Thereis a deep meaning to the name of the restaurant at the intriguing new design hotel Pacai in Vilnius. The processes that started in the Baltic states in1918 culminated with the three becoming independent countries. The restaurant serves Baltic cuisine. Itis the first and only such in all three states. Apart from this historic date, the Baltics are certainly similar in their Nordic landscape. Anything else, though? Itis too early to tell. The restaurant is conducting R&D to find out. The Nineteen 18is a small restaurant in the back of a large hotel complex. Its limited space is divided into anopen kitchen and a small dining hall seating just 22. Its interior isminimalist, with black-painted walls and a low white ceiling. The tables are made of dark wood and the chairs are upholstered in grey. The overall impression is formal and slightly introverted. Not unlike, perhaps, the first impression upon meeting Baltic natives...Dinner at the Nineteen 18is a single tasting menu. The dishes are kept secret until they hit the tables. The guests have a single choice to make: whether toopt for the alcoholic ornon-alcoholic matching drinks selection. The head chef, Matas Paulinas, is a Grand Old Man in Lithuanian culinary circles. It took him just a year to skyrocket his previous restaurant, Nüman in Kaunas, to the position ofthe top restaurant in Lithuania. His ambitions for the Nineteen 18 seem tobe even higher. Matas’ cuisine is honest, thoroughly original fine dining. Every concept is taken toaninnovative, original solution. Vegetables, grown on the restaurant’s own farm, dominate themenu. The most spectacular of the dishes is the turnip-stuffed turnip. A turnip is hollowed outand filled with creamy churned milk-horseradish sauce, with layered, pastry-like squares of baked and marinated turnip. Simple and clear flavors are Matas Paulinas’ signature. Hehas a way of blazing trails, doing what others haven’t tried. The food is paired with house-made juices (or if you chose the alcoholic selection, try atleast the carrot-hazelnut juice or the smoked beetroot juice to know what you're missing out on). Or with a selection of alcoholic drinks, of which some Latvian and Estonian ciders are the most memorable. The challenge posed by Baltic cuisine is massive. Each of the three national cuisines isstill undefined. So how can there be overlap when there are no boundaries? But you have to start somewhere. The first menu at the Nineteen 18is a first, brief, but appealing excursion to this undiscovered land. We look forward to the next steps.
Since the beginning of time, mankind prepared food with smoke and fire and nothing else. The invention of electricity changed everything. But to move forward, you sometimes have to take a few steps back. The frontrunner of Estonian fine dining, NOA Chef’s Hall, makes a fine art outof this balancing act. Modern kitchen equipment has been carted away into the kitchen of the simpler NOA restaurant under the same roof. And now, when the evening drowns the restaurant in shadows, if you were to turn out the lights, you’d see a smithy rather than a kitchen: hungry flames, radiant coals,and smoke... But fine dining is very much present. Preparing cutting-edge food inan ancient way isaneven finer art; the chef displays his skill unassisted by modern technology. A saucepan isbubbling on the coals, and a burning piece of timber is sometimes dipped into help with the authenticity of the flavor. There is more. But the guest doesnot need to know every secret of this kitchen. The alliance of robust techniques and fine dining is still young andfragile. There are sights worth seeing already, though. Such as the way diced lard is melted into fat in a metal cone on a bedof coals. The hot fat is then poured over thin slices of elk meatand the meat is proclaimed ready. The Chef’s Hall has two clearly superior tables. One of them is part of the table on which chefs prepare the food. Sitting here feels like taking part in making your food. Everything happens under your eye and in the hand’s reach. The other oneis the back endof the chefs’ L-shaped working table. Like the head chef himself, you won’t miss a single move by a single chef. These tables can be booked atan extra fee. Goonand request them! And one more thing to boldly order: Choose the matching selection of juices! Orif you have company, then consider having one person order the wines and the other the juices. The wine selection is delicious with its progression of rarities. But the juices are better yet. Blood orange with fenchol, pineapple-cucumber-coriander juice, capsicum-chilli-white chocolate drink... At the Chef’s Hall, the guests take their pick from two tasting menus. The longer lists eleven courses and the shorter two fewer. The cuisine, born in smoke and fire,isanimpressive experience even for the most seasoned food lover.
