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FEELS LIKE HOLM

Sweden’s capital oozes Scandi chic… and as Olivia Palamountain explains, there’s plenty of substance behind all this style

PHOTOGRAPHY ULF SVANE

There’s a lot happening around theworld to cheer about so have funand let your inner spirits soar!

The metro seems an unlikely place to start an illicit affair with food; but descend into the underworld of Stockholm’s arty Tunnelbana and I promise you’ll fall in love. The smell hits you immediately; a heady mix of sweet, warm spices and the freshly baked waft of Sweden’s famous cinnamon buns. As tempting as it might be to follow your nose, resist; these kanelbullar are the sirens of Stockholm’s newsagents – seductive but certainly not the sort that you would take home to meet your parents.

The city’s signature scent always welcomes me to Stockholm, en route to the real deal at my grandmother’s house. Tight knots of buttery dough laced with ground almonds and cinnamon and studded with pearl sugar, Mormor’s kanelbullar would make croissants surrender and Mary Berry weep. At 96 years old, my grandmother has lost the energy to bake but she is yet to lose her appetite. It’s now up to me to source the sweet bites for our fika (a traditional coffee break and gossip), and I’ve trekked all over the city in search of the perfect bun. From Vete-Katten to Fabrique, Valhalla and award-winning newcomer Brillo, no bakery is safe from my grandmother’s critical tongue.

While there’s no guarantee they’ll manage to win over a woman with nearly 100 years’ eating experience, for me, Stockholm always delivers.

Built on its relationship with water, Sweden’s capital is spread over a chain of 14 granite islands, where the mouth of Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. These waters are Stockholm’s larder, rich with salmon, trout, pike, shrimp and herring – staples that anchor Swedish cuisine and are best observed at Östermalms Saluhall, the city’s famous food court. Here, the riches of the land and sea are flamboyantly displayed in a ritual unchanged for 129 years.

The water in Stockholm is so clean that even in the city centre anglers stand with rods outstretched, waiting to catch their supper. This beau-tiful archipelago combines urban life with a profound respect for the natural world. Despite a global reputation as a hub for music, tech, fi-nance and the arts, the quality of life is paramount for the city’s residents and often expressed by its proximity to nature.

The medieval squares of Gamla Stan and the elegant 19th century architecture of the swanky Östermalms District sit side by side with the wilds of the world’s first national city park, a green lung some 10 kilometres (km) long, stretching from Sörentorp and Ulriksdal in the north to Djurgården and the Fjäderholm islands in the south.

A city of two faces, bitter Swedish winters give way to a sun that hardly sets, come summertime. In a country where darkness falls for much of the year, these pre-cious months – and their fruits – are sacred. At the height of midsummer in June, Rosendals Trädgård makes for an excellent place to appreciate just what the Swe-dish seasons bring. For more than 30 years, this working city farm has showcased biodynamic cultivation, driving the ‘field to fork concept’ from its orchards and on-site cafe.

I’m too early to take advantage of allemansrätten – a law that gives citizens the right to pick mushrooms (Swedes go wild for chanterelles) and berries in any forest or meadow between July and October – but I couldn’t have timed things better for picking strawberries. A source of national pride, jordgubbar are served at every opportunity during their short season – usually with milk and sugar. Every deli and grocer in Stockholm is splashed scarlet with these famous strawberries but the city is unusually quiet. Most residents have decamped to the wider ar-chipelago for hedonistic all-night parties and dancing fuelled by schnapps and fruity brännvin (Swedish vodka). For this progressive, ordered society, midsummer is a time to run riot and let loose a bit of their inner Viking.

A summer solstice in Stockholm is still a pleasure though especially with Agneta Green as a guide. One half of Sweden’s most famous culi-nary duo, Agneta and chef husband Magnus Ek are the brains behind two star Michelin restaurant Oaxen Krog.

First built in 1994 on the island of Oaxen, the 35 seat Krog has made its new home in the renovated shipyard of a tiny marina on Djurgården. On a cycle tour of the island, past Oaxen’s blossoming vegetable garden, Agneta tells me: “We were pioneers in Sweden, foraging for ingredients that grew in the forest behind our restaurant and even by the waterfront. How many restaurateurs took their staff out to pick oak moss 10 years ago?”

