A short walk from Oslo’s central station you’ll find Vaaghals, a restaurant with rural Norway’s culinary poster boy Arne Brimi as one of its owners. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a solid emphasis on Norwegian cooking and preservation techniques at the core of this tastefully decorated restaurant. With the open kitchen as the main feature of its decor, an evening spent here has an obvious transparency to it. Seeing as Norwegian cuisine is normally regarded as salty, tame and umami-free, there are few places right now that do a better job than Vaaghals at glamorizing and transforming this cold country’s stiff heritage into something that feels wholly new, thoughtful and edgy. Staple ingredients find new friends, like in a dish where ramsons meet hollandaise and smoked roe as a base for a crisp Jerusalem artichoke – or when sour cream made from goat’s milk finds itself in a dessert with cheesecake and strawberries for a sweet, sour, tangy and crisp finish. Meals are made to share, and you should. Indulge in a lovely confited spring chicken thigh with variations on leek and cauliflower. Or order a handful of slices of melt-in-your-mouth ham with a strong, vinegary mustard dipping sauce. There’s a communal feeling to the whole Vaaghals experience, where you feel like you’re on the same team as the staff and cooks, and where we all can find joy and lucullian pleasure on the urban outskirts of rural Scandinavian ideas and flavours.
There’s no need to trek to the north side of Latvia to savor Valmiermuiža Brewery’s beers when you can simply take a leisurely half hour walk from Riga’s city center and visit its “embassy’”, a ministry of rural culture and traditions, right in the country’s capital. This diplomatic outpost has a short menu, because let’s face it, you’re here to drink, first and foremost. Food is but the star suds’ supporting actor, albeit a tasty one; artisanal cheese and charcuteries, pickles, a venison burger, fish and chips, bangers and Jerusalem artichoke mash. As for the craft ales et al, Latvia is way ahead of the other Baltic countries when it comes to producing small batch libations. The embassy’s mission is simple: it’s here to introduce foreigners and locals alike to beers, ciders, berry wines, and distillates. Even malt liquor, which you won’t find anywhere else. Enjoying these rustic beverages to the tunes of Latvian pop music is a unique experience. And if you get really into it––the drink, not the music––you can bring home your favorites from the shop next door.
Despite the fact that Valtera is situated in the ultimate tourist-vortex of Riga’s Old Town, it caters more to adventurous eaters than to those who are looking for the hop-on-hop-off bus and a cheap hot dog. The first thing you’ll notice upon entering a is a big blackboard with Chef Valter Zirdzinsh’s handwritten passages about his interest in local ingredients and the future of Latvian cuisine. Then you’ll take in the place itself, a humble and country-style joint, with arched ceilings, massive doorways, wooden flooring, paintings by local artists and frilly lighting. Seasonality and commitment to local products dictate the menu; dry-aged beef tartare with mustard seeds, egg yolk, onions and cheese is fanned out on slices of quick pickled cucumbers, and served with homemade bread. You can’t visit Valtera without trying the smoked eel. Although the size of the dish is relatively small, the flavor is just tremendous and the accouterments are stellar; potato confit, pickled red onions and dill sauce. The presentation isn’t bad either, the dish is dramatically brought out under a smoking cover. All of it ingenious in its simplicity. Slow-cooked pork with onions, mushroom sauce and herbed breadcrumbs is a solid main course. Don’t be surprised when the soup is poured from a copper pitcher or a dish is served in a beaker, Chef Zirdzinsh relishes creativity almost as much as he enjoys regaling his guests with chalkboard musings. The best time to visit is in the evening when the place is just crawling with people, it allows you to experience Valtera’s wild, true spirit.
