Smalhans is a refreshingly non-themed neighbourhood restaurant, perfectly suited for St. Hanshaugen’s hipsterfied gentry. The rustic but tastefully furnished restaurant is popular and usually filled with a varied mix of young and old, hip and not so hip. For lunch there is simple fare like soups, burgers or fried eggs. Between 4 and 6 pm you can buy “Dagens husmann”, a reasonably priced well-cooked meal served family style. The food on offer might be anything from old school everyday Norwegian cooking like raspeball (potato dumplings) with boiled salt pork to French classics like bouillabaisse or Korean crossover-style steamed buns. In the evening the menu changes to a more sophisticated daily set menu where you can choose between five (Smalhans) or nine courses (Krøsus). A pleasantly acidic halibut ceviche with tiger’s milk and peanuts starts off our meal. Alongside the ceviche, a salad of beets, hazelnuts, kale and kubbeost (a fresh farmhouse cheese) is competently prepared. The lamb shoulder confit is tender, juicy and flavourful in a rich sauce of olive oil and butter with an abundance of fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes. An escalivada is served alongside – a Catalan dish of roast vegetables. While tasty, it’s marred by undercooked aubergines. Dessert is a variation of the classic Norwegian waffle, albeit a slightly flaccid specimen, served with bilberry sorbet, bilberry compote and salt caramel. Interesting organic and natural wines dominate the wine list and the service is informal but charming and effective.
Smyg used to be called Sinne and was the second location of the renowned Porvoo restaurant. Now Janne Aaltonen is running things on his own with Chef Karri Davidson. The charm of the place relies much on the back room, a three-storey-high space now decorated with greenery that they call The Garden. It’s something for other restaurants to envy. The menu relies on domestic produce, fish, game, vegetables (especially spring “primeurs”), and wild berries. The result is usually inventive and tasty. Lamb pastrami is delicious with Jerusalem artichokes prepared in two ways. But the flavour of smoke in the pheasant is a bit overpowering. The panna cotta has a hint of thyme and is accompanied by wild-tasting bilberry sorbet. In the centre of Helsinki the competition can be tough, even though at lunchtime there are enough customers to go around. In the evening Smyg has tried to attract a new clientele by dining without the lights on, as is now the trend in some cities. In the dark room guests are presented with a menu they have no say over. Pay as you like. The events have been surprisingly popular and are planned to continue come the dark season.
The best thing about Smör (meaning “butter” in Swedish) is the milieu. In this house by the riverside the cellar vaults date back to the 16th century. In April the starter was exemplary and brought the promise of spring: a crisp nettle croquette, kale pudding and deep-fried sea kale. It is easy to eat one’s greens and be happy here. The main course is fried hake, like cod from the North Sea. It is accompanied by braised pak choi, a wintery carrot, and new potatoes. Dessert is a pile of meringue and raspberry sorbet. The service on this visit is less than perfect. Our wine is brought to the table without explanation and although the restaurant is empty, we can’t seem to prevail in having them turn down the Finnish pop music playing in the background. But they must be having an off night, since Smör is beloved by the locals and tourists alike.
Snapphanarna from Göinge were, according to the history books, warlike peasants who fought against the Swedish crown. At the Malmö restaurant of the same name, the battle is over how to refine what grows next door. The brothers behind Vollmer, Malmö’s best restaurant where seasonality is king, have established in Snapphane their own casual dining restaurant following the same motto, albeit in a more relaxed and pared down form. Snapphane is a tightly run establishment. The chefs work with quiet concentration in the glass-enclosed kitchen located in the middle of the space. The menu is short and the wine list, too. Ebbe Vollmer with his staff guide diners expertly through the evening. Snapphane breathes fine dining, with its sober decor, perfect lighting and its hyper-modern kitchen. And they succeed in the details, not least in the bread serving of small stuffed rolls that make us happy. The parsnip-filled bun sprinkled with liquorice powder in particular elicits shout for more. Later we receive a plate of buttery, sweet-salty salsify with trumpet mushrooms. It’s fiercely good. With each wine serving we get a lesson in oenology. A pinot noir from New Zealand matches the guinea fowl served with a crazy umami-dense purée of fermented vegetables. The dessert is an ode to autumn: dark pink strands of coloured, crunchy pear, a pear parfait rolled in blackberry powder, and a lovely cream made of white chocolate and buttermilk. Snapphane is a bargain among Malmö’s restaurants, especially for those who seek excellent service and good ingredients cooked with a gentle, steady hand.
