In the early 90s fine dining in Oslo was a stuffy affair, with predictable menus and besuited waiters. Palace Grill changed all that when it opened in 1994. You got great cooking with high-end ingredients, but it was all presented in a way that was both rebellious and delicious. The “rockekokk” – the “rock and roll chef” – was born. The great food combined with the no-booking policy soon meant that queues of diners formed, with a separate line of young chefs wanting a chance to work in the kitchen. Most of Norway’s celebrity chefs have had a stint at Palace Grill. Twenty-three years on, a lot has changed in the restaurant world, while at Palace Grill much has stayed the same – from the brown decor and the empty bottles on the wall to the background rock music and the mischievous attitude. But that doesn’t mean Palace Grill is outdated: Rock and roll will never die. As we’re seated, our glasses are filled with a Pouilly Fumé, “Triptyque” from Alain Cailbourdin. The compulsory ten-course set menu kicks off with a soup of halibut, shore crabs and miso, a punchy taste of the sea. Crispy chicken skin with lamb tartare and shiso give a quick jab of umami. The meal progresses through a bountiful selection of seafood and shellfish, featuring scallops, langoustines, oysters, and skate wings. A dish of mussels with bone marrow is delicious, in which the marrow offers an interesting contrast to the briny mussels, both in flavour and texture. But the high point of the meal is the pan-fried crispy-skinned mackerel with browned butter, white asparagus and hollandaise. On first tasting the buttery mackerel, one expects the composition to be too rich, but a beautifully balanced hollandaise with plenty of acidity counters the fat, and the toasted quinoa adds crunch. The volume is turned all the way up for this classic rock anthem of a dish, but the execution is of such a high standard that every note is clear. A subsequent dish of pan-fried duck breast with foie gras is classic French cooking at its best, and the rich sauce makes us want to lick the plate clean. The dessert is a fun and delicious interpretation of the chocolate-covered popsicles from childhood. The wines are traditional and of a high standard, with an emphasis on France and Spain. Service is professional, but with a rowdy attitude that only sometimes seems feigned. They want you to leave gorged and inebriated at Palace Grill. After all, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
Where to go for the ultimate smørrebrød? The answer can only be Palægade. The prolific team behind formel B brought in Simon Olesen and Karina Pedersen from the classic smørrebrød establishment Schønnemann, and together they have given rise to a fantastic mix of classics and innovative versions of smørrebrød. This is not only evident on the plates, but also among the clientele of all ages and the decor, which features classic furniture and late modern touches in a well-lit, dark brown room. The spirit of service permeates every iota of the restaurant. Palægade is begotten of the preeminent smørrebrød purveyors of yore, delivering proper yet unpretentious service. The guests are a good mix of smørrebrød connoisseurs, businesspeople, young couples, celebrities and designer types, all swooping in quickly to relieve vacant tables of their empty chairs. The unfiltered beer in our glasses and the many interesting aquavit choices on the menu are merely the opening act for the gastronomic crown jewel of Denmark: the smørrebrød. We order a variety of toppings for our open-faced sandwiches, including a classic breaded plaice fillet with mayonnaise and shrimp, and an innovative signature dish with tartare of lobster, pickled pearl onions and a breaded poached egg. All the ingredients are of the finest quality and everything is homemade. Each of these dishes make a deep impression in our culinary memory as being perfectly fresh, soft, sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy. Once again we choose two different slices: a by-the-book chicken salad with crisp bacon and toasted wheat bread, and a re-interpreted tartare with semidried slices of tomato on dark rye bread with pepper mayo. The tartare is hand-chopped, and we enjoy the excellent contrast from the pepper and solid umami from the tomato. It’s a fitting choice for those looking for something new, while the chicken salad once again underscores this immortal classic’s permanent status in the pantheon of smørrebrød; its creamy delectability and crisp bite make it one of the most pleasing options on the menu. Yet another iconic representative of Danish lunch classics is the potato smørrebrød: it may well be the most proletarian of them all, served here with slices of Skagen ham and ramson mayo. Should your hunger remain insatiable, you can conclude the meal with a Danish layer cake or a rich, crunchy biscuit cake with a wisely innovative and refreshing orange twist. Good French press coffee rounds out our lunch. Palægade is the Parnassus of classic and innovative smørrebrød – and what’s more, it’s pleasantly cosy.
Step down into Pjoltergeist on any given day and you’ll find a bustling little bar filled with everything from tattooed youngsters to suit-clad businessmen. There’s hip-hop on the stereo and staff in hooded sweatshirts or ironic printed t-shirts, serving the best wines known to humanity. This is not your average fine dining establishment. The name “Pjoltergeist” is derived from the classic Norwegian name for a drink of brandy or whiskey and soda (a “pjolter”) but wine takes centre stage here. We’re looking for something orange to drink and the friendly but busy waiter suggests a South African bottle of Testalonga Sweet Cheeks to go with our order of “zuper pakki” – a seven course set menu, which is compulsory if you’ve booked a table. The food is an eclectic mix of Icelandic, Korean, Japanese, classic European and Mexican. To start with we share a bowl of puffed pork rinds with smoky bacon mayonnaise. It’s followed by the best dish of the evening, the house classic of takoyaki, fried balls of octopus in batter, with spring onions and mayonnaise. A dish of battered cod tongues with chive mayonnaise and seaweed is crunchy, juicy and delicious. The next course is white asparagus with hollandaise and fried grasshoppers brought back from a recent trip to Mexico. The grasshoppers are crispy and nutty, but the tiny legs get stuck between our teeth and make the insect-eating experience more of a novelty than a pleasure. The service is more laid-back and the presentation less sophisticated than on earlier visits, but Pjoltergeist is still one of the best places in town for great atmosphere, exciting wines and fun food.