A summer pavilion overlooking the water casts its golden light on Varna as the staff welcome the diners. We are escorted to the foyer and bestowed with a glass of bubbles. The evening begins in style with a bold serving of snacks to properly pave the way with lobster, an array of dips, breaded minced chicken, puffed sago grains, toasted nuts, grissini and foie gras terrine. Professionalism is a virtue here, as one indulgence follows the other. A huge slice of seared foie gras – the signature ingredient of legendary Aarhusian chef Palle Enevoldsen – balances on a bed of duck rillettes, applesauce and fried brioche topped with raspberry foam. Protein is not in short supply here, nor in the subsequent serving of cured cod. The cuisine predominantly features heavy brown sauces and is umami-packed, but generally lacks acidity. The parade of meat culminates in roasted pork tenderloin with braised cheek of pata negra pork, chestnuts, beetroot and lingonberry sauce. It’s fortunate that our uniquely talented wine server, drawing on excellent presentation and selection skills, finds a 2011 Langhe nebbiolo from Giovanni Almondo to stand up to the intense flavour of the pork, as well as a fresh and memorable pinot noir, Ara Pathway from Marlborough, New Zealand. The transition from meat to sweet fails to please with over-sweetened fried cladonia lichen on an extremely mature Gnalling cheese from Arla Unika. These flavours are offset with a chocolate bar with passion fruit and mango that frolics with a sweet Saussignac wine called Vendanges d’Autrefois. We are certainly being pampered, but we are not on a journey of experimentation and discovery. Varna is a lovely establishment with safe bets and superb service.
Nordiska Akvarellmuseet, Södra Hamnen 6, 471 32 Skärhamn
The only embellishment in this high-ceilinged room is the large glass panel that covers the whole of one wall, turning the hillsides and the sea into part of the decor. And what decor! Outside a storm is howling. The ocean is spewing foam and on the small islets the grasses are licking against the rocks. It is so windy that the restaurant cannot keep the doors open. The square wooden tables are mostly filled with couples. The waiter recommends the warm head of salad as a starter and a wine that should suit both the salad and the main course. Here almost all of the wines are natural and the beers artisanal. “That’s what we like”, he says. With the tart salad he wisely recommends a white wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation. The lettuce, briefly charred, tastes rivetingly acidic together with salted anchovies and olives. The wine is tart and slightly creamy, almost yogurty. The fish of the day comes direct from the auction in Gothenburg and the kitchen is testing new and fun, creative presentations with a lot of character from Sweden and Bohuslän. Next door to the restaurant is the Nordic Watercolour Museum, outside the window the landscape is like a painting, and on the plates, a beautifully colourful finish: beetroot ice cream with strawberries and redcurrant meringue. Lovely.
At Vendia, they call a part of the restaurant a brasserie, but the term is more a reflection of North Jutlandic modesty. The dishes served here would unabashedly be sold as gourmet at other restaurants, and the professional and accommodating service is at a corresponding level. The menu is divided into a Danish tasting menu and a traditional French brasserie menu. The Danish starters include a succulent and tender cut of pork breast, roasted perfectly so that the deliciously crisp and caramelised crust evokes dreams of summer and slow-grilled spareribs. But looking at the calendar or out the window, it is clearly winter, so the pork is joined by seasonal cabbage in an acidic and well-spiced mustard vinaigrette and slightly sticky gastrique. The flavours are intense and well adjusted, and the presentation is aesthetically inviting. The French part of the menu also allows the kitchen’s acumen to shine through. The steak is perfectly seared and the béarnaise precisely seasoned, while the accompanying silky soft and bold carrot purée and butter-steamed vegetables with a good crisp bite to them make this familiar classic even more appealing. A glass of grenache with a dark, fruity intensity and herbal notes is a proper chaperone for the steak and béarnaise, and the other wine pairings are also apt. The dessert menu features a reinterpretation of rum soufflé served in a splintery crisp shell of dark chocolate with vanilla ice cream, raisins, toasted almonds and raisin purée, all of which buttress the taste of rum. The creative juggling of flavours evident in every dish makes this “brasserie” an excellent dining choice.
