If Gastrome is the distillation of Aarhus’s easygoing ingenuity, Frederikshoj, the flagship of Wassim Hallal and another Michelin-star recipient, embodies its second-city ambition. “I dream of getting three Michelin stars, and getting people from other countries to come and taste our food—and to learn about the city through it,” Hallal, a Beirut-born Danish wunderkind, told me. The evening I ate there, the menu started with delicate Burgundy snails in a cold cream sauce, a deconstructed eggs Benedict (quail egg and seaweed puree), the best tartare I’ve ever had, and macarons flavored with calf’s blood and forest lovage —and those were just the amuse-bouches.
Unlike Jakobsen and Jorgensen, Hallal is unsqueamish about sourcing from outside the region—one of his signature ingredients is caviar—and his technical range seems inexhaustible: the meal included a cold scallop in horseradish sauce, oysters that arrived at the table basting in pine smoke under a glass globe, variations on the theme of sweetbreads with raspberry, and beef with small potatoes painted to look like rocks. Dessert was a reimagined banana split cased in a gold sugar sphere; I had to crack it open before gobbling it up.
Frederikshoj is set, luxuriously, in the woods on the southern edge of town, looking out onto a lawn framed in lindens and, beyond its edge, the sea. Sitting at a table by the window as the long Nordic day turned to dusk, it struck me that, for people of a certain disposition, this was as close to paradise as earth could get.
Aarhus is less expensive than Copenhagen, but it isn’t cheap. I didn’t understand why its economy had grown so swiftly lately, so I looked up one of the CEOs responsible for its renaissance, Christian Stadil. “There was a period when Aarhus was too much a follower, looking to Copenhagen,” said Stadil, who recently moved the headquarters of Hummel, the sportswear company, into a converted submarine dock by the harbour. “But something has really happened in the past couple of years, and it’s taken a frog leap.” Stadil is a guru of an unusual cast — he’s written two books about leadership that talk about the power of karma and the subconscious. “There was really a need for an environment that motivates and inspires creativity and innovation—and this is what I found down by the harbor.” Since then, other companies have also made the move.
“This is still a small town, but we feel more connected to the outside world now,” Mikkel Frost, an architect at the Aarhus firm Cebra, told me near the city’s northern harbor one afternoon. Frost was among the lead designers of Isbjerget, or the Iceberg, the most iconic of several new harbor side apartment complexes meant to resemble its name—jagged, angled, and cast in white terrazzo. Since the construction of the Iceberg and its neighbors, a bus has begun running from here to the center of town, and a landscaped promenade on the water has started to fill in.
Frost, a native Aarhusian, has watched the city’s urban standing change. In the 1990s, bridges between Denmark’s islands reduced the commute time to Copenhagen to three hours, making the two cities business partners—and rivals in development. Frost’s wife, also an architect, works at Schmidt Hammer Lassen, which designed the docklands’ unmatched new centerpiece, Dokki. (a Danish pun). The building, Scandinavia’s largest public library, opened last summer, and it features giant windows looking out onto the water. I ventured in one afternoon shortly before closing and I wished I could spend a week.