The crispy piece of bread is cut so finely it’s more like a chip. The plain tomato spread is anything but plain and the patatas bravas are cooked to perfection. This tiny restaurant may be laid-back but their intentions are clear: outstanding quality and superlative service. Owner and Chef Matti Romppanen moved from his Nordic restaurant in Barcelona back to Helsinki and decided from the word go that only the best would do. The space on Fredrikinkatu specialises in tapas and while the menu stays the same, daily blackboard specials provide some variation. The tartare on the regular list is fresh and lightly stuffed with chives, parsley and thyme. Iberico de Bellota ham and the aged Manchego cheeses, which come with quince jelly, are all carefully chosen. The wine selection is small but well curated from the slopes of Mount Etna to the plains of Spain – wines that add plenty of backbone to the food they accompany. If you think the next course is taking too long, read the newspaper the last one came on and remember that everything here is made with heart. Before you know it the waitress will arrive, smile broadly and describe in detail what simple delights your palate is about to experience.
You’re going to want to make this your new living room. SOMM is a wine bar where you actually feel at home, it’s where you’ll find Vilnius’ most knowledgeable sommeliers and wine experts. Although wine culture is a novel trend in this city, it’s developing fast. That said, SOMM is not only about the grape juice, it’s also most definitely about the food, great dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. Even though they aren’t complicated, they are worthy partners to the exemplary wines. Raw mackerel with crispy house bread and silky unctuous buffalo milk butter is scrumptious and pairs well with a Vermentino. The tapas-style bite is actually large enough to warrant two different pairings. Talk at SOMM quickly shifts from wines to local life, the savvy staff is particularly well informed about what’s happening in Vilnius, so not only do you get food and drink here, you also get a dose of hipster-intel and can plot your next move. Just like at your local back home.
Time stands still in the beautiful idyllic surroundings of the open-air museum replicating a historic village, Den Fynske Landsby. Unfortunately, the staff fail to establish an air of authority, comfort and tranquillity around our table, even despite the arrival of tried and true Sortebro Kro classics, such as the straightforward tomato quiche and crisp croquettes of pork with a smoked mayonnaise dip to get us started. Of particular note are the strong wine pairings with the maritime dishes. The Burgundy glasses are filled with a full-bodied, fruity vintage that perfectly accompanies roasted cod garnished with fresh pink salt bombs of lumpfish roe and the concentrated sharp taste of onion disguised as small pickled ramson capers. Also on the plate are diced pickled gherkins and a thick, rich bisque made from the cod’s bones to tie it all together. While the cuisine is excellent, our waiter is a bit robotic as he lists the wine options and leaves the dough for the bread with the oyster dish to rise in a jar on the table before baking. The inn nurtures a great love of baking, as reflected in the bread basket with homemade varieties such as sourdough bread and focaccia.
You can still pop in and hope for a spot here, but now you can also book in advance, which pleases those of us who want to ensure a place at one of the three communal tables. While getting acquainted with our neighbours, we try to choose from among the evening’s dishes. It’s not entirely easy, but thanks to the small plates concept we can order several. Speceriet is the “bakficka” to Gastrologik, a casual dining side that shares a kitchen with the fine dining establishment, so while the dishes are less sophisticated than at the main restaurant, they are delicious and composed with playful finesse. A fluffy “blini” made from chickpea flour arrives in a small skillet topped with the finest bleak roe and delightfully smoky sour cream – a brilliant start. Our knowledgeable waiter recommends a glass of Ca ’Lojera from a magnum to go with it. Egg sandwich with truffles? Yes, thank you, and at every brunch for the rest of our lives, please. Under a sunny-side-up egg hides an umami-fueled Parmesan cream, sautéed onions, and a slice of brioche. Over all of that they’ve sliced a generous amount of Gotland truffles. The attentive staff look after us, making sure the flatware holders on the tables are full and chatting with the diners. A duck breast that’s so tender we almost get tears in our eyes is pleasantly accompanied by pickled oyster mushrooms and the smoothest pumpkin cream. Do we have the energy for one more dish? Oh, yes. And then dessert – Jerusalem artichoke ice cream in caramel sauce with a chocolate crisp from Sthlm Bean to Bar.
