So here’s a piece I wrote for Le Pan magazine on the restaurant scene in Stockholm, following an Easter trip there. I didn’t have a bad dish over three days there, while one of the very best things I ate was a sensational takeaway herring sandwich at the legendary Nystekt Strömming. But anyway this is the finer end of dining and speaks volumes about what a dynamic food destination it has become:
- Sweden possesses a rich culinary heritage that values artisan techniques and classic methods.
- But ambition and creativity are hallmarks of contemporary Nordic cuisine.
- Arguably, Stockholm is currently Europe’s most exciting food and dining destination.
As morning snow falls outside Stockholm’s picturesque redbrick Östermalms Saluhall food market, artisan producers inside compete for local and tourist krona, selling cured elk salumi, pickled herrings and world-class coffee. So far, so predictably Swedish.
But this is no pop-up cashing in on the culinary zeitgeist. This flourishing food market has been in operation on this site since 1888.
Nearby, the Beirut Café Deli offers Lebanese delicacies – and this speaks volumes about contemporary Swedish society and the openness of their appetites.
A couple of blocks away and a few hours later, the team at Ekstedt gather prior to evening service. They use only the power of wood flame, no electricity or gas, to cook in their Michelin-starred kitchen. Young, passionate and confident, they’re emblematic of the quiet shift in the culinary balance of power north, from Copenhagen to Stockholm.
Sweden now boasts 21 Michelin stars, almost half the total across all of Scandinavia, as announced in the inaugural Michelin Nordic Cities guide launched earlier this year. Arguably, the capital is currently Europe’s most exciting food and dining destination.
“Stockholm’s culinary success isn’t new, we’ve always been ambitious and creative, we were just overshadowed for a while by my dear friend Rene Redzepi and his fabulous team at Noma,” chef and owner Niklas Ekstedt tells me with a smile.
He doesn’t however credit chefs, producers, foragers or restaurateurs for Stockholm’s culinary success.
Instead he credits his diners and people shopping at places like Östermalms Saluhall.
“I would have to say it is the local population. They’re not conservative. They are excited about food and open to experiment. The Swedish, particularly in Stockholm, don’t have a strict boundary, they like frontier cooking. I am very grateful for that.”
A look inside other venerable Swedish foodie venues proves his point.
The interior of Volt, newly awarded its first Michelin star, ticks Nordic minimalist boxes while chef Peter Andersson’s menu focuses on “nature, seasons, energy” with the kitchen “as closely connected to nature and far from industrially produced food as one can get.”
This rings true in sparse but sublime dishes such as Arctic char with its own roe, or sunflower seeds with crispy potato and an algae from the Faroe Islands known as “ocean truffle.”
Celeriac with preserved mushrooms is the perfect balance of forest and field, while bizarre petits fours consist of candied parsley, lovage and celery stalks.
Their wines come from small-scale producers guided by the simple premise that quality wine needs healthy soil with as little interference as possible. An unusual biodynamic Pinot Noir from Granada, a Barranco Oscuro Salmonido 2012 lives up to its billing with pinkish hues from the highest-altitude natural vineyard in Europe. One of the country’s most celebrated chefs, a poster boy for Nordic cuisine, is next to weigh in on why Sweden’s culinary landscape is on the rise.
Magnus Nilsson is chef and owner at Faviken, one of the most isolated restaurants imaginable, lost on a 20,000-acre reserve in Sweden’s vast frozen central plains.
Unfortunately, he also closes his restaurant for 20 weeks every year.
But he confirms that the open-mindedness of diners, coupled with a love of exploration and the new, has greatly influenced Swedish cuisine: “Nordic cooking in general, and especially Swedish and Danish cooking, is influenced by other worldviews. Because they’re small countries, there’s always been a need to move around, to discover and explore, so for example Sweden had a huge East India trade. Traditional Swedish cooking contains so much spices, it’s just incredible. There are 200-year-old recipes that contain spices like ginger, cloves and black pepper.”
Back at Ekstedt, you’d be forgiven for thinking that dinner has come from two centuries back.
The birch wood is burning, the flames are alive. On the wall hang a row of stokers, tool belts and instruments straight from a Spanish Inquisition. Charcoal and smoke are the kitchen’s most powerful tools, while they emphasize how their ingredients come “from the sea, forests, meadows and fields.”
A stunning seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings confirm why Niklas Ekstedt is one of the most exciting and innovative chefs around.
The tone is set by a dainty black truffle and mozzarella flammenkuchen-style tart followed by a langoustine in crispy chicken skin, both of which sit well with an elegant and beautifully finished 2012 Pierre Frick Auxerrois with its distinct rhubarb and honey aromas.
Sommelier Maximilan Mellfors began a career in classical music and stage art before moving into wine and, in common with many Stockholm restaurants, he builds his cellar around biodynamic wines that match Ekstedt’s ethos of minimum impact. Hunks of salted and dried venison are sliced by tattooed fingers before joining bone marrow and roe from the freshwater vendace in one sublime bite.
Torbay sole by itself is rich and oily but is lifted by garlicky ramson, morels and almond that is grated finely like Parmesan. It’s classic Nordic spareness of flavors, a restrained demo of technique with fire as the unifier. To accompany it Mellfors takes us to the black volcanic soils of Etna’s north slope and the Calabretta vineyards.
Located nearly a half-mile above sea level, Slow Wine describes their style as “1,000 miles away” from other Italian wines and their vino rosato has extraordinary pineapple and cream tones that float alongside the fish.
The wood-fired oven’s final flourish brings sensational doughnuts with rosehip and vanilla. Accompanying is a Brännland Iscider, an apple wine originally devloped in Quebec in the 1990’s before finding its way across to sub-Arctic Sweden. The acidity and freshness could serve equally as an apéritif, but here sit perfectly with the richness of dessert.
With its fires blazing and lack of culinary technology, Ekstedt is as far from the model of traditional fine dining as you can imagine.
But their synthesis of age-old techniques and unusual produce clearly delights the packed dining room. The folk of Stockholm, open in mind and palate, clearly know a good thing when they see it.
Volt, 6 courses with beverages 1370 Krona (US$160) Ekstedt, 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings 1840 Krona (US$210) Faviken, Menu with beverage pairing 3950 Krona (US$450) Ostermalms Saluhall Market, http://www.ostermalmshallen.se/en/
– See more at: http://www.lepanmedia.com/stockholms-culinary-rise-is-thanks-to-its-diners/#sthash.SPGRASAo.dpuf