You get a nice warm feeling as you stroll into smallish Ragù, which is remarkably buzzing for a Wednesday night. Large parties of guests seated at the longish tables demonstrably thrive on the free and easy vibe. We’re wondering if the table next to us is celebrating somebody’s big 6-0. Our waiter is as attentive as he is charming, despite being rushed off his feet. Although or perhaps because it’s a painfully frosty night, he reckons we need a Negroni before proceeding. Shortly after the apéritif the bread basket arrives. The bread takes a back seat to the spreads, of which there are four – humus, butter, cheesy goat’s cream and cherry compote. The lamb tartare with tarragon-infused mayo, cloudberry jam, rolled sliced carrot and a cool miniature blood pancake hits the palate in just the right way. We’re talked into a sparkling lambrusco from Emilia Romagna that works, while being largely forgettable. The boneless veal rib-eye does not blow our socks off either, but the various trimmings move the dish up to and beyond scratch. Cauliflower in different guises fights with the meat for attention, and is backed up by pak choi and béarnaise. Spicy and lively watercress stretches its long tentacles across the creation. The pinot nero from Aosta works as it should. So what’s the interior like at Ragù? Italian? But of course! With its simplistic white walls and dark floor, leather-clad benches, grey-backed chairs and double linen tablecloths, the restaurant clearly takes its cue from the country that’s given us the world’s most iconic dishes. We stay in Italy for the dessert: lemon cream with slightly blow-torched Italian meringue and basil ice cream.
The restaurant of the most comfortable spa hotel at Pärnu, which spoils its customers with high-flying fine dining, probably didn't have much choice for a name. After all, the memorial of Raimond Valgre, one of the most renowned Estonian composers, stands right next to the building. The restaurant is slightly awkwardly located in the corner of the hotel’s spacious lobby, with just thin curtains separating the space from the hotel’s bustle. A self-playing piano (with some of Valgre’s pieces among its repertoire) still helps to set the mood. The dishes are easier to understand with some background knowledge about Valgre’s life and times. The servers may or may not offer to explain, but be sure to ask! If you do, you might see some of the dishes in a new light. The solyanka, for instance. Likely enough, Valgre had to eat it often during the Second World War. Back then, it was made using any scraps at hand, such as perhaps the kidneys that, along with homemade pork and beef sausages, give the soup at the Raimond its multilayered, deep flavor. The whole front page of the drinks card is dedicated to Estonian drinks. Most of them, furthermore, quite local. Make sure to try the Tori Cider and Wine Farm’s tree-fallen autumn apple cider, if there’s any left.
Restaurant 1877 is a traditional but modern restaurant in the heart of Bergen at “Kjøttbasaren”, the old meat market. This soulful place that has held an important position in Bergen’s trade history. The room is filled with warmth and generosity. The service is attentive and jovial, and the elegant, original interior is filled with brass, brick and wood. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the open pass station, raised and framed in a wooden bar. In from the left comes a smiling waitress. “Welcome”, she says, with a firm handshake. The staff at 1877 make a big deal out of this handshake as a symbol of the restaurant’s personal service. The chefs regularly come to the table to present the food and their stories are clearly rehearsed, without too much detail, bringing you closer to the food and to the suppliers. One of them comes to the table to explain how she prepared the chicken that lies before us. On the plate is a chicken dish in several forms, one of which is stuffed with a homemade pesto. The potatoes are roasted in chicken fat to make them rich and salty and the carrots are pickled and sieved into an intense purée. 1877 plays with traditional flavours and gives them a new twist. The cheese course is a good example of this. The traditional sour cream porridge called rømmegrøt is served in a hot stone mortar. On top is a crumbled blue cheese from Stavanger. The dish is creative, but excessively rich. The chocolate dessert with barley ice cream rounds off the meal with some of the best flavours Norwegian cuisine can offer. A visit to 1877 is a visit you will remember.
