A foodie’s treasure map

While destination restaurants like Fäviken and Daniel Berlin in Skåne-Tranås continue to lure foodies from around the world, Sweden is studded from north to south with hundreds of restaurants promising gastronomic adventures galore.

Until about a decade ago, comfort food, or husmanskost, contained all the ingredients you needed to understand the Swedish palate. An introductory meal might include gravad lax, potato pancakes, and fried herring with mustard-dill sauce. While these dishes are still on menus, today’s chefs have deepened and broadened the definition of Swedish cuisine so that the only way to truly comprehend it is to eat one’s way through the country. Start high up near the Arctic Circle in Luleå at Restaurang CG, where a venison tartare comes with salsify, smoked marrow and ramson capers, and make your way to the southern region of Skåne to Bloom in the Park, where your ravioli might just be stuffed with rook meat. These are the flavors of Sweden today, rooted in local landscapes and ancient traditions, but resurrected in new and imaginative ways that tempt and reward the hungry traveler.

 

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The taste of a place

Few regions have such a concentration of restaurants celebrating the local terroir as the island Gotland. Perhaps because of geography, many of the island’s restaurants source primarily from local farms and most from right outside their doors, like the ingredients for the rabbit and cress dish at Gula Hönan. According to the White Guide, at the highly ranked Krakas Krog you might taste “a note of Swedish springtime” in a dish of “locally-caught by-catch in the form of fried stickleback” served in a birch-flavored hollandaise sauce.

Back on the mainland, PM & Vänner in Växjö might be the only place in the world to offer a cheese plate with a “single-goat” cheese, from the milk of Astrid in nearby Ramkvilla, served chilled in the form of a sorbet with lingonberries, or fried into balls and dipped in honey gleaned from their own rooftop hives. And in Lidköping Läckö Slott is one of those magical places where the day’s vegetables and greens have been plucked from the earth just moments before they appear alongside local bass, salmon or lamb.

While Sweden already has a number of destination restaurants like these, White Guide Editor Lena Ilkjaer says this is just the beginning. “The fact that Noma is moving to an urban garden setting on the outskirts of town will be a huge trendsetter all over Scandinavia,” she says, adding that location-driven restaurants have the ability to attract diners with more than just food. “This is the natural continuation of the locavore trend,” she says, “but instead of bringing local produce to the diners, you bring the diners to the local produce.”

On that note, she suggests that anyone who can afford it should make the trip to Fäviken. “It’s an extreme experience of place-centered eating that no one else in the country can challenge.” Fäviken is always near the top of White Guide’s list with dishes featuring local lupine in various forms, beef from “well-loved dairy cow” and cabbage taken from beneath the snow, “steamed to life, with a stylishly split emulsion of cream and kale oil” and finished with a handful of fresh Carelian caviar.

Identity politics in the capital

In Stockholm many of the bastions of fine dining from years past are going through metamorphoses. Though you can still get spruced-up pub fare at The Flying Elk, Frantzén has closed the doors on his Michelin-star restaurant in the Old Town and will be opening up in some new form on Söder in 2017. And while Mathias Dahlgren still offers glam bar food through the doors on the left, the doors to his former fine dining rooms on the right now house a vegetarian restaurant, Rutabaga. Talk about political! Chef Sayan Isaksson is the chef to watch on the north side of town. He, too, has his own empire and the parts seem to be in a slow state of change. The dining room at Esperanto splintered in two to make room for a high-end sushi bar, Imouto, and Isaksson briefly ran a soup outpost last year in a nearby office canteen and the rumor mill says something else will replace it.

 

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Malmö rising

“After Stockholm, Malmö is the most happening restaurant town in Sweden right now with lots of new, low-key places opening where you can get good value for money,” says White Guide’s Ilkjaer. “We also see many chefs who have gained experience at the top places in Copenhagen returning home to Malmö to set up their own restaurants.”

Indeed, last year was a good year for Malmö. The Michelin Guide gave out three new stars in the city, to Bloom in the Park, featuring Scandinavia’s first Michelin-starred woman chef and Vollmers. While the third has since closed, it has reopened as the already lovable SAV. Other mainstays in the city are still going strong, like Bastard, though their reputation as the city’s biggest meat lovers may be threatened by the Vollmer brothers’ new “smokery,” Malmö Rökeri, where you can order “their favorite cuts from local Linderöd pigs in 100 different ways.”

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The general consensus is that Saltimporten Canteen still makes the best lunch in town, with a panoramic view to boot. No one seems deterred that they only ever offer one meat/fish dish and one vegetarian option, with accompanying bread and beer.

Then there’s the jewel of Skåne, Daniel Berlin in Skåne-Tranås, a small village about an hour’s drive from Malmö. Chef Berlin and his parents welcome customers upon arrival, treat them to appetizers in the garden and then amaze them with stunning and delicious presentations, like his justly famous slowly char-baked celeriac.

Affordable gourmet

Of all the food trends in Sweden right now, affordable gourmet fare is the most appreciated – by tourists and locals alike. Want to get a taste of Fäviken for 145 SEK? Now you can. At Teatern, a food court with stadium seating inside one of Stockholm’s shopping malls, you can try his classic sausage and tunnbröd. Many other top chefs from around town are also featured here – you can get salmon bao buns at Nook’s outpost and ramen at Adam & Albin’s stall.

