There is a man in Hardanger with a theory about the origins of the Basque apple tradition. It came from here, he would say, if you were to visit him in his apple garden in the innermost part of the fjord. “It was the Vikings who brought cider to the coast of the Basque country, after all the drinking and their anger towards the authorities forced them south.” Perhaps the Vikings also had something to do with the strange Basque habit of throwing everything on the floor. Txotx marks a closed circle. They are back, the old traditions of spontaneous fermentation and highly volatile cider, along with pieces of bread stuffed with dried cod, along with pimientos and anchovies, and pieces of octopus on a wooden stick. The long and narrow bar is a well suited for gatherings of friends and colleges out for a meal and drinks on a Friday night. A tartare of hand-cut beef, ceps and grated foie gras is more or less the epitome of umami. The mushrooms cooked in a jus of sherry and garlic topped with cheese is as delicious as it is drinkable. And the octopus in a spicy and acidic sauce would be a great dish after a wild on the town night, a pick-me-up for the clubbers and bar crawlers. Hestebeteak is Basque for cured meats, and we devour a plate of these delicacies as soon as the plate hits the table. Txoxt is true to its origins and to its inspiration, the white bread is the same high-density type that you find on the streets of San Sebastian. The drink menu has gems from the region like the young green wine txakoli, along with a great selection of ciders, and a quite respectable wine list that showcases the new wines of Spain.
The “U” dances above “formel” in the logo, reflecting the connotative U-turn from “formal” to “informal” in Danish. The dancing letter may also reflect the central role of musicality in formel B’s precocious sister establishment. Such tactful and carefully choreographed sensory indulgence is rarely seen in this price class, invitingly and seductively executed to the smallest detail in this cosy cave bedecked with heavy curtains, sparkling golden facades, dark velvet and glowing lamps. The waiters exude attentiveness and a desire to serve. You are the centre of the universe. The tempo is fast-paced, but this suits the overall atmosphere, as does the music. Our first course of four arrives from the “An informal experience” menu, which naturally offers choices ranging from oysters to pork rinds and other whimsical snacks. In the first dish we expect the lobster to be overpowered by the highly acidic tomato vinaigrette, but it proves to be the perfect contrast to the wild flavour of the fresh, red-white meat. Dill is given the opportunity to stand out here with its deep green colour and intense aromatic flavour. The ice-cold thin slab of frozen crème fraîche with ramsons releases its fat as it melts on the palate, elevating the dish’s acidity. There is also crunch and deep umami from dried strips of kelp. It’s truly liberating when culinary techniques are presented in such an understated and mature way, without showing off. The same can be said of the wines, which are presented with great passion and typically stem from close partnerships with the natural winemakers themselves. We enjoy a classic Loire in our glasses: a chenin blanc from Agnès & René Mosse, which starts with intensely sweet yellow fruits then, as it opens, has nutty notes that tame the many coy flavours of the lobster dish. The city’s unruly culinary pulse is beating strong at Studiestræde 68.
The Inn at Ulriksdal, north of Haga Park, is a Swedish national treasure. Now the beautiful white building has been awakened from its gastronomic slumber thanks to the Svenska Brasserier restaurant group. With Sturehof, Riche and Teatergrillen to their credit, they know how to manage and renew restaurants with a gentle hand. And with Tommy Myllymäki as gastronomic commander, no one need hesitate about the quality and ambition. Here you can take family and friends, and have quiet business meetings. Visually, everything is the same; there’s a timeless elegance where nothing stands out. This also applies to the food that Myllymäki is gently coaxing into the present. A poached Lake Malaren zander comes with browned onions, anchovies, bleak roe and crispy oven-baked potatoes. A handsomely baked char in a butter sauce flecked with trout roe comes with steamed cauliflower and Anya potatoes. He also composes classics like veal with sweet and sour sauce and Wallenbergare. The starters are more contemporary, like the thinly sliced whole-roasted celeriac with Parmesan and truffle cream. For sweet tooths, the magnificent dessert buffet is a memory for life. It is ceremonious to step into the space with its old-fashioned tidiness. Many are attracted by the daily smorgasbord, which has been simplified to a fresh appetiser version with the best from the cold kitchen. What we now see at Ulriksdal is only the beginning of a new era. The once unrivaled wine cellar has also been updated, a new cooking studio with a lab is being built, and in the garden they are planning to build beds that will supply both Ulriksdal and the other Svenska Brasserier restaurants with fresh produce.
