All posts filed under “Nordic

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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es


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Not The World’s 50 Best Restaurants..

Not the world’s 50 best restaurants..

Had I but world enough and time, trotting the globe to eat wouldn’t be such a crime. I am a self-confessed World’s 50 Best Restaurants junkie. I find it commendable that the list is streamlined towards unearthing innovations where (occasionally) no ordinary foodie has reached. There is a catch, though. “Innovation” does not always guarantee “satisfaction”, and no “satisfaction” often means a “waste of time”. But, who am I to judge? I am an amateur eater, have made it to only 21 out of 50 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and some other odd ones that are now off the 2012 list. Also, given the effort chefs and the restaurant teams have put in to make their establishments a success (and the fact that everybody has his/her own preference), it would have been too mean to publish my carefully selected top 10 “waste of time” list. (Personal email exchange is welcomed).

So, I am having this instead – a very personal “Life-Changing 10″ restaurants in an alphabetical order. These places have somehow changed my personal view on cuisine at different points in my life and I have no hesitation to return to these places.

(NB: To understand how my preference works, I’m pro innovation, hate over-complication and I also love food that retains a touch of comfort. I am usually inclined to appreciate subtle and no-fuss flavours).

- AQUA -
Wolfsburg, Germany

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Chef Sven Elverfeld not only refines but redefines what humble German cuisine is to firework effects. In Chef Sven’s hands, “Candy Apple” was made entirely of sugar crust and shattered with a touch of a spoon to reveal ethereal yogurt foam (precisely as sour as a Granny Smith) and caramelised pecan core. The watery essence of apple underneath bound the dish together. My meal at Aqua was full of these brilliantly executed, non-alienating surprises.
On #Worlds50Best: 22
More photos here.

 

- L’ARPEGE -
Paris, France

Visited: Winter 2010/11 & Winter 2010/11 (Twice)
Why: Not that I don’t love red meat but it is chef Alain Passard’s take on vegetables that is a classical revelation. I still remember my plate of root vegetables with cous cous and argan oil at L’Arpege – the exuberant crunch, the acidity and sweetness from multi-textured root vegetables cooked by various means. This is innovation but this is also firmly grounded in classical French techniques.
On #Worlds50Best: 16

 

- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare -
New York City, USA

Visited: Spring 2012
Why: Chef Cesar Ramirez rocks this tiny space, an appendix to Brooklyn Fare supermarket. He not only has fine eyes and unlimited budget to fly in the premium fish in the world but he also has the greatest and most creative mind, with huge respect to Japanese sensitivities, to dazzle 16 odd diners with (arguably) the BEST seafood in the world. I still recall Red Snapper served sliced with rich but cleansing ponzu sauce and toppled with crispy snapper scales or utterly rich and creamy sea urchin with yuba, wasabi and dill. As CTBF runs a no photo policy, I was only naughty enough to snap a shot of chocolate truffles at the end. (Lame, I know).
Not #Worlds50Best (This is unbelievable!!!)

 

- Faviken -
Jarpen, Sweden

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Youthful and talented, chef Magnus Nilsson makes the most of his adverse environment to create a spectacular “real food” meal, paying respect to the raw beauty of the produce, the ways flavours should naturally be maximised, and the gastronomic timelessness as opposed to flashy and fashionable cooking. Cod “lightly brushed with honey and fried in a dry pan” had the burnt sweet crust that immersed itself with the firm sea-sweet fish. The pairing of carrot cooked in “almost burnt sour milk” and spruce and alcoholic vinegar jelly was striking and effective. Apart from the food, the setting at Faviken – embraced by sleepy mountains and a tranquil lake – is purely magical.
On #Worlds50Best: 34
More photo here.

 

- Hedone -
London, UK

Visited: 5 times since its opening
Why: My first meal at Hedone was not successful but there was this minimal but otherworldly piece of mackerel (with salad and Japanese dressing) that enticed me back to try more of chef Michael Jonsson’s cooking. This is the place to go for upper-crust produce prepared minimally to enhance its natural flavours. Chef Michael’s approach, I’d describe, is French with a touch of Scandinavia, where he originates, while his best of dishes range from Cevenne Onion with Pear, Scallops with Radish and Squid Ink and Venison with Foie Gras and Chestnut Veloute.
Not #Worlds50Best (I foresee Hedone to be on the list in just a matter of years).
More photo here.

