November 18, 2017

Best Restaurants in White Guide Nordic 2017-18

White Guide is a great guide system when it comes to restaurants and cafés in the Nordic countries . In many ways the White Guide better than other guides, like the Michelin Guide, as it is determined by local experts as opposed to outsiders. They also offer several annual gastronomy guides... including a White Guide Sweden and White Guide Nordic. The White Guide Nordic is especially good for visitors as it is in English (which is also good if you are travelling around the area and not just visiting one city/country). In this article I will be concentrating on the Stockholm restaurants in the list as this is a Stockholm blog. After each restaurant I will add their placement in the Nordic guide (within the top 30) in parenthesis. There has been a few small changes from last year's list. You can buy your own White Guide Nordic by clicking here. Here is the ranking of Stockholm based restaurants on the list:

Global Masters Level

1. Esperanto (2)
2. Gastrologik (6)
3. Oaxen Krog (8)
4. Ekstedt (25)

Masters Level

5. Operakällaren
6. Aloë
7. Omakase Köttslöjd/Flickan
8. Imouto
9. Adam/Albin
10. Fotografiska (tied)
- Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren (tied)
- Spritmuseum (tied)
11. Volt
12. Shibumi

The next level is called "Very Fine Level" and here you will find a lot of great Stockholm restaurants like Wedholms Fisk, Portal, Sturehof, Rutabaga, Pubologi and many more. Click here for the full Nordic and Sweden lists.
Photo credit: David Back
Please keep in mind that if you would like to dine at one of these popular restaurants... booking a table in advance is recommended if not required! If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, drop me a line ahead of your visit for any assistance. Do you wish to see other guides... past and present? Then click here! You can also read about my restaurant visits and recommendations, including some of the above listed restaurants, by clicking here.

November 10, 2017

Vegetarian Fine Dining at Rutabaga

Grand entrance...
I am not sure how it is in other cities, but these days vegetarians are pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants in Stockholm (especially compared to 10 years ago)... with everything from vegan cafés up to fine dining restaurants. This is mainly due to a few-years-old vegetarian trend in Swedish gastronomy; a trend which meshes well with modern Nordic cuisine where the focus is on local, seasonal, often organic produce. Especially fruits and vegetables. Some of these restaurants are purely vegetarian, while others have the option of adding a protein (meat/fish) as a side dish. I recently had the opportunity to try the crown jewel of Swedish vegetarian fine dining: Mathias Dahlgren's Rutabaga.
Star chef Mathias Dahlgren has had a very successful career filled with Bocuse d'Or and Swedish chef of the year gold medals, Michelin stars and other awards. In 2007, he opened Matsalen, which was quickly awarded 1 and then 2 Michelin stars and named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. So it came as quite a shock to many when he announced last summer that he was closing Matsalen and reopening in the beginning of 2017 with a new concept... a fine dining vegetarian restaurant. It is important to note that Dahlgren's Michelin 1 star restaurant Matbaren ("the Food Bar") is still open, and located right next door to Rutabaga.
Delicious carrot dish (never thought I would say those words)
First of all, the name. As many know, Rutabaga is a root vegetable. However, I learned recently that this vegetable is called "Swede" or "Swedish turnip" in the UK and other countries which makes me wonder if the name is a clever nod to this fact. Who knows? The interior resembles Matsalen with clean lines, muted earth tones and Scandinavian minimalism. However, there are more long tables while tablecloths and other trappings are gone, all which give the restaurant a more laid back feel than before.
Some great beverages as well, like this homemade ginger ale
When it comes to the meal, you have the choice of the whole table going all-in with the 6 course "Taste of Rutabaga" menu or diners choosing a la carte dishes. The dishes are meant to be shared family style and each dish suitable for 2 persons. I like this set-up... choose a few dishes and then add a couple more if you are still hungry. There are around 13 dishes on the a la carte menu so you have quite a variety to choose from. The plates are beautifully presented and creatively done. Quite colorful dishes too, which is a nice contrast to the muted colors of the restaurant. For Vegans: I did ask and many of the dishes are already vegan and it is not a problem to tweak others to make them also vegan. They do ask that you notify them in advance regarding any other dietary restrictions or allergies.
General Tso's deep fried cauliflower with tofu
Full disclosure... I am a carnivore. I love a nice bloody steak! That being said, I found the dinner to be interesting, great tasting and I left satisfied (even without any meat). Plus, it's a bit of an adventure as a carnivore to try a completely vegetarian meal for a change. Rutabaga is located on the waterfront of the downtown area. The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is either by taxi (5-6 minutes) or a 15 minute bus ride. Otherwise, it would take you about 30 minutes to walk (through the old town) and the closest subway station is Kungsträdgården (blue line).
Tartar of beets...
It is a popular restaurant so booking in advance is recommended though they do have drop-in places available. You can either book on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help. Click here for more vegetarian options in the city and click here for more restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Beautiful Scandinavian minimalism
Dessert: their version of carrot cake with cardamom ice cream
Photo by Magnus Mårding.
I generally don't like to take pictures of other guests,
so this time I have to rely on an official photo. 