The hospitality in the north of Norway has long been legendary, and no place is this more evident than in the town of Harstad. At Umami, Sigrid Rafaelsen and Kim-Håvard Larsen have perfected the art of northern hospitality so that dining at their small, reservation-only restaurant is like visiting two good friends – who also happen to be the best chefs in town. They run their restaurant with devotion, catering to their guests’ every need. Since it’s a small operation, they also clear tables, and pour and present the wine. They have a good and important relationship with the local cooking schools, bringing in apprentices and helping to recruit people to the industry. Umami offers classic and refined fine dining inspired by the region’s produce and the current season. It’s an admirable devotion, and their hard work is obvious by how great the food is here. Our meal starts off with a long string of appetisers. The first is a reindeer tartare served in a cylinder of spring onion pastry topped with ramson cream; it’s an umami-filled and refreshing way to begin the meal. We’re treated to a number of flavourful bites, like blini with vendace caviar, and king crab and Jerusalem artichoke soup. Next come ravioli filled with chicken confit and pickled pumpkin, cod with peas and onion and a delightful wild boar with cauliflower, beetroot and truffle jus. The chefs’ devotion to creating delicious dishes is never-ending, and we can’t wait until we have another chance to experience their northern hospitality.
Vanasadama, Suuresadama küla, Pühalepa vald, Hiiumaa
Ungru Restaurant and Guesthouse form an inextricable whole. The restaurant offers the best food on Estonia’s second largest island, and the small guesthouse with its five rooms offers the island's coziest accommodation right above the restaurant. Taking one and leaving the other means leaving your Hiiumaa experience incomplete. The restaurant is open only during the summer and offers the best of the island’s harvest and catch. In many cases, the visitor has a direct view to the place of origin of the food on the plate. And witnessing it yourself contributes a special Hiiumaa flavour to the simple local food. Be it smoked goat’s cheese from Varese farm, local organic beef tartar or juniper-smoked crèmebrûlée. Same products made elsewhere never have this Hiiumaa flavour.
A short walk from Oslo’s central station you’ll find Vaaghals, a restaurant with rural Norway’s culinary poster boy Arne Brimi as one of its owners. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a solid emphasis on Norwegian cooking and preservation techniques at the core of this tastefully decorated restaurant. With the open kitchen as the main feature of its decor, an evening spent here has an obvious transparency to it. Seeing as Norwegian cuisine is normally regarded as salty, tame and umami-free, there are few places right now that do a better job than Vaaghals at glamorizing and transforming this cold country’s stiff heritage into something that feels wholly new, thoughtful and edgy. Staple ingredients find new friends, like in a dish where ramsons meet hollandaise and smoked roe as a base for a crisp Jerusalem artichoke – or when sour cream made from goat’s milk finds itself in a dessert with cheesecake and strawberries for a sweet, sour, tangy and crisp finish. Meals are made to share, and you should. Indulge in a lovely confited spring chicken thigh with variations on leek and cauliflower. Or order a handful of slices of melt-in-your-mouth ham with a strong, vinegary mustard dipping sauce. There’s a communal feeling to the whole Vaaghals experience, where you feel like you’re on the same team as the staff and cooks, and where we all can find joy and lucullian pleasure on the urban outskirts of rural Scandinavian ideas and flavours.
A summer pavilion overlooking the water casts its golden light on Varna as the staff welcome the diners. We are escorted to the foyer and bestowed with a glass of bubbles. The evening begins in style with a bold serving of snacks to properly pave the way with lobster, an array of dips, breaded minced chicken, puffed sago grains, toasted nuts, grissini and foie gras terrine. Professionalism is a virtue here, as one indulgence follows the other. A huge slice of seared foie gras – the signature ingredient of legendary Aarhusian chef Palle Enevoldsen – balances on a bed of duck rillettes, applesauce and fried brioche topped with raspberry foam. Protein is not in short supply here, nor in the subsequent serving of cured cod. The cuisine predominantly features heavy brown sauces and is umami-packed, but generally lacks acidity. The parade of meat culminates in roasted pork tenderloin with braised cheek of pata negra pork, chestnuts, beetroot and lingonberry sauce. It’s fortunate that our uniquely talented wine server, drawing on excellent presentation and selection skills, finds a 2011 Langhe nebbiolo from Giovanni Almondo to stand up to the intense flavour of the pork, as well as a fresh and memorable pinot noir, Ara Pathway from Marlborough, New Zealand. The transition from meat to sweet fails to please with over-sweetened fried cladonia lichen on an extremely mature Gnalling cheese from Arla Unika. These flavours are offset with a chocolate bar with passion fruit and mango that frolics with a sweet Saussignac wine called Vendanges d’Autrefois. We are certainly being pampered, but we are not on a journey of experimentation and discovery. Varna is a lovely establishment with safe bets and superb service.