Things are so pared down here that the wine glasses lack stems. The space consists of only a few square meters, with black and white furniture framed by exposed brick walls located at an address that is easy to forget. But that hasn’t stopped the whole city from finding it. Since its inception five years ago, Chef Antero Aurivo has devoted himself entirely to capturing the essence of authentic Finnish gastronomy and presenting it in the clearest of ways. The evening’s barely underway and he has already turned winter potatoes into perfectly crispy small spheres, beets into sweet-soft pieces of candy and the forest’s mushrooms into crisps. Vegetables have the leading role in the four and six-course menus. Meat and fish are also present, like the pike that has barely crossed the border from raw glassiness and swims in a deliciously oniony-sweet fish broth. It takes a lot of composure not to gorge ourselves on the signature sourdough bread with fluffy butter. Restaurant manager Marc-Antoine Marcoux handpicks natural wines with justified self-confidence and changes them often. Åland lamb and Jerusalem artichoke are perfectly matched with a buoyant but not too thin southern German pinot noir. Late harvest loin-de-l'oeil is absolutely sweet and delicious with malt cake and blueberries with whey sorbet, even though we manage to drink most of it with the preceding tiny apple pie. Overall there is nothing at all to complain about when the friendly, cool and low-key team at Spis provides the kind of completely seamless food and service experience that we so often crave but rarely encounter.
You would have to have a heart of stone not to fall in love with the welcoming, urban, relaxed atmosphere at Spisa. We also fall a little in love with the knowledgeable and attentive waiters and waitresses, who really do their utmost to ensure a good experience. Are we hesitating between two wines? They suggest a sip of each. How is it cooked? They’ll check with the chef. Share a glass? No problem! We are equally happy about the cheeky drink list with sangria and rebujito variations, and the many gin and tonic combinations. The food that travels over the counter from the huge open kitchen along one long side of the dining room is well prepared and comforting, with deliberate crowd-pleasing French-Spanish-Italian hits in their own interpretations. There is something for everyone – in the absolute best sense. The crispy-fried boquerones with lively tarragon mayo and poached eggs, and the coarsely cut beef tartare with tangles of fried potatoes both taste exactly as yummy as they sound. We cannot imagine anyone who can resist the totally decadent, creamy, al dente risotto topped with browned butter, sweet, nutty roasted chestnuts and grated truffles. A cool Langhe nebbiolo to go with it is just what the doctor would have ordered. The main courses are large, and a little less daring flavour-wise, but they work fine at a family-style dinner where everyone picks from each other’s plate. Just like at sommelier and restaurant king Björn Persson’s other restaurants, the wine skills are far above average here, and you can safely let yourself be guided by the rather short but well thought-out list.
A richly aromatic juice of blue grapes from the garden is one of the non-alcoholic surprises. Another is a milk drink from Järna, shaken with coffee beans and orange peel. Delicious. The milk drink is served with a ganache with lingonberries and a meringue flavoured with fennel and caraway. Possibly caraway and fennel leads to thoughts of aquavit, but that is also the only association we get to spirits. In other words, it’s a shame that the restaurant has such a misleading name. Namely because some of Sweden’s best non-alcoholic beverages are served here – and those that do contain alcohol are far removed from the spirit world. It starts with a sweet-sour non-alcoholic sprattelsaft made from rowanberries served with a snack of fried cabbage with pickled radish. It’s an excellent combo, and the “alco-hol”alternative, biodynamic Gelber Muskateller from Steirerland in Austria, marries equally well. The most spectacular beverage serving, however, is a tea carefully prepared at the table using a piece of fermented teacake from 2012. The deep earthy forest notes are in complete symbiosis with a dish of grilled celery tops, wild ramson capers, funnel chanterelles and currants in varying stages of maturity. Chef Petter Nilsson has a confident palette and a creative handle on vegetables. Some of it is extremely daring, like in three black lumps on a plate: a fermented garlic clove, a baked beetroot and a charred baked radicchio. Three shades of black with deep, mouth-filling flavours in different textures. Entertaining, especially with a nice piece of lamb tenderloin. The focus on craft beer and modern natural wines is brilliant. A chenin blanc from Domaine Mosse in Loire has deep fatty notes and wild honey aromas that make the lobster ravioli filled with goat's cheese almost explosive when it meets the lobster broth with kombu seaweed. The beverages are managed by Hanna Lilja, who has been schooled by her predecessor, Erika Lindström. A Macon Rouge pinot noir brings out the muted root vegetable flavours in a dish with zander, grilled turnips and bottarga. With its superior drinks and one of Stockholm’s most interesting menus, a visit to Spritmuseum is one museum experience whose experimental exhibits are sure to entertain.