 

- Mugaritz -
San Sebastian, Spain

Visited: Spring 2011
Why: My overall meal at Mugaritz was deceptively simple and with the unmissable regional Basque influences. “Fake Saffron Rice Just Rested” looked like juicy pumpkin seeds and was served in rich saffron sauce and toppled with white bread crouton. “Nails and Flowers” featured a crystalised sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with milky ice cream, chocolate nails and edible flowers. The topicality does not stop the meal to resonate the universality of emotion, and by the end of the meal, the ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine of Andoni Luis Aduriz left me in a nirvana of sort.
On #Worlds50Best: 3 (I was rooting this to be no.2!)
More photos here.

 

- Nahm -
Bangkok, Thailand + London, UK

Visited: 3 Times in Bangkok, Countless in London since 2008
Why: For a Thai who has grown up and become jaded with Thai food, Chef David Thompson is an inspiration. His delicate touch and stubbornness to the long-standing tradition both preserves and revolutionises Thai cuisine. While meals at Nahm London are, at times, inconsistent and restricted by means of daring audiences, its Bangkokian flagship pushes boundaries to the max. Say, a refined version of Pla Rah Song Kreung (rotten fish) for upper-class urbanites. In London, Nahm is the only restaurant where I can find the rarest of Thai desserts cooked to absolute perfection. Next year 2013 in Singapore it would be interesting to see how Nahm fares on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
On #Worlds50Best: 50

 

- Noma -
Copenhagen, Denmark

Visited: Spring 2010 & Autumn 2011
Why: I first went to Noma with zero expectation or knowledge about the restaurant (before #Worlds50Best fame) and the meal ended in subliminal reverence. Chef Rene Redzepi is a nationalist genius and his creations are well matched with taste, imagination and artistry. I don’t think I need to say much else.
On #Worlds50Best: 1
More photos here.

 

- Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua -
Beijing, China

Visited: 4 times since 2010
Why: This is the ultimate North Korean restaurant of the finest produce and the most impeccably trained kitchen brigade. Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua stands for the opulence of the old world unpolluted by globalisation (one of the very few things that closed countries such as North Korea benefit from). While the kitchen does not intentionally push boundaries, the culture in which we live in and our familiarity with the modern world makes this meal something of a rebellious, retrospective experience. Snapping Turtle was dissected, reassembled and simmered in medicinal ginseng stock, while Dog Meat Hot Pot featured braised roulade of dog’s legs toppled with some ground nuts, spring onions and an infusion of tomato and chilli sauce.
Not #Worlds50Best

 

- Shinji by Kanesaka -
Singapore, Singapore

Visited: Winter 2011
Why: I have never embarked on a proper gastronomic adventure in Japan and having been on this side of the world (where good Japanese food is scant) I lost interest in such cuisine. Shinji by Kanesaka (praised by my much better eating friend) in Singapore rekindles my faith in prime Japanese produce with premium sushi-making skills to match. I still dream of Oshino-san’s Uni Risotto, which involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden and a toppling of chopped tuna belly. The pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passed through my nose and throat at every spoonful – simply the raunchiest bowl of food I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Not #Worlds50Best
More photos here.

 

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Chez Dominique, Helsinki

Facts

I know very little about Helsinki. Say, this capital city of Finland wasn’t founded by the Finnish but by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden. It fell under the Russian power from the grandiose court of St Petersburg (now a 2-hour-or-so commute by train); one of the good influences was that opera has been popularised in Helsinki ever since. And the massive alabaster cathedral that we see today on tourist postcards was the creation of Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludwig Engel who also rebuilt the whole of Helsinki after a fire in the mid 18th century. But (of course) I didn’t learn of these facts whilst in Finland because I spent nearly three F**KING hours being lost in a park and another two at a restaurant…

Fact. I went to one restaurant during my half-day trip in Helsinki. Fact. I knew the restaurant is a possessor of two Michelin stars and ranked #35 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011 (which makes it the best restaurant in Finland). Fact. The restaurant isn’t Finnish but French. It even has a French name of “Chez Dominique”.