November 7, 2017

Christmas Markets 2017

I recently wrote about the upcoming Christmas season and soon the Christmas markets will start opening for business. The first one opens in less than two weeks from today. There are a wide variety of markets to choose from... from the traditional to the more modern. Some are open every day, some only on the weekends while others are just open for a couple of days. This means that you will be able to visit at least one Christmas market if you are visiting Stockholm any time starting on November 18th. But... the last day to visit any market is December 23rd! There are no Christmas markets open after that... like on Christmas Eve or Day for example (a disappointment for some visitors).

  • Gamla Stan- Stockholm's most famous and popular Christmas market. In fact it was recently named by the Telegraph as one of Europe's top 16 Christmas markets. Very traditional; I am sure it owes its popularity to its central location (15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel) and generous opening hours. It is open daily between 11am and 6pm from December 2nd through the 23rd. 
  • Skansen- an historic market located in this open-air museum dedicated to Swedish traditions and pastoral life. Open between 10am and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays (Nov 25th to Dec 17th). See how Christmas was celebrated in Sweden 100+ years ago!
  • Konstfack (College of Arts, Craft & Design)- Creative market put on by the students one weekend every year. Open between 10am and 5pm on December 2nd & 3rd. Located in the southern suburbs.
  • Kungliga Hovstallet (The Royal Stables)- Combine a visit to the stables with some traditional Christmas shopping. Open between December 1st and 3rd (Fri- noon to 7pm, Sat- 10am to 6pm, Sun- 10am to 5pm). The stables are located in the downtown area.
  • Bondens Egen Julmarknad (Farmers' Christmas Market)- in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this popular farmers' market, located in SoFo, turns into a Christmas market. Laid back and local. Open between 10am and 3pm on the four Saturdays before Christmas (with start on Nov 25th). 
  • Beckmans College of Design- An annual popular market put on by the design & fashion students. Location. Open on Saturday and Sunday, Dec 9th & 10th, between 10am and 5pm.
There are also a few good Christmas markets located just outside of the city and worth a visit as well. 
  • Sigtuna- the capital of Sweden before Stockholm took over in the 1200's. Location. Traditional market open on the four Sundays (11am to 4pm) leading up to Christmas, with start Nov 26th. 
  • Drottningholm- Royal palace, home of the royal family and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has an annual Christmas market. Open Saturday Dec 9th (10am to 5pm) and Sunday Dec 10th (10am to 4pm). Location.
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located near the town of Märsta. They have a popular indoor market with design and gardening boutiques, which turns into a daily Christmas market between November 18th and December 23rd (11am to 6pm weekdays, 10am to 5pm weekends).
These are the major annual Christmas markets. If I find any new Christmas markets, I will be sure to add them to the list!