The eye-catching funk-style Pärnu Rannahotell with its tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and luminous restaurant is a fitting setting for the work of Herkki Ruubel, a practically-minded chef with a creative soul. Ruubel’s dishes are always carefully finished and decoratively presented. But the flavors are never lost among the effects. Our experiences at the Rannahotelli Restaurant have always been“by the book”: always upwards, rising to a crescendo. Therefore, it is only logical that the experience is best exemplified by a dessert. Juniper and pumpkin. An intriguing partnership, isn't it? The juniper is jellied. Tastes like genuine juniper. Nothing like the sticky gunge of less skilled attempts at gels. The same applies to pumpkin, served here as ice cream and pumpkin paper. Papers, dusts, foams and other effects in Herkki Ruubel’s creations demonstrate the way a flavor can take on different aspects through different textures. And this year, the Rannahotelli Restaurant had a leitmotif - the taste of rhubarb. It made its way into many of the dishes and drinks, too. The particularly authentically sour rhubarb crémant by Tori Cider and Wine Farm is one of the big successes of this year’s Estonian craft breweries. Check if there’s any left!
Christian Puglisi has perfected his simple idea, rooted in a deep commitment to sustainability and organics, by going to creatively daring new heights. Bringing his inner Italian more clearly to the fore has only resulted in even more delicious fare. The room is still minimalist but filled with a diversity of guests, creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The service is also informal but extremely correct, as we are clearly in the company of purveyors of elite Nordic gastronomy. Vegetables play the leading role here. Many of the first dishes on the experience menu exemplify Relæ’s interpretation of Mies Van der Rohe: less is more. The year’s first radishes with a cod roe cream, perfectly poached Zittauer onion in birch juice with spruce shoots and oil, and large, wonderful mussels in their own jus with ramsons. Fresh baked sourdough bread also arrives at the table, further appeasing our appetites – but this is just the beginning. The menu offers wine pairings, but with excellent guidance from the knowledgeable staff, it’s worth exploring whether bottles could be an option at the same or an even lower price. La Matta is a fresh spumante with low alcohol content and it goes brilliantly with many of the first dishes, including the memorable Limfjord oyster in yoghurt, packed in various green spring shoots and cabbage from Birkemosegård: the bitterness and cream are enhanced by a perfect edge of lemon and juniper berry. The kitchen uses as much as possible from the restaurant’s own farm or other nearby organic producers, but avoids being fanatically Nordic with its embrace of dazzling lemons and olives from warmer lands to the south, as well as an array of techniques and flavours from Italian cuisine. This approach is manifest in the next innovative and alluring dish: rehydrated potato as a kind of cacio e pepe. The potatoes are prepared like the Peruvian Chuño. This makes it possible to cook the potato al dente, and with a little sprinkling of lemon peel. It is the evening’s greatest masterpiece. We have red grapes in our glass from Selva Dolce in Bordighera, and on the recommendation of our waiter we choose to share a single glass of orange wine, “Vej 2010” vintage 2015, as a pairing with the Hindholm Farm pork. The wine has a surprising amount of body and is excellent, while the serving of slightly bland slices of pork with broccoli shoots is the evening’s only mediocre dish. But the all-out flavour returns with the desserts, where the cheese is virtually a cannoli with homemade ricotta, olive and blueberry, laying the groundwork for two inventive desserts. A base of grapefruit with frozen yoghurt ice cream on top of a lemon-mandarin-orange gratiné replicates the wonderful flavour of a classic Danish ice cream on a stick known as the Copenhagen Bar. After freshening us up with acidity, the menu goes umami with a mushroom parfait, glazed mushrooms, chanterelle powder and a caramel of mushroom soy sauce, with crunch from a crispy croissant. On departure, our palates are satiated and satisfied by Relæ’s diverse simplicity.
There’s a river and it flows from the springs of Lapland. It’s crystal clear and it’s called the Juutua, one of many where fly fishermen swing their lines and catch the freshest of fish. The snow is pure white and the people are, shall we say, on their guard, but friendly nonetheless. Lapland is the land of shamans and it is at the kitchen altar of Heikki Nikula that we worship tonight, at Aanaar Restaurant in the Kultahovi Hotel where Sami culture and cuisine gets a rare chance to shine. His artistry comes in a rainbow of pink, orange, green and white, with some hairy brown stuff on top that we eye with suspicion. It’s ’naava’ or hanging moss, found on nearby trees – a testament to the clean air that reindeer find irresistible. It melts in our mouths, adding texture and an earthiness to this succulent starter of lightly smoked reindeer hearts, horseradish yoghurt and sweet marinated vegetables. Johanna Fabritius is in charge of the beverages and like the chef she has her own bag of tricks, combining food with beer, cocktails and wine. The house version of Finland’s famous Napue gin comes with angelica syrup, an ingredient we will come across again on this menu. It’s made from the hardy aromatic flowering herb angelica, that grows as far north as Iceland and Greenland. The main course is pike caught by Inari fishermen and turned into the lightest of fluffy white balls flavoured with a touch of lemongrass. Though the latter is not from this region we give them a break because it adds acidic, fresh interest to a dish that might otherwise be quite bland. The fish balls are accompanied by yellowish beurre blanc and cerise beetroot mousse with a hit of vinegar. We wash all of this down with a Yealands Riesling – clean, pure and unadulterated like the river flowing by. Dessert is aptly called “Snowball”. The bowl is too small for the lingonberry-filled scoop of yoghurt ice cream with angelica syrup and crunchy sweet meringue slices on the side. As we leaf through the menu, it’s evident that people from all over the world visit this magical place and that special care is taken to accommodate frequent visitors. In the heart of Sápmi, from true Sami people, comes this warm welcome.