And.. FACT.. I liked my meal there very much  ^_^

 


French via Finland

Chez Dominique by the talented chef-patron Hans Välimäki offers a blind tasting experience to its guests from 3, 4, 6, 9 to the super grand “Menu Dominique” of 25 odd dishes. Chef Välimäki’s style of cooking can be described as an innovative coupling of French techniques with Nordic produce and sensitivities. The line between the French and the Nordic is blurred, turning the cuisine into something both familiar and foreign. In a large white and icy dining room, the FOH are sleek, formal but caring. Due to wintery produce shortage, the biggest tasting menu I could opt for was the 9-course priced reasonably at €155.

It began with many amuse items – pretzel with French cheese, vinegar and cress, pork scratching with mushroom cream, and duck skin crisp. Salty and fluffy sardine was half buried in a cloud of chilli-ed candy floss. The floss, also infused with popping candy, provided layers of taste (sweet, vinegar-y and spicy) and texture (fast evaporation and tickling sensation), a ingenious contrast to the more traditional flavour of the sardine. Raw and slightly textured shrimp (as in sort of frozen) arrived in a wonderful entourage of frozen local cheese, beetroot and borage leaves. The combination of sweet, creamy prawn with lightly salted milky cheese and intensely sweet beetroot was very enjoyable; the borage left a refreshing touch in my mouth. Also agreeable was cream cheese with malt crackers and bleak roe. This was a interplay of salt and sea salt (cheese and roe), elevated by by cleansing, multi-textured celery (compressed stalk cubes, I think, and fresh leaves).

Artichoke was served as if a French pate – a rectangular block toppled with jellified vegetable surface. On one side was a miniature of wintery garden where colourful pickled roots and fresh radish shoots sprang from edible soy. There was a well-thought out contrast between the pickle acidity and the peppery freshness; the “pate” itself had a distinct velvety mildness. “Onions” was the most outstanding dish of the meal. It was a plate of onions, many onions. There were onion carpaccio, roasted onions, onion tapioca, onion consomme, and onion-infused madeleine (!!). The dish showcased how varied the flavours of onions could be through cooking. The essence was, nonetheless, the umami sweetness that was enhanced by aromatic chrysanthemum petals and distilled by creamy mozzarella mousse and bitter leaves.

 



Foie gras with pear was a more traditional delight. The foie gras parfait was glazed with a pristine layer of pear jelly; the pear sorbet became juicy ice numbing the palate but at the same time releasing intense fruity freshness; the assortment of muesli, quinoa and biscuit created a sparkling texture contrast. Scallop was expertly seared and plump. Its remarkable pureness was made complex by the rendition of two-texture squid (seared, rolled and spaghetti-ed), the squash puree and the precisely aerated beurre blanc foam. On the side was multi-texture cauliflower – mousse, carpaccio and tartar.

The meal continued with two fish and one meat. “Cod” was nearly a gills-to-fin dining, featuring cod cheek, shaved roe, tongue and skin and finished with parsley oil, while “Amber” was roasted and paired with pea puree and pea broth. Comforting. There was a pause insinuated by a rich cleanser of chocolate mousse and fennel sorbet in a pot. The indulgent chocolate-y depth was skillfully adjusted and maximised by the aroma of fennel and star anise. The spices lingered a while on the palate. Pigeon flew from Anjou (in a plane) to become a very rich main course. The breast was faultlessly roasted; and its game-y taste was brought to live by the entourage of black olive, salsify and blackberry-infused classic jus. The toast on the side was very much a liver filled croquette.

Chocolate panna cotta was drizzled with frozen beer drops and toppled with malt ice cream. Citric potato ice cream was encased in a hard, malt-dusted white chocolate shell; the soil of malt crumble and chocolate provided sweetness to contrast. The last course (I really didn’t want the meal to end!) was chocolate cake covered in dark and sexy chocolate gloss, with pistachio puree and sesame ice cream. The playful take on nutty combination resulted not only in a pungent scent but a complex and wonderful sweetness, which was balanced off very elegantly mildly bitter Japanese green tea milk sauce. The meal concluded with the petit four.

While my meal at Chez Dominique was not the most heart-stopping of my life but definitely one of the most reliably delicious, I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed both the dishes and the construction of the menu. Chef Välimäki’s cooking is mature and very well-informed of both Nordic and French traditions that become the ethos of Chez Dominique. (For some reasons, this brings to mind another very enjoyable meal at Passage 53 in Paris where the Japanese kitchen dashed out modified French marvels). And there will be no doubt that I will return to sample the ultimate “Menu Dominique”. Fact.

