Monday, 3 October 2011

Stockholm - Greedy Diva's Gluttonous Travels

Chocolate and cardamom scrolls at Albert & Jacks

The first Swedish word I learned in Stockholm was "fika" - coffee break. 

Yessiree, my friends. The Swedes like their coffee. Preferably with cake. And even if its a bit chilly outside, Stockholm is one hot culinary destination.

As we face the prospect of leaving London life after 5 fun filled years (the shores of Australia beckon), it seems we are discovering some of our favourite places to visit right as we're about to leave. Stockholm is beautiful. It's laid back, picturesque, fun and chocabloc with museums and cultural delights. And of course, there's a plethora of fantastic Scandi design stores to rummage through. There's a bike hire system (like the velibs in Paris) which is a great and easy way to cover some serious ground, and you can also cruise the canals on ferries between the 14 islands making up the vast city. It has a rambling maze of cobblestone streets making up the 13th century medieval quarter, bustling with old, tobacco stained pubs, grand beer halls and trendy pavement cafes. What's not to love?

Plus, there's the world's biggest Ikea and it's the home of H&M. Oh, the shopping, the things I could tell you...

But first things first, to cinnamon scrolls...

Giant cinnamon scrolls at Saturnus

These ones from Saturnus are as big as a baby's head. See Albert & Jack's at the first photo above. I like Stockholm a lot.

Herring 3 ways with cheese at Pelikan

After a morning of shopping at Filippa K, Acne and Hope, join the laid back locals and stroll past Stockholm's beautiful, wide canals and the ornate facades of the old town until you find yourself in the bohemian south - at Pelikan. Pelikan is a beautiful old beer hall, with 7 metre high ceilings and art deco murals on the walls. The traditional (but not in a touristy way), home style Swedish cooking is excellent - eat a starter of SOS ("smor, ost and sill" - herring 3 ways with butter and cheese),  giant pork knuckle slow cooked for 10 hours, or juicy meatballs in a creamy sauce with lingonberries, pickle and the creamiest mash outside of Joel Robuchon. Beer or snaps, the traditional spice infused spirit, are the perfect accompaniment.

Meatballs at Pelikan

Alternatively, head to the Ostermalms Saluhall food market. Don't be fooled by the website (as I was) which says it's open Sundays - it's not. So all I can tell you is that its reputed to be a fabulous Aladdin's cave of market stalls and cafes, laden with Swedish produce. Despite having planned my entire weekend of eating around it, having saved it up for Sunday, all I saw was the iron gate. On the upside, this gave us time to scoot on over to the Fotografiska museum for some non-food related culture.

Stockholm is a perfect place for exploring by bike

And then back to food. When you do your research about where to eat in Stockholm, you'll read a lot about Mathias Dahlgren's Matbaren cafe and Matsal restaurant at the Grand Hotel. I'd love to try his modern, Swedish cuisine but much has been said about it already, and they don't do weekend lunches. So for our showcase of Sweden, Saturday night meal, we decided to go somewhere else - Volt.

Pike perch

Awesome move. Volt is exactly the sort of place I LOVE and this was one of our all time favourite meals ever. The whole philosophy is based on providing high quality, carefully sourced food (heavily influenced by its Swedish roots, and almost everything we ate was sourced from Sweden), in surrounds that are casual, comfortable and make you feel at home.  The focus in on good food and service without fuss and frippery. There's music playing, the waiters are in trainers, but despite all the informality it lacks nothing in style.

Coffee with warm, freshly baked cake

Choose a meal of 3, 5 or 7 courses (from 485 SEK - 785 SEK) - we did the 3 courses with matching wines (for an extra 330 SEK each) which was perfect - and sit back and relax while your eyes and palate are delighted by the fare.

Gorgeous starters of broccoli, oysters sea plants and algae, and lambs tongue with artichoke, live and "faryoughurt" had us excited from the start. To follow, pike perch with cauliflower, gooseberries and soot and roast beef with leeks, brisket and capers were equally delectable. All of it fresh, delicious and delight inspiring. Things kept on the way up with corn parfait, caramel and salt and my sour cream, buckthorn, white chocolate and toasted bread - just divine.

But the real piece de resistance was that fact that coffee comes accompanied by a freshly baked to die for sponge cake - which I had all to myself since TPG fot his own gluten free version. I love these people. Even the bread is great and comes with butter of a lovely sour Swedish cream cheese.