Nordiska Akvarellmuseet, Södra Hamnen 6, 471 32 Skärhamn
The only embellishment in this high-ceilinged room is the large glass panel that covers the whole of one wall, turning the hillsides and the sea into part of the decor. And what decor! Outside a storm is howling. The ocean is spewing foam and on the small islets the grasses are licking against the rocks. It is so windy that the restaurant cannot keep the doors open. The square wooden tables are mostly filled with couples. The waiter recommends the warm head of salad as a starter and a wine that should suit both the salad and the main course. Here almost all of the wines are natural and the beers artisanal. “That’s what we like”, he says. With the tart salad he wisely recommends a white wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation. The lettuce, briefly charred, tastes rivetingly acidic together with salted anchovies and olives. The wine is tart and slightly creamy, almost yogurty. The fish of the day comes direct from the auction in Gothenburg and the kitchen is testing new and fun, creative presentations with a lot of character from Sweden and Bohuslän. Next door to the restaurant is the Nordic Watercolour Museum, outside the window the landscape is like a painting, and on the plates, a beautifully colourful finish: beetroot ice cream with strawberries and redcurrant meringue. Lovely.
At Vendia, they call a part of the restaurant a brasserie, but the term is more a reflection of North Jutlandic modesty. The dishes served here would unabashedly be sold as gourmet at other restaurants, and the professional and accommodating service is at a corresponding level. The menu is divided into a Danish tasting menu and a traditional French brasserie menu. The Danish starters include a succulent and tender cut of pork breast, roasted perfectly so that the deliciously crisp and caramelised crust evokes dreams of summer and slow-grilled spareribs. But looking at the calendar or out the window, it is clearly winter, so the pork is joined by seasonal cabbage in an acidic and well-spiced mustard vinaigrette and slightly sticky gastrique. The flavours are intense and well adjusted, and the presentation is aesthetically inviting. The French part of the menu also allows the kitchen’s acumen to shine through. The steak is perfectly seared and the béarnaise precisely seasoned, while the accompanying silky soft and bold carrot purée and butter-steamed vegetables with a good crisp bite to them make this familiar classic even more appealing. A glass of grenache with a dark, fruity intensity and herbal notes is a proper chaperone for the steak and béarnaise, and the other wine pairings are also apt. The dessert menu features a reinterpretation of rum soufflé served in a splintery crisp shell of dark chocolate with vanilla ice cream, raisins, toasted almonds and raisin purée, all of which buttress the taste of rum. The creative juggling of flavours evident in every dish makes this “brasserie” an excellent dining choice.
Along Uppsala’s oldest promenade, Odinslund, with the Helga Trefaldighets church and Carolina Rediviva as neighbours, is where you’ll find the gastro hotel Villa Anna in a graceful 1800s building. Linen tablecloths and white gloves aside, the small dining room feels like a welcoming living room in soft shades. Nordic nature is the kitchen’s melody, and the four-course menu opens with snacks served on sturdy pieces of wood. A lot is locally produced here, like the prosciutto from Nibble farm. And the potato chips are so thin that you can easily see the cathedral tower through them, sandwiched with caviar and smoked cream. Smoked, too, is the butter with the warm sourdough bread. For the next dish we get a glass of Sancerre Le Tournebride. “Elderflower!” we have time to exclaim before they present us with plates of seared scallops with variations on elderflower. In the company of fried kale this course becomes a highly successful elderflower party. After that, zander with an entourage of rose hips picked in Uppsala and a sauce with dulse seaweed. Alongside it, chips with tapioca and algae that provide much needed crispiness. It’s fun and fresh, and the algae adds just the right depth. Finally, the dessert: ice cream with hazelnut and popcorn, crumbs of popcorn and bacon, and meringue made from Jerusalem artichokes. It’s exciting, and devilishly good, but the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon could have been more prominent. Jerusalem artichokes fit perfectly in the deliciously good meringue. The dessert is paired with a fresh and sweet little pearl, rosehip ice wine from Blaxsta vineyard. With a light feeling in both our stomachs and our step we walk down the cobblestones from Villa Anna.