The concept at Vendia brewery’s gourmet restaurant shifts annually. This year the restaurant marks its ten-year anniversary with a series of greatest hits from the hand of Chef Kristian Rise. Our snacks begin with an item from the 2014 menu, whose theme was Danish smørrebrød. The most interesting snack is the “egg sandwich” – Vendia's new interpretation – comprised of thin slices of scallop and avocado, brushed with nut oil and topped with caviar. It’s a far cry from the traditional serving, but the fine salty sea notes are elegantly supported by the richness of the dish, while the combination of flavours and textures is spot-on. The first course is brown crab under a thin layer of cauliflower panna cotta, while the edges of the plate are adorned with a colourful array of cauliflower crudité, green cabbage leaves and small romanesco bouquets. The flavours are nicely balanced between the crab and the slightly bittersweet cabbage, but the latter rather overwhelms the smaller portion of crab. The kitchen’s creations are all exacting in precision and thoroughly aesthetic, showing technical expertise in preparation and seasoning, while the service upholds an equally high standard of professionalism. Each dish is accompanied by a short explanation of the idea and source, and the wines are presented with well-chosen and precise words. One of the evening’s highlights, dubbed “infantile”, is a collection of baby ingredients. Miniature carrots and baby corn shoot up from the base of the dish, which is comprised of carrot purée, barely warm langoustine and roe of lumpfish, herring and vendace. A multitude of interesting textures entertain the palate: the soft bite of langoustine, the effervescent roe and the crisp, light crunch of the baby vegetables. A rich lobster sauce gives the dish excellent depth to go along with the immature ingredients. A German riesling trocken in our glasses has the residual sweetness needed to embrace the langoustine and carrots, and its fresh acidity exquisitely brings the flavours together. The gourmet restaurant, which is only a small part of the brewery’s facility, is housed in a small room without windows. Although the ethanol fireplace lights the place up and jazz plays in the background, the surroundings lack the aesthetic details to keep up with the high level of the kitchen and service staff. After ten years at the top of northern Jutland gastronomy, Kristian Rise’s razor-sharp cuisine shows no signs of fatigue.
This is among the first lacto-vegetarian restaurants in Denmark, and it is rare to see a top-level restaurant that does not serve meat or eggs. Sound boring or self-righteous? Well, not when a master of interpretation and restaurant entrepreneurship such as Henrik Yde is behind the venture. Much as his Kiin Kiin took Thai street food to gastronomic heights more than a decade ago, Yde has set up shop in the new Langelinie district with plans of doing the same for vegetarian fare. Veve is housed in a raw but inviting room with soft chairs. It’s a thoroughly classic serving style with new creations in vegetarian cuisine, making guests feel that they are amongst the upper echelons of gastronomic excellence. Both the kitchen and the floor are staffed with competent and experienced professionals, but this is not necessarily evident in the prices, which are rock bottom considering the restaurant’s level. Yde is known for his creative snacks, a reputation he solidifies at Veve. We are treated to wonderful onion skin chips, vegetarian “meringue” with chickpea/soybean water, and nutty balls filled with lemongrass cream that taste like a crispy bite of Asia. Four dishes stand out: the Waldorf salad is an elegant crossover between Danish, Asian and American. Crisp flakes of Danish apples, sugar-baked walnuts and celery are topped with a sharp and mild sweet and sour chilli sauce, apple granité, crème fraîche, apples and celery. A blissful pairing of Peter Lauer’s riesling from Saar in our glasses touches on the same apple notes. Salt-baked celeriac is fashionably carved at the table and is perfectly al dente with uninhibited loads of herb butter: a fantastic dish full of salt and herbs. The aroma of Provence succeeds the celeriac, as the kitchen evokes magical tomato intensity from a baked tomato perforated with rosemary and completed by a bold glass of rojal from Bernabé. The wine list is generally more narrative than dogmatic, with many excellent pairings, including the pinot noir served with mushroom soup, which delivers a full blast of umami to mark the meal’s turning point. After that, diners are served a soft and pleasant applesauce with cream and crisp topping, which leads to the final act, featuring amusing petits fours resembling spices with a good, fruity coffee. We leave satiated, both in body and soul. The common thread at Veve is vegetable-based cuisine without fanatic devotion to any one corner of the globe, putting Yde once again at the trendsetting forefront. Veve heralds a fascinating new green era in Danish gastronomy.