Back in the serene Krog kitchen, moss is very much old news. Here, Magnus and his mainly Swedish team play with techniques borrowed from around the world, reinterpreted with predominantly local ingredients, many of which are grown on the island itself. Fermentations are a current favourite with potatoes next to receive this treatment, inspired in part by a Korean process.

Already on the menu is smen, a funky preserved butter from Morocco, and a snack of fermented green strawberries with radish. “We’ve got more equipment here than in the original restaurant but we use fewer techniques. You might say we’ve underwhelmed the process,” says Magnus. Not that diners would ever realise that from the otherworldly menu of six, eight or 10 courses. There’s marinated moose heart, sliv-ers of raw reindeer with vendace roe and a garlic emulsion and 200-year-old mahogany clams from Iceland (“they’re likely even older than that,” admits Magnus). Kavring, a dark rye bread baked with molasses and lager, is extraordinary – it is still warm in its pan when brought to our table. Food at Oaxen Krog eats like a foreign film without subtitles – full of familiar tastes but delivered in a language I don’t understand. With cooking at such an experimental level, does Magnus ever lose sight of what works and what doesn’t? “I do get confused,” he concedes with endearing humility, adding: “Sometimes I think it’s nice but wonder if anyone else will appreciate it.”

There’s no confusion over the latest restaurant venture from the Oaxen family. Slip is the casual counterpart to fine dining Krog. It occupies the lion’s share of a cavernous warehouse that’s accessed through a secret door. In a nod to the building’s past, corrugated iron lines the walls and a wooden boat is suspended from the vaulted ceiling, design details that feel at home rather than pastiche.

On a fine June evening, golden light streams through huge panoramic windows overlooking the water and the island of Beckholmen be-yond, highlighting a busy service where tables of up to 10 are sharing dishes such as King Crab with Curried Butter or Grilled Pork Hip with Garlic and Tomatoes. From charcuterie to sodas and mayonnaise, everything is made in-house and as much as possible natural and organic – including a fine selection of wines and champagne. A sugar free glass of Laherte Frère makes a perfect match for the beef tartare served with a sweet mustard mayonnaise and delicate tempura onion rings.

“Oaxen Slip is about having a good time with friends in an easygoing environment while at Oaxen Krog, the food is intended to be the focus of the experience,” says Agneta. In their own way however, both are hymns to husmanskost, the foundation of Swedish cuisine. Magnus ex-plains: “Similar to Italians, we have a rich gastro history in the home and a culture of recipes being handed down through the generations.”

Traditionally, husmanskost was everyday food of the people, made with seasonal, local ingredients – often dairy rich and fatty, designed to nourish after a hard day’s labour. Pork, fish, berries, potatoes and preserves were combined in contrasting flavours of sweet, salt and fat. Meatballs in cream gravy with lingonberry jam is a classic, as is herring pickled in ättika (vinegar) or gravlax (dill cured salmon). These are recipes that have not changed for hundreds of years.

One of the most established places to explore these nostalgic flavours is the famous Konstnärsbaren, an elegant art nouveau dining room offset by lively modern art. The cultural elite have been gathering here since 1931, and on my visit, poet Kristina Lugn and actor Peter Dalle are deep in conversation.

Refined and distinguished, Konstnärsbaren offers a richly satisfying menu. Wallenbergare, a feather light veal burger drenched in browned butter, is its signature dish. An uncompromising lesson in true style and substance, the world is a better place with Konstnärsbaren in it. But tried and tested will never be trendy. Stockholm leaves this to its new generation of young chefs who are reimagining husmanskost as nu husmans, tinkering with fat content and presentation to produce wildly exciting food that remains authentic to the region but accessible to their peers.

Set menus define the hottest joints with bright young things both behind the stove and on the pass. At Volt, chef owners Fredrik Johnsson and Peter Andersson take a minimal approach to cooking, using the seasons and their surroundings as inspiration. All tattoos and Nordic cool, they’ve created a low-key vibe where fashionable staff serve four or six courses of artfully layered cuisine to a rocky soundtrack. It’s a formula that works: Volt is now in its fourth year and has been awarded a Michelin star.