"Restorans 3, the current talk of the town in Latvian culinary circles, takesup two floors at a narrow pedestrian street in Riga Old Town. The first floor is the Heaven and the ground floor is the Earth. And sure enough, itis harder togetto Heaven than itisto stay at the Earth. Not that it's particularly hard to walk upthe stairs –it’s just that the stairs to the Heaven are rarely open.Itis used to organize dinners where food smell mingles with the smellsof nature inthe dining hall. Film projections offer beautiful natural views and sounds of nature soothe the ear. Restorans 3 has become a serious contender for the title of the best restaurant in Latvia. Keep an eye on them. The Heaven is worth a special trip to Riga. But ifitis really not accessible, then... the Earth is perfectly goodas well. The broad windows offer cinema-screen-like views to the narrow old town street. Sunlight ordarkness, fog or rain... the different moods are there, at a hand’s reach. During the day, the 3 offers an à la carte menu, where the guest can make up their mind about some of the best fine dining in Latvia based on single dishes. In the evening, the 5- and 7-course “Taste the Nature” menus are also available, and a vegetarian version isavailable of the former. Head Chef Juris Dukalskis makes sure to keep the experience atthe Earth not dissimilar to that at the Heaven. The baked quail is smoked with juniper right there on the table. The burning juniper branches are a supremely aromatic spectacle. Hedoesnot hesitate to use many different ingredients inone dish (such as oxtail, beef tongue and squid), but each complex composition forms an enjoyable, balanced whole. The wine selection leans noticeably towards natural and biodynamic tendencies."
In true southern Jutland fashion, we are welcomed warmly at the door, our coats are taken and we are escorted to a table with a view over bumpy cobblestone streets in the heart of Tønder. Despite the restaurant being fully booked, the talented chefs and owners, Marcel Rodrigues and Steffen Snitgaard, elegantly create a relaxed atmosphere for a culinary journey through interpretations of local ingredients and traditional regional dishes, while also finding time to chat with guests, answer questions and take part in serving dishes from the open kitchen in the barely 98-square-metre restaurant. They have returned to their hometown to create a locally-rooted gastronomic bastion with affordable prices. Given the sublime five-course menu for DKK 398, their mission has undeniably been successful. Both the cutlery and art were made especially for the restaurant by local artists, and the juice menu is predominantly sourced from local farmers. The wine list comprises a limited but well-curated selection of French, German and Italian bottles with the most popular classic grapes. We are served a welcome snack of light veal terrine and a mushroom mayo that gives the delicate cold meat nice acidity and notes of porcini, as well as homemade chips, homemade olives, salted almonds, malt buns, and oats and butter whipped with locally sourced ramsons. Sauce nage, a delicate balancing act between sour and sweet, is strongly dependent on the quality of the wine. In this serving, it goes perfectly with fresh wolffish, whose white meat and mildly sweet flavour reveal a diet primarily composed of lobster. Carrot purée, dill oil and fresh dill add freshness and colour to the beautiful dish. Effervescent redcurrant juice from the local cider mill, Vibegaard, is a well-chosen sweet and sour match. Open meat pie – a classic local dish – is at its best with the rich but light and crispy puff pastry, filled with a vegetable ragout of creamy Jerusalem artichokes, sharp horseradish and spring onions, topped with paper-thin slices of radish, cress and crisp chicken skin with a flavour that cuts through the dish. Small chunky slices of veal round, slow roasted at 56 degrees Celsius, are completely pink and juicy with excellent structure, accompanied by grilled spring onion, celeriac purée and pommes anna – an often heavy side which in this version offers a light, fresh onion flavour. The round red wine glaze with light tannins once again shows that the kitchen does not cut corners with the quality of its cooking wine. The cheese board features Havgus, Rød Løber and the local Sønderjyske Blå, accompanied by a sweet and sour apple compote, delicious toasted dark rye bread and a well-executed lightly salted crisp bread. The strong cheeses are matched by “Æbleau”, a voluminous, acidic and sweet fortified cider made with Danish apples from Skærsøgaard and featuring vanilla notes from oak barrel aging. The dessert is a crisp almond crumble topped with rhubarb compote and fresh rhubarb pastry, whose acidity is balanced by sweet caramel ice cream.