Magnus Ek is one of the pioneers of New Nordic cuisine. Yes, long before the famous manifesto came out in 2004. He is best known for his tireless pursuit of different plants and flavour-agents from the forest and the soil. But both at his first location on the island of Oaxen and now at the former shipyard on Djurgården in Stockholm’s inner archipelago, he forages as much along the water’s edge as on hill and dale. Seaweed, sea grass and algae of various types have been included in Ek’s gastronomy for over a decade, so of course it is here we have had the chance to try glass shrimp in their shells, swim bladders and Icelandic ocean quahog. The quahog is seriously chewy with powerful sea flavours, a real ocean tough guy, and can also be over 500 years old. Ek serves the recalcitrant old guy carved in its shell with crispy Icelandic dulse and matches its high salinity with the slightly tart sweetness of sea buckthorn. Then a series of similarly complex and confidently executed servings shows how Ek masters the marine theme and explains how he secured the 2017 Merroir Award. Kalix bleak roe is served with chips on venison topside and a cream of fermented blue plums and pineappleweed. Lightly marinated brown trout is crowned with Finnish Baeri caviar and grilled parsley. With this we drink house-made schnapps of parsley, dill and caraway, which is macerated three days before it is distilled, as the well-briefed waiter informs us. It’s certainly a digression from the house’s famous non-alcoholic juice pairings. Sweet, creamy raw shrimp from Fjällbacka mingle with a high-gloss fat cap from dry-aged rib-eye and a small piece of sirloin steak that is cooked on hot stones at the table. Smoked scallop gets a nice kick from nettles and unripe currants in an oyster emulsion with high mineral notes. A Meursault 2010 from Pierre Boisson meets it with both minerality and smoke and an excess of oak, indicating a classic tilt. The new chef/sommelier Hans Weinefalk has tossed out everything in Agneta Green’s basement that does not come from Europe. Some time into the meal a mighty piece of roasted turbot reveals itself, displayed in a wooden box, before it is served with pickled black radishes from their farm on the island. Of course there is still a focus on vegetation and the island’s wild flora, complemented now by their own garden, where they grow their favourite roots, leaves, flowers and herbs. Even stems, stalks, tops and roots have a place in Ek’s kitchen, and the ambition is to become as sustainable as possible. Yet the only entirely vegetarian dish is the kohlrabi baked in smen, browned and served with pickled peas, and ramsons for a little bitterness. Above all it is the wild-picked that is unique to Oaxen. Last fall on the island they harvested a 20-kg lion’s mane mushroom from an oak tree, not unlike a longhaired cat perched in the tree. The so-called “smart mushroom”, which allegedly has beneficial effects on various brain functions and possibly counteracts dementia, has a strange animal flavour, reinforced by serving it a hollowed-out piece of oak that resembles marrow bone. Naturally the carnivore is appeased by their ten-course meal preceded by eight snacks. Ek has experimented a lot with charcuterie and fermentation, and a thin slice of Swedish Wagyu on creamed corn in a house-made soy sauce on potatoes is certainly one the year’s highlights. The desserts are not super sweet: a roasted carrot sorbet with browned butter and hay-infused cream is based entirely on the inherent sweetness of its ingredients. But sweet tooths will never be disappointed in the ending here. The house’s little box of exclusive chocolates from their own chocolaterie is still in a league of its own.