 


RATING: 5/5

CHEZ DOMINIQUE

Rikhardinkatu 4,
Helsinki
Finland

Tel. +358 9 612 7393

www.chezdominique.fi

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Faviken Magasinet, Jarpen

(Since the review below, I also returned to Faviken twice. You can graze through my August 2012 album and January 2013 album here)

Snow and a frozen lake

My first impression of Faviken was that it could be the PLACE good people want go to instead of heaven. Magnificently wooded, shrouded by snowy mountains and curbed by a frozen lake (I went in winter), Faviken Magasinet is a private estate north of Stockholm in an area called Jarpen. You may reach Faviken by a 1-hour flight to Are or Ostesund and a subsequent 1-hour car/taxi ride. Luckily, Faviken offers a B&B service. 8 not-so-large rooms dominate the left wing of the first floor of this sizable hunting lodge. Very cozy and equipped with Wi-Fi. Also on the first floor overlooking the snow-covered ground was a spacious sauna with (all-inclusive) beer and champagne for guests to indulge. On the ground floor are the kitchen, the common room and the lounge. The dining room is on the right wing of the first floor. You need to gain access via the lounge. The price for dinner+room+breakfast was 2250SEK per person (approx £207).

The service at Faviken used to be a one-man show. Youthful (and still is), Magnus Nilsson was Astrance-trained and helmed both the kitchen and FOH since 2008. Then, Faviken was pretty much a private dining space where Magnus cooked on request. Magnus would cook a fixed multi-course meal for one sitting only; and all diners were booked in at 7pm.

 

7pm sharp

7pm. All guests were led into the downstairs lounge for drinks and snacks. The space was dreamily lit, whilst the only signification of noise was the burning fireplace. The meal (I heard) conformed to a philosophy of rektún food (“real” food), paying respect to the raw beauty of the produce, the ways flavours should naturally be maximised, and the gastronomic timelessness as opposed to flashy and fashionable cooking. The produce were sourced locally – many raised and grown on the estate, some from Jamtland and Norway. Before other guests arrived I took an opportunity to speed eat cured pork sausage and pickled carrots. (Yes!!). It was porky and well-rendered with fat content. The carrots had mild acidity and a good crunch. No other diner would ever know of this. Five other diners joined my section (unaware of the existence of the pork sausage) and were straightaway entertained by light and fragile with flaxen and vinegar crisp. There was an element of risk picking the piece up. Fresh cheese in warm whey was silky and memorable. The incredible burst of aroma from the little lavender petal raised my expectation of the meal. Smoked trout roe arrived disconcertingly Japanese – like a gunkan maki of salmon roe – but the black cup-like base was immediately revealed as pig’s blood. Explosive. The smoky liquid from the roe contrasted with the musty crispy blood cup. It was very comforting, too, and not a dish that sounded quirky just for the sake of it. Crispy lichen and reindeer moss did not do it as much for me. They tasted like dried sponge-y crisps. I preferred the one with dried egg yolk. Cured goose slices rectified all this. Shiny and maturely cured, the goose reminded me of some very good Jamon Iberico with high fat content. Interestingly, the aftertaste seemed to linger a lot longer than when I have a good sliver of Jamon Iberico.

All amused, guests (me included) were led into the first floor dining room..

The upstairs room was bare. The only ornaments that graced the room were dried fish roe, dehydrated trout and cured pork chunks hanging from the ceiling. Scallop cooked over burning juniper branches was the first to mesmerise me. This was a simple construction at its best. Just scallop. Grilled alive in its shell. Over coal and burning juniper branches. Perfectly done, the scallop was firm, translucent and sweet. The iodine rich broth was a natural result of the cooking and captured the deep and soulful primitive-ness of the sea. The best of my life. My langoustine was a supreme 5-or-6incher immaculately presented. The seasoning of fermented mushroom juice – made with soy and vinegar I think – was distinctly minimal but yielded umami acidity to juxtapose with the sweet and succulent meat. Another best of my life. Cod “lightly brushed with honey and fried in a dry pan” also hit the highest note. I oouuu-and-aaaa-ed over the burnt sweet crust that immersed itself with the firm sea-sweet cod. The pairing of carrot cooked “almost burnt sour milk” (bitter) and spruce and alcoholic vinegar jelly was striking and effective. Trout barely cooked was another marvel. The oatmeal sauce helped douse the fish with caramelised robustness, while the grated carrots allowed the palate to refresh with zings.