We are in the northernmost reaches of Denmark, encircled by breathtakingly scenic nature. Chef Dennis Juhl Jensen elegantly weaves elements of his surroundings into a number of dishes served this evening. Our geographical location is firmly established from the very first bite: a crisp puffed fish skin welcomes us to the tastes of Skagen and its waters. The in-between course called “Skagen Fish” features a beautiful cut of crispy fried turbot. A mild sauce of browned butter and potato has a deep richness and creamy texture that provide a base for the turbot’s flavour and firm flesh. Leaves of Brussels sprouts are butter-steamed to temper the bitterness and the slightly sweet cabbage notes blend gently into the dish without causing jolting disruptions. A fashionable splash of green oil and a sprinkling of nettle dust complete the aesthetic presentation and add a light aromatic nuance. Flavour, consistency and presentation are all in perfect harmony – a trait echoed in the subsequent dish of tender fried veal sweetbreads. The sweetbreads are served on a bed of delicate and sweet browned onion purée and tender mushrooms, which are an ideal textural companion for the sweetbreads. The dish, completed with foaming morel sauce, is accompanied by the evening’s best wine pairing: a biodynamic trousseau from Jura. The wine has plenty of fresh acidity to cleanse the richness of the sweetbreads and contrast the sweet onions, as well as nice earthy mushroom notes that harmonise with the morel sauce. All of the wine pairings keenly match the kitchen’s dishes, and the waiters convincingly relay the origin of the wines and their connection with the food. The service generally reflects the high standard at Ruths Hotel, with a style elegantly adapted to the temperament of the guests. The decor is bright and Nordic, with a relaxing atmosphere and a soothing, crackling open fire, which not only sets the mood, but also gives flavour to the main course of beef tenderloin. The taste of smoke and fire give greater character to the otherwise mild-flavoured cut, which is served with salsify, bittersweet walnut purée and truffles – a dish that is just as well composed as the rest of our meal. An uncompromising dedication to flavour is the kitchen’s guiding star, while Juhl Jensen’s creativity brings the surrounding nature and ingredients of Skagen to the plate, cementing the restaurant’s place as one of the many reasons to visit the uppermost tip of Denmark. (Note: Just before printing we learned that Dennis Juhl will be opening a new restaurant in Aalborg after the summer of 2017, and will be replaced by Jakob Spolum (currently at Sletten.)
An old red cottage rests idyllically between forest and sea. In the summer, it offers outdoor service; in the winter, its guests are invited into the simply appointed room. For some years now, Anita Klemensen has cemented her reputation as one of Denmark’s most talented chefs. With unobtrusive but firm principles, Klemensen and her skilled sommelier, who combines a seemingly clairvoyant understanding of each guest with an inviting manner, have crafted a special atmosphere around the perfectly executed and incredibly delicious menu, which varies from four to eight dishes. The kitchen’s style is evident from the start, as oysters arrive with the strong, bitter flavour of cress and acidic tapioca pearls that have been marinated in sweet porter. The simple language of the seasons is spoken here. Early spring can be one of the most difficult periods when it comes to variety – but not for the kitchen at Den Røde Cottage. Lumpfish roe served in generous portions over a cream with crispy cubes of Jerusalem artichoke makes a strong textural impression. One of the highlights is a perfect cut of fried cod with a wheat berry cream: a re-interpretation of Waldorf meets Denmark, with crisp celery flakes, hazelnut purée, apple pieces and hay-smoked cheese. Our uplifting and genuinely cheerful waiter enthusiastically explains why this Chassagne-Montrachet, with its richness and acidity, is a good pairing for the lightly salted cod and smoked notes in the cheese. And he’s right. Throughout the evening he matches the wines flawlessly. The menu’s most inventive dish is “onions in onions”: burnt, puréed and a sweet bomb of umami in a rich bouillon, with a kick from the season’s first tiny ramson shoots. Meat cravings are catered to with veal tongue and veal with a light herb fricassee, joined by the most delicious leek we have tasted in ages. The kitchen masters vegetable contrasts, ensuring that all of the dishes are fresh and multifaceted in flavour and texture. Anita has a special touch with desserts. Her past exploits, including her role as pastry chef at Søllerød Kro, cannot be concealed. She even succeeds in making white chocolate taste heavenly and fresh in an ice cream with pickled rosehip leaves, rosehip syrup and liquorice, revitalising the palate in the wake of the main courses, while paving the way for our final landing with the most iconic sweet and bitter classic of them all: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. This most glorious chocolate cake, with chocolate in three layers, textures, and intensities, has been on the menu through the years – and regulars would undoubtedly march out in protest if it were not.