November 4, 2017

Restaurant Tak

The view from the rooftop bar
A friend of mine turned 60 last week and a group of us decided to go out to dinner to celebrate the milestone... so I booked us a table at Restaurant Tak. Tak is relatively new and, before this dinner, I had only had a chance to visit their rooftop bar a couple of times in the summer. The bar was a lot of fun, with great views of the city, so I was curious to visit the restaurant as well.
Street entrance to the elevator which takes you up to... 
"Tak" is Swedish for roof, which is very apropos considering the restaurant's location on the top floor of the building. The restaurant itself is on the top floor, while the bar, lounge and raw bar are located upstairs on the actual rooftop. This restaurant is part of a larger urban renewal project in the middle of the city called Urban Escape, which is a full city block completely renovated & rebuilt, containing new hotels, restaurants, shops and office space. This block, while very central, has always been a bit of a no-man's land, in-between shopping districts, so this revamp is very welcome.
...the subtle entrance.
When you enter the building from the square Brunkenbergstorg, you will see Tak's own marked elevator there to take you up to the restaurant. When you exit the elevator, it is easy to miss the restaurant's subtle entrance and continue up the stairs to the rooftop bar. Nothing wrong with that! You can enjoy great views of the city while sipping your pre dinner cocktail. During the cooler half of the year, they have closed down part of the outdoor area (for obvious reasons), but during the warmer months they have quite a large set-up covering two rooftops with bars, lounges and sun chairs.
Another view
The subtle entrance is quite a contrast to the large and lively restaurant within, decked out in earth tones with gold touches, all surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Stockholm. The restaurant is divided up using a type of sporadic-latticework walls that makes Tak seem both intimate and open at the same time. As you find in most new restaurants these days, there is an open kitchen in the center of the restaurant.
The restaurant's diningroom
The cuisine is a fusion of Swedish and Japanese flavors and dishes. Each dish, in fact, has a pairing recommendation of both a wine and a sake. I chose the roll-it-yourself Temaki sushi for dinner. I have eaten hundreds of sushi dishes in my lifetime, so this deconstructed variety was a fun version to try. The ingredients (rice, deep fried pollock, marinated trout roe, pickled cauliflower, cucumber, curry emulsion and more) came to the table along with seaweed to wrap the sushi with and a handy "how to eat me" booklet. Very delicious.
My "make your own" Temaki sushi
We had our dessert and coffee in their comfortable lounge. For dessert I took the almond ice cream with hazelnut Dulce de Leche and topped with rowanberries and apple granité. Sweet & sour... a nice way to finish the evening. Tak, as I mentioned, is located in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival Hotel, you can either walk 30 minutes through the old town, take a subway three stations to T-Centralen (all lines, exit to Sergelstorg) or a 6-7 minute taxi ride. Tak is quite new and therefore popular with Stockholmers wanting to try a new restaurant... so make sure you book in advance! Contact me directly, if you are staying at the hotel, for help. Click here for more restaurant reviews/recommendations.
My friend ordered the Donburi

November 1, 2017

100 Point Challenge: an Adventurous Way to See Stockholm!

It is always fun to see a new city in a different way than just from the window of a sightseeing tour bus. Perhaps even paired together with a little adventure? Earlier this spring I wrote an article about unusual sightseeing tours... everything from ghost and food tours to sightseeing from rooftops and by bicycle and vespa. This past weekend I had the opportunity to try one of these companies, the 100 Point Challenge, with a group of other Stockholm Concierge.
100 Point Challenge isn't a sightseeing tour per se, instead it is a race/quiz/game based on beautiful Stockholm. You can either take part in a public challenge if you are between 2 and 6 persons or, if you are a larger group, book one of their private challenges. After meeting up with the challenge master, the group is split into smaller teams of around 4 persons. The race will take you around the historical center of the city and you have two hours to solve a series of clues, answer questions and perform creative tasks. Each team is provided with a Polaroid camera and some of the tasks require your team to bring back photographic evidence! The challenges are currently available in Swedish or English. It is almost like being on the Amazing Race!
End of the race... back with or Poloroid pictures. 
Thankfully, there are three different challenges available based on your knowledge of Stockholm. Novices can take "Astrid's Adventure"... perfect for first time visitors to the city. If you have been to Stockholm a few times, you might want to try your hand at the intermediate challenge "Björn's Battle". As our group was made up of Stockholm experts, we took the hardest challenge "Gustav's Glory". It was fun! The difficulty level along with the amount of clues to solve and tasks to perform under a 2 hour time limit was enough to make it a race... though we did manage to make it back with 15 minutes to spare. Needless to say, my team was triumphant. But really... did you have any doubt?
So if you are coming to Stockholm, whether for the first time or as a return visitor, like solving puzzles and want a little adventure and fun while learning about Stockholm and seeing the sites... book your challenge! Dan, the friendly and enterprising Aussie who runs 100 Point Challenge, told us that they won't be doing any challenges in the hardest winter months (it all takes place outside after all) but they are doing a special version on the first three Saturdays in December with a Stockholm Christmas theme (one geared for visitors and one for locals). Sounds like a fun idea... click here for more information! If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly if you need any help booking or more advice. 