Service was perfect - friendly, helpful and unobtrusive. The only possible criticism I can muster is that the white wines (a muscadet and a white Burgundy, from the all natural wine list) were not outstanding, even if they matched each course well. The reds - including a fabulous Barolo - were terrific. I highly recommend you add Volt to your itinerary. 

Other places I'd love to try include the wine bar, PA & Co - which looked super fun - and Bakfickan at the Royal Opera House.

Our gorgeous room at The Berns Hotel

We stayed as guests of Visit Sweden at The Berns Hotel, famous throughout Sweden for its long history (since 1863 when it initially functioned as a coffee shop and drinking house) and its ties to cultural events and prominent Swedish writers and artists (writer, August Strindberg lived there and the hotel's Red Room was the setting for the author's book of the same name) . Although a grand building, at night, it looks from the outside like a giant night club, but (no fear!) the rooms inside are spacious and chic with true Scandi style. It has sumptuously comfortable beds, funky artwork and design elements and, crucially, the hotel is well placed within mere metres of Filippa K, and my favourite shopping boutiques in Stockholm. Chi ching. It's also a short stroll to the old town, the royal palace and the main harbours.

It also has a concert hall and a nightclub downstairs, which could be a bonus if you are a party animal (fortunately, its completely out of earshot once in your room). There's also an outdoor bar in summer and a Singapore food night market on the patio bar in the early evenings.

The breakfast at The Berns in the beautiful, ornate dining room is another highlight - think a huge spread of breads, scrolls, pancakes, eggs, bacon, cheeses, cold meats, smoked salmon, fruit, juices, smoothies, and lovely loose teas and coffee - and all under the light of huge, antique chandeliers. Eat to your hearts content. They also do an enormous, popular Asian buffet brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (from 11am - 4pm) which we gave a thorough road test - thumbs up. There's an excellent fresh sushi bar, dumplings, curries, Thai soups, salads - it's not fine dining, but it's no wonder the room is packed out. And, there's a huge range of gorgeous Swedish desserts for afters.

The restaurant at The Berns at breakfast time

Stockholm is too fabulous to visit as once off and, on my return, The Berns is where I'd want to stay again - I highly recommended for comfort, style and location. Rooms generally start at about 1,758 SEK per night but check the website as they vary either way.

Brunch, anyone?

We flew to Stockholm Arlanda with Nordic Air from Gatwick Airport - flights are around £169 (my flight was free). From Arlanda airport, you can get an express train to Stockholm central for SEK260, which takes around 20 minutes - and is way cheaper (and faster) than Stockholm's pricey taxis.

I barely scratched the surface in Stockholm. Fortunately, through my rolly bag stuffed with cinnamon scrolls and salty liquorice, the memory of Sweden lives on.

Greedy Diva was a guest of Visit Sweden and The Berns Hotel, although I arranged all my own eats outside of the hotel anonymously and independently.


  1. I regard Saturnas in Stockholm as an overpriced tourist trap well past its sell-by date. Its cinnamon and cardamom are indeed hugh, but they are also bready and bloated. The quality is infinitely superior at the bakeries Albert & Jack’s and Valhallabageriet.

  2. Yes, there's a plethora of places to shop, eat etc. It can be really hard to fit them all in over just a few days. A good site to check before planning a visit is which has places listed by locals.

    Too bad you didn't had time to try Restaurangen as that is one of the best restaurants I've ever tried in Stockholm.

    Btw, I spotted a typo, it should be "Bakfickan at the Royal Opera House" (means back pocket), the K is missing.

  3. Hi Young and Foodish - Yes, the ones at Albert & Jacks were excellent (my favs) - actually, they are the ones piotured at the top of this blog post (I've now labelled them, just forgot to do that). I didn't notice Saturnus was particularly touristy but think it has a few mentions in the NYT and similar media, so probably has headed that way.

    Hi Erik - thanks for the Bakfickan note and the other references - most appreciated! And you've just given me more excuses to find a way back to Stockholm. 2 days was way too short.

  4. Those cinnamon scrolls look absolutely amazing! Stockholm sounds great, but you had me at the first giant photo...yum :-)

  5. Hey Diva! We loved this blog entry so we posted it in our facebook page and twitter. Hope to see you here soon again.

    Best regards, from all of us at Berns Salonger.

  6. So cruel! Why, why did you have to post this now when I have no time at all to make it to Stockholm and stuff my face with cinnamon buns...

  7. The Burns hotel room looks nothing special, but the ornate dining room looks like a grand place to have breakfast.


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