In December the farm that previously housed Ambiance à Vindåkra was transformed into one of Malmö’s most outspoken New Nordic restaurants. Heading it up is the Danish-Swedish duo Sven Jensen and Alexander Fohlin who previously worked with Nordic pioneers like Thomas Drejing and Claus Meyer. The concept is perfect for the little farmhouse with its wooden beams, whitewashed walls and crackling fire – a cross-fertilization of an inn in Skåne and an urban Copenhagen restaurant, where the frugally Nordic meets the generosity of Skåne. The flavour spectrum they create here (often with the help of brown butter and sweetness) is rounder and more approachable – without sacrificing exciting wild-picked, self-harvested or pickled ingredients. A good example is the fine, foresty tartare of coarsely diced perch fillet with fried oak moss, blackberry elixir, preserved blackberries, brown butter and samphire. Or the extremely tasty little amuse-bouche of poached, mashed, dried, and finally fried Jerusalem artichoke that is used to scoop up a fresh buttermilk panna cotta topped by bleak roe. In a Nordic “spring roll” sugar beets from the fields outside have been simmered for several hours, sliced and softly pan-fried to form a housing that encloses liquorice cress, goat's cheese and black garlic. Black truffle and poppy seeds top the creation and the nutty seeds play elegantly together with the orange wine from the Swedish-French vineyard, Mas Zenitude. Our palates delight in a lukewarm buttery brioche in a nest of warm wheat kernels served with a chilli-rimmed, air-dried slice of pork’s neck and pickled sea buckthorn. The same thing goes for the precisely cooked local pork with a sabayon flavoured with blanched black pepper and Finnish tar syrup. The wines are well chosen from a selection of natural wines and the non-alcoholic beverage pairings are innovative. SAV is quite simply creative joy on all fronts – and extremely affordable considering the level of cooking.
Sentralen has been open for a year, and it’s been a success from day one. The team behind it are called “Lava Oslo” – the fantastic four of the Oslo food scene – and they continue to create wondrous new dishes. Sentralen lies in the middle of Kvadraturen (“the quadrature”), a district formerly known for its courtesans and as a marketplace for those who lean toward self-medication. Today it is a whole other story and now, with this grand house of family entertainment, kids are flooding the streets and making it a safe place even for those who are easily scared. The old bank has been emptied of all its cold, hard cash and filled with soft values: good food and fine wines. The restaurant has a big open kitchen and a tall wine cabinet filled with the best from minimal-intervention producers around the world. The bread served here is made by Handwerk, a recently opened sourdough bakery. It has less of the old tradition, and more of the style of San Fran’s Tartine Bakery, with a charred almost black crust, a moist crumb and sports a mouth-watering acidity. The new classic, smoked beetroot tartare, is a nice way to take something as mundane as a beetroot and make it shine like a star. With a little help from horseradish and egg yolk, it’s as good as or even better than a traditional tartare. Next up, a bare-naked broccoli stalk is served with butter and broccoli cream – it’s as delicious at it is simple. A macerated Sancerre is a good choice, and because it has been macerated with its skin, it even stands up to the meatier things to come. The beef “tartare” is quickly seared before it is hand cut and dressed in pickled green strawberries, egg and Jerusalem artichoke chips. King crab, roasted in its shell with a Nordic spice blend including chervil and ramsons, is a greasy feast. It lacks some form of edible sponge to mop up all that delicious juice from the plate, but there is no shame here in using your finger to get it all. A potato pillow filled with Holtefjell XO, the go-to cheese of Norwegian chefs these days, is a cheeky take on gnocchi. The soft inner texture perfectly matches the pillowy exterior and the cheese's broad umami notes reveal why Holtefjell XO is called the Parmesan of the north. Sentralen is a cultural hotspot and still the best choice for a decent lunch in Oslo.
Shibumi is the Platonic ideal of an urban restaurant. Because of the format, and to a great extent the professional and well-informed staff, it can transform into exactly what you want it to be. True to the izakaya form, there is a bar with beer, well-shaken Asian twists on cocktails and finger food, but Shibumi’s range also extends to intimate date dinners, a foodie experience with carefully conceived sake matches, and friend or business dinners with an endless stream of share plates. It’s a pretty impressive feat. And despite the chameleon qualities that satisfy virtually everyone who walks through the door, the food at Shibumi is far from middle-of-the-road. Not, you understand, when it’s Sayan Isaksson who holds the reins. The salmon tartare in its little wooden box is a crowd pleaser we never tire of, with popping trout roe, sesame mayo and crispy rice paper, it is an explosion of flavour with lots of interesting textural play as a bonus. We prefer to sit in the bar and watch over the chefs as they assemble the most minutely prepared small dishes, grating fresh-smelling wasabi root on top and charring the ultra-fresh fish with a gas burner when it needs a little charred juxtaposition. Though fish occupies nearly half the menu, there are also deeply satisfying meat and vegetable dishes. Like flowersprouts, the trendy relative of Brussels sprouts which, after a turn in the deep fryer, delivers a crunchy cabbagey-ness. Gauzy katsuboshi flakes break up the oiliness. A Japanese “taco” containing tender braised short rib with homemade chilli paste and pickled cucumber disappears in a flash, though it’s somewhat one-dimensionally sweet. The skewered chicken hearts with fermented chilli paste is a more exciting choice with its delicious sweet-hot kick, as are the masterful gyoza dumplings. Have we eaten better ones in Stockholm? Probably not, even though dumplings have suddenly become commonplace. Shibumi’s version is crisp-fried on one side and the dough is perfectly paper-thin. The gingery ground pork inside is airy and juicy, and it comes with an extra-zippy ponzu sauce that contains aged red wine vinegar. And the desserts? We fall once again head over heels for the uber-charming small ice cream cones with the buttery, caramelly variation on miso. The bill is almost a joy to pay; it’s hard to imagine more bang for your buck.