You have two choices here: raucous gastro-pub vibes and majestic views of St. Peter’s Church or formal dining in a more muted atmosphere: The former is on the ground floor, the latter on the first, both serve the same food, both are located in Riga’s new, ambitious Redstone Boutique Hotel. St. Petrus’ young chef, Maksims Cekots, has considerable experience from restaurant kitchens abroad. Perhaps this explains his distinct culinary style and use of local ingredients. Lightly salted sturgeon, marinated pumpkin, and mushrooms form a delightful, hearty combo, much like the cream of mushroom soup with blackberries and lentils. If you prefer meat there’s a lovely selection of cuts that get fired up in the Josper grill, all are served with various sides and sauces. This restaurant-newcomer stands out with its bold experimentation and prejudice-free attitude toward food and drink. St. Petrus is like a young wine with good potential, it might just benefit from some maturing in the cellar
In a short amount of time Stadskällaren in central Skellefteå has become an institution in town. With courage and decisiveness, the old paint shop a few steps down from street level transformed into a restaurant entirely integrated in the well-stocked delicatessen – or is it vice versa? It does not matter, for this is where anyone interested in food gathers, either to eat in or to buy a complete gourmet bag to cook at home. The restaurant has its own twist on tapas with small plates that make it interesting for a variety of palates. The menu is divided into four sections: greens, meat, fish and sweet. Five small dishes are equivalent to a three-course dinner. Each component in tonight’s composition of moose, Jerusalem artichoke, lamb and smoked cod is excellent in and of itself, and plays in perfect harmony. The beverages are selected with great care and local character. Even if the setting can at times be a tad noisy, don’t let it get to you. Instead, sit back, enjoy the atmosphere and let the very professional staff take care of you.
The beautiful seaside hotel was built on the northern coast of Bornholm in 1911 and has been a source of relaxation and pleasure ever since. Needless to say there is a magnificent view of the Baltic Sea from the restaurant. After a few delicious appetisers and a visually and orally pleasing variety of potatoes and herbs with the appearance of a bird’s nest topped with a quail egg, the next dish is the most satisfying of the evening. A perfectly cooked lobster tail is amazing in a sauce of browned butter with a hint of ginger and soy sauce. The green cabbage leaves on top add a touch of bitterness to perfect the balance of the dish. In our glasses we are served a biodynamic 2014 pinot d’Alsace by Marcel Deiss which turns out to be a flawless match with its full body, slight sweetness and hints of vanilla. Throughout the evening restaurateur, manager and sommelier Henrik Petersen exudes joviality and professionalism and creates a pleasant and warm atmosphere in the entire restaurant. The wine list is the most impressive on the island with a particular fondness for big Burgundies. This time, however, we place our trust in Petersen’s hands by choosing the wine pairings and do not regret it for a second. The great flavours continue with a piece of mackerel with burnt skin in a rich bouillon with a purée of beans topped with aromatic ramsons, which are abundant on Bornholm. The stuffed quail that is up next is juicy and savoury with an intense sauce made with the gizzards, and on the side we find morels, green asparagus and potatoes. The sauce and morels add depth and umami to the dish and the asparagus is crisp and fresh. Yet again the wine match is spot on. Julien Guillot’s Clos de Vignes du Maynes in Burgundy is the oldest practising organic vineyard in France with a history dating back to at least 900 CE. His 2012 “Cuvée Auguste” is made mostly from the rare pinot fin grape, from which pinot noir is descended. It gives us a lovely complexity with notes of blackberries, meadow and citrus fruits, but also some deeper aromas and flavours of spices, soil and minerals. After a dessert with fresh rhubarb, liquorice and white chocolate sorbet bathed in crème anglaise – and Sauternes in our glasses – we look back on an evening with excellent service and atmosphere, and a kitchen that cooks local, quality produce without too much modern experimentation. Stammershalle trustworthily provides you with a soothing sense of old-school well-being.
