Surf and turf: A taste of the Swedish wilderness
Sweden's cutting-edge cuisine provides gourmet delights, plus the chance to reconnect with the land. Andy Lynes visits Malmo, Stockholm and Jamtland.
It's just before 7pm on a beautiful evening in the rural province of Jamtland in the heart of Sweden. I take the short stroll from my minimally decorated yet cosy bedroom in the remote resort of Faviken, across the gravelled grounds to the converted 19th-century wooden grain store, pausing to admire the snow-capped Are mountains in the distance.
I take a seat in the ground-floor bar, where a wolfskin coat hangs on a wall and traditional Jamtlandic folk music plays on a loop. Then the pre-dinner canapés arrive and I find myself biting into miniature crunchy cups fashioned from dried pig's blood that are filled with lightly salted wild trout roe.
A group of ultra-keen foodies, we'd left Stockholm in the early morning to take what must be one of Europe's most picturesque train journeys. Five and half hours heading north past lakes, forests of pine and silver birch and deep green fields studded with brilliant yellow dandelions to Jarpen in Jamtland county followed by an hour's taxi ride to the 24,000-acre estate of Faviken. Most visitors come to the area for its skiing, but for us it was a culinary pilgrimage, partly inspired by an internet buzz surrounding the restaurant and its inclusion in a world's 100 best restaurants list. We hoped to be rewarded with something spectacular. We were not disappointed.
Visceral might be an overused term, but it sums up the food of Faviken's head chef Magnus Nilsson perfectly. Highlights of the 11-course, four-hour meal eaten in the upstairs dining room at the restaurant's sole table include langoustines with sprouting barley, and vegetables preserved in whey and pine bark cake with acidic herbs and frozen buttermilk. It's a hugely memorable meal full of theatre, including Nilsson and his sous chef hacksawing a bone in half in the dining room to harvest the marrow which he serves with diced raw cow heart. Such is the impact of Nilsson's food that he may soon be on the receiving end of the sort of adulation and notoriety currently being meted out to Danish chef René Redzepi of Noma, with whom he shares an elemental approach.
Look beyond the blood and bones and you find that new Swedish cooking, like Redzepi's, also embraces foraged herbs, flowers and vegetables, bringing the glorious landscape right on to the plate. Nilsson is one of a number of young Swedish chefs that personify allemansratten (the freedom granted under the Swedish constitution of access to nature; roughly the equivalent of the UK's right to roam) and before dinner he takes us for a short ramble over the surrounding fields.
Peak foraging time is late spring and early summer; in winter the ground is covered in a metre-and-a-half of snow and the lakes freeze over. We find wood sorrel and morel mushrooms, but Nilsson has already been out and collected fiddlehead ferns and ground elder for the evening's meal. Nilsson shows us the beds where about 100 varieties of vegetables are grown, including the strong flavoured Jamtlandian grey pea which Nilsson says is the only variety that ripens this far north.
But you don't have to venture into the Swedish wilderness to find nature on your plate. At the Algarnas Tradgard ("Moose Garden") Supper Club on the docks of Malmo we congregate around tables fashioned from concrete pillars and old wooden pallets and plunge our forks into the meadow of bright yellow rape flowers that cover a simple salad of potatoes. The menu, created by two of the city's top chefs Ola Rudin and Sebastian Persson, includes roasted onions strewn with chive flowers, bite-sized meringues with wood sorrel and culminates in a procession of jars containing rhubarb stalks, huge leaves intact, that we dip in sugar and chew on as a dessert. (From October, the supper club will become a permanent restaurant occupying the same location called Saltimporten Canteen.)
The city – a scenic 15-minute train ride from Copenhagen over the Oresund Bridge – has plenty of other natural and organic-focused culinary attractions. The provocatively named Bastard Restaurant, recently voted the best restaurant in the county of Skane, deals in the sort of nose-to-tail dining popularised by St John restaurant in London, so expect marrow bones, charcuterie plates and ox heart, tongue and tail. The team also manages the stylish Smak café-restaurant at the Konsthall contemporary art gallery where there are plenty of vegetarian options available to eat in the secluded courtyard.
You need look no further than Malmo for some of Sweden's hot food and drink trends. Scandinavians drink the most coffee per head in the world, so it's no surprise that small roasteries are popping up all over the country. At the hip Solde Kaffebar, former baristas Johan Carlstrom and Jonas Westesson serve espresso from beans they source, blend and roast themselves in their facility on the outskirts of the city. We're served "natural" unfiltered wines made from hand-picked organic grapes at Algarnas Tradgard and Bastard, but they're also available at Belle Epoque bar and Restaurang Mrs Brown. If you're serving organic food, logic dictates that the wines should also have a minimal amount of human intervention; however, the sometimes cider-like results are not always pleasing.
