The country’s best establishments at your fingertips
There has never been a better time to eat out in Sweden. There are more cafes and restaurants than ever before and the definition of Swedish food is evolving by the day. For the gastronomic memory of a lifetime, foodies from around the world are flocking to the likes of Fäviken, Frantzén and Daniel Berlin, three out of hundreds of gems scattered around the country – all recently made accessible by the first online English version of the White Guide.
Since 2004, the White Guide has been the definitive resource for dining in Sweden, so perhaps few people are as familiar with the country’s restaurant and café scene as Lars Peder Hedberg, White Guide editor and publisher. The White Guide tests 700-800 establishments every year. The international masterclass and masterclass restaurants are tested at least 3 times each. “Sometimes restaurants get a bit worried when I show up,” says Hedberg, “what they don’t realize is that by the time they see me, they’ve already been tested twice.”
A taste of the sea
For an introduction to Swedish fare, Hedberg says he might take an out-of-town guest to Lisa Elmquist in Östermalmshallen, where you can sample Stockholm’s best shrimp sandwich (Toast Skagen) and other magnificent aquatic specimens, from herring to crayfish There are a number of other places you can eat world-class seafood. “I often take visitors to Wedholms Fisk,” says Hedberg. “I always recommend the simply but perfectly prepared halibut. Nothing in the world beats that fish.” But the best place to eat seafood in Sweden is in Gothenburg, where the fish and succulent crustaceans are often straight off the dock. Get your fill at Sjömagasinet’s seafood buffet or enjoy a platter of West coast delicacies at Restaurang Gabriel in the Feskekörka fish market.
Swedish seafood has been taking new shape in recent years, namely, Japanese. In Gothenburg the White Guide’s 2013 Rising Star Chef Frida Ronge runs her uniquely west coast Japanese-fusion restaurant, vRÅ, where the cod sashimi comes with crown dill and browned butter. At Chef José Seruda’s self-titled six-seat sushi bar, HOZE, chefs and foodies come to experience refined Japanese techniques applied to local ingredients. Even the ginger here is pickled in house.
In Stockholm, Chef Sayan Isaksson’s food temple pays homage to Swedish fusion on three floors with the hip izakaya, Shibumi, in the basement and the creative sushi bar, Råkultur, on the main floor. Up in the balcony of this former theatre is the show-stopping Esperanto, the highest-ranking restaurant in the 2014 White Guide. In his unorthodox fine dining sanctuary, Isaksson serves up such wonders as langoustines brushed with tallow from Swedish Wagyu cows.
A decade in the life of the White Guide
If you ask Hedberg about the biggest change he’s seen in the past ten years, his answer is: confidence. “There used to be so many influences from abroad. Some chefs had their own style and a sense of authenticity, but today – while you can still find copycats – there’s so much original cooking going on. So many different personalities and styles. It’s an extremely rich gastronomic landscape to navigate.”
Hedberg points to the “two Magnuses” as examples of chefs who have authentic, unique personal philosophies who are both at work redefining what it means to make Swedish food. He’s referring, of course, to Magnus Nilsson at Fäviken Magasinet and Magnus Ek at Oaxen. Nilsson was launched into the limelight several years ago when Noma’s René Redzepi said that if he could eat anywhere, it would be at Fäviken. Since then the theatrical sawing of the femur bone, the quail egg preserved in sheep-dung ash, and the dessert that incorporates unpasteurized colostrum milk have become synonymous with the words “new” and “Nordic” among among foodies. While lesser known outside Sweden, since Magnus Ek and his wife relocated their restaurant from its remote archipelago location to more accessible island of Djurgården they have been raising the bar for local ingredients, showcasing odd cuts of meat and glamorizing oft-overlooked vegetables through old and new techniques.
The forces of change
Mathias Dahlgren is another major force in Swedish cuisine. In 1997 Chef Dahlgren became the first (and so far only) Swedish chef to win the gold in the Bocuse d’Or. He received a Michelin star for his first restaurant in Stockholm, and in 2009 his current restaurant, Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen, became the second Swedish restaurant ever to receive two stars. In 2009 his Matbaren received one Michelin star, making Chef Dahlgren the only Scandinavian chef who holds 3 Michelin stars (2+1).
In the 1980s, the Swedish dairy company, Arla, created the Chef of the Year Award. According to Dahlgren, this was the most important development that gave rise to Sweden’s current thriving restaurant scene. “The award raised the status of chefs in Sweden,” he says, ”it made them popular.” Indeed, many winners of Sweden’s Chef of the Year award operate their own restaurants throughout the country, like Tom Sjöstedt and Daniel Räms, two Chef of the Year winners who recently teamed up to open the cozy and much-hyped Lilla Ego where a few of the ingenious dishes include chicken nearly hidden under a blanket of wild mushrooms or the house tartare made of pork (!) with crispy bits of Swedish isterband sausage. Celebrity chef Fredrik Eriksson, who won the title in 1987, now runs the kitchen at Långbro Värdshus, a cozy inn where both the affordable rib-eye steak and the special holiday buffets are good enough to bring Stockholmers to the suburbs in droves.