It is impossible to visually differentiate them, the glasses containing López de Heredia from Rioja and the one with clear pressed apple juice from Urshult. But the former is creamy and sweet to the taste, the other tart and cool – and both are equally suited to the parade of amuse-bouches. But first some healing! Everyone gets a hot stone, first burning hot and after a while delightful to hold in your hand. It works. It’s actually calming – and it makes you focus, so you can take in everything that’s about to happen at PM because it’s the details that make the experience. The bread alone comes with three spreads: a house-churned cow and goat’s milk butter, wonderful smoked whitefish rillettes and lard topped with spruce tips. Oh yes, there are a lot of logs and stones to cross over. “Eat the quail egg in one bite so you don’t spill any of it”, says the waiter thoughtfully. Yes, that’s a good idea, because you don’t want egg yolk on your shirt, nor Carelian caviar for that matter. The langoustine is one of the few ingredients that does not have its origins in Småland or Öland. With a square, smooth stone as a backdrop it lies, quickly charred and naked in one of the year’s most sacred presentations. A ball of butter-basted kale keeps its distance, while a gelée-shimmering mustard emulsion watches like the full moon over them both. The service staff are calm and pedagogical and take plenty of time to explain everything in spite of the full dining room. With the buttery zander, the white gloves come on for the truffle grating. Those who want may have another glass of pressed apple juice, this one diametrically different from the first; it is cloudy, austere and so tart that it feels bittersweet in the back of the mouth. Time for snacks! The chewy macaroon with sweet black pudding cream is really something to write home about. On the whole, the entire PM establishment with its beautiful hotel, its grand roof terrace and bar, its bistro and fine dining restaurants, its lovely bakery, and its florist, is a world of its own that you cannot wait to initiate others into. Few are those who end up in PM’s dining room by chance. From old restaurant veterans to young wine nerds, they usually come from far away and purposefully. We are surprised to learn that Smålands Gräbba, a high-octane blueberry beverage, can replace a sancerre pinot noir from Vincent Pinard because each of them plays equally well with the scoop of natural foie gras that you get to spread on brioche. Tender moose comes next (respectfully accompanied by a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Chateau la Serre), but the king of the forest is overtaken by the next presentation: a brännvin case from which emerges a threesome of homemade schnapps. The one made of nettles and fennel is purely, wonderfully audacious. Yes, everything related to beverage making is in a class by itself here – beer, wine, liquor, juice – the alcohol content does not matter when it comes to the level of dedication. Lemon verbena lends the perfect green note to the sorbet in the apple dessert with beautiful flavours that transport you to a Småland apple orchard on a chilly morning. Four hours at the table and still it is with a kind of melancholy that we nibble at the last thin coin of chocolate and juniper. Oh, Småland! We will be back soon.
A big patio is protected from the harsh weather outside by the giant glass-paned roof. The wind and rain seem almost cosy when you’re sipping on a biodynamic crémant and enjoying small bites from Rogaland. A king snail is brought to the table grilled in its shell before being dressed in a vinegar gelée and ramson emulsion. The snail is a chewy yet pleasant surprise, and the chef says not to worry about any heavy metals as they’ve crushed the snail in its shell themselves to measure the metals and determined that they’re in the shell. A small sandwich of bøkling, a traditional Stavanger staple of salted herring, fits well with the crémant. The toast with herring roe and mascarpone is a snack we wish were handy in times of need – like on any given Friday, to accompany the marathon-viewing of the latest Nordic noir series. A razor clam shell is dressed in fermented pear and ginger juice with droplets of jalapeño oil to give it just a little bit of heat. After a chicken liver mousse on a truffle meringue we are led into the dining room. With its open kitchen and minimalistic interior, this room has no excess decoration so that your focus is on the food, the chefs and your dining companion. The crispbread comes on a small rack with butters from cow and goat that would make anyone happy, and we put uncivilized amounts on top of the thin, flat bread. The soft creamy texture of the milkfat against the crispy, sweet bread is hard to resist. An epiphany of umami starts off the round of main courses: scallops fried in a pan with jus made with smoked scallop roe, Parmesan, kombu and truffle. White asparagus, poached oysters and a parsley coulis with the acidity of sorrel is a tribute to spring. A langoustine the size of a forearm is dressed in seaweed butter, and the salty crust matches the intense sweetness of the moist and dripping meat. Next come turbot chops with a vin jaune sauce, green cabbage sprouts and guanciale. Then a real stunner enters: beets, oven-baked for hours, are served with beef marrow and caviar. The sweet, red, moist flesh balances perfectly with the marrow and with the small salty pearls of caviar. The serving seems too small! We drink up the rest of the juice from the little bowl. A small quail, bred on an island outside Stavanger, is matured for three weeks before it’s served here, with its innards on a small toast on the side, dressed in pickled onions. The sweet, rich taste of blood and offal is almost better than the bird’s meat, which is perfectly cooked, moist and salty. The quail comes in three servings, and the last one is its leg. With a sweet, sticky glaze it is to be eaten like a lollipop, or rather as meat on a bone like our ancestors ate when gathered around the bonfire. Thank goodness those ancestors eventually discovered wine though, for without it, this meal would not have been the same. The service at Sven Erik Renaa’s restaurant is pleasant, informative and at some points cheeky, in a good way – and the food stands out as a beacon of regional tradition and innovation.
