Another weekend in the Swedish capital spent exploring two Michelin-starred establishments, Restaurant Ekstedt and Oaxen krog. Places that´s been on my to-do-list for some time now, and finally a suitable occasion for visiting them both occured.
Let´s begin with Ekstedt, started by chef Niklas Ekstedt in 2011 and receiving one Michelin star in 2013. Eschewing modern molecular gastronomy for a return to the age-old practice of cooking over open fire or a wood-burning stove has gained the restaurant attention both in Sweden and internationally. Fresh seasonal ingredients tasting of fire, ashes and smoke is what´s making this place special, and as a culinary idea extremely interesting.
The design concept is pretty rustic, including the heavy-duty aprons of the staff. Not the most beautiful dining room I´ve ever visited, but still warm and inviting. On this particular night the clientele was seriously underdressed for a Michelin restaurant, in a way that can´t be anything than anxiously calculated. Probably not that different from any other night.
After the customary glass of champagne swiftly brought in by our friendly waitress, an amuse consisting of a small pizza from the wood-oven with duck liver and truffle was served. Very simple and extremely tasty. A six course menu with wine pairings followed (there is also a four course variety), making good use of the signature fire-fuelled cooking. Sea cucumber with oysters, lobster with chimney-baked tomato and a dish consisting of octopus fried with chorizo starts the procedings. Lamb sweetbread served with morels followed by hay-baked ribeye and corn, truffle and marrow makes up the main courses. Everything served has a beautiful and slightly deceptive simplicity that´s not so easy to attain. Dessert is Socca with raisins, nougat, hazelnuts and coffee ice cream. Fairly unremarkable, to be honest.
For many reasons a restaurant that I´ve wanted to visit for quite some time now. The concept of cooking by fire is both its raison d´etre and its most severe limitation. Although the menu is innovative and extremely well-tasting, it´s still more dependent on what can be done with the cooking techniques at hand than what suits the raw-material best. Despite enjoying my night at Ekstedt immensely, I would be very surprised if this restaurant is still in existence five years from now.
If Ekstedt could be seen as a novelty hit, Oaxen has a tradition of extreme excellence hailing back to 1994. Founded by couple Magnus Ek and Agneta Green on the Stockholm archipelago island of Oaxen and repeatedly chosen as one of the fifty best restaurants in the world by Restaurant Magazine. I only managed one visit there before they closed, but what a night that was. A fantastically remarkable dinner in the beautiful ambiance of Oaxen island, followed by an overnight stay at the hotel-boat Prince van Orangien. Having a wonderful breakfast on the deck of the boat in Swedish summer sunlight is a memory to cherish. It doesn´t get better than this.
After 17 years on Oaxen, the couple decided to call it quits and the idea of a new restaurant started to form. Located at the part of Stockholm district Djurgården bordering on Beckholmen, this new establishment is located a bit more peripherally than most of the capital´s prestige restaurants. However, if there was ever a place worthy of a trip this is it. The taxi driver hasn´t got a clue where he´s going and directions are given with the aid of Google Maps. A nice example of better living through technology. Following both the fashion of the times and economic necessities the house contains two restaurants, the simpler Oaxen Slip and the high-end Oaxen Krog. To get to our table we need to walk through the Oaxen Slip bistro part before arriving at the entrance to Oaxen Krog, under the envious stares of the other guests.
Having the big doors open and being let into the inner sanctum of Oaxen Krog is just the beginning of a culinary show that will rock our foundations. After choosing the signature 10 course menu we´re treated to a series of amuse boches that would absolutely kill a lesser establishment. Celery crisps filled with celery cream served on a bed of glowing wood giving it a wonderfully smoky touch. Poached quail egg with crème of Kalix bleak roe, in my opinion the best you can get in terms of fish eggs, Russian caviar included. A mushroom-shaped crisp of Swedish Karl-Johan mushroom with accompanying mushroom crème that blends sublimely together. Roasted artichoke served with smoked ox-marrow making a wonderful marriage of tastes. A slice of the restaurant´s own Parma-style ham, hailing from a nearby farm and dry-cured for 10 months. If this wasn´t enough for you, the show continues with a slightly bizarre dish consisting of filled bladder wrack accompanied by a thin slice of smoked zander, followed by sweet shrimp with a succulent dressing served on hot stones. Wow, what a beginning!
The menu itself which follows can be seen here (Oaxen meny), and is nothing less than fantastic. (Hold the cursor over the small yellow boxes to see an English translation.)
Beautifully presented, fresh and innovative cutting edge cuisine from a master. Locally produced Nordic ingredients, with most of the herbs and spices used collected in the Djurgården area around the restaurant. The wine pairing is very well chosen and substantially adds to the experience, with the wonderful Portuguese dessert wine as a standout.
The service is perfect throughout the evening, with attentive and knowledgeable staff making everything flow seemingly effortlessly. A little bit more than halfway into the dinner something interesting happens – after receiving a warm blanket over your shoulders (after all it´s Sweden in early April), you´re invited out on the veranda where Magnus is manning the grill, serving up a small but fresh extra course while amiably chatting with the guests. A both unexpected and very nice part of a splendid evening.
It´s very reassuring to see that the culinary dedication and finesse developed during the years of the original Oaxen restaurant has been passed on to this new establishment. World-class cooking with a decidedly Swedish touch, served by competent staff in a stylish dining room situated in the beautiful surroundings of Djurgården. A night out doesn´t get much better than this. With Oaxen Krog the gourmet dining crowd of Stockholm has gained a new top of the line restaurant, spreading both inspiration and envy to lesser establishments. I wouldn´t be the least surprised if a second Michelin star soon follows.