Bent Stiansen’s Statholdergaarden is still turning out plates of artistry, and his young team is fine-tuned to meet the growing competition among Oslo’s great dining establishments. A carpeted staircase leads to extravagant rooms with elaborately decorated wooden trim, ceiling rosettes, carpeting and art: classic luxury. Statholdergaarden has more in common with the posh restaurants of Paris than the rustic New Nordic establishments of Oslo. Yet in spite of the white tablecloths and formal service, it’s relaxed and jovial. The cuisine is firmly rooted in French techniques, but borrows innovations from more contemporary sources. There are many choices at Statholdergaarden: à la carte, today’s menu, or the full tasting menu. Dinner kicks of with a parade of starters – the fried sweetbreads are soft and juicy inside and topped with a dill emulsion; a lingonberry meringue is crowned with a duck liver parfait; bøkling (smoked herring) comes with fermented slices of celeriac; and, lastly, a shellfish stock and pickled halibut. Within minutes we devour the homemade sourdough bread with two butters – one with porcini powder, and another from Røros. The combo of the mushroom butter with the fennel bread is our favourite. The scallops from Frøya come in the company of fresh green peas, yellow beet and a beetroot sauce cut with herb oil. Turbot, the great king of flat fish, is served with pickled onions and a fried piece of turbot fat, onion purée, and a velouté of Turbot, broken with chervil oil. We clean our palates with a granité of rhubarb before we move on to the carnivore section. Veal from Jæren comes from the high-quality meat-producing district in south-western Norway. The veal is so undercooked in the middle that, if pieced back together, it could probably be electrified back to life, but it has a delicious taste and nice, light chewiness to it. The baked sweet celeriac, carrot purée and the red onions together with a sauce of morels go so well with the veal, we would believe them if they told us that the vegetables actually grew alongside the animal. The dessert is a grandiose ending, and a showcase of technique. With a perfect balance of bitter dark chocolate, the citrusy orange croquant, sweet chocolate mousse and an acidic fluffy Italian lemon meringue, we want to order this dessert again and again. A miniature tree arrives decorated with rose meringue, coffee chocolate and orange marzipan to end the meal. Stadtholdergaarden shows great form, with food that makes us smile and the kind of service that ensures that you leave happier than when you came.
Situated in Tallinn’s luxurious, medieval Schlössle Hotel’s magical, vaulted stone cellar, Stenhus is all candle-lit, romantic perfection. As is appropriate for the historical environment, the menu fuses cooking and fine art, presenting dishes inspired by the same. Spinach ravioli with wild mushrooms, sour cream and herb oil, mushroom espuma and potato twist references Edgar Degas’ The green dancer; surf and turf with roe deer filet, cold smoked Baltic mackerel, aioli, trout roe and dehydrated egg yolk is a nod to Peter Paul Rubens’ The union of earth and water; and so on. The dim lighting creates a fantastic atmosphere, though it’s less than ideal for discerning what’s actually on your plate. Be that as it may, Stenhus’ service is impeccable and the ambiance is plush. You’re here for the roaring fireplace and the coziness of Tallinn’s Old Town-charms.
A good fifteen minutes’ bus ride west of Oslo, as the villa density thickens and the housing prices rise incrementally, somewhere along the coastline lies Strand Restaurant. Overlooking a number of jetties where the locals keep their sailboats, profiled Norwegian chef and cookbook author Tom Victor Gausdal promises to provide a natural dining experience, free of additives and with a clear focus on organic food. He has built up a whole industry here that spans over multiple fields, and where Strand is located you’ll also find a bakery and a wedding venue along with the restaurant itself. All this heavy use has worn the house down somewhat since its opening in 2010, but the food still holds to a high standard. There are various set menus to choose from, a selection of three, five or six courses from the main set menu, or the cheaper three-course menu that’s available during a couple of hours around dinnertime. Either way, there’s no risk that you’ll leave Strand feeling peckish as the dishes are generously sized. We find ourselves with two main courses – a deep dish of oxtail, gnocchi and shiitake mushrooms and a lovely lamb dish with asparagus, both with a side of mashed potatoes that has been given a solid amount of butter. We finish this off with a platter of homemade crispbread and Norwegian cheeses (if you’re lucky you can taste the delightful, multiple-award winning Norwegian blue cheese called Kraftkar). The expensive cab ride back to Oslo centre has seldom felt as affordable.