Over the years five Swedish chefs have taken home medals in the internationally renowned chef championship, the Bocuse d’Or. Dahlgren says this, too, has had an impact – because it put Swedish chefs on the international culinary stage. Visitors to Sweden can sample the fare of Bocuse d’Or silver winner Melker Andersson at a long list of establishments – including local favorites like Grill and Köttbaren. Tommy Myllymäki, who won a silver at the Bocuse d’Or in 2011, is now competing a second time in 2015. In addition to consulting on ventures like the popular Taverna Brillo, Myllymäki helms Sjön in Jönköping, where you can graze on smoked deer saddle and soft-baked char with sweet mustard.
Back in 2004 Chef Dahlgren was among a key group of chefs who signed the New Nordic Manifesto. This document gave shape to a movement that was taking place in a handful of top kitchens, but which is now a major influence in the culinary world. “This is what attracts foodies from abroad to come and explore Nordic gastronomy,” says Dahlgren. “The natural kitchen” is what Dahlgren’s calls his particular brand of New Nordic, which the White Guide says you can sample at his restaurant in the form of “fire-seared squid with stylish slash marks, and pure sea and mineral-tinged flavors that are bolstered by a broth of parsley and mussels and complemented texturally with chewy oyster mushrooms.”
Redefining the dining experience
Dahlgren says that in some ways he wishes he were in his twenties again. “When I was young, a chef had one career path and that led straight into fine dining, into the kitchen of a famous chef and if you were lucky, one day, you could have a place of your own. But young chefs today don’t feel tied to a career in fine dining. They have all this freedom, so you see them opening places that don’t necessarily fit our common conception of what a restaurant should be.”
That said, Dahlgren recently opened a rather “radical” dining component inside his fine dining restaurant where ten guests sit around a small open kitchen while he or his sous chef make spontaneous creations before your very eyes. Other examples of quirky restaurant concepts include Gro in Stockholm, which has only two menu options, omnivore or vegetarian, forcing you to choose for example, between a stunning plate of grilled celery, kale and hazelnuts, or lamb with Tuscan kale and spelt. In Malmö two young chefs are doing something similar at Saltimporten Canteen, where they only serve one dish for lunch each day, but have managed to consistently pack and house and capture the attention of foodies from all over the world.
“If you travel, you want to discover the place that you come to. You want to go where the locals go,” says Dahlgren. Rosendals Trädgård is one of Chef Dahlgren’s favorite spots to take out-of-town guests. This is hallowed ground among Stockholmers and the quintessential summer fika spot, with cinnamon buns and cakes in a romantic garden setting on the island of Djurgården. There are other similarly beloved spots like this throughout the country, like Flickorna Lundgren in Skåne and Gunnebo manor house outside Gothenburg.
For a typical Swedish food experience, there are classic restaurants like Pelican (where Anthony Bourdain once famously ate a pork knuckle) and the hip new restaurant, Tradition, where you can eat potato dumplings that taste like they were made by a Swedish grandmother. In Malmö, there’s Sture to curb your hankering for a giant gubbröra (egg and anchovy salad); and in Gothenburg Restaurang Kometen when you’re craving kåldolmar (cabbage rolls).
The rise of the restaurant
The frequency with which Swedes are now dining out has led to more than a few interesting restaurant trends. One is the tendency of chefs to convert their fine dining establishments into “fun” dining, or to open a casual dining component alongside. Swedes call this a bakficka (meaning “back pocket”) – and examples include Mathias’s own Matbaren and Oaxen’s Slip. If you can’t get a table at or afford Frantzén, Bjorn’s bakficka, The Flying Elk, serves up full-flavored gastropub fare and even offers a Sunday “frunch” where you can get seared foie gras with your fried eggs.
Both Lars Peder Hedberg and Mathias Dahlgren say one of the most exciting things happening in Sweden right now is the collision of a growing restaurant culture and the fact that Swedish chefs are honing in on exactly what the Swedish food culture is.
“The influences of the New Nordic movement were inescapable,” says Hedberg, “Every chef had to work though them. What you see now, however, are the different paths they are taking to explore what lies beyond New Nordic. In Sweden, this is also part of an attempt to define a new sense of Swedishness. It has nothing to do with nationalism, or even locavore-ism per se, it’s the attempt to find new expressions for what we have always had around us, our gastronomic DNA if you will.”
That, says Dahlgren, is why there’s never been a better time to visit Sweden. “Today it’s possible to eat both good Swedish comfort food – as well as a high end, gourmet take on those traditions,” he says, “The food culture that was once a home cooking culture can now be found at restaurants around the country.”
Thanks to the new online English version of the White Guide, it’s never been easier to find them. As the Swedes say, “ “Smaklig måltid!”