallerne Market on the other days. The name, GRØD, translates to porridge and primarily serves coffee, juice and porridge. It includes an array of options from a more traditional oatmeal to spelt porridge with chestnut puree, apple and toasted almonds. During our visit, there was also an Indian dal on the menu as well as risotto. However, the menu changes weekly and focuses on seasonal eats. Additionally, they offer a large selection of toppings to choose from if you go the more traditional porridge route. The menu also includes gluten-free options, my favorite being the oat/quinoa porridge with rice milk and topped with fresh blueberries, Valrhona chocolate and mixed nuts (below).
The Coffee Collective (Jægersborggade) – Similar to Reykjavik Roasters, The Coffee Collective reminded me of a mix between Lighthouse and Stumptown in the States. The Americano was smooth but a little bitter. The atmosphere, in particular, was very much like Lighthouse, feeling as though you were right in the roaster and with limited seating. There are several locations but this one in particular was their first and is quite unique. It is an open coffee bar, with no counter separating customers from the baristas, creating a relaxed communal feel. There is a small back room with additional seating as well as some bench seating out front (pictured below). We loved the coffee so much we brought back two bags for gifts, regretting that we didn’t reserve some for ourselves. There is another convenient location in Toverhallerne Market to snag a coffee on the way into the city center.
Hija de Sanchez – Hija de Sanchez is a Taqueria, or taco stand, housed at Torvehallerne Market. It is an outside food vendor between the two buildings. The Taqueria was started by the former pastry chef at Noma and often has guest appearances from Noma chefs, as indicated in a magazine review in Bon Appétit in July 2015 . While we weren’t able to obtain a seat at Noma (a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen), we were able to get a taste of the quality of food and service while dining at Hija de Sanchez. At the time, the taco stand served a limited selection of tacos, just three options. They also offered fresh chips and a deliciously addicting green avocado salsa. I didn’t go to Copenhagen expecting to find some of the best Mexican food I’ve tasted, but this place defied my expectations upon first bite. We ordered the lengua and fish tacos. The lengua, or beef tongue, was our favorite. Though, the fish tacos weren’t far behind and were unlike any fish tacos I’ve had before. Additionally, the tortillas and chips are made to order right at the stand, as fresh as can be. Nha Trang – Just as I didn’t go to Copenhagen expecting to find the best Mexican food, I also didn’t anticipate discovering exceptional Vietnamese food but we found that as well, right down the block from our AirBnb in Nørrebro. Despite being 5,000 miles from home, it felt as though we were sitting in Ba Bar, one of my favorite restaurants back home. We loved this place so much that we went back a second time for take-away. The first night, we ate in and managed to snag the last available table. The menu was extensive and in Danish. We ordered a steamed pork pancake to start with fish sauce and crispy fried shallots. I ordered the noodle bowl with grilled chicken skewers, greens, fried shallots, chopped peanuts and fish sauce. My husband’s dish was decent but I can’t actually recall what it was, so it clearly wasn’t the show stopper. However, this grilled chicken vermicelli bowl was likely the best I’ve experienced. The next night, we both ordered the same dish for a second time and enjoyed it in our quaint little AirBnB. Sometimes the best places are those you stumble upon unexpectedly. Sidecar – Sidecar was another unique find in our neighborhood, just a few blocks away from our AirBnb. While they didn’t have a lot of gluten-free options, we made it work. We ordered the Smørrebrød breakfast platter, a riff off the iconic Danish open-faced sandwiches. They brought out the traditional rye bread in addition to pickled red onions, tuna with capers, sliced avocado with roasted almonds (my favorite!), fresh butter, scrambled eggs with chives and Serrano ham with fresh thyme. There was also sausage, oatmeal “granola” with toppings and miniature American pancakes with blueberry sauce. We enjoyed this feast with two Americanos. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was quite chill and comfortable (there were folks reading, studying or chatting with friends). The staff were friendly and on our first visit, sat with us and reviewed the entire menu written in Danish. I loved that this place felt like a neighborhood joint, well-appreciated by those nearby.
Nicecream – Whenever I travel, I need to find a good ice cream place. It just feels necessary to eat ice cream on vacation. After coming across this place on Yelp and another food blog, we decided to give it a try. As I can’t have dairy, Nicecream was a vegan ice cream shop (made with coconut milk) and are known for their ice cream cookie sandwiches and ice cream bars. Again, this place was in our neighborhood and easy to get to. Fittingly, it was run by two Icelandic men, bringing us full circle to where we started on our expedition. We went there for a ice cream cookie sandwich, only to find they weren’t gluten-free. However, we got a chance to try their ice cream bars as a result, definitely a great alternative. The bars were made up of coconut ice cream and a vegan chocolate shell outer layer with toppings such as peanuts and coconut. I ordered the Chai-flavored one which was perfectly sweet and creamy and definitely didn’t taste vegan; my husband chose a peanut butter flavored one. The Chai-flavored one was by far our favorite. The shop itself was small and there was no seating inside. We grabbed our ice cream bars and sat outside on a small bench watching the locals ride by on their bikes during rush hour, enjoying one of our last evenings abroad.
Atrium Cafe – Last but not least, we took a day trip over to Malmo, Sweden from Copenhagen via train. We wandered around the small but modern city of Malmo for a couple of hours. Per a recommendation I found on another blog, we decided on the Atrium Cafe for a quick snack and drink. The Atrium Cafe was outside of the heart of Malmo in a residential area. It was quite difficult to find at first and doesn’t seem to come up on Yelp, but we eventually found our way there. It was a beautiful little cafe with lots of charm. While it was fairly chilly out, we opted to sit outside on the small sunny patio with other customers, clearly locals. We split a croissant with chocolate filling (not gluten-free) and enjoyed an almond milk cappuccino and latte before walking back to the train along the long waterfront park and through the city center.
I’ll end with a couple non-food related photos from our adventures…