October 29, 2017

Restaurant La Colline

A restaurant has recently opened up just a stone's throw from the Rival Hotel (10-12 minute walk) called Brasserie La Colline. They invited members of the Rival staff this past week to come by for dinner and a presentation. As they have the same owners as the popular restaurant Tranan and have recently received great reviews in two of the daily Swedish newspapers, I was eager to give them a try.
Assorted small dishes
La Colline is located on the nearby pedestrian street Götgatsbacken. For the most part, this street has been the home of pubs and cafés and not many proper, good restaurants... so it is great that they have opened up here. In fact, the locale they took over used to house one of these pubs. There is definitely no sign of the former owners now... the interior has been designed by Jonas Bohlin, who has also designed some of Stockholm's most well known restaurants like the above mentioned Tranan as well as Sturehof, Luzette, AG and Stadshuskällaren.As a Stockholmer who goes out often, I both recognize and appreciate his design style.
I would say that the cuisine is mainly Mediterranean, though with some hints of the wider world (even Sweden) on the menu. While they do have a few main courses on the menu, they have a lot of "snacks" and many appetizers as well. Our waitress recommended that we order several of these to share, tapas style, which we did. She also mentioned that the menu is constantly changing and they even have a chalkboard where they have several extra daily dishes.
My colleague and I chose the Padrones (Spanish peppers), Pulpo (octopus), Bleak Roe, Tartar and Beetroot dishes. They were all very good. I especially liked the Pulpo with garlic and a Jerusalem artichoke créme. For dessert we also chose a few to share. Cherry sorbet with meringue, cream with cloudberries and chocolate ice cream with coconut. The perfect way to end the evening.
As I mentioned, La Colline is just a short walk from the Rival Hotel. Otherwise, the closest subway station is Slussen (green & red lines). As they have received some great reviews, I definitely recommend booking a table in advance... either online or, if you are staying at the hotel, contacting me directly for help. Click here for other restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Assorted desserts

October 26, 2017

Theatre: The Bloodbath of Stockholm!

Now and again I get asked by visitors about going to see some theatre or a show... and they are usually disappointed to learn that the vast majority of theatre and shows in Stockholm, with the exception of opera, are in Swedish. Thankfully, we do have a theatre company (SEST- the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre) that does theatre in English from time to time. I have written about them earlier when they did a production of Macbeth.
Photo courtesy of SEST
Now they are back with an original piece written by one of their members (Keith Foster, who also stars in it). What makes it even more interesting is that the subject of the play is one of the darkest and most fascinating moments in Swedish history... the Stockholm Bloodbath. An event that took place just around corner from the play's venue at Musik Valvet Baggen. The background story: in 1520 the tyranical and treacherous Danish king, Christian II, deceived the Swedish nobility and Stockholm population. In an attempt to quell any future Swedish resistence to Danish rule, Christian rounded up and beheaded/hanged 82 noblemen, bishops and citizens in the square Stortorget (spoiler alert: his plan to quell resistence backfired and Sweden was permanently split from Denmark shortly after). It is said that the streets ran with blood. Superstitious people today say that during heavy rain, the water running down the streets will take on a red hue.
Is that blood?
Now, nearly 500 years later, SEST is putting on a play based on these events. The play focuses on three of the major players of this gruesome event: King Christian II, Kristina Gyllenstierna and Archbishop Gustav Trolle. The play's venue is in a medieval cellar vault, which will lend an appropriate historic atmosphere to the proceedings. The play will be performed on 6 dates mid November through early December. Tickets can be purchased online. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more information or help booking tickets.