Bodø can be one of the most unpleasant places on earth. It’s cold, windy, rainy, and the nightlife is almost non-existent. That is, until now. Restaurant Nyt has opened in the old premises of Smak (which has moved up to Tromsø) and taken over the position as the culinary frontier in central Norway. The rain still pours down in amounts that might lead to complete shutdowns a bit further south, but here they don’t seem to mind the weather, as they cast glances at small-shoed travellers fighting the wind with oversized umbrellas. The restaurant is buzzing, and the staff treat their guests as if they are all old friends. First course is a scallop cooked in its shell, sliced thin and resting in its juice with fried scallop roe. It’s a nice presentation of time and place, this being both the prime season and location for the mollusc. A composition of butter-fried Jerusalem artichoke with morel cream and morels is too brown, too salty and too creamy. The bread serving, to our relief, is awesome. Small pan-baked loaves of whole wheat bread with fermented wheat grains added in are excellent with the homemade butter that’s salted with the local salt from Saltstraumen (which has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world). The season is also peak for Atlantic cod, which comes almost all the way into the harbour to reproduce more Atlantic cod. This white, lean meat has been cured with salt and sugar for 24 hours before it’s baked and served with Romesco sauce, celery root purée and cod roe. It’s a light, perfectly salted fish course that leaves us longing for more. For dessert, raisin compote with bread crumble, coffee ice and coffee syrup has flavours that take us happily back to vague memories of what our grandmothers served at family reunions. We leave the restaurant with a reason to travel again to Bodø. Not to mention that they also have damn good coffee. Two reasons, then.
Forget all about foam, dust and live shrimp. Instead, lean back in the wide chairs and enjoy the classic French-Danish cuisine from the hand of the unassuming power couple, Lisbeth and Bo Jacobsen. At the helm of Restaurationen for more than 25 years, they do so much to make sure guests feel comfortable that we practically feel like we’re visiting them at home. This is the kind of true hospitality that you should find everywhere. Bo cuts thin slices of 660-day air-dried Danish ham at the table while sharing tales from far and wide. Along with the ham, we enjoy a perfectly poached egg with truffle cream, crisp croutons and freshly shaved truffles – a sexy dish and also the evening’s best. Pot pies with mushroom sauce and breaded sweetbreads are simply too much after two mouthfuls, lacking in freshness and contrasting flavours. The fish of the day is fried redfish, served on a vegetable terrine with a green parsley clam sauce. It tastes good, but looks like something a skilled home chef could easily prepare on a Saturday. A 2000 Henriot champagne at a very attractive price brings some added exuberance to the evening. The wine list as a whole is modestly priced, offering an impressive selection of vintage bottles, and we are expertly guided through it by the house sommelier. Our coffee is accompanied by Lisbeth’s fantastic selection of homemade petits fours. We leave the establishment full, satisfied and ebullient from the champagne. We don’t go here to be modern, but to enjoy expert service, drink mature wines, eat well-cooked food prepared with the finest ingredients, and simply surrender to the warm embrace of Bo and Lisbeth.
Cru’s broad floor-to-ceiling window stands evident to all by the massively frequented Viru street in Tallinn Old Town. Getting in, on the other hand, is more complicated. From the street, you take an underpass into a small courtyard, then up the stairs to a narrow hall. The overall impression is one of a restaurant at a tiny vineyard somewhere in Alsace. Cru is the signature cuisine of oneo f the most famous Estonian chefs, Dmitri Haljukov. Serving classic fine dining upto a couple of years ago, ithas since taken a turn towards ever lesser processing. The chef has proved himself. With no more needto show his mastery of the techniques (nobody doubts him anymore), he takes time to select the raw ingredients and bring out its best qualities. Presented inan egg-shaped ceramic bowl, the smoked trout Benedict is a pleasantly fatty slice of springwater-bred, house-smoked trout. Itis served with low-cooked runny egg, farm potato blin and chive foam. The chef's favorite pastime these days seems tobepreparing classic dishes with his own twist. Regardless of the name, wine here is chosen todo honor to the food, but no more. The different faces of the restaurant show in different dining halls. The showy front room with its tall ceilings, an intimate back room for a smaller group, and a cellar hall for a bigger party for privacy.Regardless of the milieu, the restaurant offers an excellent digestif toend the evening with - a hop distillate from a local brewery. Enjoying this eaude vieof a kind brings back the emotions you hadat entering.