At Studio, all the aesthetic and material parameters of a meal are attended to with unwavering mastery. Torsten Vildgaard and his incredibly competent staff serve some of the most innovative and delicious Nordic gastronomy in an extremely appealing way. Every time a dish is brought to the table, half of the kitchen staff joins in for the presentation – without ever causing you to feel disturbed or uncomfortable. Rather, it’s as if you are a dinner guest at Vildgaard’s own home. The tightly choreographed open kitchen is another innovative aspect, bolstered by the staff’s attentiveness and respect for guests and their fellow colleagues. With strong roots in Noma’s kitchen, Vildgaard long ago cemented his personal taste profile: bold umami in Nordic ingredients supported by salt and sweetness, nuanced with plenty of acidity, distinctive herbs and berries. Juniper berry seems to be Vidgaard’s signature spice. Pine, juniper berry and thyme form the spine the five rich snacks, including venison tartare with pine oil, herbs and crisp dark rye bread. A small fire of pine needles and juniper bush adds an enticing smell and makes the dish a unique sensory experience. The charcoal-roasted beetroot served with blackcurrants and pickled summer berries is characteristic of the kitchen’s boisterous flavours, elegantly elevated by a rosehip kombucha for those who choose the well-composed juice menu. One of the evening’s highlights in the seven-course menu (preceded by the five snacks and followed by two delightful petits fours) is the poached witch flounder, butchered into sections as if it were a lamb rack. Each little bone is finely cleaned and the fish is cooked with exacting precision, served with pickled onion skins, wild greens, the first ramson shoots of spring, last season’s pickled berries and a wonderful herby buerre blanc. The wine pairings complete the flavour profile, like when celeriac with fermented green strawberries and black truffle is served with a 2013 pinot noir from DuMOL in the Russian River Valley, providing perfect harmony between the acidity and notes of forest floor. A nostalgic, grandmotherly dish is also served, though in a more advanced version: hay-smoked beef cheek in a fatty jus with cabbage. Reflecting the kitchen’s respect for a meal’s composition, this main course is a true crescendo and turning point. The desserts also shine, particularly the final serving of plum compote, plum skin sorbet and plum pit foam, whose marzipan notes mesh perfectly with the creamy brown cheese reminiscent of of dulce de leche. Innovation and originality are united in the meal’s orchestration, making the experience of fine culinary arts at Studio nothing short of extraordinary.
You can now find a little piece of unadulterated French gastronomy in the heart of Malmö. Karim Khouani has left Tygelsjö to compete with the more urban Malmö restaurants in Sture’s classic (and newly renovated) restaurant premises. The combination of the hundred-year-old decor, the simple door partition that breathes cool grey luxury, and the open kitchen convey a sense of elegance. For SEK 950, you get seven dishes, six snacks and an abundance of petit fours. In this era of experimental fermentation, it is almost a relief to be served perfectly cooked lamb, or a piece of turbot that falls apart in beautiful flakes. The finesse lies in the precision of the cooking and the small, light-green shroud that envelops the lamb tenderloin in sage and tarragon. The lamb is served with the season’s local vegetables – either breaded and pan-fried, or puréed – so there is also balance in the textures. Generous amounts of black winter truffle further anchor the French flavour profile. A buttery tender king crab is wrapped in parchment-thin lardo and topped with a small dollop of Ossetra caviar and red wood sorrel. The crab is amazing, and has been handled with care, in order to achieve a perfect storm of sweetness, texture and mineral sea-saltiness. In terms of wine, there are mostly low-key French classics to suit the theme. A light beaujolais works best with the oven-baked turbot with grapefruit and bell peppers. An impossible combo on paper, but the young, tart wine works surprisingly well. A floral sauvignon blanc is not as convincing with the crab, and an albeit delightfully spicy côtes-du-rhône is too strong to be the only wine served with the amazing cheese trolley – which could be worth a visit in itself. The kitchen is, on the whole, balanced and mature without too much shouting or screaming – and gets extra points when the perfectionist is allowed to come into his own in the amuse-bouches and petit fours. The small canapés are the evening’s highlights, with small cake pieces of fresh clams and garlic mayo, herb-infused “chips”, lobster meat with caviar, and the fried ball of pork cheek. The artistic expression is as meticulously controlled here as in the desserts, where Khouani does not shrink from the traditional in combining a coffee and chocolate tart with exotic elements like mango, coconut and lime. There are few places in Sweden where it is possible to find such a passionate relationship with cheese – and the portions here are more than generous. However, the discriminating wine menu needs a bit more courage and vision to match the great French narrative on the plates.