Valgamaakond, otepää vald, Sangaste Loss, Lossiküla
Estonia is known across Europe for its hunting tourism but only one restaurant has dared to fully confine themselves to preparing food from the game that is hunted. This, too, was opened quite recently in Sangaste Castle.
Sangaste Rural Municipality is better known for producing rye. It is a place where old stories are revived often and people keep looking for new ways to use rye. Sangaste for example makes its own rye beer and vodka, both of which you will be able to try in the castle together with your meal of game meat at Vidrik.
Sangaste Castle also provides excellent accommodation. The surrounding nature offers spectacular views every season and your hunger will be satiated by the game hunted by local hunters. The question is not about whether you should visit (or revisit) Sangaste, but when – just get your calendar and figure it out!
Vihula manor, 800 years old and proud, is one of Estonia’s most impressive manor complexes. Its restaurant also serves up some mighty progressive food. If we were to mention just two dishes it would have to be the smoked eel with beet aioli and the sous-vide bear with oyster mushrooms. Eel is a symbol of Estonian perseverance––when the seas run out of eel we simply farm it, Estonian cuisine would be nothing without fish and seafood. Bear, however, stands for our ambition and wit. Chef Fred Ruubel is inspired by the nature around him, creating a sophisticated cuisine that doesn’t try to copy the classics or keep up with the latest trends. Vihula Manor is an ideal location for a short holiday if great food plays an important role in said holiday.
Along Uppsala’s oldest promenade, Odinslund, with the Helga Trefaldighets church and Carolina Rediviva as neighbours, is where you’ll find the gastro hotel Villa Anna in a graceful 1800s building. Linen tablecloths and white gloves aside, the small dining room feels like a welcoming living room in soft shades. Nordic nature is the kitchen’s melody, and the four-course menu opens with snacks served on sturdy pieces of wood. A lot is locally produced here, like the prosciutto from Nibble farm. And the potato chips are so thin that you can easily see the cathedral tower through them, sandwiched with caviar and smoked cream. Smoked, too, is the butter with the warm sourdough bread. For the next dish we get a glass of Sancerre Le Tournebride. “Elderflower!” we have time to exclaim before they present us with plates of seared scallops with variations on elderflower. In the company of fried kale this course becomes a highly successful elderflower party. After that, zander with an entourage of rose hips picked in Uppsala and a sauce with dulse seaweed. Alongside it, chips with tapioca and algae that provide much needed crispiness. It’s fun and fresh, and the algae adds just the right depth. Finally, the dessert: ice cream with hazelnut and popcorn, crumbs of popcorn and bacon, and meringue made from Jerusalem artichokes. It’s exciting, and devilishly good, but the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon could have been more prominent. Jerusalem artichokes fit perfectly in the deliciously good meringue. The dessert is paired with a fresh and sweet little pearl, rosehip ice wine from Blaxsta vineyard. With a light feeling in both our stomachs and our step we walk down the cobblestones from Villa Anna.
Chef competition veteran Daniel Müllern lords over the cooking in three restaurants at the Ystad Saltsjöbad hotel, though we suspect that his heart is in the kitchen at the gingerbread-trimmed Villa Strandvägen. Excellent food has been made here before, but after an extensive renovation, the beautiful turn-of-the-century villa has been completely transformed. Coming to eat here is like being welcomed into a plush interior design magazine. You start with champagne in the library with an open fireplace and puffy cretonne-clad couches. The dining room is a large open room with sparsely clustered tables and comfortable chairs upholstered in matching fabric. There’s also a cosy little sofa area, and a dream kitchen in one corner with a shiny bright red French Molteni stove. Here the cooks work on an open stage, without either frying or the rumble of the fan. Müllern is passionate about seasonal produce from Österlen’s rich pantry. The menu gives you an option of either three or five courses, with some flexibility for substitutions. A great effort is made to combine food and wine. A starter with seared scallops and Jerusalem artichoke chips is paired with an unforgettable oak barrel-aged grüner veltliner. A slightly bloody and outrageously tender duck breast with baked beets, cherries and sour oxalis takes flight with the help of the noble French grenache and syrah grapes. And if you should enter a food coma, there are seven charmingly decorated rooms for overnight stays.