Estonia has its share of decade-old restaurants, but the fame that hasbeen accompanying the Ribe through its entire existence is unique. Founded by three waiters, the restaurant took off in full sail. The service was at a level unheard ofin Estonia at the time. And the quality persists to this day. On your first visit, you’re a guest, on the second visit – a good acquaintance, on the third visit – a dear friend. The restaurant knows and remembers its customers. It also surprises with unexpected drinks that are hard to come across, whether a Pierre Gimmonet single grape Chardonnay growers champagne for apéritif or Caron's smoky, whisky-like rum, aged for 17 years inTrinidad inoak barrels, for digéstif. Ribe is always crowded. Crowded with nurselings and centenaries, next-door neighbours and Australian tourists alike. Itis impossible to say to whom Ribe is best or least suited. Most likely, everybody likes the cuisine. Soft-boiled quail egg, green broad beans and buckwheat popcorn add their textures and nuances to the otherwise perhaps basic creamy chanterelle soup. Head Chef Rado Mitro brings a similar unexpected twist to every menu item. We like the Ribe best in the autumn. In the mushroom season, when the menu features lots of different local forest mushrooms. But everybody will find their own reason to love Ribe.
Architects Sandell and Bohlin’s interpretation of a modern, socially focused restaurant is unique: a beautiful combination of harsh concrete, intimate floor plan and warm hues. Here you sit around the bar and the open kitchen or along the wall, shoulder to shoulder with other diners, many of whom have been hanging out at “Roffes” for many years. They often have creative but commercial jobs, which characterises the mood. Many of the dishes on the menu are classics. The perfectly fibrous braised ox cheek with smooth pressed potatoes is one such example. The always-crispy potato pancake with caviar is another. Johan Jureskog has run the restaurant for a while and has the sense to protect their signature dishes. Sometimes more elaborate compositions feel a bit uneven. But the kitchen does have a way with pig. The Iberico shoulder has a nice texture and fat, nougaty flavours. The pork belly confit with cabbage and beer-poached onions is also outstanding. The Lobster Thermidor has been under the broiler a little too long but is still really yummy, filled as it is with sweetbreads and foie gras. You would be wise to begin all this with snacks: a few slices of pata negra, some oysters and perhaps a handful of snails with lardo. Yes, the style is robustly masculine. The wine list is impressive both in breadth and depth, and the staff know how to match drinks and food, but sometimes this gets rushed over. Likely because of the awaiting diners who stand stomping in the undersized entrance. That Roffes is as crowded as an Indian train compartment and as loud as a college frat party is, however, part of the charm.
Located 100 kilometres from Helsinki the town of Lahti can be reached by train in less than one hour, and Roux, a charming family restaurant, is the main attraction for many visitors. The French tradition is obvious from the name of the place, but most of the ingredients they use are carefully selected from domestic suppliers with consideration for the season. In late April asparagus plays a major role. Fans of that seasonal delicacy can enjoy it in an amuse-bouche mousse, in a soup with morsels of smoked salmon and even for dessert in a posset with pickled strawberries. There are many other delicacies, including fish and game. A farmed whitefish from Bothnia Bay could not have tasted better with spring potatoes and garnished with anchovy crème. Chef Sami Häkkinen has good connections with producers up north, so reindeer is always on the menu, now as a tender fillet and hearty blood sausage. Roux is proud of their wine selection. Though they are open on the weekends, they do not have a lunch menu. In a way it is a pity, because this old chemist’s shop with its attractive traditional interior is practically made for brunching, which is still a rarity in Finland. The service is friendly, efficient and dedicated.
Sadama tee 10, Neeme küla, Jõelähtme vald,, Harjumaa
Located in Neeme village, the Ruhe is a good half-hour drive outside Tallinn. A picaresque landscape right at the seafront. A lone apple tree on the terrace, an old wood-carved boat - a ruhe - next to the tree, and the sea, big and wide, behind them... This is the picture all visitors take away from Ruhe. Whether by camera or phone orin the mind’s eye... Every picture is slightly different. This view, the symbol of the restaurant, makes for powerfully different moods. The mood behind the floor-to-ceiling windows affects the guest immediately and impacts even the food and drink. Believe itor not, the Voirin-Jumel Brut Grand Cru Blanc deBlancs champagne along with whitefish tartare can taste sunny, or cloudy, or windy. The guest is entirely at the nature’s disposal even while sitting in a well-lit, warm and cozy room. And while the moods of nature are the main factor shaping the guest’s experience, the restaurant offers outstanding food (with fish and seafood predominant in the menu) anddrink (affordably priced champagnes, sparkling wines and mostly white wines). Those who have not yet seen the sea, boat, and apple tree at the Ruhe, are not well versed inimpressive restaurant experiences.