Every self-respecting city should have a restaurant that summarises its soul – at least the fashionable part. For many years Sturehof has shouldered the role of “Brasserie Stockholm”. Open from morning to night, everyone seems to hang out or pass through here at some point during the day. The patina of Jonas Bohlin’s interior only becomes more beautiful over the years. It’s classic blond Swedish divided into several sections with a large oblong dining room tightly fitted with damask-covered tables. The entrance is in the middle of the premises so everyone can see who steps forward to the maître d’ podium. Fish and seafood are the main features on the plates and all the ingredients from sea and lake are sustainably caught. The kitchen does a pretty good job, which is impressive given the high pace and the number of diners. The house’s seafood sausage is fun as are the lovely and classic quenelles. From the Barents Sea comes cod, lightly cured and served with shrimp, horseradish and a brown butter hollandaise, so scrumptious it can be eaten with a spoon. Oven-baked turbot from Kvinesdal is served with beurre blanc, the zander comes from Lake Malaren and the apples in the finale are from Små-dalarö. The foie gras, prepared au torchon, is as good as it is heftily proportioned. The wine list follows the same brief, as does the service staff, who are multitudinous, experienced and quick. On Fridays this is a fun scene for those who slaved away in neighbouring offices during the week.
Eat like a fisherman, in his kitchen. Well almost. Šturmų Švyturys is that rare gem of a restaurant that makes you feel like you found your way into someone’s home. When you enter the place you’ll find yourself in front of a small fish counter, yes, it’s a shop too. To the left is the kitchen, its door always open, allowing the most irresistible aromas to waft straight into the dining room on the right. A small kitchen and a room (albeit with another dining room in the basement) just like a fisherman’s abode. This is what Šturmų Švyturys is like. The food is made from what you can see at the shop counter. Impossibly fresh, and honest, just like at the countryside, sister restaurant Šturmų Švyrirt. Nobody can resist the famous fish soup here, and the smoked lamprey, neither should you.
Lithuania’s ports are dotted with simple canteens where fishermen eat upon returning from the sea. Šturmų Švyrirt, in the postcard-perfect village of Ventės Ragas, is one of them. It’s rustic. You should order the famous fish soup that doesn’t even have a recipe (it depends on the day’s catch) but comes with the added fragrance of the here-and-now and is made with skills that have been handed down from generation to generation. It’s fresh, honest and very authentic food served with a side of back roads charm, as Ventės Ragas is located far from anything else, in the Curonian Lagoon. There’s a small guesthouse nearby, we strongly recommend staying overnight. In the early morning hours, you can see how the fish goes straight from the boat and into the pot. The restaurant also has a Vilnius outpost, serving the same famous soup, but of course it tastes better here, when enjoyed harbor-side, next to drying fishing nets that add an extra layer of quaintness.