Villa Vest is exactly where it always has been: right on the edge of the North Sea with a view that is equal parts heavens and sea. Few places does one feel so close to the sea as when sitting in the bright restaurant and taking in the undisturbed, endless expanse stretching to the horizon. As the sun shines through the windows, the first snacks land on our table. Among these are a dried, razor-thin and crispy cabbage leaf that crunches between the teeth and serves as a resting spot for dollops of acidic herb mayo, and slices of dried lamb from owner Kim Møller-Kjær’s own herd. Symphonic mouthfuls delight with the sweetness of the cabbage, acidity of the mayo and umami from the lamb. The snacks are followed by an appetiser with slices of white asparagus resting in the juices of a sourdough, providing a distinctively complex acidity and depth from the grain. The asparagus cuts through the dish as a crunchy and fresh contrast, while rosehip oil delivers faint aromatic nuances. The menu changes according to the seasonal ingredients in supply; on this visit, oysters are part of the starter. The plate is adorned with a circular blanched leaf of pointed cabbage, brushed with a parsley paste in an attractive green colour scheme. Hiding beneath the leaf is an oyster mayo, gooseberry compote and fine bites of grilled oysters. It’s an excellent, well-balanced dish, where the mayo and the freshness of gooseberries buttress the consistency and fresh sea flavour of the oysters. The cabbage leaf has the right texture to give the dish fullness and character, while a dashi-inspired cabbage juice with seaweed adds additional deep and complementary taste notes. The dish is accompanied by an eminent oyster wine made from the German gutedel grape, whose sturdy acidity and distinctive minerality mesh pleasantly with the light metallic notes of the oyster. Kim Møller-Kjær has consistently chosen good, harmonious wines for the pairings, and he masters the role of restaurant host with effortless elegance. He pays a visit to every table throughout the evening, reciting anecdotes with his warm, infectious humour, which permeates the atmosphere of the room. The main course is a slow-grilled pork breast with variations of beetroot. The pickled beet has a penetrating acidity that would be too biting on its own, but in combination with the rich and fatty pork it finds a nice balance. The pork also comes from Møller-Kjær’s own herd, taking the trend of local ingredients to a new level with an owner who brings his own animals to work. With a kitchen that presents subtle innovation featuring Northern Jutlandic ingredients, the villa by the sea is in top form from the very start of the season.
Villa Wesset was once a private home, occupied by the owner of Progress, a confectionary factory established at the beginning of the 20th century. The solid brick building underwent massive renovations ten years ago when it was turned into a hotel, its spacious terrace a beacon of sorts that can almost be spotted from the other side of Pärnu. Progress is a spot-on word to describe the food currently served in the hotel’s restaurant. Young Chef Mart Kukk has found a fresh and surprising approach to reinventing traditional Estonian dishes, picking them apart and piecing them back together in ingenious ways. The trusty staple of pea soup is here called Smoked Rib and Pea, it’s disassembled into single ingredients, and presented with some new and surprising details. Tableside, the smoked rib broth is joined by semi-dried tomato and peanuts, making for an entirely new mélange. The classic pork with sauerkraut has also undergone some changes, morphing into a novelty with slow-cooked ribs, pickled cabbage, corn and wine sauce. There is only a soupçon of the old there to give you a hint of where the chef found his ideas. Villa Wesset’s restaurant gives you a glimpse of where new Estonian cuisine is going. The Progress confectionary was nationalized in the 1940s and subsequently fell into oblivion, Chef Kukk is bringing back its sweet legacy with panache.
It’s not rocket science. All you need is a great ambiance and cheap wine. That’s why Vina Studija is perpetually crowded, cozy and noisy, it’s the living room you always wanted, a social gathering place where you can hang out with your friends over a glass or three, and even if you loitered here every day you’d still discover new things. The wine selection is varied enough that you can go from white to red, to rosé and back again, all during one meal. That’s if you’re even here for the food. There are small, sharable plates like tuna tartare with avocado and lemon sauce, goose liver pâté and moules marinières, the menu is created to complement the wine, not vice versa, and there’s a separate a wine shop, with very decent prices.