When a man spends six years in planning, the results ought to be good. When that same man spends years training under a sushi master, the results might even be great. And if he is an entertainer of the humble yet funny sort, whose dry jokes can evoke loud sniggering among the small audience of ten, then you will surely enjoy his omakase. Chef Roger Asakil Joya calls himself an Edomae sushi master. He has an eye for raw ingredients and will show you how to identify fresh fish and which ones he prefers for his nigiri. The meal consists of 18 pieces of pristine nigiri sushi. Normae, his take on the Edomae tradition, means that nearly all the seafood here is sourced not too far from Pedersgate. The freshwater fish come from Orrevatnet; the shrimp from Sirevåg, the nearest fishing harbor, which is a wee cab fare south of the city; and the trout from the fjords of Hardanger. Everything is sourced and selected by Joya personally. The fish is of supreme quality. It’s tear-inducing in texture and taste. Laughing, he tells stories of how it got there, or of how he tasted it for the first time, which makes the wait between each mouthful seem as meaningful as the next bite. The rice comes from a small town in Japan and the Po River delta in Italy. The wasabi is grown in England, and this is a game-changer: finally, real wasabi. We start with a fresh and acidic sparkling yuzu sake that makes the grey weather of Stavanger disappear into distant memory. The small room is inviting and intriguing in all its simple Japanese complexity. On the ceiling there is a wave made out of thin oak strips. The wave tells the story of the weather that met Joya when he came to this town. Six years of wind and rain later, he has his own omakase. A room with wooden walls showcases the chef’s strength and a light green wallpaper behind the bar tells the diners he will take care of them, and he does. It starts out with a very light and fresh hot soup, to prepare the taste receptors for what’s to come. Toro of tuna and salmon have just the right amount of fat, if fat is your flavour. He is keen on the importance of cleanliness and of organic ingredients, but at the same time his salmon toro is farmed just a couple of miles up the coastline. Joya is pragmatic and as long as the product is of the best quality, he will use it. We forget any doubts we might have had when his techno-emotional take on gunkan with shrimp is served. The fresh shrimp is rolled in a gel of seaweed and soy, inspired by a guest chef he had from the legendary elBulli. It feels like a small step into modernity, away from the orthodox and almost religious setup of the rest of the menu. The grilled langoustine tail and the coal-heated trout leave the diners open-mouthed, wanting more. The drink pairings are carefully selected and span from sour beers to sweet rieslings. They match well, but these nigiri don’t need company; they are small gems all by themselves. Joya is a true Edomae, sorry, Normae master, with food that oozes with Japanese traditions yet is inextricable from Stavanger.
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.