The large windows facing out towards Frederiksgade, the somewhat dilapidated, glossy white-painted floors and the raw oak tables scream bistro, and leather aprons on the waiters, tattoos and long beards play into this style, but the food is exceptionally beyond everyday bistro. We are addressed in a relaxed tone, feel that we are being attentively served, and the presentations are precise with an appropriate degree of detail. The wine list has an affinity for the low-sulphered styles, but with varying degrees of success. We start with finger food in the form of small, soft and chewy Danish tacos with an elegant crab salad, while a small crustade with lumpfish roe gives us a taste of the kitchen’s generally delicate style, with its ultra-light flavours. On the other hand, a brilliantly crisp, precise and tender malted dough quiche with mussels, raw pickled cucumber cubes and kohlrabi packs powerful flavour, but is unfortunately dominated by a cream of smoked fresh cheese. However, Domaine Rietsch’s auxerrois 2015, with its slightly bitter and umami-saturated fullness, tempers the smoke and the two work nicely together. Dry-aged beef (103 days) is featured in the next dish, cut into raw bright-red flakes, over a kind of tartare of cauliflower and Havgus cheese, with a topping of French sorrel. The deep flavours of the dish harken back to the Stone Age, but the acidity is too weak; meanwhile, it’s impossible to determine whether Les Parcelles Tète Nat was chosen because the dish originally had acidity, or due to the sommelier’s wishful thinking. There is no bread with the food, but the bread arrives as its own dish, fried and oil-drenched with powerful flavours and accompanied by a fresh, spring-inspired relish of veg and almonds. It’s light-hearted, delicious and much-needed at this point. Our sommelier demonstrates keenness in the choice of Hervé Villemades Les Souchettes 2015 from Cheverny, a wine with extreme malolactic character; it’s paired with the last season’s Gråsten apples, slow-baked for amplified flavour and topped with caviar of white sturgeon and a divine reduced buttermilk with browned butter. Underneath it all is a relish of pickled fermented beach plants. It’s a memorable, inventive and ingenious dish showcasing fundamental culinary elements in synergy: crunch, softness, creaminess, sweetness, acidity and umami. Two meat dishes – one with sweetbreads and celeriac ragout, and the other with grilled, braised pork breast – demonstrate the same brilliant simplicity, including a sauce of chicken stock and walnut, where the bitter and nearly caramelised sweetness of the walnut support bitter varieties of cabbage on top of the pork. The Jerusalem artichoke caramel with a coconut-like flavour, served with pear cubes and sweet woodruff, is in the same harmonious zenith as the apple-caviar dish. All in all, an adroitly executed orchestration of contrasts.
It all goes so fast. In the traditional Tokyo-style, called edomae, the name for the sushi that became the world’s first fast food in the early 1800s. In one and a half hours we’ve enjoyed 15 servings in the form of an omakase, i.e., the chef’s choice. Carl Ishizaki packs a big experience into this little room, which is cramped and rather spartanly furnished. Behind the counter he and his mates assemble the servings with a light hand and good humour in disarming, long-sleeved undershirts to the tune of 80s pop music. It begins with a series of small dishes, and we are impressed by the tuna cubes with green okra, puffed rice and an egg yolk that’s been marinated overnight in soy sauce and sweet sake. We are asked to mix it all together to experience the sweet-salty-tartness in a soft cream with roasted notes. More smoke, acidity and fat are supplied by the dish with halibut and plum vinegar – perfect with the soft, elegant notes of a Masumi sake. There are mostly Atlantic fish among the eight nigiri pieces, and these are served with a slightly sweeter sake: Daishichi Masakura. The sake also gives wings to a fun variation on herring with pickled spring onions and crushed ginger. The best, though, is the seared rainbow trout with rice that’s been laced with lightly fermented vinegar. A third, more rough and woodsy sake combines nicely with the ocean notes of salmon roe and Galician sea urchin. The recommended sake pairings are an interesting journey into a new world of flavour, though Japanese beer or fresh German riesling wines are good alternatives. There is no doubt that Sushi Sho delivers – although perhaps in the fastest way possible.
“What strength would you like?” the waiter asks, when we have trouble reading the menu and wonder if they have some reading glasses we can borrow. This says something about the level of service at Svartengrens, where a remarkably well recruited and warm staff unpretentiously and safely pilot you through dinner. When the waiter explains that the flap steak on the cow sits next to the slightly drier flank – and that the tres major sits above the flatiron steak, in front of the ribs, and has a bit of the same character as filet mignon – he does so with his whole body, as if in a dance. It is precisely these different cuts that are the draw at one of the city’s hottest destinations for carnivores. All of the meat comes from small producers close by, often in the Stockholm archipelago. In the restaurant’s basement it is tenderized, smoked and cured. Then it is served with the sophistication that only really good meat can be, naked and alone on the plate, with optional condiments on the side. “Onions, Onions, Onions” is one of the better options, with memorable crispy panko-fried rings. The starters take longer to prepare, like a flower of rolled slices of dry-aged roast beef and coppa standing on end, surrounded by sugar-salted cranberries, thin mushroom slices, and bone marrow butter. Sublime. If you did not have time for a cocktail in the bar before dinner, treat yourself to one with dessert, like the little gem straightforwardly described as “sugar peas, champagne and vermouth”. The venue is often crowded, the customers young and savvy, the wall art liberal and impressive, and the atmosphere is always as high-pitched as the music streaming forth from the speakers.
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.