It looked like a disaster waiting to happen when the charismatic chef of Latvia’s very best restaurant suddenly jumped ship after 23 years at its helm, Food enthusiasts all over the country were following Vincent’s fate. Us too. And we continue to do so as an important lesson is being played out in real time. In short, instead of plummeting into neglect, good old Vincent found new elegance and charm. It might indicate stagnation that the restaurant’s décor, with its contrasting tones, timeless classics and modern-ish elements, hasn’t seen the slightest change, but let’s not jump to conclusions. The new chef, Alexander Nasikailov, has been with Vincent’s for eleven years already. He’s added a tasting menu to the repertoire, a five-course extravaganza that isn’t revealed until it unravels in front of the guests’ eyes. Here’s what we’ve seen so far: Nasikailov’s, food is prepared with exclusive, imported ingredients as well as more local products than ever before, from birch sap juice to apples straight out of the chef’s private garden. Most of the dishes get their final touches tableside, adding a bit of drama, flavor and, of course, aroma. Last year, Restaurant Manager and Sommelier Raimonds Tomsons was named best sommelier in Europe and Africa by the International Sommelier Association. Just in time to spruce up Vincent’s wine selection. The list includes a De Venoge Louis XV 1995 champagne and Barriours, a rare dessert wine that can only be bought by the barrel. Previously, there wasn’t much interaction between guests and staff, now Vincent’s waiters relish telling stories about both the food and drink, it creates a much warmer atmosphere. Vincent’s is far more interesting these days, which just goes to show that sometimes it takes a bit of a shake-up to improve things.
When Ritva Blomquist moved her antique shop across the street, the restaurateurs moved in. Her formerly cluttered basement is now a wine cellar, and the large shop windows facing the street bring in natural light and give diners a view outside. It is easy to feel comfortable in this space and you can tell the other diners agree. The menu is as it should be, short and concise, and just like the venue it’s very bistro-esque. If you begin with braised oxtail, you will get a dish that looks more like rillettes, topped with pickled onions and aioli, which complement each other well. The soup of the day might be a Crème Ninon. In the middle sits a few shrimp with spinach on top. It’s pretty, tasty, and by the book. Among the main courses the zander seems to be popular, because they run out before we can order it. Instead we opt for the veal rib-eye with béarnaise, red wine sauce and mushroom cream. The dish is a bit overloaded and has a few flavours too many with root vegetables, bacon, mushrooms and green beans, but the sommelier makes outstanding suggestions, favouring the Old World. A big plus since the vintages in our glasses substantially heighten the experience. If you have any room left, the dessert list leaves nothing to be desired, but a few petit fours will suffice. On the whole, this oh-so-continental establishment is a very safe bet.
Mats Vollmer’s strongest talent lies in his ability to elevate humble creatures and make them into stars. The beet broth is a shining example. This seemingly simple little slurp of garishly Bordeaux-red liquid has an intense, fruity sourness that makes other renditions of borscht seem insipidly amateur. This is how it should taste and yes, thank you, another tiny dollop of sour cream would be lovely. The generous amuse-bouches are also tempting with a delicious little fried “kale sandwich” where two crispy leaves enclose a kale cream, topped with a sea-flavoured powder made from bladderwrack. The last one is a world-class pork belly from Olinge farm, salted and smoked over applewood then hung for three weeks. The process is described while the bacon slices are finished off tableside and then topped with sage and vinegar powder. The atmosphere is elegantly balanced, just like the flavours in the food, and formal fine dining mingles elegantly with a genuine and personal approach that brings to mind an inn in Skåne. Karin Chudzinska has a firmer grip than ever on the wine presentations – and she always has a linen napkin ready, which she folds into different shapes in order to pedagogically illustrate the locations of different wine regions. It’s much more