Sweet Root is a good name for this restaurant at the fast-developing Užupis district ofVilnius. Liquorice as a herb is ubiquitous, yet slightly mysterious. It gives all cola drinks their irresistible flavour, but its main uses lie in pharmaceutical sciences. The food atSweet Root strikes foreigners as local and locals as slightly foreign. Itis a place togetopinionated about. The table is equipped with a pen and paper. The paper – the supposed ‘menu’– limits itself to listing the ingredients the guest will encounter. The dinner begins with what the co-owner and genie of the restaurant, Sigitas Žemaitis, introduces as the “principal” course –bread and butter. Sourdough bread and fresh cream butter. Both, naturally, made in the house. The guessing game begins. The bread, succulently soft with a crisp crust, is topped with silky whipped butter, which, in turn, is sprinkled with gratings of the same butter, frozen. Can the two really account for all the flavour!? The ingredients list mentions fresh goat’s cheese and cured sheep’s cheese. Perhaps there is one...or both involved? We find ourselves switching between the cutlery and the pen rather more often than normally during dinner. The staff take their time in feeding us information. Each dish is literally memorable, since the taste memory and thinking are engaged as much as the palate. Far beyond the ordinary. Sweet Root titles its cuisine a seasonal local one, but not new Lithuanian cuisine. The consensus on the definition of the latter does as yet not exist. Lithuanians are conservative about their eating habits. Sweet Root is decidedly unrestricted by such attitude. Perhaps that is why foreign languages are more common inthe restaurant. Sweet Root serves a fixed seven-course menu with drinks. Written information oneverything that was consumed is brought to the table at the end of the evening – the guessing game comes toanend.By the way, the drinks are as special as the food. If you did notpay attention during the dinner, feel free to catch up online. Thinking along brings the guest closer to the Sweet Root family and seemingly bestows a bit of responsibility as well. And just like cola drinks, Sweet Root makes people come back for more.
If there’s one place we dream of dining again, it is Søllerød Kro. Chef Brian Mark Hansen, Restaurant Manager Jan Restorff and the entire crew embrace you with warmth, offering delicious plates displaying their courageous gastronomic endeavours. The foundation of the cuisine is classic in terms of both wine and food, but Hansen and Restorff enchant and thrill us with a meal filled with enjoyment, exploration and surprise. Hansen’s kitchen manages to make caviar, oysters, langoustine, foie gras and pigeon seem bright, light and almost green. Restorff draws on the powers of his skilled nose and his deep insight to weave compelling stories and, with his empathetic understanding of each diner, he presents you with wines you will not soon forget. Take the halibut confit, served on a bed of buerre blanc with yuzu, pomelo, whitefish roe and a sprinkling of nutty fried Jerusalem artichoke and breadcrumbs, paired with the petroleum of a 2014 riesling, Ungeheuer GG, from Von Winning in Pfalz. The wine bores straight into the nutty Jerusalem artichoke and browned butter, while delivering an acidity unintimidated by the citrus fruit. The almost vegetarian dish with slices of celeriac, crisp chicken skin and artichoke balances on crisp, lightly fried water spinach and is topped with a foam of Høost cheese. This delicious serving is elevated to the heavenly by an exquisite burgundy, a 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet from Ramonet. The surprising star of the evening is Søllerød’s meat course, an interpretation of pigeon as a mosaic of perfectly roasted, petite morsels packed in crisp sweetbreads and served with mushroom-morel gelée and a whole stuffed morel. The pigeon has a fresh, light flavour, but is bursting with umami and acidic sweetness from a special “Russian” onion. The whole dish is bolstered by Diego Conterno’s Barolo Ginestra. The desserts at Søllerød Kro are not to be missed. The restaurant is renowned for its excellent pastry kitchen, and Hansen has an innovative style all his own. Symbols and shapes are at work here, so that by the end of the meal you find your senses elevated and attuned to the artistic culinary creations. We sample all five options: mango, yuzu and yoghurt as leaves on an exotic flower; monochrome parsnip in flakes with honey and chamomile; “The Snow Queen’s Tale” with coconut, passion fruit and vanilla; “Well-insulated Green Fantasy” with pistachio, thyme and hay milk; and the brown finale with chocolate, walnuts and arabica. The standout of the five is the pistachio dream, combining crunchy nuts with the creaminess of the biodynamic milk, whose sweetness is spiced up with thyme. The inventive desserts shine even brighter with the Beerenauslese Scheurebe in our glasses, and we conclude that Søllerød Kro offers one of Denmark’s premier dining experiences.