Grand Hôtel, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8, 103 27 Stockholm
Chili, lime and coriander. Avocado and mango. These components are from a lot further afield than Mathias Dahlgren’s former “natural kitchen” concept. With Rutabaga – ”a world-class vegetarian restaurant” – he is headed in a whole new direction and invites us to experience flavours and ingredients from around the world. The interior is decorated with greenery, and naked light bulbs create a warm, welcoming glow. A bartender shakes cocktails – developed in collaboration with the kitchen. We begin with an alcohol-free, homemade kombucha poured over a glass of beautiful red berries. The version with alcohol is based on umeshu plum wine and is topped with tofu foam and small flakes of nori; it smells like sushi and tastes delightful. The appetiser goes well with the drinks – seared spicy pineapple, roasted cashew nuts, sesame bread and fresh yogurt cream. What you see is what you get: Mango and mozzarella are mango and mozzarella; avocado with jalapeño is avocado with jalapeño. The simplicity is striking, but everything is fresh and flavourful. If you want to drink wine, it comes in four different sizes. Choose between light, full, funky or exclusive – white or red. A lot of the dishes follow the formula of “main ingredient plus condiment”. For example, the small, fried falafel-like chickpeas balls are accompanied by of a coarse pea guacamole. The roasted cauliflower comes with a deep-green ”béarnaise”. The highlight of the evening is raw, grated carrots on a bed of silky mayonnaise, sprinkled with peanuts and coriander. Eggs and dairy products are allowed, but rarely play the main role except in a few dishes: a light echo of Dahlgren’s previous restaurant Matsalen, appears in the truffle-laced, fried “twin” egg yolks with large, tender white beans. Rutabaga is the sort of uncomplicated and consistently enjoyable experience we would like to see more of.
This is a top-rate sushi joint. Though we miss the intimate view of the chefs at work, now that the bar section is gone, we get to watch as the stylish, oblong glass panels are carried in laden with sushi and sashimi pieces. Aw, shucks! We should probably have also ordered a few nigiri with seared cod and apple purée. It’s like a parade of pastel-coloured confections. And everything looks unabashedly good. Less colourful treats, like the gunkan sushi with grilled duck heart, get visual help from a cummerbund of thinly planed cucumber. When one gunkan falls to the floor (the one with scallop tartare, browned butter and miso emulsion) the waiter immediately offers us a new one. “It’s one of my favourites. I don’t want you to miss out”. The sweet seafood pieces with umami-rich cream are delicious. Our humble and easy-going waiters also have full control of everything drinkable – from the bitter Reparationsbajer (“recovery beer”) from Denmark’s To Øl brewery to a polished, mineral sake. We even get a sneak taste of an Argentinean white, just because “it’s so good”. It suggests a certain confidence to serve a mixed sashimi (Moriawase) without any other bling. But there is ingenuity in the other dishes, like zander with lardo from Swedish Wagyu, and beautiful beetroot-salted halibut. The food is imaginative, tasty and loaded with finesse. Our glass plate, overloaded just a bit ago, is now almost empty. Not even one roe remains. It was just too good.
