As temperatures drop, we’re all ready to trade the long al fresco evenings of barbecue season for cosy dining rooms, low lights and large glasses of red wine. But the crackle of burning wood and sizzle of grilled chops can be heard beneath the hubbub in Niklas Ekstedt’s Stockholm restaurant, Ekstedt (ekstedt.nu), year-round. The Swedish chef and his team cook all their food over an open fire, with no help from gas hobs, or hi-tech electrical gadgets. Innovative plates such as cold-smoked reindeer saddle with salsify, quince and spruce, and ember-baked amandine potato with arctic cloudberries and creme patissiere won him a Michelin star, which he’s kept since 2013. Long before, he was training with the best at El Bulli and The Fat Duck, before becoming a household name, appearing in his own food show on Swedish national television. But he wouldn’t call himself a celebrity chef – they don’t really have those in Sweden.
He’s on his way to becoming one on British soil, though. At the beginning of 2020, he appeared as a judge alongside Heston Blumenthal on the Channel 4 and Netflix series Crazy Delicious, and is considering other on-screen projects. In summer 2019 he launched a new festival, Foodstock, in the Stockholm archipelago, where he brought together names such as Tomos Parry, chef patron at London’s Michelin-starred Brat, and the team behind Ernst in Berlin, one of the German capital’s most sought-after restaurants. In the forest, they smoked ducks and langoustines over glowing coals, as part of a two-day celebration of wild cooking and Nordic gastronomy.
Ekstedt is still in the restaurant most days, though – and has been since moving to the archipelago 13 years ago. During that time, he’s watched as the wave of new Nordic cooking has transformed Stockholm’s dining scene into one of the most exciting in Europe, but also knows the best heritage spots to visit if you want a taste of traditional cuisine. Here’s his foodie guide to the Swedish capital…
Stay on trend
The city’s hot food trend is opening up kitchens so you can see the chefs at work. There are bakeries that have windows to show off the way they make the bread and candy stores where you can go in and see them cooking the caramels. People want to watch how things are made. There’s also lots of heirloom wheat and rye – ancient grains are very trendy. The Soderhallarna market in Sodermalm is pretty boring, but it has this one French baker, Sébastian Boudet, who makes Swedish breads and pastries that are more Swedish than any others in the city. It’s very seasonal and he bakes new things every day. His rye bread is crazy.
A post shared by Sébastien Boudet (@sebastienboudet) on Aug 28, 2020 at 2:36am PDT
Savour a classic
One of Stockholm’s best-loved dishes is herring. Pickled. There are so many varieties, it’s endless. I like the regular one with onions, but the creamy one with curry is also popular. There are so many places, but the Opera House has this small restaurant that no one knows about called Bakfickan (herring from £18; operakallaren.se). They do the herring called matjesill, which is the one only for enthusiasts. It’s not the super stinky one, but it is semi-fermented.
Eat like a local
My favourite neighbourhood restaurant is called Lilla Ego, in Vasastan (mains from £23; lillaego.com). It’s Swedish food without all the fatty parts, and not expensive. They do a daily menu of improvised cooking that’s seasonal and fresh – things such as tuna with wasabi, coconut and cauliflower or reindeer with mushroom, pea and pepper. There are two chefs, who work three days each, so the chef is always in the house. One thing I love is you always get your own bar of home-made soap with your name on it in the lavatory.
Dinner with a view
The best views from a dining table in Stockholm are at Gondolen in Sodermalm, but it’s closed for a refurb right now, so my second choice is Oaxen Slip. It’s on the island of Djurgarden, in a mustard-yellow refurbished boat shed, and you can watch yachts and dinghies coming and going through the tall windows in the double-height dining room. You might spend your whole time staring upwards, though, at the vintage boats, suspended from the ceiling. The restaurant is the sister brasserie to the two-Michelin-starred Oaxen Krog next door, and serves Swedish dishes such as spelt porridge with smoked bone marrow and Swedish pecorino (mains from £14; oaxen.com/en/bistro-slip)
A taste of the traditional
Pelikan in Sodermalm is where you eat meatballs and all the Swedish traditional food (mains from £15; pelikan.se). It’s very rustic, all the waiters are in their 60s, and everyone gets drunk when they go there.
Best for a blowout
It’s easy to spend money in Stockholm, but a new place not a lot of people know about is a two-Michelin-star restaurant outside the city called Aloe (menus from £176; aloerestaurant.se). It’s really expensive, but it’s not like fine-dining restaurants that just serve a lot of plated things. Here, it’s skillfully cooked Nordic food and it’s very seasonal. It’s 15-16 dishes, though, so don’t have lunch.
Hit the foodie district
In Sodermalm, or SoFo, my favourite is Bar Agrikultur (small plates from £8; baragrikultur.com). It’s so tiny, they call it a “mini restaurant”, so come early, around 6-7pm. The people who run it have a Michelin-starred restaurant on the other side of the city, called Agrikultur, but this one is a lot more relaxed and very produce-driven, with small dishes such as ricotta, kohlrabi, apples and almonds. Another place is Bagerei Petrus that does the best cinnamon buns. There is always a queue, so get there before lunch before they run out.
A post shared by BAGERI PETRUS (@bageripetrus) on Feb 3, 2020 at 1:42am PST
Start the day in style
A fun place to go for breakfast is Mr Cake (mrcake.se). It’s very over the top, with lots of fancy glass cases, and it’s where all the posh, rich people eat breakfast in Ostermalm. They do pretty cakes and coffee and there’s always a queue of mums with expensive buggies in the morning.
Extend the night
Stockholm used to be a hard-drinking city, now it’s really changed. Stureplan, where all the thick, heavy nightclubs used to be, now has fancy bars such as Lucy’s Flower Shop (lucysstockholm.se), which has great botanical cocktails. Small-batch gin is massive in Stockholm – I drink it at Tjoget, a hip bar in Sodermalm that was voted number 37 in the World’s 50 Best Bars (tjoget.com). The thing to drink with food in summer, though, is ice-cold schnapps. I like anise, coriander or dill flavour.
Escape the city
A 45-minute drive from Stockholm, in a village called Taxinge, there’s a fun, but quite eccentric restaurant called Taxinge Krog (dinner £83; taxingekrog.nu). It’s run by one guy who cooks everything himself, and his mum, who waits the tables. There are only eight seats, and all of them have to be reserved before he’ll open. The food is organic, usually made from things grown in his garden. It’s very experimental, so you’ll get combinations such as Jerusalem artichoke with cucumber and sardines. It’s like nothing you’ve ever been to before, but it’s wonderful.
Ekstedt: The Nordic Art of Analogue Cooking is out now (Bloomsbury; £40) or buy for £35 from books.telegraph.co.uk (0844 871 1514).