A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Stockholm
Stockholm is a beautiful archipelago: an enticing mix of the grand and the charmingly quaint. Contrary to popular belief, Swedes rarely order meatballs, and mostly limit their pickled herring consumption to breakfast, and right now Stockholm is riding on a culinary high. It has its first ever three-Michelin-star restaurant: the game-changing Frantzén, where the ambience is more akin to a house party than conventional fine dining.
Top Stockholm chefs, from Niklas Ekstedt to Mathias Dahlgren, now have more informal, affordable Nordic eateries, too. Street food, banned until relatively recently (!), is taking off. Still though, the traditional Swedish observance of fike – taking a pause and reset, by breaking for a coffee and kannelbunner (cinnamon or cardamom buns) – remains as important as ever.
Östermalms Saluhall by Marie
Tune in to the Swedish way of life straight away with a little fike. This is nothing like British afternoon tea – who needs to be stuffed formally full of sandwich when there’s a weekend of adventurous eating ahead? Fike is at the heart of lagom – it’s the sense of balance that Swedes seem to have in their DNA and seems to slip serenely into your being after a short stroll around hip and eclectic Sodermalm (Mariatorget is the best metro stop, by a pretty garden square) making culinary-centric discoveries.
You’ll be irresistibly tempted by the show of semlor, the mother of all seasonal fikabröd at art deco. They are voluptuous wheat Lenten buns, decadently filled with almond paste and heavy whipped cream, and found only between January and April.
Chocolate fanatics will adore Small Island Chocolates, an absolute gem of an inviting corner shop. It is like stepping down into a modest Tobago plantation house, with reggae music playing in the background. It’s owned by sommelier-turned-Tobago cocoa plantation-owner Duane Dove, who lives mostly in Stockholm. With French chocolatier Pralus, he produces chocolate that is highly praised among serious aficionados. Sip an intense hot chocolate whilst selecting bars from Small Island and other world chocolatiers.
Keep your visit alive long after the weekend by taking home something singularly Stockholm for the kitchen. Potter Erika Pettersdotter, who creates tableware for many Stockholm restaurants, has her potting wheel actually in her studio-cum-shop. She has plenty of small, beautiful bowls, jugs, and tea strainers that are easily transportable, even in hand luggage.
Next, head over to Stockholm’s most expensive neighbourhood to visit Östermalms Saluhall, which dates back to 1888 and has around 20 quintessentially Swedish gourmet stalls – mostly family-run over several generations – selling local cheese such as Västerbotten, seafood specialities from Lisa Elmqvist, bread, and chocolates.
To snare a table at Ekstedt, be prepared to eat early and sit at the kitchen counter, which offers a mesmerising insight into the kitchen. Niklas Ekstedt and his team cook everything over several open fires and in a chimney (there’s no electricity in the kitchen, save for ventilation and refrigeration), using rotisseries, utensils and pots that look positively medieval. The food is stunning, from the sourdough bread, oysters cooked in seaweed, cold smoked langoustine with kohlrabi and pine, to dried reindeer, vendace roe, charcoal cream and aebleskiver – tiny Swedish pancakes anointed in honey.
Post-dinner, head across the street to Tyge & Stessil. Niklas Ekstedt has opened this new wine bar across the street from his Michelin-starred restaurant, on the premises where they previously stored logs for their ovens. Ekstedt’s head sommelier, Maximilian Mellfors, pours bespoke, primarily non-intervention wines and beers from around the world, accompanied by small dishes. No reservations.
Stockholmers are possibly the world’s most coffee-addicted nation, and drink on average 846 cups a year. They’re also very discerning about how they drink their coffee.
Petrus is the best of the best, and a favourite of chef Bjorn Frantzen. Expect to queue even before it opens, especially on Saturday mornings – who can resist breaking off the ‘nob’ of their incredible rye sourdough baguette? The bread display at Petrus is like an altar, and there’s even art made from the markings of loaves on parchment papers framed on the walls. Stop at the small café within the shop for help-yourself coffee, delicious cardamom buns and window seats for people-watching.
Björn Frantzén says his dream was to open a restaurant that felt like being invited to his own home, and made the dining experience entertaining and playful. He’s certainly realised that – on our visit (before Michelin bestowed its three stars) we were so completely blown away by one of the most exhilarating, brilliant, and engaging gastronomic experiences of our dining life that we were practically moved to tears of joy. Within a renovated nineteenth-century townhouse, Frantzén’s dining room is more like a penthouse, furnished in impeccable yet quirky mid-century-meets-modern Swedish style.
A dramatic modern fire pit adds to the palpable hygge. There are still only 23 covers, which makes the whole experience very special (and difficult to book).
Every detail is considered with great finesse. After aperitifs and incredible snacks, including seabuckthorn and toasted oat macaron, and vendace roe wrapped in a cigar of crispy potato straw, guests head downstairs to the restaurant within the heart of the kitchen. It is one large room with a massive hulk of kitchen counter, multiple open fires for cooking, and a truly rock’n’roll soundtrack. Guests mostly sit at the counter, as if in the stalls of a theatre. Diners are free to wander up and look at what is going on, and the chefs take turns to prepare and present dishes up close-up.
Björn describes the food as ‘Nordic informed by Japanese kaiseki sensibilities’, incorporating his love of nature and vegetable-forward cooking, with a spritz of French technique (he trained at L’Arpège and Les Manoirs Aux Quat Saisons). There’s a clear progression from light to deeply flavourful dishes, including umami-rich chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard) with Frantzén ‘reserve caviar’ and aged pork broth, through king crab grilled over birch embers with ‘hot sauce’, sea urchin, finger lime and chrysanthemum. Says Frantzén, ‘I want diners to experience what Swedes call “lagom”, and think about what and how they’re eating in a different, more mindful way.’
In the evening, repair to The Flying Elk, Björn Frantzén’s take on British gastropub, offering Cheddar gougères, truffled scrambled eggs with straw potatoes and brown butter, roast skrei with blue mussels and algae butter, and for dessert, Eton Mess with cherries and sticky toffee pudding.
Breakfast at sleek and stylish Södermalm branch of Johan & Nyström for exemplary coffee and cardamom buns and extremely friendly staff, who love to talk coffee to convert everyone – not just nerds – to good beans. They have their own roastery and constantly change their beans. Three coffee ‘stations’ mean they offer Aeropress, syphon or pour coffee, though if you ask sweetly they will make a cappuccino.
Cross the river into the Old Town for a wander through the narrow alleys and tall houses, painted yellow, orange, terracotta or cream, which open out into squares faced by churches. Traditionalists will want to try the local snack – crisp bread topped with fried herring, pickled onion and mustard sauce. The best is at Gamla Stan Fisk, the oldest fish store in town.
Fit in some more fike, taking time out to relax in sheepskin-covered chairs with a chocolate and sea salt cookie at Green Rabbit, run by triple Michelin-starred chef Mathias Dahlgren. They also make Swedish versions of Danish smørrebrød at lunchtime. Do take home some of the best dark rye bread in town.
Green Rabbit by Visit Stockholm
Chose Teatern for a more informal last Stockholm stop. Diners eat at tiered seats and kiosks at its centre, and eat dishes from Michelin-starred chefs, including hot dogs by Magnus Nilsson of Faviken, truffle ravioli from Caos, run by Operakällaren’s chef Stefano Catenacci, and vegan dishes from Max Lundin’s The Plant. See if you can sample them all before you head home…