Scandinavia A food and wine lover's guide
Decanter|January 2022
Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen are all major players in the gastronomy world, home to restaurants and bars offering inventive cuisine and eclectic wine menus. Our expert local guide takes you to some of their most exciting culinary treasures
ÅSA JOHANSSON

Forget meatballs and pickled herring. The restaurant scene in Scandinavia has never been as animated as it is today; you’ll find an enticing combination of old and new, of innovation and tradition, and of laid-back bars and elegant Michelin-star restaurants. Scandinavia’s many eco-friendly initiatives extend to the wine and food world, too, with a focus on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients and natural and biodynamic wines.

Stockholm In Sweden, 70% of all wines are sold through Systembolaget, the Swedish off-trade monopoly. While the monopoly stores mainly provide big brands and bag-in-box wines, restaurants and bars, particularly in the Swedish capital, offer great alternatives, with creative lists full of small-scale wines from all over the world.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of new wine bars in Stockholm, creating an energetic wine scene. One venue is Ambar (ambarvinbar.se), a cosy wine bar near St Eriksplan square in the city centre. Run by Englishman Damon Young, the warmly lit bar has a laid-back vibe and has become a second home to many locals. The wine list is eclectic, specialising in natural wines, with a particular focus on orange wines. Young and his staffalso prepare a small selection of delicious Asian dishes in the tiny kitchen, and both the food and wine list are good value.

‘Stockholm’s wine scene has exploded over the past few years, with new wine bars popping up all over, many with a unique approach,’ says Young. ‘We have become an active community, supporting each other rather than competing against one another.’

Less than 2km away is Babette (babette.se), a busy neighbourhood bistro that is elegant yet relaxed – and never disappoints. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs produce simple, flavourful dishes. The menu changes daily; look out for the irresistible gourmet pizzas with creative toppings. The long and carefully sourced wine list is varied, featuring artisanal wines from around the world, from Jura to Oregon, and Hungary to Tasmania. Babette’s owner-sommelier Fredrik Lundberg is on hand to guide you through the list, and he talks passionately about everything from different grapes to producer profiles.

To anyone who wants to take a deep dive into Nordic cuisine, there are two places with a firm hold on Stockholm’s culinary scene. The first is Hantverket (restauranghantverket.se/en) in Östermalm, one of the most affluent areas of Stockholm. The award-winning head chef Stefan Ekengren offers a simple, more rustic take on artisanal Swedish cuisine, resulting in a range of clever, unpretentious dishes. The chanterelle sandwich with roe, spiced cheese, sour cream, leek, dill and rye bread is a must-try. There are both classic and niche wines on the drinks list, which also features two large sections for Swedish cider and craftbeer. The service here is passionate and genuine.

The second is the sophisticated one-star Michelin restaurant Agrikultur (agrikultur.se) on Roslagsgatan. For those seeking a Michelin-star meal, there are nine restaurants to choose from in Stockholm. At Agrikultur, the interior design is Scandinavian minimalism at its most stylish, where every corner could be featured in a design magazine. Nonetheless, the ambience is warm and welcoming. Chefs Joel Åhlin and Filip Fastén enjoy contrasts – something that shows in everything they do.

In the open kitchen, with its Aga and woodfired oven, the ambitious team makes traditional Swedish dishes with a twist, offering imaginative combinations of vegetables alongside a small selection of noble cuts, all sourced from local, sustainable suppliers. The wine list, however, is fairly classical, and is centred around a small number of producers. Head sommelier Jon Bergqvist explains: ‘I like to build a wine list based on a few selected areas and try to get a depth in both producers and age before broadening it out.’ Lovers of Burgundy, Rioja and Montalcino will not be disappointed. For example, you’ll find a selection of vintages of Brunello di Montalcino from Stella di Campalto going back to 2004.

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