Ræst is among the small enclave of restaurants in Tórshavn that excel in traditional Faroese cuisine. You can count on an experience that will get completely under your skin – and on your clothes. Upon entering the centuries-old wooden house, you are immediately bombarded with the pungent smell of fermented fish and lamb that sticks to – and remains on – your skin, hair and clothes. We are welcomed by the chefs, who also serve as waiters and sommeliers; they escort us through a couple of low-ceilinged, homey rooms with crooked doorways where classic Faroese decor combines with beautifully set dining tables. The five-course menu is firmly rooted in local traditions and ingredients, including a confoundingly airy and delicate lamb blood sausage cake with a cream of cod hung to age for three months, mixed with stilton cheese and angelica, giving the clearly fermented cod sharpness and acidity, which in turn is balanced by the sweet pickled raisins. It’s a cavalcade of flavours with amazing lightness, and the harmony is completed by a complex ale with fresh bitter notes, KOKS Ræst Fisk by Mikkeller. The next dish features exquisite skerpikjøt, a wind-dried lamb hung for eight months whose appearance and taste is incontrovertibly in the same league as pata negra, together with slices of a fatty, roasted sausage with significant umami notes from offal. The dish is also accompanied by egg cream with beer-pickled seaweed, sunflower seeds and Dijon mustard. After having enjoyed this dish, the chef informs us that we have eaten sperðil: pan-fried slices of fermented lamb sausage stuffed in its own intestines and made with the tallow surrounding the intestines. The dish of pork fat and meat is very beautifully arranged – and highly delicate. The dessert with angelica is also deftly executed. For novices in controlled rancidity, the odour and certain dishes require some acclimation, but the visit is highly recommended as a historical, cultural and culinary experience for life.
A relative newcomer to Trondheim’s dining scene, Røst maintains its position as one of the frontrunners for the city’s best restaurant. Situated inside Trøndelag Teater in a lush, spacious room previously used as a theater stage, you could be fooled into thinking that the cuisine is as old-fashioned as the white tablecloths and red velvet curtains that surround you. This is not the case. Despite the formal backdrop the menu is wonderfully eccentric and diverse, with surprising textures and flavour combinations. With an ever-changing menu you never know what you will get – perhaps a beef tartare with Kalix bleak roe served in a crêpe to be eaten like a soft taco, or butter-fried potato bread with whipped sour cream? From the homegrown herbs to the yeasted sourdough and the impressive execution, these well-renowned chefs (from such fine dining bastions as Ylajali and Maaemo) aspire for greatness. When in peak form, Røst serves some of the most fully balanced and inventive meals in the country. While this level of quality is not always evidenced throughout the whole meal, the three, five, or eight-course set menus are well worth your time. In fact, expect to spend half an hour on each course. In the meantime you can chat with the clever, welcoming staff, peruse the evening’s theater productions, and mentally begin planning your next visit.
When dining at Sarfalik, it’s impossible to forget that you're in Greenland. We're reminded as soon as we look out the top floor windows, with views that encompass sea, mountains, snow (most of the year) and local street art. We're also reminded, of course, by the menu. Sarfalik does its very best to embrace and cherish what is uniquely Greenlandic, with ingredients such as musk ox, angelica root and caribou. While the menu at a glance has an air of New Nordic about it, the kitchen is not constrained by any rules; imported goods are freely featured. We let the chef's choice be ours, and are rewarded with an appealing first dish: a generous heap of pale pink lumpfish roe with pickled onion, darker pink beet-coloured sourdough, lumpfish meat and more, topped with thick, tangy crème fraîche. It's a joy to look at and eat, as the fresh roe burst between our teeth. Another high point of the evening comes in the form of tenderised, smoked strips of caribou, accompanied by homemade kimchi and shallots in different forms. Throughout the night, fish competes with meat for the throne, but Sarfalik is also one of the few places you can be comfortably vegetarian in Greenland – the kitchen lets its creativity loose in dishes such as pea terrine with beet and rye crisp, and blackened asparagus. Whatever's on the table, it's pleasantly paired with traditional wines. The three sweets that come with the coffee are a fun affair, showcasing a range of inventive flavours and textures. In spite of the natural light, the dining space low-lit and classic as can be: there’s even a piano player in the corner, delivering mellow tunes.
Savoy is an institution in Helsinki, which is not so strange given that its space on the eighth floor was decorated by design icon Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino in 1937. It is worth going just to see the setting. Since Marshal Mannerheim’s beloved Vorschmack has been a regular feature on the menu for almost 80 years, they cannot stop paying tribute to this national hero: Polish “balls” of lamb and herring with beets, smetana and pickles. That said, today the Savoy is a place that attracts tourists and dressed-up locals looking for traditional fine dining. The service is impeccable, the tablecloths are starched, the views are captivating and wine is served at the proper temperature. The food is classic French – the pigeon comes from Anjou, asparagus is in season as soon as it shoots up in France and sole is served Belle Meunière. You pay for what you get, with most entrées hovering just under 50 €, and the wine list includes innumerable, expensive and mainly Old World bottles. Over the years the quality at the Savoy has fluctuated between mediocre and really good. This type of cuisine, with a lot of imported ingredients and classic recipes, works great if the kitchen is fully focused on execution, but is not at all forgiving of missteps. This spring we have noticed some sloppiness at the pots and pans, which we hope is temporary. Savoy’s kitchen is at their best when they let a little New Nordic inspiration seep into all that Francophila, like when a refreshingly acidic fern consommé is nicely balanced by the sweetness of onion purée against a sounding board of Puy lentils and mushrooms. The recommended pinot noir from German Jurtschitsch matches perfectly. More ideas like that and the bill might feel a little more affordable.
