I say 'scene' because, for all its many evident qualities (epitomised by the very grand view from my window at the very grand Grand Hotel), and despite a personal audience with the Rural Affairs minister (who I interviewed for a piece and who was keen to tell me all about his 'Culinary Sweden' promo campaign), I am not yet entirely convinced of Stockholm's culinary credentials.
It may have a handful of truly world class restaurants, of which more in my next post, but it is ferociously expensive to eat and drink here. Main courses at decent places are SEK250-400 (in other words, the cost of a reasonable three course prix fixe in a good Paris joint), and it is far from unusual for a glass of wine to set you back SEK150 (divide by ten for Sterling). The top end restaurants aren't that far off the kind of thing you'd pay in Copenhagen or even further south, but the problem really lies with the quality middle-range restaurants.
There aren't any.
And if you want to eat out on a budget, you will still need a sizeable budget and you will have to eat ethnic food. I didn't travel all this way north at perma frost time to eat second rate Italian or Thai food.
It does have Scandinavia's largest and grandest food hall, Saluhallen,
…but, then again, considering neither Oslo nor Copenhagen actually has any food hall (though they are building one on Israels Plads in the former), and Helsinki's is fairly modest, that's no great claim. What's more, I have to say, for all its architectural merits, I wasn't all that impressed by Saluhallen. Unlike the Finns, the Swedes don't seem to have all that much confidence in their own produce or cuisine, so there was way too much emphasis on southern Mediterranean goods for my liking.
And not really enough of this kind of thing:
On the plus side, I did spot one of these – any guesses?
My first guess was some kind of mega-grouse, but the 'slagter' told me it was a capercaillie whose meat he described as very dark and liverish. But he couldn't tell me any restaurant in town where I could actually eat one, which was disappointing.
Other than that, I am afraid that what there was of traditional Swedish fare was, well, not terribly appetising to be frank.
Even the pastries were a bit pedestrian (I know these are an iconic seasonal dessert, but still…).
And don't get me started on the dreaded and faintly sinister Systembolaget – the state run alcohol shops which close early on a Friday night (no kidding). In this one, on Gamla Stan, customers are not even trusted to touch the produce before they buy it. Instead, the booze is displayed in glass cabinets with serial numbers, which you use to order from two disapproving, sour-faced spinsters behind the counter, before slinking out into the night with your immoral bounty.
This is no way for grown ups to be treated, is it?
On the plus side, I did discover what Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and the other one (was it Alf?) have been up to since the split:
And the locals do have excellent taste in culinary literature. This is reassuring. At least, then, they are on the right track.
Sorry, more positive post on some really great restaurants coming up.