Stockholm’s enduring style
Old city, new cuisine
At Michelin-starred Lux, Henrik Norström is preparing a delicate sculpture of entrecôte (beef steak), oyster cream, white radish, marrow and caviar. It’s an intricate dish that encapsulates the creativity of Stockholm’s most sought-after chef. ‘Great cooking is all about surprises,’ says Henrik. ‘My food revolves around classic Swedish ingredients combined in new ways. Flavour is crucial, but I spend as much time thinking about texture, shape, colour and form.’
Situated on the small island of Lilla Essingen, in a redbrick warehouse that once belonged to Electrolux, Lux blends industrial heritage and Scandinavian style. Chefs work at granite workstations in the dining hall, surrounded by hefty pillars and roof trusses, while diners look out through leaded windows along the city’s canals. It’s a studiously minimal décor that perfectly reflects the restaurant’s stripped-back philosophy. In contrast to traditional Swedish cuisine, Henrik’s food is defined by lightness and purity of flavour. He’s fanatical about local ingredients; a map in the foyer details suppliers, from family-run fruit farms to the fishermen that catch his crab and langoustines. Much produce is collected by hand – mushrooms from the forest, samphire foraged from the coastline – and ingredients are often served raw or just-cooked to preserve maximum flavour.
For the very best produce, Stockholmers flock to the century-old covered market of Östermalms Saluhall. Sheltered beneath cast-iron beams and a soaring roof, it’s home to rows of stalls stocked with cheese and charcuterie, ice beds laden with cod and herring, wooden trays piled high with cèpes and button mushrooms. The hall echoes with the classic sounds of a busy market, but it’s the smells that linger longest, a cocktail of salty tangs and earthy aromas that stays with you long after you’ve stepped into the city air.
Drink it up, Stockholm-style
Tough licensing laws and alcohol taxes make Sweden’s capital a pricey place for a drink, so when Stockholmers go out they do it in style. Le Rouge is one of the city’s most opulent cocktail bars. Furnished in Belle Époque Parisian style, it has a hint of the strumpet’s boudoir. Velvet-padded booths are lit by brocaded chandeliers, while bartenders juggle multicoloured cocktails to a soundtrack of jazz and jangling ice cubes. ‘There’s a really vibrant cocktail scene, with a new generation of young bartenders creating their own signature drinks,’ explains head cocktail-mixer Rikard Enell. ‘It costs a lot to drink in Stockholm, so we make every one special.’
He mixes up some classic Swedish ‘punsch’ – a powerful blend of rum, spiced tea, lemon and arrack, an Asian spirit. Sweet, alcoholic fumes waft up from the jug, but Rikard insists it won’t taste right unless it’s chased down by some akvavit, a typically Swedish spirit, spiced with dill, caraway and cumin. Drunk together, they pack a punch like a blast of booze-laced gunpowder. ‘Now you know how we get through the winter!’ Rikard laughs.
A little way south, a clanky elevator rises to sky-top bar Erik’s Gondolen. Thirty-three metres up, waistcoated waiters carry trays of frozen gimlets – a cocktail made with gin and lime juice – as drinkers gaze through panoramic windows. ‘Quite a view, isn’t it?’, notes the bartender. Far below, city lights twinkle, ferries chug along canals, and the rooftops of riverside townhouses are traced out against the orange sky.