entertaining than long reports on the wine farmer’s family relationships. She freely mixes classics, unknown gems, and natural wines, and the matches are both spot on and fun. The best is perhaps the Lugana wine from Tenuta Roveglia with its saffron notes paired with the fusion dish made from cream-poached and caramelised cauliflower, topped by crunchy, dried papadum-like cauliflower flakes and “Skåne curry” with twelve spices derived from either nature (like ramsons) or Skåne’s culinary traditions (like allspice). The result is a wonderfully multifaceted dish where Christmas vibes and India’s aromas play magically together, and with chutney made from Victoria plums. In Sweden’s most multicultural city, it is a small exclamation mark in a string of dishes that are otherwise more firmly rooted in nostalgia for Skåne. The non-alcoholic pairings have improved significantly since last year; the elegant cherry-tasting green tea with plum juice is one of the highlights. The dish that has been dubbed “Against principles” is exactly that. Control freak Mats Vollmer has resisted jumping on the fermentation wave, despite an otherwise pretty Nordic approach to food. But now he has found a way to control the bacteria as he likes and his fermented rhubarb adds juxtaposition to a tasty little mussel in an intense clam broth. Another winning number is the mushroom soup, which could be printed out as a prescription against winter depression with its deep, intensely nourishing and comforting umami. The secret involves vacuum-cooking the mushrooms to prevent even a single drop of water from sullying the pure juice that forms from the mushrooms. And of course: there’s the irresistible bread. Presented in the same beautiful rod shape as usual, but under the surface, like the restaurant, it’s been under constant development. It still has its foundation in the 100-yearold sourdough starter that the brother duo obtained from relatives on Östarps Gästgivaregård when they opened the restaurant. The first sweet kick here is the vanilla cream-filled freshly baked signature Danish pastry. The rest of the desserts are elegantly and finely tuned, like yogurt in four consistencies with pear and lemon verbena. They are fresh and light, and we appreciate that more than sugar bombs. Vollmer in its 2017 vintage is better than ever.
This austere little locale houses some of Sweden’s most defiant cooking. Both the flavours and the colours of the dishes tend toward the earthy, doing full justice to natural wines. It is easy to be impressed by the many uncompromising experiences, like a dish where topside, from a cow from Bjällansås farm, plays the main role. Under the thin raw meat lies a delicious blend of ramson cream with chips made from maple peas and the crunch of hazelnut. Eaten all together, it’s a funky flavour-enhancer in which the herb cream and nuttiness meet iron, fleshy notes. The wine, a juicy, raspberry-ish nerello mascalese from Vino di Anna on Etna, grows in the experience along with the topside. The most attractive dish, however, is a plate with Jerusalem artichoke cream flavoured with smoky notes of sugar-salted char roe on which beautiful strips of thick and pickled green rhubarb make a fanciful, impressionistic effect. An elegant flavour combo with acidity, smokiness and a deep creamy taste. A pinot gris from Pierre Frick in Alsace lived up to the dish’s acidity. The celeriac dish with cultivated mushrooms from Torna Hällestad in Skåne is no beauty, with its snake-like dumplings of celery cream winding around the pale mushrooms. But the taste – packed with maximum umami – makes us forgive the transgression. The reddish-black, slow-baked beet has been grilled with a birch sap glaze and plated on a grey dish with an airy hollandaise that’s flavoured with woodruff vinegar and dusted with powders made from beef brisket and beets. It is stylish and surprising with fatty, herby, earthy flavours that take flight with help from the wine, a cabernet franc Les Tailles from Jean-Christophe Garnier. The grilled, red pointed cabbage is an odd beauty. It covers pieces of thinly sliced lamb from Ällmora farm with naked barley and smoked mayonnaise. The meatiness and the bitter notes work well with a syrah from Saint Joseph in Rhône. It’s nice to fall into a dialogue about the dishes with all the knowledgeable people in the dining room – and they impart their passionate knowledge more than happily.
