Sweden: A summer escape with the richest rewards
Sweden’s southern Skåne region is far more than a dramatic backdrop for dark misdeeds in Nordic Noir dramas – chefs in the region have played a key part in shaping contemporary Nordic cuisine. Guy Dimond discovers outstanding cooking and a coffee-and-pastry tradition we’d do well to adopt.
My first impression of Sweden was formed by Summer with Monika, an art-house film by Ingmar Bergman that captures the balmy Swedish summer and long, sun-kissed days and evenings of the Baltic coastline at its best. Discovering Sweden’s dark side, as portrayed in Nordic Noir crime fiction, only fuelled my interest. Novelist Henning Mankell set his Kurt Wallander crime stories in Skåne, the country’s southernmost region. The TV series captures the promontory beautifully, with its rolling countryside and big skies reflected in the surrounding seas. Malmö, Skåne’s capital, is the setting for many a dark deed in Wallander’s tales – and in grisly Scandinavian crime drama series The Bridge.
Malmö is a quick commute from Denmark, just half an hour across the bridge in question, Öresund; flying into Copenhagen Airport, then taking a train over the road and rail bridge, is the easiest way to get there. I’ve made the crossing several times and I’m pleased to say I’ve yet to come across a dead body. The Malmö portrayed on the TV is a far darker place than the reality, which is urban and cosmopolitan but far from bleak. Behind the urban grittiness, there’s a hinterland of exciting food producers, innovative chefs and restaurateurs.
To get to know the city, we entrusted our day to the knowledgeable Lena Ilkjaer, who runs a gastronomic food walking tour, Matkaravan Malmö. Lena is a Swede who commutes to Malmö from Copenhagen and edits the White Guide, an authoritative restaurant guide covering the whole Nordic region. Lena whisked us around the many food shops, cafés and stalls around Möllevångstorget. The grand cobbled square is home to a fruit and veg market but, more importantly, the area is the multicultural hub of Malmö and has been undergoing a renaissance in the last year or two. A case in point is Mitt Möllan, a scruffy looking 1960s shopping centre that’s home to hipsterish food entrepreneurs, including Peter Svanberg of ice cream bar Köld. Pull up a plastic chair at Scandwich, which sells open sandwiches with unusual toppings, such as cabbage seven ways (it tastes better than it sounds). Beer o’clock already? Pop into the nearby craft beer bar and restaurant Söder om Småland, where many weirdy-beard brews vie for your attention.
Möllevångstorget is also a great place to pick up food gifts. Möllans Ost is a smart deli selling Swedish specialities such as liquorice sweets, cloudberry jam and rosehip jelly, and The Serbian-run butcher’s shop Malmö Kötthandel (at Möllevångstorget 7) championed nose-to-tail eating long before it was fashionable. Its unusual charcuterie includes cold-smoked pork rind cooked to a Hungarian recipe, and smoked sausages galore.
New Nordic cuisine
Before Lena waved us off, she briefed us on the best restaurants to try in Malmö. No mere sidekick to Stockholm and Copenhagen, the city has played an important part in shaping the so-called New Nordic food scene. The pioneering Skåne chef Thomas Drejing was one of the forerunners of the Noma-esque style of Nordic cooking, Lena told us, and there’s still a lot of exchange between Denmark and Sweden, with the Skåne region being important in that. “Lots of the chefs in Malmö today have worked at Noma or other prominent New Nordic restaurants in Copenhagen,” said Lena. “Even when they want to present genuine Skåne cooking the way grandma did it, it’s impossible not to see modern influences.”
Nordic restaurants are notorious for being pricey, so we were glad to hear Lena’s reassurances that eating out in Malmö is easier on the pocket than in Copenhagen, especially for fine dining. We hurried off to try Vollmers, the top-rated restaurant in Malmö, run by chef brothers Ebbe and Mats Vollmers. Their restaurant occupies an old townhouse just off Lilla Torg, the lovely cobbled square in Malmö’s old town. The service is casual, yet faultlessly friendly and professional.
The succession of small dishes, many of which play on childhood memories, highlight Skåne produce and also play with Swedish culinary traditions. We marvelled at the craft used in dishes ranging from nettle bouillon to delicate servings of crab soup. It was an outstanding meal and an unforgettable restaurant experience.
