Cooking over fire at Ekstedt (clockwise from top left): wood-fired oven with loaves of bread waiting at the side to go in, smoke box and grill at the pass, cooking oysters using a flambadou in the fire pit, wood-fired stove
It’s always easier to write a critical review, or one where there are a few oddities you can highlight to entertain your readers. A review where there’s nothing wrong, where there are no quirks and the author just loves the whole damn thing can threaten to be a bit… monotonous. I thought about saying that eating at Ekstedt reminded me of eating round the campfire with the Girl Guides but, well, it didn’t.
Without beating about the bush, then, the dinner I had at Ekstedt restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, in June was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in decades of eating around the world. I may have had, in 3* Michelin restaurants, cooking that is technically more brilliant or sophisticated, but I couldn’t fault any of the dishes I had at Ekstedt (1* Michelin star) and I loved the atmosphere and ethos. That said, the ethos and atmosphere won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and some of the ingredients and flavours may not be either.
If you favour formality, classic French chic, starched napery and crisp lighting, Ekstedt may not be for you. Likewise, if you like to see classical haute cuisine and familiar ingredients on your plate. Or you want to know that the kitchen is lavishly equipped and staffed. Or you don’t like to see the inner workings of the kitchen: almost all Ekstedt is on view and, depending where you’re sitting, it can be practically under your nose. The same applies, if you like choice. At Ekstedt, there’s no choice, except whether you have four or six courses (although, with extras thrown in, we ended up with rather more than six). And you can’t have lunch. It’s only open for dinner, although dinner does start early in Sweden.
So that’s what Ekstedt isn’t. What it is, according to restaurateur Niklas Ekstedt, is a new kind of fine dining, a new kind of Nordic cuisine based on rediscovered, age-old techniques. In a word: fire. In a few more words: the antithesis of the molecular gastronomy that Niklas Ekstedt was renowned for in his first restaurant. It means ingredients from Sweden’s islands, fields, forests and coasts cooked exclusively over fire – no electricity, no gas, just wood in a fire-pit, an oven, a wood-fired stove and a smoke box, the latter described by Ekstedt as the Stone Age equivalent of a microwave. It means using a flambadou (or capucin), a medieval utensil of southwest France that looks like a conical ladle on a long handle, except that it has a hole in the point (pictured above, bottom right). It means naming each dish according to sort of fire used: On ember, Hay-baked, Smoke box, Blackened, and so on.
Before I go into details of the food, I must mention the wine list. It’s wide-ranging and rich in small producers and unfamiliar names, including grower’s champagnes and orange wines, but you can have Dom Pérignon and first-growth claret if you wish. I’m not going to use the word curated – I hate it – but if you like it, it’s a very imaginatively and knowledgeably c****** list. Take a bow sommelier Maximilian Mellfors (above right). As I didn’t know what we were going to eat, I let him match wines to the dishes. I’m glad I did. Scroll down for the wines and tasting notes.
The dishes (below, clockwise from top left):
‘Tacos’ of smoked reindeer heart and lingonberries. (An appetiser to get us going.)
Cold Smoked: Blue mussels, cucumber and seaweed, in a smoked broth with monkfish-cheek dice.
Lou Flambadou: Oysters cooked using a flambadou, with a smoked butter and apple sauce and topped with a nasturtium leaf.
Hay-Baked: Scallop (Norwegian), sauerkraut with sorrel and juniper and a brown-butter emulsion with horseradish at its centre.
Continuing below, clockwise from top left:
Blackened: Leek, smoked vendace roe, charcoal-smoked cream and crispy potato (vendace, or bleak, is a freshwater whitefish that has PDO status in the Swedish Bothnian Bay).
On Ember: Pike-perch, peas, buttery spinach sauce and chive flowers.
Smoke Box: Smoked Linderöds pork garnished with pine-tree shoots, asparagus with homemade cream cheese, ransom, apple purée and smoked black-pudding with port and Madeira.
Wood-Fired Oven: Mazarine cake, raspberry sauce and birch ice cream.
And, right, a final flourish, in case we needed a little something more:
Wood-Fired Oven: miniature buckwheat doughnut with carrot marmalade and woodruff
Left: Bread from the wood-fired oven and home-made butter, brought to the table after the Hay-baked scallops
Champagne Laherte Frères Ultradition
Pinot Meunier-dominated, red fruit and apple flavours; lively and ultra-crisp.
Le Pas Saint Martin Chenin de Loire La Pierre Frite 2015, Loire
Apple and grapefruit, Chenin's typically high acidity and bone dry but with a suggestion of softness in the middle.
Von Winning Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten Riesling Trocken 2014, Pfalz
Intense, expressive, spice-box flavoured Riesling. A winning match for the scallops.
Arianna Occhipinti, SP68 2013, Vittoria, Sicily
A Zibbibo (Muscat of Alexandria) blend. Chosen by Maximilian Mellfors to partner the dish with smoked vendace roe and smoked cream, because “Zibibbo goes very well with smoke”, and served in a large glass to enhance it. For me, the Zibibbo was a touch too aromatic and grapey for the dish.
Claude Buchot Côtes du Jura Terroir du Bry 2011, Jura
Chardonnay with a buttery, smoky accent that echoed the sauce and the smokiness of the ember-edged flavours of the fish skin and peas.
Broc Cellars Mendocino Cassia Grenache 2013, California
100-year-old vines at the Gibson Ranch in McDowall Valley. Grenache Noir (mutated from Grenache Gris) and Grenache Gris. A deliciously juicy, soft and fruity red, flecked with herbs and spice. Light on its feet but layered. A good match for the Smoke-box pork.
Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese 2012, Neusiedlersee
A Welschriesling and Chardonnay blend
The vintage escapes me – I’ll find out and update. Meanwhile, it was spot on with the Mazarine cake and ice cream and the buckwheat doughnut.
Ekstedt, Humlegardsgatan 17, 114 46 Stockholm, Sweden.
Open evenings only, but evenings start early: 16.00–18.00 depending on the day of the week.
All photographs by Joanna Simon