The Bar with a Star
Mathias Dahlgren is, arguably, Sweden’s most celebrated chef and a possessor of three Michelin stars across two venues – Matsalen** and Matbaren* – at the Grand Hotel Stockholm. The former was noted for its sumptuous scene; the latter was a brilliantly-designed-yet-laid-back bar restaurant where you can kick back (albeit with an elegant pair of shoes) and relax. On this occasion I was at Matbaren (and with a good-looking pair of shoes).
The menu at Matbaren demonstrated an interplay between local ingredients and global perspectives on cuisine. Dishes were sized no larger than a regular starter. There was no minimum order (or maximum). The service was geared towards efficient speed and the polychromatic dining room was quickly filled with pearled-or-suited professionals. Langoustines (285SEK = £27) were boiled in seawater and served with creamy shellfish sauce. The portion was generous (I recalled 5 of them), while the fresh and plump langoustines were naturally sweet and squirted salted juice. Classic pleasure. Steamed Coalfish (260SEK = £24) boast a varying degree of lip-licking saltiness, from the loose, wood-y mushroom emulsion (morels and some other kinds) to explosive bubbles of trout roe. Personally, I found the garnish too intense and overpowered the carefully steamed, beautifully flaked fish. ‘What Comes First, The Chicken or The Egg?’ (245SEK = £23) was a new dish (according to the writing on the menu) and the most accomplished during my meal. Two eggs – slow-cooked at 62 degrees for jellied runny-ness – was served submerged in reduced chicken bouillon, sprinkled with broken chicken skin cracklings and finished with shredded parsley and grated black truffle. A heaven of earthiness – heart-warming depth from the bouillon, protein richness from the yolks, wondrous truffle aroma. The chicken skins were clever additions. They rustled on the tongue as if you threaded a leafy, autumnal ground. I finished my meal (as rushing to the airport) with a Momofuku-inspired dish (Mathias Dahlgren collaborated with David Chang on a few occasions) of ‘Steamed Beef Buns’ (125SEK = £12). This was a great concoction of Asian taste. The beef chunks (either cheek or flank, I assume) were flaky and moist; the pickled cucumber presented as if spaghetti looked messy but tasted bold and had a good crunch; the smoldering of sriracha-style hot sauce was brave and uplifting. Not the most original filling but a thoughtfully presented one. My only reservation was that the steamed buns were slightly wet and did not have a pillow-y fluff as the Momofuku one.
(Grabbed a cab to the airport. Meal done in about an hour. Many thanks to the staff!)
Reflecting on my experience, I was satisfied with my fast-paced meal at Matbaren and would like to give Matsalen a go. That said, the dishes I had were not extremely creative or original. Some also lacked refinement. It was the whole experience of being in a nicely designed space with decent food to match that contributed my enjoyment of Matbaren, and sometimes, instead of ceremonious gastronomy, that’s exactly what I want…
GO FOR: Flash meal. Cool scene.
MATHIAS DAHLGREN ‘MATBAREN’
Grand Hotel Stockholm
S. Blaiseholmshamnen 6
PO Box 16424, SE-103 27
Tel. +46 8679 3584