Regardless of whether cruel autumn winds or balmy summer breezes are blowing out by Gothenburg’s inlet, it is solace for the soul to step into this beautifully renovated restaurant in the East India Company’s old warehouse. The welcome is warm and heartfelt, every detail is thought out and the rough-timbered walls create a cosy nostalgic charm. As soon as we sit down at the table it is clear that our hosts are Gothenburg’s – if not Sweden’s – most successful pair of restaurant workhorses, Ulf Wagner and Gustav Trägårdh. With the former at the helm and the latter in the kitchen, they run a well-oiled machine, focused on the total experience. The algae crispbread with subtle sea notes in the amply filled breadbasket sets the tone. Autumn is the season for both game and lobster, so a tender moose tartare has been given a lovely sounding board of lobster emulsion while tart apple and toasted hazelnuts create much needed contrast in terms of taste and texture. A semi-dry riesling from the Mosel matches nicely with its fruity, mineral notes. We continue with an absolutely brilliant cod loin, first cured and then poached to perfection. The creation is enthroned upon mixed cabbages in a foamy oyster sauce with a nice saltiness and crowned with freshly grated truffle. The flavours are finely tuned and let the fish play throughout his register. With a mighty piece of pan-fried turbot, however, the kitchen has thrown all finesse overboard and brought forth heavy artillery in the form of potato gnocchi, mushrooms and sweetbreads, all seasoned with tarragon. It’s rich, bordering on rustic, but it works. Even though the matching beaujolais struggles a bit. The delightful almond and pistachio cake with plums poached in port wine is still impossible to abstain from, but the tonka bean panna cotta that comes with it leaves us rather unmoved. At Sjömagasinet they are not only masters at combining ingredients on the plate - they also know how to match those combinations with the right beverage, and they do so with knowledge, charm and individuality. It is not easy to successfully navigate this flagship between the luxurious and the popular, tradition and innovation, but the gentlemen do it with honour.
At the very moment we step inside the door a cook begins browning butter. The smell! The sound! Isn’t this cheating? The sweet caramel aroma that fills the dining room naturally adds an additional dimension to the warmth, the atmosphere and the light that so nicely frames SK. We sit in the lower part of the dining room, where the pastry chef works at his kitchen island. In the upper dining room you look instead straight into the warm open kitchen. The cooks seem to thrive in the open exposure – they smile, cheer and come out with the food themselves. Choose between four, six or eight dishes on the long tasting menu – or order from the à la carte section. This is a high-class restaurant, but it never gets too fancy. They open at 5 o’clock and stay open late, so you can drop in for something quick – or devote an entire evening here. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Nor can you go wrong with the fermented, planed, puréed and fried celeriac, a perfect contrast to the salty-sweet, gently cured rainbow trout roe that clatters and pops around in your mouth. The hard-blackened, cured striploin with smoked mayonnaise, crispy pieces of winter apples and spring radishes offers nice contrasts. Except for the radishes, the kitchen follows along with the changing seasons. On our visit in early winter was dominated by root vegetables, cabbage, mushrooms and game. Overall the flavours are intense and a challenge for the sommeliers. They tend to match-make with well-known producers, but it’s the more unusual and artisanally produced wines to which we raise our glasses. Serving the white vermentino from the Italian red wine producer La Spinetta, with the rainbow trout roe, is typical, for example. But the best match is the one between the syrah grapes from Cornas and Domaine Vincent Paris and the tender, red wild duck that combines elegantly with mayonnaise made from toasted rapeseed oil, steamed cabbage and crunchy hazelnuts. If we should whine about something it’s the truly mediocre breadbasket. In the end, we are where our visit began – right beside that browning butter which, it turns out, is to fry the brioche that is served with a cloudberry compote and vanilla ice cream. Simple and so good. At SK the atmosphere is genial, generous and personalised, exactly what restaurateur Stefan Karlsson himself is so good at engendering.
A bit off the beaten path in downtown Tromsø, Eva-Linda and Espen Ramnestedt have reopened their acclaimed restaurant Smak (Taste), previously located in Bodø, some nine hours to the south by car. Starting all over again, they have tailored everything to their needs. With just eight tables, a small wine lounge, a chef’s table and a beautiful custom-made open kitchen, Smak is ready to revitalize the town. Both Eva-Linda and Espen are trained chefs, but Espen manages the kitchen while Eva-Linda takes care of the dining room, complementing his cooking with her hospitality. Espen uses modernist techniques blended with classic cooking to coax heartfelt flavors out of great ingredients. Eva-Linda’s warmth makes the diners relax and her passion for great wine makes any evening complete. As our meal starts off with a selection of snacks and champagne, we feel the devotion they’ve put into the restaurant. It’s immediately evident in the food that arrives: a thin crispy sheet of fennel is topped with Finish caviar and sour cream from Avdem Gardsysteri, and a potato waffle comes with Swedish vendace roe. A classic oxtail ragù is topped with lacto-fermented celeriac and a soft chicken liver pâté matched with sourdough and truffle snow. A serving of green asparagus, sweetbreads and quail egg makes us dream of spring, and their creamy and pristine fish soup made out of rose fish, lobster and carrots is a knockout in a town where fish soups are essential to the local food identity. Our meat course of beef cheeks takes the meal to a more rustic place, though we feel that some of the other dishes this evening could have been a bit simpler, with fewer components on the plate. The desserts are a show of technique, first with a delicious sorbet made out of Nýr cheese, then a dark chocolate parfait. The hand-brewed coffee and the box of petit fours is a great ending to the meal. Smak’s relocation to the town of Tromsø is a game-changer for the local restaurant industry and we hope its revival will lure the locals out of their homes on a regular basis. We, at least, will certainly return.