The best deal in Malmö
Eating out here is a thrill even on a tight budget. One of the clearest trends in Malmö and Skåne is for highly trained haute-cuisine chefs to ditch the high-end restaurant and start up on their own with a humbler bistro or canteen, while still using the same skills and expertise to create impressive dishes. A case in point is Saltimporten Canteen. Take a taxi through largely deserted docks to reach the end of a quay with views of Öresund Bridge (yes, the famous one from TV series The Bridge). Set in a glass-fronted warehouse, the restaurant offers one of the best lunch deals in Scandinavia. Chefs Ola Rudin and Sebastian Persson play to a packed house every day, despite the unlikely location, displaying the brilliant technique and love of produce that marked out their fine dining restaurant, Trio, which they closed to downsize their lives to manageable workloads.
The place is like the work canteen of your dreams – lunch only with a choice of two meal options (one veg, one not) for SEK85 (under £8). Order at the counter, then sit at one of the long shared tables to feast on, perhaps, cured salmon with poached fennel and peas served with a dollop of lemon mayonnaise, or a dramatic-looking yellow beet and rapeseed oil mayonnaise dish crumbled with dried and cured egg yolk, given a fine black dusting of leek ash. The chefs champion quality local ingredients, generously sprinkled with contemporary flavours using the best modern techniques.
The happy medium
In Malmö, fine dining joints, canteens and everything in between display the cool breeze of modern Swedish cooking. Lyran is near the once rough Jesusparken, in the gentrifying Möllan district. It might look like a neighbourhood wine bar, but you can sit at the counter and watch the chefs work magic in the open kitchen. A top dish is the umami-fest of raw field mushrooms sliced paper-thin on mushroom ketchup, sprinkled with parmesan and poppy seeds. When in season, there are wild cultivated greens, raw and cooked. The food is keenly priced, but the natural wines can make the bill ramp up quickly.
At nearby Kvarteret Åkern the setting is almost caff-casual, yet the cooking combines honesty and artistry, without pretension. You can eat four courses for SEK350 (£30), perhaps including leek, poached egg, anchovies and lemon cream, or chocolate mousse with almond cream, all done in a recognisably modern Swedish style.
To end the evening on a high, we headed back to the centre of town to Bastard, a fashionable bar-restaurant where the well-groomed, well-heeled of Malmö head to enjoy a glass of natural wine at the bar, and check out other tanned and tall local talent; both men and women seem attracted to this particular Bastard.
The next day we struck out to the countryside, with the sun obligingly brightening the gently rolling landscape beside the coast road. After an hour we reached Hörte Brygga, a little seaside restaurant that’s worth a special trip. Chef Martin Sjöstrand offers snacks, smoked fish, pickled vegetables, cold cuts and bean dips from a little shack in Hörte harbour; it’s the perfect lunch stop.
Carrying on to the town of Ystad (home of fictional detective Kurt Wallander) we found a slice of quaint, small-town Swedish life, where we imagined twitching curtains and the keeping of dark secrets. There are terrific snacks and meals at the original Söderberg & Sara bakery and café. Owner Per Söderberg’s dark rye bread, baked in a tubular tin, is a must.
Heading back inland to the village of Tomelilla, our destination was restaurant Daniel Berlin Krog. Daniel Berlin earned his stripes (and stars) working at upmarket Malmö venues before nearly burning out, then moving to a rural idyll. He is now the highest-rated chef in Skåne. “I didn’t like the person I had become,” he told us. “I worked seven days a week. Here we can close the restaurant from autumn until March.” His restaurant has a month-long waiting list and customers think nothing of spending SEK1450 (£127) on a tasting menu. Herbs are from the garden, vegetables from neighbouring farms, the pheasant or venison might have been shot by Berlin himself. The strong Nordic flavours from pickling, fermentation and smoking are softened and sweetened with root vegetables, fresh fruit and berries. And the setting is homely and humble enough to revive that sunny Ingmar Bergman vibe.
delicious. travelled courtesy of VisitSweden, Sweden’s official website for tourism and travel information.
Fly to Copenhagen Airport (many airlines fly there), then take the train from the airport over the Öresund Bridge to Malmö centre. The train journey takes less than half an hour and a return ticket costs under £20.
Where to stay
Malmö is a popular conference city, so there are plenty of keenly priced rooms, if not much in the ‘design hotel’ vein.
A good value hotel in the city centre with spacious rooms. Doubles from £80 including breakfast.
Slightly cosier, newly built but in a traditional Swedish style. Doubles from £95 including breakfast.