If you are the least bit enthusiastic about smørrebrød, the Danish claim to culinary fame, you are likely to fall in love with Schønemann. The restaurant is, as is customary, situated a few steps down from street level, and first thing that catches your eye is the well-stocked bar. Few places in town can compete with Schønemann’s offering of over 140 kinds of schnapps – and if you find the volume daunting the staff are very skilled at finding the very best match for your order and taste buds. The menu is extensive and you can definitely find every kind of traditional smørrebrød here, as well as quite a few original inventions. Some pay homage to regulars and Copenhagen icons like “Renés favourite” dedicated to Noma’s chef, a light creation of Greenland halibut, creamed cucumbers, radishes and chives. The service is folksy and friendly, and very knowledgeable. Although it’s a smørrebrød classic, shrimp is often a disappointment at Copenhagen establishments, as they’ve often been swimming in brine longer than they were in the ocean. Not so here, where both the plump, hand-peeled shrimp and the homemade mayo on the “shrimp pyramide” serving passes the test with flying colours. We are served an oaked dill schnapps to go with “Havfruen” (The Little Mermaid) and it works very well together with smoked salmon, halibut and the dill-spiked shrimp mayo that tops it off. Herring (house-pickled, of course) is a must here, as is trying one of the nine different variations on tartare. Those sceptical to raw meat need not fret, the seared tartare (named after restaurant critic and smørrebrød aficionado Ole Troelsø) is the perfect introduction – spiced up with cognac, lovage and garnished with horseradish and deep-fried capers. So how many smørrebrød can one eat? Well, according to Schønemann’s: two will lay the foundation, three will make you feel satiated, and four will end the meal with a smile.
The Sfäär seems tobe bigger on the inside than the outside. A small eatery with a nondescript facade on Mere puiestee, it lies right on the road tourists take to walk from the harbor to the inner cit, where good restaurants stand side by side with so-called tourist traps. What makes the Sfäär great is the open, relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of big cities, its unique blend of guests, staff, owner, food, and drink.The menu at the Sfäär embraces world food and the drinks list features among other good things coffee from the Kokomo Coffee Roasters under the same roof, andmany intriguing Estonian craft drinks. Food tastes good at the Sfäär in a straightforward way, with clear flavours and nothing overly complex - the head chef’s ambitions donot overshadow the visitor’s expectations. And the raw ingredients are incredible! The autumn tomatoes in the salad served with the organic beefsteak were of a kind you will never find in a supermarket – perhaps at a farmer’s market, if you're lucky and find the right seller. And to borrow from music: Sfäär’s very special desserts have absolute pitch and are finely tuned to the present day. In fact, Sfäär in its entirety sounds like a very good orchestra, whose repertoire may notbe too complicated, but who plays even the simplest tunes perfectly. The service is caring andquick, although occasionally, when the “chief”is not around, the cheerful and eager young staff may get stuck on some of the gastronomic finesses. However, this does nothing tospoil the overall impression.