When it comes to street food, pho, okonomiyaki pancakes, bao buns, Neapolitan-style pizza, tacos and poke, are all now available Stockholm. The quality of the ingredients is high – and sometimes there’ll be a Swedish twist: chanterelle mushrooms might make an appearance on your okonomiyaki, or yellow beets in your poke. In Gothenburg, check out the noodles that have locals lined up at Ramen Ya or the sausages at Gourmet Korv. “One of my favorite places for affordable gourmet in Malmö is Scandwich at Möllevångstorget,” says Lena Ilkjaer, who lives across the water in Copenhagen, “they make fantastic sandwiches from scratch piled high with local ingredients.”

 

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But the biggest affordable food trend by far? Burgers. Locals throw down over their favorites and the newspapers of every major city now issue special “burger reports” listing the year’s top ten. Word on the street is that Tusen&2, Casual Street Food, Surf Shack Smash Burgers are the burger kings of Malmö, while in Stockholm Flippin’, Lily’s, Phil’s and Bun Meat Bun top the current list. In Gothenburg, the Avenyfamiljen restaurant group has a burger joint called Butcher’s Market where they serve bacon, black pepper and roasted garlic fries. The Barn offers hamburgers made from local meat and milkshakes in a cozy wooden-planked setting – although some argue that Holy Cow has the best milkshakes in town. But it’s at 2112 that, according to the White Guide, Sweden’s best hamburger is served. Called “The Number Of The Beast,” it contains 666 grams of prime rib meat.

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Food for the future

Contrary to the burger trend, reducing the amount of meat on the plate has been on the agenda of top chefs in Sweden for a while. Lately, it’s what makes places like Agrikultur, the restaurant at Fotografiska and now Dahlgren’s Rutabaga stand out.  A recent prix fixe meal at Agrikultur included only two small ounce-sized pieces of meat, locally caught fish, and duck shot by one of the chefs. At Fotografiska there are traces of meat or fish in some of the dishes, but you more or less have to ask for carnivorous extras. Right now Chef Paul Svensson’s menu is comprised of almost entirely local and organic ingredients, like a dish featuring half an onion, oven-baked and served with truffle cream, mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke chips. Not one to rest on his laurels, his goal is to make the restaurant 100% sustainable – i.e., free of waste.

And while opening a meat restaurant may seem rather unorthodox in the era of sustainability, at Omakase Köttslöjd Chef Mikael Einarsson and his crew have taken their nose-to-tail concept from Djuret around the corner and followed it to its logical conclusion. Here “köttslöjd,” a made-up word that translates to something like meatcraft meets the Japanese tradition of omakase and while it may sound gimmicky, no one sitting in this tucked away Shanghai-style bar slurping up pork broth and digging into aged bear seems to mind. While meat is front and center, there are no steaks on the menu; it’s used to augment a broth, or accent a scallop, and the result is a poetic statement about how chefs might use this natural resource in the future.

The Gothenburg equivalent might be Bifångst another mini-restaurant hidden inside a restaurant (Fiskekrogen) where Chef Lars Ahlström and José Cerdá of HOZE have combined forces to serve a Japanese-inspired tasting menu that changes nightly and features local by-catch and odds and ends like cod head – though don’t be surprised if the by-catch of the day includes local lamb and parsnips.

Away is nice, but home is best

If, once you’ve sampled your way through Sweden, you should find yourself tired of all the newfangled trends and longing to know what it was like in the old days, never fear. Many of the country’s mainstays of classic European and Swedish cuisine aren’t just doing what they’ve always done – they are doing it better than ever.

At Bullen in Malmö the legendary meatballs are still succulent, and at Kometen in Gothenburg, Leif Mannerström still prepares classics like Wallenbergare with peas and mashed potatoes and a rich Calvados cream sauce. In Stockholm people still flock to neighborhood krogs like Prinsen for their Toast Skagen, Tranan for their meatballs (which aren’t on the menu), Sturehof for towering seafood “plateaus”, Den Gyldene Freden for pea soup and pancakes on Tuesdays in season, Tennstopet for their S.O.S. and råraka and Pelikan for their pork knuckle.  All of the above continue to impress – and some have upped their game under new ownership or simply new ambitions.

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There is also a new breed of chefs who are finding ways to improve on old standbys, like at Oaxen’s Slip, where the weekly special might be the Swedish school cafeteria favorite, blood pudding – fancied up with smoked pork belly. Or take Stefan Ekengren at Görvälns Slott, says White Guide’s Lena Ilkjaer, “Ekengren takes classic Swedish dishes and pimps them up into something exquisite. We never thought we’d actually be excited by a Hasselback potato – but here we were.” As the Swedish expression goes, “borta bra men hemma bäst.” Even worldly, experimental chefs seem to agree – there’s no place quite like home.

Text by Cole Ruth, a freelance writer, sailor and chef. When she’s not on her boat sailing around Florida, she’s spending all her hard-earned cash on eating out at Swedish restaurants. She blogs about her adventures on her website: coleruth.com