Chef competition veteran Daniel Müllern lords over the cooking in three restaurants at the Ystad Saltsjöbad hotel, though we suspect that his heart is in the kitchen at the gingerbread-trimmed Villa Strandvägen. Excellent food has been made here before, but after an extensive renovation, the beautiful turn-of-the-century villa has been completely transformed. Coming to eat here is like being welcomed into a plush interior design magazine. You start with champagne in the library with an open fireplace and puffy cretonne-clad couches. The dining room is a large open room with sparsely clustered tables and comfortable chairs upholstered in matching fabric. There’s also a cosy little sofa area, and a dream kitchen in one corner with a shiny bright red French Molteni stove. Here the cooks work on an open stage, without either frying or the rumble of the fan. Müllern is passionate about seasonal produce from Österlen’s rich pantry. The menu gives you an option of either three or five courses, with some flexibility for substitutions. A great effort is made to combine food and wine. A starter with seared scallops and Jerusalem artichoke chips is paired with an unforgettable oak barrel-aged grüner veltliner. A slightly bloody and outrageously tender duck breast with baked beets, cherries and sour oxalis takes flight with the help of the noble French grenache and syrah grapes. And if you should enter a food coma, there are seven charmingly decorated rooms for overnight stays.
When Ritva Blomquist moved her antique shop across the street, the restaurateurs moved in. Her formerly cluttered basement is now a wine cellar, and the large shop windows facing the street bring in natural light and give diners a view outside. It is easy to feel comfortable in this space and you can tell the other diners agree. The menu is as it should be, short and concise, and just like the venue it’s very bistro-esque. If you begin with braised oxtail, you will get a dish that looks more like rillettes, topped with pickled onions and aioli, which complement each other well. The soup of the day might be a Crème Ninon. In the middle sits a few shrimp with spinach on top. It’s pretty, tasty, and by the book. Among the main courses the zander seems to be popular, because they run out before we can order it. Instead we opt for the veal rib-eye with béarnaise, red wine sauce and mushroom cream. The dish is a bit overloaded and has a few flavours too many with root vegetables, bacon, mushrooms and green beans, but the sommelier makes outstanding suggestions, favouring the Old World. A big plus since the vintages in our glasses substantially heighten the experience. If you have any room left, the dessert list leaves nothing to be desired, but a few petit fours will suffice. On the whole, this oh-so-continental establishment is a very safe bet.
The high-end restaurant at the Hilton Hotel offers an international atmosphere with spacious modern facilities and a big open kitchen committed to the New Nordic manifesto where impeccably dressed chefs, waiters and sommeliers interact with clockwork precision. Both the wine pairings and the after-dinner selection are exquisite, and the guidance by the sommelier is knowledgeable. White, ultrathin slices of salted cod carpaccio form a colourful artwork with green from wasabi, flowers, and local herbs and delicate red from the brambleberries. The serving is excellently balanced between the distinctive fish, the hot wasabi, the acidic yet sweet nitrogen-frozen berries, and the delicate mountain flowers. It is skilfully matched with an off-dry and mineral 2009 classic riesling from Framingham in Marlborough, New Zealand, with a lovely fragrant nose of sweet citrus and peach. The next course is a deliciously smoked pork belly with a buttery brioche, crisp sweet and sour apples and bitter, hoppy notes. The real wow-effect comes from the characteristically mild gamey flavours in the little cubes of immensely tender tartare of Icelandic reindeer. Mildly bitter chokeberries and crisp watercress are served on creamy and delightfully sour fresh cheese that’s stirred up with herbs; a unique and seductive treat. Smoked, juicy wild sea trout with a pronounced meaty structure is served with fresh celery, horseradish and an intensely yellow yolk from a quail egg. After the diverse dessert of pear sorbet with fruit chunks, baked white chocolate, creamy whey cheese and lemon, petits fours and digestifs, it is time to hit the fashionable and well-stocked bar.
To turn an ordinary hotel dining room into a high-class restaurant is no easy feat. Hotel Vox, which started a few years ago, has succeeded. In winter 2016 the restaurant was upgraded under the leadership of Tom Jallow who, after guest performances at PM & Vänner in Växjö, is back in Jönköping where he previously ran several establishments. This time the food has an Asian twist. We are in the best mood from the outset, with the perfect dry martini in old-fashioned bevelled glasses. It only gets better from there. We continue with two amuse-bouches: oyster in soy reduction, and shiitake broth with fried rice paper and miso mayo. Delicious. The most beautiful dish of the evening is the scallop with mussels and avocado. The Asian take on råraka, the potato pancake, is a serious dish with, among other things, bacon and salmon. We praise the variation on Jerusalem artichoke for the root’s foam and the tasty mushrooms, though we wonder if the soft-boiled egg in the bottom was really necessary. A Smålandic classic follows this up: isterband sausage from Vaggeryd with beets in various forms. For dessert it will be pears, rosehips and local Rudenstam apples. The wine list is safely chosen and we are guided by a knowledgeable sommelier. We receive a riesling from the Rheingau with our various starters. Even the sausage finds a friend in a heavy red Australian wine from Adelaide. The dining room is clearly separated from the hotel lobby. The building itself is less inspiring; we sit in the former Social Insurance Agency(!), a cramped concrete building. But what does it matter when the food experience is better than most in Jönköping?