In the summer town of Porvoo you can eat well all year round at Sinne, situated a bit off the beaten path in a somewhat anonymous grey concrete building on the main road. The restaurant’s interior is industrial with huge pipes suspended from the ceiling and bare walls. It can get loud in here at times. But the waitresses do everything to make the diners happy, and they succeed brilliantly. The restaurant attracts a younger crowd who gladly sink their teeth into the famous hamburger. But try the five-course menu instead, which is Finnish and progressive and contains lots of local produce. The superb spelt bread comes from Malmgård a few kilometres inland, and the lamb meat is from Kivikko, just five kilometres away. (“We bought all 20 animals.”) Some of the meat is salt-cured and served as an excellent amuse-bouche. Some of it was made into the tartare that kick-starts menu, served with cured grated egg yolk, pomegranate and mint cream. A 65-degree egg comes with caramelised butter foam, green asparagus and fried potato shreds. It is slighty overpowering, but the Italian sangiovese provides the requisite balance as a finishing touch. An extremely thinly sliced king crab gets a bit lost in a sauce of fennel and spinach, but it tastes good. The kitchen chooses to braise the boneless veal rib-eye until tender, but is not entirely successful. The amazing cut becomes a little dry. Finally, the birch ice cream gives us a taste of Finnish summer. A panna cotta contributes a continental note, but pieces of almond cake and white meringue sticks emphasise the Nordic heritage.
A red cottage accommodates the small, homey restaurant with sturdy wooden tables and alluring ambiance. Upstairs there are a couple of hotel rooms and a short distance away in the village are the family’s two newly opened sister establishments. It is primarily the Bertilsson brothers who now run the restaurant side of the family business, and with a clear focus. The ambitions on the plate extend so far that their goal is to be completely self-sufficient in vegetables within a few years, a project that is already well advanced. Everything served this evening has its provenance either in their farm in Funäsdalen or comes from very local, carefully selected producers. Rustic dishes dominate the menu with natural flavours inspired by the mountain. The food is simple; every ingredient has a role. The dishes are a tribute to the region and that which nature provides. Homemade charcuterie starts the meal, followed by a buttery Jerusalem artichoke purée topped with pleasantly tart pickled tarragon, slow baked lamb and fried Jerusalem artichoke chips. These tender, nurturing flavours are paired with a nice cream ale from Åre. The beverage recommendations are consistently knowledgeable, and natural wines are chosen gladly so the pure flavours fit the food. The service is familial and professional, present and empathetic. Crunchy rainbow trout fried with its skin on is balanced with round sea-saltiness from trout roe, fermented fennel and mashed potatoes. Yes, in the menu it says simply, “mashed potatoes”. Liberatingly unpretentious.
Oslo has a fair amount of restaurants with a view, but few can beat Skur 33 in that regard. Situated in a refurbished harbor warehouse on an old pier, this Italian seafood trattoria with an attractive terrace is a sure winner as far as outdoor crustacean experiences go, but it doesn’t need its vista to satisfy. Here, robust flavours get comforting, traditional treatments – a typical three-course can include a wonderfully savoury soup with Norwegian skrei and Italian vongole, a big flaky piece of halibut with crunchy speck and risotto, and an almond crème brûlée. It’s a no-nonsense combo of Mediterranean execution and – at least to a certain extent – local produce and fish. If you want something less expensive, there’s always pizza, courtesy of a traditional brick oven that greets you when you enter the spacious, picturesque and surprisingly cosy venue. The wine list is well stocked, although hardly surprising or non-traditional, and the prices are acceptable. The welcoming staff serves up food with big, well-balanced flavours that will have you singing, “That’s Amore!”.
Situated right on the idyllic harbour, Sletten is one of those restaurants that never seems to disappoint, and everything from the welcome to dessert flows effortlessly and elegantly – we never doubt that we are in good hands here. Sletten has a constantly changing menu of smaller courses that you can combine as you like according to your level of hunger. Ingredients are locally sourced and the proximity to Øresund is emphasised in the menu. This is the place to enjoy a well-prepared and deeply intense fish soup made from a stock of turbot and lobster, further enhanced by black trumpet mushrooms – as well as an enticing view over fishing boats, the pier and the thatched roofs of the well-preserved Humlebæk houses. Or you could try the fried skate wing with lemon-marinated kale topped with mussels. The food is fresh, colourful and well balanced – this is, after all, the sister restaurant of well-renowned formel B in the city centre. The Danish classic dish “brændende kærlighed” (burning love) is a comforting plate of buttery-soft mashed potatoes, dehydrated and deliciously liquoricey beetroots, crispy ventrèche and delicately prepared sweetbreads. A succulent cut of Iberico secreto is fried to pinkish perfection, and the rosemary ice cream atop a pear cream covered with a crisp almond tuile is a delightfully not-so-sweet ending. The wine list is excellent, and Bourgogne aficionados will surely spend a lot of time poring over what to choose. There is also a good selection of wines by the glass.