Since 2001, Ti Trin Ned (“Ten Steps Down”) has been a culinary oasis in Fredericia under the whitewashed vaulted ceilings of the former fermentation cellar of a distillery. White damask tablecloths, Wegner chairs and golden designer lamps create an unpretentious elegance, and the staff demonstrate a finely-tuned ability to maintain relaxed precision in their presentation. This isn’t the place to come for avant-garde provocation, but for classic craftsmanship and cuisine with roots in the local soil. We begin with snacks that come from the restaurant’s own farm outside of Fredericia: honey-glazed carrots sprinkled with fruity blackcurrant powder, Jerusalem artichoke skins filled with a luxurious cream of truffle oil and sunflower seeds, and delicate kohlrabi slices folded as dumplings around pungent sauerkraut. “Fish sticks” made of bakskuld (salted and smoked witch flounder) and cod are perfectly crisp and salty, while a meatball with malted barbeque sauce is umami heaven-on-a-stick. It’s an impressively promising start. We are paying our visit in the midst of darkest February, when kale is the first – and only – harbinger of spring. The kitchen bravely serves four variations – purée, powder, leaves and kale sausage crumble – with poached cod from nearby Skærbæk Bay. The seaweed-like intensity of the powder and a metallic tingle on the palate is counterbalanced by the acidity of a classic Danish “grandmother dressing” (traditionally made with heavy cream, lemon, sugar, salt and pepper). It’s a beautiful and honest interpretation of the season. The fine art of constructing a dish from many elements with a unified result is on display throughout the evening. Tartare of salt-baked beetroot is served with horseradish cream, sour gherkin gelée, shredded duck breast and ramson capers; it almost tastes like kimchi. It’s superbly composed and the cool fruit of a 2015 Planeta from Sicily’s Etna region is a competent pairing. The wine list sticks mainly to Europe, and the menu’s pairings are not from the hipster cellar, but sure-as-Sherlock prove masterful. Of particular note is Château de Montifaud’s Pineau des Charentes, where faint alcoholic strawberry notes are superb with the butter ice cream, parsnip purée and sour plum. But prior to that comes the main course: fillet of beef with bordelaise; a classic dish from a classic cut of beef. The sauce is silky-smooth and beefed-up with bone marrow, while the meat from Grambogård finds fresh contrasts in the crisp garlic and pickled celeriac. The dish is like a decadent reward for our Protestant journey through the empire of cabbage. Ti Trin Ned excels at both classic craftsmanship and seasonal vegetable-based cuisine. Sometimes we find ourselves wishing that the kitchen would aim more for ultra simple but daring dishes, such as the sublime sorbet served as our pre-dessert, made with birch sap from the restaurant’s own farm, but no one can dispute what the couple behind this establishment has achieved: 16 years with international honours, the affinity of the local community and a kitchen deserving of its prominent standing in the world of Danish gastronomy.