 

I moved on to beetroot cooked to a burnt effect in the fire. The charred skin left smokey bitterness to contrast with the ruby red, mellow and sweet beetroot. Along with the pungent, precisely salted cod roe powder, the mead-infused whipped cream – smooth in texture and mediating in taste – provided another dimension of bittersweet contrast. Porridge served with steamed and pickled onions was dainty. Unique layers of texture – gummy porridge, soft and crunchy onions. The dressing of grain vinegar and kale juice tasted, bluntly speaking, of diluted chlorophyll with rice-y acidity. At this point, Magnus and his troop marched into the dining room with a bone bigger than my shoulder and began sawing it. This was to become my next course of marrow, dices of raw cow heart and grated turnips. I was struck by the pure taste of the heart – rich but sans smell – made pleasing by the warm, unctuous gelatin of the bone marrow. The grated turnip played a zingy, natural ‘slaw with kicks, while the green crystal of salt (I deducted as celery infused) lent a herbal note to the bleeding compilation. I forgot.. to take a picture of the next dish “Pork chop fried in a pan and then rested on the grill. Sour onions. Swede.”.. and (what’s worse) I even forgot what it looked like (!!). What I remember was a big chunk (again) was presented at the table and sliced per guest. The pork was moist and tender. There was a healthy ratio between fat and meat, which left a glistening after-texture on my lips. It was preceded by the mussel in consomme below.

 

Desserts looked understated but brought about joy. Fermented lingonberries with thick cream and a sprinkle of sugar had a good contrast of sourness and sweetness. Raspberry ice was an intense sorbet with tangy complexity. Sourmilk sorbet was prepared minutes before serving. It rested amid the sabayon-like foam of whisked duck eggs. To me, it felt a reincarnation of custard – aerated and freezing to the tongue. The surprise lay at the bottom in form of raspberry jam. Cheeky. I am sure this would bring about nostalgic memories for many. The multi courses concluded with pine bark cakes toppled with hyssop, creamed pudding and frozen buttermilk. The note from the pine bark was distinct but it melded into a vision of a pasture embraced by a scented forest. A little of dairy-sweetness and a sensation of snow. A metaphorical dish of the place itself..

 

I didn’t have much time to metaphorise or metamorphosise as I was shown the way back into the lounge, with the guests (who still did not know I had an extra pork sausage dish). There were nibbles of dried berries and meadowsweet candy, but I was taken by tar pastilles. Not the best way to describe it but it reminded me of liquorice gum. Slightly tougher and less fragrant. There were last shots of booze, too. Four bottles. Brought to the table by Magnus himself. My pick was the alcoholic eggnog (far right), which was sensuously creamy. The rest (I had a sip) was not so much to my liking. The red one (far left) made from berries was (with all due respect) very musty.

A good friend of mine often uses the term “life-changing” to judge or define a meal. And to me, my dinner at Faviken was life-changing to the point of no return. This is a world-class produce-focused restaurant, while the philosophy of rektún food is truly and skillfully materialised by Magnus and his (very small) kitchen brigade. Dishes are thoughtfully constructed. No fuss. No pretense. Real, raw, high quality and tasty food. The FOH team led by manager Johan was also knowledgeable and exceptional. (The only downside of my experience at Faviken is that ever since the meal I have been feeling disheartened by seafood anywhere else).

Interestingly, Faviken has so far been a restaurant of no recognition. It has fallen beyond the Michelin route and is not yet noted by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. (I am sure this will change)… and I’ll leave it here for you to reflect ^_^

 

AND OH!!!!!

Have I NOT shown you the fish!!?!?

RATING: 5/5
GO FOR: An unforgettable experience

FAVIKEN MAGASINET

Fäviken 216
830 05 Järpen
Sweden

Tel: +46 647 40177

www.favikenmagasinet.se

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Mathias Dahlgren ‘Matbaren’, Stockholm

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…

 

RATING: 3.5/5
GO FOR: Flash meal. Cool scene.

MATHIAS DAHLGREN ‘MATBAREN’

Grand Hotel Stockholm
S. Blaiseholmshamnen 6
PO Box 16424, SE-103 27
Stockholm
Sweden

Tel. +46 8679 3584

www.mathiasdahlgren.com

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Frantzén/Lindeberg, Stockholm

To front the line..