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.
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.
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.
In the scenic confines of one of Denmark’s most iconic villages lies a gem of a low-ceilinged, thatched building that houses one of Denmark’s oldest and most striking inns, Sønderho Kro. Owner-operator Jakob Sullestad shines in his multifaceted role of hospitable host, head chef and restaurant manager – all with great respect for local traditions, the magnificent surrounding nature and the culinary contributions of the Wadden Sea and the island of Fanø. It’s an establishment seeping with history and atmosphere. The welcome snacks are homemade pork rind and baked root veg crisps of blue potato and tapioca, served with a dip of homemade mayo with fermented garlic. Both the menu and the inn’s open wine cellar reveal opportunities to enjoy a variety of selected rarities from leading winemakers. We begin with a crisp, unsulphured biodynamic Follador Prosecco from 2015 with fresh citrus notes in the aroma and palate. Each of the wines proves to be expertly paired with the evening menu’s five courses. The first course is steamed monkfish with creamy meat and a light bite, pickled white asparagus, crisp, thinly sliced fresh rhubarb that adds acidity, and sweet cicely for a touch of anise. Here we enjoy a Dr. Bassermann-Jordan 2015 from Pfalz made with weissburgunder – tight and with good acidity – and, somewhat uncharacteristically for this grape, notes of exotic fruit. New potatoes and pea shoots are topped with a generous portion of fresh lumpfish roe and garnished with herbs and egg yolk confit in rapeseed oil. The dish is an elegant and delicate harbinger of spring. Succulent pollock with a nice, meaty structure is served with steamed spring onions, smoked fresh cheese foam and ground elder, contributing a characteristic flavour reminiscent of parsley. Back and braised shank of lamb prepared to perfection, falling off the bone yet still juicy, is served with potato confit, green asparagus with ash of burnt potato and watercress, whose nutty and slightly piquant flavour adds freshness to the dish. Tender prime rib is aesthetically served with thinly sliced fresh and grilled fennel, fried asparagus, fresh butter-fried thyme and watercress, and a well-executed red wine glaze. The dessert is a fresh and acidic rhubarb compote with rhubarb sorbet, with sweetness from white chocolate mousse and depth from hard liquorice sprinkles – a sublime composition. All of the dishes are served as small works of art on beautiful dinnerware. The hospitality, atmosphere and environment all combine to make you feel like a welcome guest.
Local ingredients have become a matter of course at Denmark’s leading restaurants. But few manage to make local fare such a complete experience as Tabu. We begin with snacks from the Limfjord: poached oysters with a tart crème fraîche, surrounded by parsley gelée. The presentation is aesthetically pleasing, spherical and green, while the dish has a delicate and refreshing taste of the sea. The same flavours are taken up a notch in the next snack, mussels with crisp pickled cucumber, followed by a grilled langoustine with smoked bacon and dried carrot that further increases the intensity of flavours. Perfect-temperature halibut from Skagerak is topped with the year’s first lumpfish roe and covered with a velvety canopy of grilled ramson gelée, giving the dish a creamy texture and the complexity of grilled flavours. The halibut is perfectly balanced, preventing any one of the many delicate flavours from dominating. A cream sauce split with aromatic oil brings it all together, with fresh baby ramson shoots providing a sharp edge and balance. An Italian chardonnay from Friuli proves more than capable of embracing both the delicate lumpfish roe and garlicky ramsons with sufficient fresh acidity and slightly bitter notes. Every wine is well paired, but the presentation is a bit inconsistent, ranging from factual descriptions to more chatty stories; they would benefit from tightening up the ship with a more uniform approach. The dishes are nicely explained by the chefs themselves, with the common thread being a vibrant and personal account of the ingredients’ northern Jutland origins. The in-between course of venison ragout tenderly melts on the palate, garnished by variations of Jerusalem artichoke. Thinly sliced crudités form flower petals around a confited egg yolk, which thickens the bold bouillon flavoured with Jerusalem artichoke and venison. Pickled Jerusalem artichokes add a tart touch, while fresh thyme leaves elevate the dish with a fragrant aroma. In our glasses we have amontillado sherry, a very astute match with fine acidity and walnut tones to accentuate the nutty flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes. On our previous visit to Tabu, we were thrilled. Now the kitchen appears even stronger, with sharper dishes and unique gastronomic storytelling that shines a brilliant spotlight on locally sourced ingredients.