It has been a little shaky at the top of the middlemost of the three Gothia skyscrapers, but now it seems like new Head Chef Gabriel Melim Andersson has his house in order. Even if the place at times seems like an anachronism: a formal fine dining restaurant for business dinners in an era of casual fun dining when food enthusiasts eat on their own dime. You could say that the restaurant passes through a narrow window in time, thanks to a service staff who, in spite of the starched grey uniforms and golden sommelier brooches (yes, all are certified sommeliers) succeed in creating a warm, intimate atmosphere and manage to correctly adjust the tonality to various types of guests. Not that there are so many; it is pretty empty in the large dining room with its glass walls facing out towards the city’s nightly glitter competing for attention with the plates that rain down on the table. The six amuse-bouches are fireworks from the start: the opening quince meringue with sturgeon caviar from Bulgaria sets the standard. Then comes the house’s signature: the small yet highly aromatic slice of fresh mushroom atop a mushroom croquette that tempts in a pas de deux with a blood tartlet, Kalix bleak roe and orange marigolds. That we are in Gothenburg is confirmed by a charcoal-grilled langoustine on a thin rye crisp, served with a crown dill emulsion. It’s almost like Leif Mannerström himself were standing in the kitchen. The bread presentation continues to be one of Sweden’s most entertaining. A brioche is stone-baked with bay leaves, tableside, naturally in the form of the iconic Hönö flatbread. The wine pairings are well chosen, even if the classic top wines, primarily from the United States, which were present here a couple of years ago, are conspicuously absent. The sommelier now shows his skills in the non-alcoholic beverage pairings. The actual tasting menu jump-starts the meal with a delicious brown crab with sour milk, whose mild umami is hidden under a slightly over-worked arrangement of green algae sails. Bonny Doon’s Verjus de Cigare made from the unfermented juice of grenache blanc and mourvèdre grapes supports the dish with its aroma and lively acidity. The evening’s highpoint is the crispy pan-fried cod loin with small pieces of corn under paper-thin daikon slices and flower petals in an herb-split jus, scented with puffs of smoke. A non-alcoholic spätburgunder from Bernard Ott in Austria matches the dish as nicely as the chablis, a 2013 1er cru Forêt with both mineral and floral notes. Next, an “anjou noir”: Maupiti from Clos de L’Elu, with its spicy fruitiness, is a devoted husband to the stylish dove from Skåne served with fermented plum and lilac under red pointed cabbage. Yes, there are a lot of floral displays here, even in the middle of winter. They continue all the way into the sweets, ending with violets and hibiscus. You can choose something from the bar to go with the sweets, but a few of these four scrumptious bites are tinged with alcohol, minimizing the need for liqueur.
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.
Õ is a letter unique to the Estonian language. Itisso tricky to pronounce that not even every Estonian has mastered it. The islanders of Saaremaa deploy another letter, Ö, in its stead. The difference between the two is exactly as big as that between the cuisine at Ö and all the other Estonian restaurants. Every dish at the Ö is seasoned with Saaremaa’s humor. To avoid losing itin translation, the restaurant has prepared a small simple written guide to the provenance of each dish. An inventive solution! The guest won’t be spending any energy on decisions at the Ö. The choice lies between two tasting menus. The Taste Journey takes you through seven courses and the Taste Exploration through eleven. A specially composed drink selection can be ordered to match either. With one exception, the drinks are alcoholic. A non-alcoholic drink selection is not offered. The question of drinks is the biggest independent decision the restaurant trusts the guest with. The drink selection begins with Tanker’s craft beer Imperial Sauna Session, brewed with real birch leaves (the stuff that Estonian traditional sauna whips, used to administer gentle beatings, are made of!) and continues a winding journey around the world. A cocktail, a sparkling South African wine made with the Graham Beck method, raisin-flavored local kali(kvass or root beer), a rosewater-scented North Italian Cantina Tramin Kellerei Gewürztraminer... A conservative restaurant-goer might be taken aback at first, but will notregret a bold decision. The drinks match the food perfectly. The dishes stay within the Estonian culinary boundaries, but they traverse the entire country, from the beach sand to the farmyard to the ancient forests. Roach, a fish generally left to the cat, is served in tiny pieces as salty tartar with soured milk cream andbread cream. This is modern fine dining based on rustic dried fish, soured milk, and rye breadas black as sin. The perch pike, wrapped in lightly salted lard and baked on coals, iscomplemented by potato cream flavoured with wine and a forest verde of herbs and weeds. The Ö offers modern Estonian cuisine at its finest. The written guide serves as a useful introduction to its semiotics.
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.