Another pair making waves is Adam Dahlberg and Albin Wessman. They connected while working for two star Michelin chef Mathias Dahlgren and have gone on to set up high concept restaurant Adam/Albin. We are offered an experimental five course menu of seasonal cuisine masquerading as edible works of art. From plump, sugar glazed crayfish from the west coast, to an absurdly good dessert of local poached apples with brown butter and meringue,

Adam/Albin is definitely one to watch.

However, not all restaurateurs are determined to serve Swedish food. Cross south to Hornstull in hip Södermalm and you’ll find Tjoget, a Mediterranean inspired brasserie, wine bar and barbershop from Andreas Bergman and Joel Söderbäck. “We opened Tjoget in a quiet neigh-bourhood five years ago. Now Hornstull has become a destination.

As locals, we’re proud we gave the area a proper bar and restaurant,” says Andreas. With Linje Tio they’ve also given Sweden its first ever bar to land on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Watching the crowd start to buzz in for Sunday brunch, it’s evident Tjoget has its target market nailed. Ironic glasses, a mash-up of style references and interesting hair-cuts make up the uniform of this clientele, probably on their way back from the nearby modish flea market and its burgeoning food truck scene.

A man with an eye for the new and the next, Andreas predicts that “veggies are the future of food for this city.” And he has already cap-tured the mood with the opening of Paradiso, a restaurant making greens the star of the show.

Joining this movement is Sally Voltaire. Stock-holm’s answer to the Hemsley sisters, Sally is looking to inspire curiosity with her bright, modern Instagram friendly salads from an epony-mous space in the iconic Åhléns department store.

A wander into the fashionable markets of Cajsa Warg and Urban Deli or cafes such as Greta’s at the Haymarket hotel, confirms that the omnipresent trend for all things raw and vegan is growing here too. But for a country where sustainability and seasonality have always been at the heart of the culture, this is hardly news.

Food – and life – in its purest form is revered in Sweden, and the best place to appreciate this is in Stockholm’s great outdoors. Under a vast northern sky, I head off to Fredhällsbadet, my favourite urban swimming spot. Bodies are buffed golden brown from top to toe, either slip-pery from the water or sparkling with salt crystals, tans offset by sun bleached hair. Children shrill and shout, jumping into the freezing water while adults lounge about on the baking rocks.

No outing is complete without a waxed paper bag of smögenräkor – electric pink shrimps with shells as soft as a newborn’s nails. A messy feast, Mormor taught me to twist off the heads, suck the creamy roe and excise the flesh with precision so as not to waste a scrap before toss-ing any remnants back to where they came. In this summer sanctuary, life is in full bloom; friends gossip, lovers embrace and gulls glide by. Only the rocks remain unmoved.

Olivia Palamountain and Ulf Svane travelled to Stockholm courtesy Visit Stockholm.

Travel information

Stockholm is in the southeast of Sweden. Flights from the UK take around 2.5 hours and the time is one hour ahead of GMT. Currency is the krona. In July, the average high temperature is 21°C and the average low is 12°C.

GETTING THERE

Norwegian (norwegian.com) flies to Stockholm Arlanda from London-Gatwick several times a week.
SAS (flysas.com) operates regular flights from London Heathrow to Stockholm.

RESOURCES

Visit Stockholm (visitstockholm.com) is the city’s official tourist website. It contains all the information you need to make the most of your trip.

FURTHER READING

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Quercus) is the first in the best-selling moody Millennium trilogy set in the city.

CARBON COUNTING

To offset your carbon emissions when travelling to Stockholm, visit climatecare.org and make a donation. Return flights from London produce 0.5 tonnes CO2.

Where to eat

Ekstedt ElBulli trained chef Niklas Ekstedt likes to play with fire. Watch him cook everything over open flames. Think Chimney Smoked Lobster with Toasted Almonds and Tomatoes.
Humlegårdsgatan 17
(Tel: (0046) 8 611 1210 or visit ekstedt.nu)

Esperanto High end Nordic Japanese fusion cuisine with Shibumi, a dedicated omakase sushi bar from Mongolian chef Baggie.
Kungstensgatan 2
(Tel: (0046) 8 696 2323 or visit esperantogroup.se)

Hillenberg A ‘place for grownups,’ restaurateur and chef Karl Ljung’s restaurant hits plenty of high notes, from the perfectly tuned acoustics to venison meatballs that will make you melt.
Humlegårdsgatan 14
(Tel: (0046) 8 519 42153 or visit hillenberg.se)