(Very) luckily, I was among the first few to brave the newly erected kitchen table at two-Michelin-starred + World’s 50 Best‘s ‘One To Watch’ Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Sweden. Background talking, this is a mind-blowingly innovative restaurant – New Nordic if you’d like to generalize but a great commendable departure from such New Nordic purveyor giant as Noma – led by talented chefs Björn Frantzén (savoury) and Daniel Lindeberg (sweet). Menu, there was none. The cooking at F/L adheres to a free form menu based on availability of produce. The number of courses may vary (I had around 21) but the price is fixed at 1900 sek (approx £180). The restaurant prides itself in dialogue with farmers and suppliers for the best gastronomic effects. The approach is rooted (yet not too firmly) in French techniques but with a great Japanese sensitivity and stubbornness for purity. The Japanese twist has also materialised into the kitchen table – a bar of three seats located at what used to be the pass – where patrons dine face-to-face with chefs.

An challengingly exciting experience

In front of me stood Björn (head), Kim (sous) and Joe (an Englishman). The meal kicked off with a ball made of noodle shaped, deep fried potato. Crispy but nearly weightless, the ball burst into this delectably salty taste from bleak roe, dill and chive filling. Oven baked Jerusalem Artichoke was also an explosion of flavours and texture – sweet, nutty crunch from hazelnuts, acidity from pickled chanterelles and savoury, crispy chicken skin flakes. Gillardeau Oyster (from a family business in France and it’s like the ‘Rolls-Royce of oysters) was the freshest and purest with a seaweed-enhanced coastal dimension. It came alive with the sour apple frost and the cream with a juniper note. Halibut ‘Sashimi’ was prepared from a 12-day-old halibut (after its demise as believed to have the most distinguished taste) and served, like a sushi nigiri, on ‘rice’ of king crab and egg yolk cream (taken from the first egg the hen laid). Big flavour. The egg cream rendered weight to sweet and light king crab; the raw slice of halibut was lightly torched with brown butter. Together, the elements did not jar; I tasted the interplay between the crab and the halibut clearly. The minute seasoning of horseradish and the lemon allowed an uplifting touch. The following dish of Langoustine – shown as alive and flipping – was one of the highlights of the meal. Björn also noted that ‘live’ did not mean the freshest (there is a limited period in which the natural sweetness does not escape the shellfish) and explained how he separated one langoustine from another to prevent the loss of their natural sweetness. Back to the dish, the langoustine was chopped up, bound and seasoned with apple oil (made from apple seed). The serving was done minimally but thoughtfully – a thin layer of salted pork fat, crushed almond and rosemary with a finishing touch of green apple foam. The apple dimension (acidity for foam and nutty note from oil) was subtle but boast depth; the pork fat provided a sinister touch of greasy texture leaving the dish with a comforting meat touch (which is usually void in a raw seafood dish); the sweetness and bites from almond and incredible rosemary aroma that enveloped the wonderful langoustine. (That said, this was a killer dish as ever since I have been put off by never-as-fresh langoustines from elsewhere).

 


The meal continued with Björn’s torching a dainty piece of mountain reindeer – tataki-style – through a fume-less piece of charcoal to be chopped up for a ‘tartar’. Before that, I was given ‘boudin noir’ made from reindeer blood. Very moreish, the blood cake/sausage was toppled with salted bleak roe, duck heart and reindeer tallow powder. Bold and game-y. The tallow added a light but robust dimension to the dish, while the disc of apple retrieved juicy freshness to my palate. It was an offal-y execution that was spot on. The highly anticipated ‘tartar’ arrived with milk cow tallow emulsion, onion rings and caviar. AND some powder which was later revealed as grated dehydrated reindeer penis… musty. It purposefully maximised the game-y scent of such a delicate reindeer tartar, and the dish would be less virile without. The next dish was cockscomb which I did not think as highly of. It was a MASSIVE piece slow cooked in brown butter and finished with sherry vinegar. To me, a cockscomb itself in any context did not have a taste; it was just gelatinous but absorbed the taste of whatever. Therefore, the dish showcased how this fat-like gelatin worked to mediate in the ensemble of umami mushroom puree, beurre noisette and a vinegar-y note.

