If meatballs and a gibberish-spouting puppet chef seem unlikely ambassadors for a global gastronomic revolution then think again. Swedish chefs are leading a new Nordic invasion and this time it's no laughing matter.
Swedish food is the latest Scandinavian import to appeal to British tastes, with food and drink sales in the UK rising 30 per cent in the past five years.
New restaurants, food ranges, and cookbooks are seeking to capitalise on the Scandi-mania that has gripped the UK following the huge success of the Nordic noir-fiction genre, epitomised by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and TV crime dramas including The Killing, Wallander, and The Bridge
The most ambitious Scandinavian restaurant so far opens next month in London. MASH, a 300-seat Danish steakhouse, will take over a Soho basement once occupied by Marco Pierre White's Titanic restaurant. Next week, a former London brewery will be transformed into a Swedish red cottage to showcase menus from three Swedish regions, including Wallander's fictional home, Skane. And the online grocer Ocado recently ramped up the number of Swedish lines it sells, adding crispbreads, jams, beers, and local cheeses to its internet shop.
Trine Hahnemann, a Danish chef whose Scandinavian Christmas recipe book was published last month, said she is "considering" opening a restaurant in the UK next year. "The interest is really overwhelming," she added. The chef will head up a series of Nordic cooking classes at the Food at 52 cookery school in London.
Jonas Aurell, whose deli-cum-wholesale business is supplying Ocado, said: "Ikea paved the way for the food market. Plus, a study into the Nordic diet led by Copenhagen University, which set out to prove that the Nordic diet was as good as the Mediterranean diet in terms of health, gave us a lot of impetus to push the food forward."
The global triumph of Copenhagen's Noma restaurant, which has won the feted best restaurant in the world award for the past three years, has been widely credited with helping to put Scandinavian cooking on the map. Its chef, Rene Redzepi, opened a sell-out pop-up restaurant in Claridge's this summer. Daniel Berlin, a Skane-based chef tipped to succeed Redzepi as the world's best, hopes to follow suit next summer.
Hahnemann said yesterday: "I think we have a lot in common because of the climate, we have the same ingredients and the same season, so the New Nordic ties in very well with the local British food movement, and all the attention there is on British food now. Foraging and preserving is the growing thing in both our countries."
A Swedish "cook-it-yourself" concept, Aveqia, opened earlier this month, where Michelin-starred chefs teach diners to prepare dishes such as "spice-flamed reindeer". Peter Hencz, the school-cum-restaurant's director, said: "Many colleagues back in Sweden are looking at the UK market, and, if we succeed, they will follow us."
Aveqia joins a host of other Nordic restaurants across the UK, including the Edinburgh-based delicatessen Peter's Yard, and KRO, a chain of Danish eateries across Manchester and Cheshire. The next series of Masterchef - the BBC1 cooking competition, now being filmed - will feature Scandinavian cuisine, with one contestant stocking up on ingredients from the online supplier Danish Food Direct.
Signe Johansen, a Norwegian cook who released her second recipe book, Scandilicious, earlier this year, said: "The Scandinavian zeitgeist seems to be growing - whether it's fashion, design, crime fiction, TV or food - interest in the region at the moment is quite astonishing to those of us who hail from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, or Finland. It's a confluence of events, people are fascinated by Scandinavian crime fiction with all its brutality, violence towards women, social discord, racism and corruption -all of this is at odds with the image of Scandinavia as a social democratic haven where the standard of living consistently rates as the best in the world and everything seems picture-perfect."
Mr Hencz sought to defend Sweden's reputation for boring dishes such as meatballs, pointing out: "When we think about the UK we think about fish and chips. Every country has something they are associated with."