Although I have been to Sweden many times my last trip up there was exactly ten years ago. When I read the Stockholm city guide in one of Jamie Oliver's mags I was amazed by what the city had to offer. I started planning the trip in my mind and after a while I had all the restaurants and sights sorted and listed on a Google map. The Google map is very handy, I printed some of it out on A4 sheets with all the sights dotted and finding my way around town was a breeze. I could fold it into the size of my palm and just stick it in my pocket. Brilliant. I'm never buying a map again.
It was raining on the day that we arrived. Just a wee bit but still enough to give my photos that uniform grey sky. We were up in the Kaknästornet (Stockholm TV tower) looking down on the city covered with a veil of rain. Needless to say the photos were just so-so, and it didn't help either that the viewpoint is guarded by an ugly grid.
Bergianska trädgard (Bergius Botanic Garden) is definitely worth a visit. There are two greenhouses of which the larger, Edvard Andersons växthus, holds an impressive collection of plants, trees and flowers from the Mediterranean, Australia and South Africa. But there are also cacti, orchids (including vanilla), tropical fruit trees such as passion fruit, jack fruit etc.
The oranges had just mellowed with some of them dropping on the ground. I picked one up and ate it! Shhh!!
The smaller domed greenhouse, Victoria växthus, is home to the world's largest water lily Victoria amazonica.
The garden also contains a Japanese pond complete with a little bridge, a kitchen garden, a herb garden and an orchard. Possibly even much more but since the garden is really humongous, I could not browse through all of it in one go.
I loved all the little boutiques and specialist shops on the streets around Kungsgatan, Olof Palmes Gata and the whole area. I found two adorable Thai grocery stores not far from each other on the corner of Olof Palmes Gata. Visited two Japanese shops four streets further north where I could've stayed for hours. Now I regret not buying more ceramics.
A shop I can easily recommend anyone is Iris Hantwerk on Kungsgatan. They have the loveliest handmade objects, many of which have been crafted by blind people. The brushes were so sweet and soft I could've bought them all! Seems like everyone in Sweden is design-conscious.
Of course Sthlm also has its department stores, like any big city, but these do not tower above the block. They go underground. I visited NK (for the food hall), PUB and Gallerian but I didn't get the same emotional lift as from the smaller places.
Food in Sthlm is fantastic as can be expected, after all, they have won 5 medals in the Bocuse d'Or in the last twenty years. Superseded only by the Frenchmen and Norwegians. It's quite an achievement, considering that the competition is biannual, so that makes five medals out of ten competitions.
Scandinavians seem to rule the food world right now.
I didn't have enough days to visit all the restaurants and cafés on my list but everything I ate was incredible.
I would instantly dine at B.A.R. again. I loved everything about it - the decor, the super energetic staff, the food, the buzz. I'm still raving about the starter, gratinated scallops (I was practically licking the plate), and the strawberry-pistachio dessert (seen above).
I had my first experience with oysters and have to say I liked it. Served with a red onion vinaigrette and it was very lovely. I'd do it again! An oyster tastes like the most tender smooth piece of meat you could ever imagine, swimming in a drop of seawater. Unlike mussels. I never really did understand the fuss about mussels, those are tough little muscles that you really need to chew on, kind of like eyeballs. Uh.
Our waiter was a cheery and attentive chap who ran the show very smoothly. The service was spot on, we didn't have to wait for anything. He was so quick on his feet that sadly I didn't manage to snap his photo.
The place seems to be very popular, I was first in, having arrived ten minutes before opening, mind you, but it was full just half an hour later.
I would also suggest checking out Berns Salonger where Sthlm Fashion Week was in full swing at the time with groups of slender models of both sexes hanging about. The posh decor alone will make people turn heads. But the best part is, together with afternoon tea they serve a dessert buffet where you can nibble and sample as much as you please. I must say I was too full after having eaten seven mini-desserts that I didn't manage to taste everything on offer. Seriously! They had everything from crème brûlée and tiramisù to rabarbersoppa and various chocolate cakes.
Somehow, I should've found the will and strength to quaff it all down. I should've tried everything.
Rather high on the agenda were cafés and chocolate shops. Sweden is known for its good buns and coffee. Might as well use the chance and have as many fika breaks as you can possibly fit in your busy schedule.
Chokladfabriken, run by Martin and Ellinor Isaksson, has four shops around town. They offer a wide selection of chocolates and truffles. Choose and select your favourites to compose your own personal box of chocolates. There are about 20 to 30 different varieties to choose from, depending on the day. Sometimes certain flavours just run out.
They also serve some very good macarons, muffins, brioche and desserts.
Being part of the Swedish National Culinary Team, Martin Isaksson won gold at the 2005 Culinary Olympics.
Per Olsson Choklad och Konditori is a tiny but oh so wonderful place in the slightly quirky Södermalm district. Lovely funky decor, a good selection of macarons, chocolates and truly delicious desserts.
Per Olsson took bronze at the 2008 Culinary Olympics as the Swedish team came in third. Roy Fares was behind the counter while we stopped by.
Xoko is truly fascinating. Hip, modish decor and a very wide selection of dishes from bread and sandwiches to buns, cakes, desserts, smoothies and macarons. Be prepared as the place can be jam-packed! I was lucky to grab the last table. No surprise, Magnus Johansson, who runs the place, has prepared desserts for the Nobel Prize gala dinner for the last six years.
The one flavour seen everywhere in Sthlm, next to all the hjortron, lingon and blåbär, is lakrits - licorice. So if you happen to be a fan, scoot right over because it's everywhere! I brought back a couple bags of licorice powder for a friend. I imagine it would be good for making mousses or baking a fluffy licorice cake.
In fact I managed to cart back quite a number of items, mostly edible though. Some of which can be seen below.
In the picture - jams from Bergianska and Xoko, cordials from PO and Granit, juices from a Thai shop, XO sauce, Pockys and Japanese teaware, bamboo steamer (was dead cheap, less than 3€, and I was planning on buying one over here which cost like 12€), macarons from PO, Xoko and Chokladfabriken and a Mademoiselle Oiseau cup and saucer set, designed by Lovisa Burfitt.
Naturally, macarons are all gone by now and I'm halfway through the Pockys as well. I'm crazy in love with that strawberry-shaped tea infuser! I've been using it every day, it's such a joy.
If you travel to Sweden between August and September, you just might be lucky enough to take part in the big crayfish feast - kräftskiva. Many places have special crayfish menus during that period.
I want to go back, even if just to dine at B.A.R. again, oh and of course PO and Xoko...
Until then, Stockholm!