More cutting-edge was ‘Satio Tempestas’ or a dish of 39 ingredients. It was, bluntly speaking, a salad which mainly featured root vegetables. Some were raw, others cooked; some served warm, others at room temperature. Every spoonful was an introduction of new taste. Interestingly, as a result of thoughtful plating, not a single element seemed disconnected from one another. It was a clever metaphor of a Swedish garden and I felt as if, through my tongue, I was threading the wintery ground. I also thought the crackling fish scales on top were ace.

The meal continued with the freshly baked baguette (that had been resting next to my cutlery) and the immediately churned butter. A bowl of slow roasted Vidalia onion followed. The onion itself had turned unctuous; its mellow sweetness countered by a minimal seasoning of old vinegar; the truffle grating provided a sumptuously earthy touch. Scallops were served three ways. A teapot made an appearance first but I was distracted by the plump scallop grilled in its own shell and served with essence that had been squeezed out of the unappealing scallop muscle. The flavour got bigger with the quenelle of scallop tartar (prepared at the minute I was finishing the first serving). Fresh springy cubes of scallop were tossed in orange mayonnaise and truffle. Very bold. I loved the citric kick expertly combined with yolk-y mayo; the orange zest was also given dimension from the truffle. I was, then, advised to pour the scallop bouillon (in the teapot) into the shell. The broth had a good depth of sea flavours as it had been infused with seaweed and girolles. In a shell, thanks to the remaining truffle-y bits and the scallop juice, the bouillon became more complex – the boldest in taste but the lightest in substance.

A scoop of rowanberries, apple and black tea sorbet shocked and cleansed my palate. (At this point, Björn asked if I found it disgusting. I said yes). The dish was meant to invigorate the palate, not to appease. On the bright side, it helped me (after so many big-flavoured dishes) taste my ‘Black & Grey’ cod more clearly. Served mi-cuit and torched for a charred exterior, the fish was tenderly flaked and arrived on spinach leaves, but I was not convinced by the smoked cod roe with lemon sauce. I found the acidity to be at odd with the smoke-y salty roe. Monkfish, baked for four hours, was more lovable. The chicken and soy cream was a perfect match to the fluffy fish; the interplay between sea (seaweed + fish) and land (chicken + mushrooms) found a superb balance. The last of the savoury was veal – marinated in whey with thyme, honey and walnut oil – which retained its denseness after being slowly grilled. Orange vinaigrette and red endive brought about fruity lightness and bitterness that were not traditional for a meat course.

The desserts were also relentlessly unique. Chocolate ice cream was paired with pig’s blood puree – the other way round of having meat with chocolate-infused sauce. It worked; the strength of the blood enriched the mild bitter sweetness from the chocolate. The layering of soft and softer texture was also wonderful. Cauliflower mousse and hazelnut ice cream would have impressed me more if the ratio of cauliflower versus hazelnut were slightly adjusted. At present, it tasted too much of cauliflower and brought to mind that it was more savoury than sweet. Beer, yeast and egg yolk was memorable. Sweet, egg-y depth (as egg taken from ‘the first the hen warps’) was doused in mild bitterness. The bitter theme was carried forth to Oolong tea with seaweed and sea buckthorn. My palate was stirred by the frozen acidic sharpness (sea buckthorn), the perfuming tea, and the salty aroma from the seaweed. The emulsion minimised the aggression of those elements and acted a brilliant mediator. The meal ended with some comforting macaroons. (I loved the cardamom flavoured one).

The experience at F/L was one of the most unrivalled of my life. Exciting, really top-notch ingredients(!!). Highly skilled cooking. Innovative, yet unbridled minds. The vision of cuisine at F/L was materialised into provenance of ingredients and flavour combinations that I had never tasted elsewhere. My only criticism would be that the menu featured a lot of big, bombastic (at times challenging) flavours and towards the end of the meal I felt that heaviness and wished there were one (or two) dish less.

But, which one to take out?

I can’t really tell. (Maybe, just keep one dish aside for the morning after?)

:-9

 

(The rest of the photos are on my Facebook page here).

 

GO FOR: Risk-taking innovation. Sublime ingredients. Stunner cuisine.
RATING: 5/5

FRANTZEN/LINDEBERG

Lilla Nygatan 21
111 28 Stockholm
Sweden

Tel: +46 8 20 85 80

www.frantzen-lindeberg.com