October 24, 2017

Christmas Overview 2017

Ho, ho, ho! Too early? Not really. I am already getting plenty of e-mails with questions on what to see and do in Stockholm during the holiday season. In the coming months I will be posting articles about the Lucia festivities, restaurants/stores/museums during the holiday season, winter activities and other good-to-know information. But I thought I would start off with an overview of what to expect if you are visiting in Stockholm during this time of year so that you can plan your visit a little better.
NK department store.
It is probably best to begin with looking at the calendar. The traditional start to the Swedish holiday season is skyltsöndag (basically "store window Sunday"). This is the Sunday where the big department stores, like NK, unveil their holiday window displays. Once upon a time, this happened on the Sunday two weeks before Christmas. But these days it has been moved up in the calendar... to the sixth Sunday before Christmas (Sweden is just like every other country in the Western world- it feels like X-mas comes earlier and earlier every year). This year it is on Sunday, November 19th.
Part of last year's Christmas light display...
The next date of note in the holiday calendar is Saturday, November 25th. This is the day when the official city Christmas lights are lit. Over 35 streets, squares and bridges in downtown Stockholm are lit up using hundreds of thousands of LED lights (one of the biggest lighting projects in Europe). Skansen opens its historic Christmas market on the 25th as well (open on the four weekends leading up to Christmas, but not Christmas weekend). 
Christmas market in Gamla Stan.

December 2nd is when the main Christmas market opens for business in Gamla Stan (old town). It is open every day until December 23rd. It was recently named as one of the top 10 markets in Europe. Next up... Sunday, December 3rd. Click here for a list of all Christmas markets with their opening hours. This is the first 
Sunday of Advent (fourth Sunday before Christmas Day). This marks the core, 3-4 week, traditional holiday season in Sweden. It is during this time that the majority of Christmas markets are open. It is also during this time when many restaurants in the city serve the traditional Christmas meal: julbord
Boat cruise with traditional julbord, offered by Strömma
Another important date... December 13th. This is Lucia (or St Lucy's Day) and is one of the most Swedish of holidays. I will write more about this later, but in the meantime you can read my article from earlier or just watch this video to get the gist! Not a holiday event, but if you are coming to Stockholm this week... keep in mind that December 10th is when the Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in Stockholm. While the general public really can't take part in the Nobel Awards, it is good to know that it is going on as the city will be full of invitees and traffic can be a bit chaotic in the evening.
One of the many Lucia processions in the city...
December 24th & 25th... what everything has been leading up to! Most restaurants are closed (except hotel restaurants and a select few), stores close early on the 24th and are closed on the 25th and many museums are closed. More detailed info to come later... but you can click here and here to read information from last year. Every year we do get visitors coming to stay with us on these dates and they are always confused by the closures which surprises me. Isn't it the same in most western nations? 
The main Christmas tree, located at Skeppsbron.
What happens after the 25th? Well, to start with... the 26th is a bank holiday (2nd Day of Christmas). But otherwise, the traditional Christmas celebrations come to a grinding halt. No Christmas markets to visit or julbord to eat. To be honest, Swedes are totally X-mased out by this point. Every year, without fail, I do get visitors asking me during this time where they can go to partake in traditional Christmas celebrations. Impossible without a time machine! What does continue are the more commercial aspects of the holiday. The lights and decorations, for example, traditionally stay up another 20 days until Tjugondag Knut. The days between Christmas and New Years are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are, like in many other countries a huge time for the retail industry with lots of mega sales... called mellandagsrea here in Sweden.
Fingers crossed for a white Christmas this year..
This is just an overview to help you start planning your visit to Stockholm. I will be writing more detailed articles as we get closer to the holiday season. In the meantime you can read some of my posts from last (many linked above) or, if you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more information.