- Food & Drink
The great romantic myth of holiday-making is The Little Local Restaurant. The dark doorway that leads through to a room packed with rough-hewn tables, slightly uncomfortable chairs and rustic locals all decoratively chowing down on delicious specialities you’ll never find outside of that town. Tumblers of wine, baskets of bread and the smug moment, after you’ve described your meal in detail to your friends, when you say: “And you won’t believe how cheap it was!” – these are the dreams holidays are made of.
It’s a dream that’s impossible to fulfill in Sweden, mostly because your return home is marked by a fistful of receipts that you insist on showing to everyone so they can marvel at just how much you paid for a beer.
It’s also impossible because no savvy tourist goes on holiday and ‘stumbles’ across a diamond-in-the-rough restaurant anymore. They intensively research it on the internet; cross-referencing guidebooks, restaurant boards, Twitter tips and food blogs until they’ve narrowed down their choices to the tiny clutch of cafés that will offer an authentic taste of the country and a menu in English.
DJ, Leonard, Tor, SoJo and I began our evening by making the classic tourist mistake of thinking that Pelikan didn’t look that far on the map. 45 minutes of walking across cobbles in high heels later, we tottered into the handsome, wood-panelled beer hall and put in our request for a table. The Maître d’ scratched his chin and told us it would be about 20 minutes, so we settled down amidst the comfy cushions in the bar with little beers and Spanishly strong gin and tonics for company.
So comfortable were the padded stools and soft furnishings, that I had to drag myself off them when the Maître d’ beckoned us through to the restaurant. Perched on wooden benches, we ordered a bottle of jammy Italian red wine (some elements of the Holiday Dream hold true) and devoured an enormous basket of caraway-spiked bread and earthy crispbreads while we perused the menu.
On holiday, I’m fixated with eating things I can’t get at home. I didn’t suffer the indignities of Heathrow airport in order to have pan-fried bit of animals with a muddle of Mediterranean trimmings. I want to be absolutely certain I’m abroad, so I started my meal with SOS – Smör, Öst och Sill (butter, cheese and herring).
The herring came prepared in 3 ways – in a rich, buttery sauce with dill; a creamy, garlicky sauce with chives; and, my favourite, an astringent vinegar and diced red onion cure. Sat alongside the fish was a triangle of rubbery caraway flavoured cheese and crumbly, mature farmhouse cheese that was similar to a really good Cheddar.
Around the table, DJ and Tor had Jerusalem artichoke soup, Leonard had cured lamb with a slab of startling green, undefined terrine that she described as: “Excellent” and SoJo was sat at the other end of the table, so I failed to pay attention to what she ate.
For main course, it had to be meatballs.
4 glistening, golf ball sized meatballs glazed with a light gravy arrived, served with sweet-sharp lingonberries and 2 enormous slices of burningly briny gherkin. Juicy (I’d guess they were made from a mix of beef and pork) and tantalisngly aromatic, they were the stuff that Swedish meatball legends are made of, if such a legend exists.
I was so focussed on my meatballs that I utterly failed to notice what anyone else was eating. I’m sure they’ll tell us in the comments if they think it’s crucial that you know.
The bill for 5 starters, 5 main courses and 1 bottle of wine (plus bread basket) was Kr1,749, which works out at around £32 a head – not significantly different to what I’d pay in London and worth it for having pleasurably ticked off “traditional Swedish food” within hours of arriving in Stockholm.