Konstnärsbaren Step back in time to enjoy traditional Swedish classics such as isterband (pork and barley sausage), kroppkakor (potato dumplings) and a wicked skagen (prawn) toast in an elegant, refined atmosphere.
Smålandsgatan 7
(Tel: (0046) 8 679 6032 or visit konstnarsbaren.se)

Matbaren Casual sibling to uber-chef Mathias Dahlgren’s two star Michelin Matsalen, serving bistro style small plates at the bar with home-brewed beer.
Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8
(Tel: (0046) 8 679 3584 or visit grandhotel.se)

Oaxen Krog Prepare to be wowed by Magnus Ek as he takes you on a magical culinary journey through Sweden’s history. Look out for the Scallop with Elderflower and Browned Butter.
Beckholmsvägen 26
(Tel: (0046) 8 551 53105 or visit oaxen.com)

Oaxen Slip Bring your friends – or make new ones – at Oaxen’s new Nordic bistro. Charge your glass with its homemade ale and feast on fabulous sharing platters of Braised Veal, Fried Chanterelles and Shrimps with Smoked Mayonnaise.
Beckholmsvägen 26
(Tel: (0046) 8 551 53105 or visit oaxen.com)

Spritmuseum Unusually for a museum, the food here is excellent. Dine alfresco on seasonal specialities and excellent twisted classics, like Creamy Pickled Herring Covered in a Cloud of Riced Potato.
Djurgårdsvägen 38-40
(Tel: (0046) 8 121 31309 or visit spritmuseum.se)

Where to stay

Ett Hem Elegant 12 room townhouse dating from 1910 that feels morelike a home than a hotel.
Sköldungagatan 2
(Tel: (0046) 8 200590 or visit etthem.se)

Haymarket by Scandic Impressive new hotel inspired by its art decohistory in the centre of town.
Hötorget 13-15
(Tel: (0046) 8 517 26700 or visit scandichotels.com)

Hotel Skeppsholmen Eco-friendly hotel in a 300-year-old building on the peaceful and verdant island of Skeppsholmen. Fabulous organic buffet breakfast.
Gröna gången 1
(Tel: (0046) 8 407 2300 or visit hotelskeppsholmen.se)

Lydmar Recently refurbished design conscious hotel on the waterfront. Enjoy a cocktail on its secret terrace.
Södra Blasieholmshamnen 2
(Tel: (0046) 8 223160 or visit lydmar.com)

Prince Von Orangiën Beautifully restored Dutch vessel that’s part of the Oaxen family and moored on the island of Beckholmen, opposite its restaurants.
Beckholmsvägen 26
(Tel: (0046) 8 551 53105 or visit oaxen.com)

Food glossary

  • Ättika Twenty four percent acetic vinegar used for pickling
  • Aquavit Distinctive flavoured spirit made from spices and herbs usually caraway or dill
  • Brännvin Liquor distilled from potatoes including vodka and aquavit
  • Fika Coffee break usually taken at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., often with cake or kanelbullar
  • Gravlax Cured salmon with dill
  • Husmanskost Food of the people – from husman, meaning ‘house owner’ (without associated land)
  • Jordgubbar Strawberries
  • Kanelbullar Cinnamon buns
  • Kantarelles Chanterelle mushrooms
  • Kavring Lager and molasses bread usually served with smoked fish
  • Köttbullar Meatballs usually served with lingonberry sauce
  • Lax Salmon
  • Lingonberry Wild red berries native to Scandinavia
  • Potatis Potatoes
  • Räkor Shrimp
  • Skagen toast A combination of prawns and other ingredients bound in mayonnaise on sautéed bread

QUOTES

“The water in Stockholm is so clean that even in the city centre anglers stand with rods outstretched, waiting to catch their supper. This archipelago combines urban life with a profound respect for the natural world.”

“We were pioneers in Sweden, foraging for ingredients that grew in the forest behind our restaurant and even by the waterfront. How many restaurateurs took their staff out to pick oak moss 10 years ago?”

“Food at Oaxen Krog eats like a foreign film without subtitles – full of familiar tastes but delivered in a language I don’t understand.”

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