The high-end restaurant at the Hilton Hotel offers an international atmosphere with spacious modern facilities and a big open kitchen committed to the New Nordic manifesto where impeccably dressed chefs, waiters and sommeliers interact with clockwork precision. Both the wine pairings and the after-dinner selection are exquisite, and the guidance by the sommelier is knowledgeable. White, ultrathin slices of salted cod carpaccio form a colourful artwork with green from wasabi, flowers, and local herbs and delicate red from the brambleberries. The serving is excellently balanced between the distinctive fish, the hot wasabi, the acidic yet sweet nitrogen-frozen berries, and the delicate mountain flowers. It is skilfully matched with an off-dry and mineral 2009 classic riesling from Framingham in Marlborough, New Zealand, with a lovely fragrant nose of sweet citrus and peach. The next course is a deliciously smoked pork belly with a buttery brioche, crisp sweet and sour apples and bitter, hoppy notes. The real wow-effect comes from the characteristically mild gamey flavours in the little cubes of immensely tender tartare of Icelandic reindeer. Mildly bitter chokeberries and crisp watercress are served on creamy and delightfully sour fresh cheese that’s stirred up with herbs; a unique and seductive treat. Smoked, juicy wild sea trout with a pronounced meaty structure is served with fresh celery, horseradish and an intensely yellow yolk from a quail egg. After the diverse dessert of pear sorbet with fruit chunks, baked white chocolate, creamy whey cheese and lemon, petits fours and digestifs, it is time to hit the fashionable and well-stocked bar.
To turn an ordinary hotel dining room into a high-class restaurant is no easy feat. Hotel Vox, which started a few years ago, has succeeded. In winter 2016 the restaurant was upgraded under the leadership of Tom Jallow who, after guest performances at PM & Vänner in Växjö, is back in Jönköping where he previously ran several establishments. This time the food has an Asian twist. We are in the best mood from the outset, with the perfect dry martini in old-fashioned bevelled glasses. It only gets better from there. We continue with two amuse-bouches: oyster in soy reduction, and shiitake broth with fried rice paper and miso mayo. Delicious. The most beautiful dish of the evening is the scallop with mussels and avocado. The Asian take on råraka, the potato pancake, is a serious dish with, among other things, bacon and salmon. We praise the variation on Jerusalem artichoke for the root’s foam and the tasty mushrooms, though we wonder if the soft-boiled egg in the bottom was really necessary. A Smålandic classic follows this up: isterband sausage from Vaggeryd with beets in various forms. For dessert it will be pears, rosehips and local Rudenstam apples. The wine list is safely chosen and we are guided by a knowledgeable sommelier. We receive a riesling from the Rheingau with our various starters. Even the sausage finds a friend in a heavy red Australian wine from Adelaide. The dining room is clearly separated from the hotel lobby. The building itself is less inspiring; we sit in the former Social Insurance Agency(!), a cramped concrete building. But what does it matter when the food experience is better than most in Jönköping?
Clarion Hotel Post, Drottningtorget 10, 411 03 Gothenburg
In a calm, draped-off section of the grand Clarion Hotel Post, we are served a dainty, cubed starter – baked celeriac with onion emulsion, kale, and roasted sesame seeds in black and white. This beautiful confection illustrates VRÅ's concept – flavourful, deliberate, and seasonal with Swedish-Asian notes. We decide against wine this evening and choose a frothy IPA instead, a white ale from a Japanese microbrewery and green Bancha tea. The latter has been harvested in the fall and stored for three years before it reached our cups. It’s fun to read the tea menu, which explains when each tea is harvested, which parts of the plant are used, the storage time and expected taste. Our tea has notes of popcorn. The miso soup with apple, Jerusalem artichokes and mussels is fortifying. Then we are treated to ssäm, consisting of grilled char that you roll yourself into lettuce leaves and top with rice, pear chutney, pickled onions and beets, along with soy and sesame mayonnaise. It’s worth pointing out how incredibly well the Japanese daidai IPA relates to the dish; it has the distinct scent of oranges (daidai means “orange” in Japanese), which highlights the fruity condiments. We enjoy the main course – a potpourri of lightly charred (almost raw) zander, 63-degree egg, sour soy sauce, pickled red onions, salmon roe and algae threads. The desserts are smartly expedited. “What are you craving? Sweet and salty, or sour and fresh?” We dare to try the one that sounds a bit strange, a fresh cheese ice cream flavoured with soy caramel and crisp buckwheat, and our palates rejoice.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.