The sound of tambora drums echoed across Copenhagen when Taller opened in 2015. The completely unpredictable, exotic and alternative world of flavours was exactly what gastro-Denmark was lacking. The style remains wild, daring and unusual, but on our visit this year it feels like they have sanded down the edginess. They still cook over a fire in the open kitchen where an old workbench serves as the prep counter. From your shiny copper table you can watch as the food is prepared, and the chefs come out with the dishes when they are ready. The menu features a unique combination of ingredients. Where else would you be served oysters with ham fat, tomatillo and granité made with two types of grapefruit? And when did you last dine on cassava with dulse seaweed, dill, diced fennel and creamy leek mayo? The local Nordic influence, combined with the Venezuelan connection to Chef Karlos Ponte’s homeland is clear in the selection of ingredients. Take, for example, the intense mouthful of meaty flavour in a thinly sliced chayote squash, served as a taco with a filling of braised beef cheek and dried scallop dust. Meanwhile, a Danish octopus sliced into fashionable ribbons is served in a sauce with curuba (aka., banana passion fruit) and deliciously crunchy minced pork rinds. The crisp potato-like olluco, topped at the table with a hollandaise with fermented ants, is also worth noting if only for its unconventionality. But as with a number of servings, the dish lacks sufficient heat and could have benefitted from more flavour. While the food is highly unpredictable, the wine pairings play it much safer. Champagne with snacks is a matter of course, but it appears here in a somewhat disappointing version of three grape varieties from the organic winemaker Bourgeois-Diaz. The other dishes are served with chablis, chardonnay from Jura and two varieties of red Burgundy, all of which are safe food wines. The best pairing is Peter Sisseck’s Psi 2012 from Ribera del Duero, whose red fruit and spiced barrel notes perfectly accompany the dish of lamb fillet rolled in ramson and leek ash with a wonderful bright green guasacaca sauce made with citrus, herbs and chipotle. Restaurant Manager Jacob Lauridsen is not on the floor when we visit, and the wine explanations are sometimes a bit nonsensical. For example, a welschriesling is presented as a type of riesling and dolcetto as Barolo. These errors are quickly forgotten, however, as both the waiters and chefs contribute to a relaxed atmosphere that perfectly matches the spirit of the restaurant. We love the casual rascally mentality of our Irish waiter and we love Taller when the kitchen shatters culinary paradigms for how sour, salty, sweet, bitter or umami-rich a dish can be. But this year’s visit offers fewer of these trademark “wow” moments.
At our first visit, we find the Tchaikovsky discreetly impressive. And the impression only amplifies with each subsequent lunch and dinner. Its symphony begins with quiet classicalbackground music. It intensifies with the dramatic black walls decorated with massiveornate metal picture frames, some containing paintings, some empty. And it culminates with the white swan origami napkins (and one black!) on the tables. The Tchaikovsky begins to captivate the visitor on the way in. And it continues at the table. One of the champagnes available by the glass is Dom Perignon 2009. The food is inspired by18th-century aristocratic Russian-French cuisine to its very origins. Go ahead and order the Blini Royale with a trio of caviars (osetra caviar, golden pike roe and trout roe). The round blini, a couple of centimetres thick, is baked according to the original recipe of the court chef of the Russian Emperor. Crisp on the outside. Airy on the inside. Three caviars. A drop of sour cream. That is all. Back then, food did not compete with architecture or fashion in grandiosity. Or if, then inrich table display s at grand feasts. Each separate dish looked unassuming, but was made of the best ingredients and tasted refined, aristocratic. Anxiously novelty-seeking food fashion hasno place at the restaurant at the elegant Hotel Telegraaf. Nor do the Tchaikovsky’s visitors want itto. Phones stay inbags and selfies are off the map. A restaurant should offer an elegant atmosphere and a permanently high level in food and drink. The discreetly impressive Tchaikovsky fulfils these requirements to a T.
With just over a year under its belt, The Balcony is already firmly established as more than a passing fad with delusions of grandeur. We begin a spring evening in March with a glass of champagne blanc de blancs from Henri Mandois and a rain of snacks. The most memorable ones include the caramelly Jerusalem artichoke purée in its own crisp, fried skin, elegantly presented on a platter of fresh Jerusalem artichokes, and a couple of citrusy oysters with Havgus cheese, served on nitrogen-steaming beach stones. The bar is hereby set for the rest of the evening. A portion of eminently fresh lumpfish roe is joined by a salad of red sorrel and beetroot as crudité, gelée and juice, paired with an archetypical Austrian riesling from Stagård, whose crisp acidity and touch of white pepper make it a perfect partner for the menu’s first course. The flame-grilled halibut of the subsequent course is outshined by its own garnish, which is so brilliant in all its simplicity that it could carry the dish all by itself: sweet, raw Greenlandic shrimp on one side, poached leek from Funen with dill and pickling brine gelée on the other, and a rich fish fumet with dill oil and light liquorice notes, uplifted by a floral vino bianco from Malvirà in Piedmont. The choice of the wine pairings has proven to be a good decision. The wines are sublimely paired and the service is top-notch with Restaurant Manager Kasper Winther at the controls. His deep experience, cultivated through many years at Molskroen and Falsled Kro, is palpable and remarkable. The parade of delectable flavours continues with a fermented cabbage packet with umami-rich mushroom soy sauce, browned butter with hazelnuts, diced apple and a bright green, slightly acidic purée of Granny Smith apple. This vegetarian dish is nicely supported by a delicate orange sauvignon blanc from La Grange aux Belles, Anjou. The ambition is sky-high, and with the skilled Peter Steen Hansen and Anders Jensen in the kitchen at the thermomixer, tweezers and burners, the gourmet quality shines through clearly and precisely. Having enjoyed flawlessly executed luxury from beginning to end, our elation following an evening at The Balcony in Odense comes as no surprise.
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.