One of the driving forces behind Sweden's new naturalistic approach is professional forager Roland Rittmann, who conducts foraging expeditions by prior arrangement. We visit him at his farmhouse in Anderslov, about 35km south-east of Malmo. Over coffee and traditional home-made cinnamon buns in the garden, Rittmann explains how, after retiring from teaching in the early 2000s, he returned to his childhood fascination with the land and began collecting and selling wild mushrooms. Since creating his Jordnara Natur & Kultur company in 2004, Rittmann now supplies most of the top chefs in Sweden with wild leaves, berries and blooms. Nosing around his storeroom is a fascinating experience and we get to taste sea arrow grass, bird grass, white dead nettle and goutweed.
The founding of his company coincided with the publication of the New Nordic Cuisine manifesto by Danish food entrepreneur Claus Meyer and 12 leading chefs of the region who agreed to "express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate with our region" and "base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly excellent in our climates, landscapes and waters".
In 2005, the manifesto was adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers to develop the aims "into a lifestyle which will be better for nature, for people and for Nordic society as a whole" and which funds Nordgen, an organisation dedicated to the safeguarding and sustainable use of plants, farm animals and forests.
We're treated to a tour around the head office and plant bank in Alnarp, just north of Malmo. Head of the seed laboratory, Simon Jeppson, shows us the collection of more than 29,000 different live samples of Nordic cultural plants from about 325 different species. They're stored, dried and frozen in vacuum sealed bags in what look like dozens of domestic fridges. Along with the Nordgen's extensive gardens where they cultivate rare species, it's a valuable resource for chefs.
Travelling on to Sweden's south coast, past fields of rape and rolling green hills, we get to commune not only with nature but with history too. On the hills above the village of Kaseberga, overlooking the Baltic Sea, we eat pickled herring and drink akvavit in the centre of the 59 boulders that form Ales Stenar, a "stone ship" ancient burial site. The food comes courtesy of chef Anders Vendel whose eponymous restaurant is in the harbour below. We eat cod served with seaweed and a surprisingly delicious porridge made from rye bread, and pears poached in seawater served with caramel ice cream. Afterwards, Vendel shows us around his on-site bakery, where he makes superb sourdough, rye bread and surdegs knacke, a type of crispbread.
The small harbour is also home to Ahl's Rokeri where the glass-fronted display counter heaves with an incredible array of mahogany-coloured smoked fish, including mackerel flavoured with paprika and herring smoked with Thai flavours.
We even find nature on the outskirts of Stockholm. As we arrive at Mistral, a tiny restaurant in the suburb of Enskededalen, we spot a deer in the distance. Perhaps it was running away from chef Fredrik Andersson, worried it would end up on his menu. But the bearded and pony-tailed chef seems far too gentle a soul to harm a living thing.
The meal isn't meat-free. The succession of beautifully arranged plates includes poached veal heart served with nettles crisped in salty butter and pickled and dried onions, and veal neck served with whole baked garlic. But the real emphasis of Andersson's "modern ecological gastronomy" is on vegetables, so that means cucumber marinated in hemp oil with rosehip, rhubarb, lingonberries and duck fat vinaigrette and mangel (beet) leaf with radish, salted dried perch roe and wild flowers and herbs.
It's a charming experience but not entirely devoid of pretence and preciousness, something the New Nordic Food movement could be accused of. But give me the considered and environmentally aware approach over the macho posturing of much of modern haute cuisine any day. Although you'll see the influence of the New Nordic Cuisine across the globe, you'll have to travel to Sweden to find it in its most natural state. It's no flash in the pan, and looks certain to continue to evolve. What better reason to return?
Andy Lynes travelled as a guest of SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com), which flies to Copenhagen from Heathrow and Birmingham, and to Stockholm from Edinburgh, Heathrow and Manchester.
Hotel Duxiana, Malmo (00 46 40 60 77 000; malmo.hotelduxiana.com) has doubles from Skr1,390 (£133), room only.
Hotel Rival, Stockholm (00 46 8 545 789 00; rival.se) has doubles from Skr1,595 (£152), B&B.
Faviken Magasinet, Jarpen (favikenmagasinet.se).
Saltimporten Canteen (previously Algarnas Tradgard), Malmo (rudinpersson.wordpress.com).
Bastard Restaurant, Malmo (bastardrestaurant.se).
Solde Kaffebar, Malmo (soldekaffebar.se).
Belle Epoque, Malmo (belle-epoque.se).
Restaurang Mrs Brown, Malmo (mrsbrown.nu).
Smak at Malmo Konsthall, (restaurangsmak.se).
Roland Rittmann, Jordnara Natur & Kultur, Sverige (rittman-jordnara.com).
Nordgen, Alnarp (nordgen.org).
Vendel Ales Stenar, Osterlen (vendelrestauranger.se).
Restaurant Mistral, Enskededalen (mistral.nu).
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