Clarion Hotel Post, Drottningtorget 10, 411 03 Gothenburg
In a calm, draped-off section of the grand Clarion Hotel Post, we are served a dainty, cubed starter – baked celeriac with onion emulsion, kale, and roasted sesame seeds in black and white. This beautiful confection illustrates VRÅ's concept – flavourful, deliberate, and seasonal with Swedish-Asian notes. We decide against wine this evening and choose a frothy IPA instead, a white ale from a Japanese microbrewery and green Bancha tea. The latter has been harvested in the fall and stored for three years before it reached our cups. It’s fun to read the tea menu, which explains when each tea is harvested, which parts of the plant are used, the storage time and expected taste. Our tea has notes of popcorn. The miso soup with apple, Jerusalem artichokes and mussels is fortifying. Then we are treated to ssäm, consisting of grilled char that you roll yourself into lettuce leaves and top with rice, pear chutney, pickled onions and beets, along with soy and sesame mayonnaise. It’s worth pointing out how incredibly well the Japanese daidai IPA relates to the dish; it has the distinct scent of oranges (daidai means “orange” in Japanese), which highlights the fruity condiments. We enjoy the main course – a potpourri of lightly charred (almost raw) zander, 63-degree egg, sour soy sauce, pickled red onions, salmon roe and algae threads. The desserts are smartly expedited. “What are you craving? Sweet and salty, or sour and fresh?” We dare to try the one that sounds a bit strange, a fresh cheese ice cream flavoured with soy caramel and crisp buckwheat, and our palates rejoice.
Fish of the handsomest kind? Certainly, but more importantly, Wedholms takes you on a magnificent journey through time, back to the mid 1980s. Remarkably little has changed at the restaurant that was Bengt Wedholm’s crowning achievement. The impressive piece of grilled turbot has almost the same girth, elasticity and juiciness, and the hollandaise that accompanies it has the same delicate acidity, curbed by the sweetness of the shallots. Was it better back then? In maritime gastronomy, yes. Nothing, nothing at all, can beat the sole meunière (SEK 495) served here, perfect in its naked caramel butteriness with only a lemon wedge and some boiled potatoes. And then again, no. Back then no one cared about the origin, the fishing methods or the vitality of stocks. In this regard, Wedholms is an anachronism. Currently zander from Lake Hjalmaren is MSC-certified, but that is probably not something the guests here are interested in. It’s enough to know that it comes poached, with the incomparable caramelly champagne sauce. This sauce alone is one of the strongest reasons to pay a visit and you can get it with almost anything. If you can’t choose, get the fricassee of lobster, sole, turbot and scallops, but be prepared to pay SEK 675 – even at lunch. But for a few hundred kronor you can get the same sauce with salmon or scallops. Many of the diners here have been in faithful attendance since it opened. They are affluent, with a touch of eccentricity that can electrify the dining room. The fantastic service staff also have this affect. Most are women of a mature age who engender a feeling of security, calm and warmth – creating an altogether unique atmosphere. Knowledge is served with a twinkle in the eye and batting of lashes, as in the reply: “This Burgundy shares a little soil with Montrachet, a damn good wine at a rock-bottom price”.
Prepare to be romanced at this tiny restaurant on Mosebacke Square. There is always a theme behind the minimal menu on the blackboard. On one of our visits the source of inspiration is the ardent U.S. food icon Julia Child, whose cooking shows are also projected on the cute, floral lace curtain. First we fall head over heels for the starter. The gin-perfumed venison tartare melts in the mouth. It’s complemented by smoked cream, crunchy pieces and brittle chips of salsify, trout roe that pops in your mouth and piquant garden cress. It is incredibly ingenious and elicits a mild euphoria, reinforced by the recommended light Burgundy. The smart wine selection draws heavily on the staff’s almost clairvoyant insights about their diners’ preferences. The vegetarian alternative is well conceived and an elaborate orgy of textural contrasts, fat, carbohydrates, and umami. It’s certainly easy to light-heartedly gobble up the food here, but it also holds up to more profound analysis. A dessert with chocolate cake and poached pears may seem pretty simple on paper, but it demonstrates refinement – in part because lavender has been smuggled into the light milk ice cream. At that point we fumble for our calendars to schedule the next visit. There are, you see, many reasons why it is crowded among the narrow long tables with slender chairs. If you want a bit more space we recommend the bar counter where you will receive lots of extra love from the charming and well-informed staff.
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.