When you arrive in Stockholm, forget everything you thought you knew about Scandinavian cooking. From the local ingredients of choice -- a steady supply of cold-water fish and shellfish from the surrounding Baltic Sea, fresh berries and vegetables whose flavors are intensified by the long hours of summer sun, woodland mushrooms, cloudberries from the northern bogs, and flavor-filled venison -- innovative young chefs have created a vibrant new Nordic cuisine.
I sampled these restaurants in midsummer, when all the fruits and vegetables were at the height of their season, and it’s impossible to describe the sun-sweetened juiciness of the strawberries or the rich, satisfying flavor of even the lowly potato.
Grand Veranda For a century and a quarter the Grand Hotel has overlooked the water in central Stockholm, but until 1974 the café on the Grand Veranda was open only in the summer. Since then it has been glassed in, so the view of the harbor remains unobstructed in any weather. The smorgasbord, served at lunch May through August (and evenings year-round), is simply the best in town, with updated favorites elegantly presented.
Light Bar & Lounge Sample several different wines, from a cellar devoted entirely to American vintages, accompanied by foods chosen to compliment each. Four tapas-sized dishes are each paired with a wine, or you can choose a la carte from a list that might include foie gras with gooseberry compote, cured wild duck breast or baked fig with walnut, bacon and goat cheese.
Brännvin Outstanding food is served in the less formal atmosphere of a former customs house on the waterfront of Gamla Stan. To sample what new Nordic is all about, order one of the combinations of three cold and three hot dishes, which include salmon, crayfish, venison, fried Baltic herring, grouse terrine and trout roe. Round off the meal with warm cloudberries or an Akavits truffle. It’s consistently voted one of the city’s best moderately priced restaurants.
Mistral Definitely not moderately priced, the tiny dining room (it seats only 18) is booked several weeks ahead, but the Mistral dining experience is unforgettable. Watch the chefs in the open kitchen as they transform the highest-quality fresh ingredients into innovative creations. Pan-European influences meet traditional Swedish here.
Malardrottingen It would be easy for this historic yacht (it once belonged to heiress Barbara Hutton) to serve mediocre food and rest on its unique Riddarholm harbor setting and incomparable sunset views to bring customers. But the Malardrottingen is a serious restaurant specializing in seafood (not surprising, since it’s a boat). From the salmon tartare to the cloudberry panacotta, it’s a class act.
Vete-Katten Feeling peckish between meals? Stop at this venerable institution for Stockholm’s well-heeled gentry and enjoy its old-school European grandeur and service as you nibble cakes overlooking the park.
Grinda Wardshus The boat trip through the islands is just a tease for the beauties of Grinda Island, where a short walk leads to the archipelago’s finest restaurant, set in an Art Nouveau villa. The chef gets first choice of seafood from local fishermen and cheeses and fresh berries and vegetables from archipelago farms, combining them into creative dishes. You might find lamb kebabs with feta potatoes and roasted peppers or gratinee of Jerusalem artichokes.