A stroll through the park and a break at the castle’s Matcafé is a perfect start to an afternoon off. If your goal is to maximise your evening, book a tasting menu in size small, medium or large, at the castle’s impressive Matrum. Slottsrestaurangen has Skåne and Småland as favourite landscapes and the menus change from day to day, driven by clever creations and availability of ingredients, like moose tongue, sweetbreads, cod skin or goose. The dishes are served on handmade porcelain that has been specially designed with inspiration from the castle’s rooms and facades. Whether you take a big or small spending mood with you, the visit is an almost magical experience. We test the daily special and get cherrywood-smoked salmon from the kitchen’s smoker with dilly mashed potatoes. Bands of dill-marinated cucumbers beautifully cut lengthwise, freshly harvested carrots and a parsnip marinated to outrageously sunny freshness are strewn helter-skelter. It would be inappropriate to lick the mash from the plate, but we sure we want to. Both the Matcafé and Matrum are located in the castle with its 800 years of history, and it captures the imagination. It turns out that Thomas and Charlotta Begic accept bookings from all over the world, sometimes of the more quirky type – like a wedding party with a menu comprised only of medicinal plants. After a charmingly handled cappuccino using beans from Balck Coffee, the local roastery in Kalmar, Slottsrestaurangen conjures up a glass of red wine with a balanced, incomparable roundness from northern Médoc. It is a perfect finish.
The dynamic duo of Melker Andersson and Danyel Couet have had a major impact in the restaurant industry in recent years. The most obvious being the move from fine dining to quality, fun eating. Under Marcus Lindstedt's leadership their most institutionalized restaurant, Smak, has parked itself confidently at the forefront of the group. The concept remains the same: small plates from world cuisines are served in rapid succession, each with a single, dominating flavour. You order by making checkmarks on a form, and there are also carefully selected beverage options with each of the dishes. We really enjoyed a brioche with sirloin steak, foie gras and ginger perfume, as well as a pointed cabbage wrap with sweetbreads with a bit of a chilli kick. Dilly brandade of cod from Lofoten and char with nutty brown butter, crispy (!) oyster mushrooms and trout roe, all illustrate the style nicely, too. On the sweet side the trio of pear, mint and chocolate invites you on a trip back to the 70s and we conclude that not everything was better back then. Even the setting is cut from the same conceptual template. It has the generic feeling of a modern big city restaurant over it all - stylish and properly put together, but not without cosiness. High ceilings, large windows, soft lighting from ornate light fixtures, muted colours, smoky mirrors and tapestries are a warm contrast to the glass and concrete of the surrounding city neighbourhood. The guest mix is eclectic - a mix of suits at work dinners, dating young couples and county officials up for a conference. The service is easy-going and knowledgeably leads us through the food and drinks.
Smalhans is a refreshingly non-themed neighbourhood restaurant, perfectly suited for St. Hanshaugen’s hipsterfied gentry. The rustic but tastefully furnished restaurant is popular and usually filled with a varied mix of young and old, hip and not so hip. For lunch there is simple fare like soups, burgers or fried eggs. Between 4 and 6 pm you can buy “Dagens husmann”, a reasonably priced well-cooked meal served family style. The food on offer might be anything from old school everyday Norwegian cooking like raspeball (potato dumplings) with boiled salt pork to French classics like bouillabaisse or Korean crossover-style steamed buns. In the evening the menu changes to a more sophisticated daily set menu where you can choose between five (Smalhans) or nine courses (Krøsus). A pleasantly acidic halibut ceviche with tiger’s milk and peanuts starts off our meal. Alongside the ceviche, a salad of beets, hazelnuts, kale and kubbeost (a fresh farmhouse cheese) is competently prepared. The lamb shoulder confit is tender, juicy and flavourful in a rich sauce of olive oil and butter with an abundance of fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes. An escalivada is served alongside – a Catalan dish of roast vegetables. While tasty, it’s marred by undercooked aubergines. Dessert is a variation of the classic Norwegian waffle, albeit a slightly flaccid specimen, served with bilberry sorbet, bilberry compote and salt caramel. Interesting organic and natural wines dominate the wine list and the service is informal but charming and effective.
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.