Mathias Dahlgren

Chef Mathias Dahlgren

Mathias Dahlgren, who runs two establishments at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, came back into prominence in the San Pellegrino world’s top 50 list this year, having last received an entry in 2009 for his eponymous restaurant. As such, it’s almost impossible to get into during the Swedish summer so Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband opted for his smaller ‘Food Bar’ right next door. We should have asked the question – Sweden was playing Ukraine in their opening game of the Euro 2012 championship. Maybe there would have been cancellations in the restaurant. No matter.

The food bar is a groovy little place with a smattering of tables, high chairs around the bar and a few high tables along the far wall. That’s where we found ourselves on a sunny, if cool, night confronted by a three sided box, a setting of cutlery and a goodie bag.

The three sided box seemed to be useful for those people sitting at the bar to demarcate their eating space. For the rest of us it was a pain in the proverbial. The goodie bag contained a yummy collection of crisp bread, which was devoured instantaneously. The menu lined the box and was quickly switched over to the English version. We ordered a bottle of Pol Roger, one of the less hideously expensive bottles on the wine list and perused the listings.

In the food bar, the diner is again ’empowered’ to choose as many or as few dishes as their stomachs can hold. Each course is ‘bigger’ than a starter but ‘smaller’ than a main, according to the perky young Swedish girl who showed us to the table. She recommended diners order two courses each and see how they went from there. We sat back, tried to take it all in and waited for our server, Jessie.

Jessie was our second encounter that day with an Australian. The barista at Kafe Esaias (see ‘The quest for coffee’) quickly volunteered he was from Sydney, as was Jessie. These bloody Aussies … they’re everywhere …

The bottle of champagne was ordered from the Grand Hotel’s considerably large list and needed to be brought from the cellar. It wasn’t cold enough so we were offered a taste and the bottle disappeared to be put on ice. Ravenous, though, we decided to attack the food, ordering one course at a time to share, as is our practice.

The menu is divided into dishes from Sweden, dishes from other countries (not specified), dishes from the plant world (vegetarian options) and ‘from the pastry’ (desserts).

First up was from the dishes listed under local produce. We had langoustine from Bohuslan, described as a traditional Swedish province in the country’s far north-west. Once again gluttonous husband’s peeling skills were brought to the fore. Four langoustines appeared in a bowl, accompanied by a shellfish, lemon and dill sauce.

Jessie had told us they were done in the traditionally salty Swedish style. She was right. There was almost a briny saltiness to them. Where was that bottle of champagne?

We switched to ‘from other countries’ on the menu and chose dumplings and king crab. While the crab was no doubt sourced somewhere in the North/Baltic Sea, the dish was unmistakably Asian, featuring strong flavours of chilli and coriander and dressed with a rice wine sauce. The flavours were well balanced and Greedy Girl put aside her dislike of coriander to give it a full tasting. Not at all bad.

Once the crispbread was depleted, we were offered thick slices of Dahlgren’s own sourdough recipe. It came into its own later for mopping … but Greedy Girl is getting ahead of herself.

Next up we chose the ‘steamed beef bun’ which came with a hot sauce, pickled cucumber and coriander but we asked nicely if the latter could be withheld. It was very reminiscent of the bar buns offered at David Chang’s New York eatery Momofuku and while very nice in the mouth, they were a bit too hot in Greedy Girl’s opinion. It was hard to discern any flavour other than chilli.

From there we went back to the ‘local’ menu and chose the open sandwich of lamb. Jessie explained that Swedish lamb, given the prevailing weather, was hard to come by. She reminisced about her fond memories of Australian lamb and highly recommended the dish. She was absolutely right. Thin slices of pink lamb atop a crunchy, thin crouton with creamed spring mushrooms, ramsons (a cross between spring onion and wild garlic) and the most heavenly jus were utterly delightful. It was here we took every remaining crumb of our sourdough to mop the plate.

Greedy Girl would have been happy to finish the savoury dishes here but gluttonous husband won the day and asked for the daily special – croquettes of chicken served with charred asparagus, garlic and parsley. The latter two elements were melded together and were fried crispy. The croquettes were tiny and there were plenty of them. They crunched in the mouth before giving way to the chicken. Not quite a mousse, not quite shredded chicken. It had texture and softness at the same time. It was spectacular.

We decided, as there was a tiny amount of champagne left and gluttonous husband was looking for his customary glass of dessert wine, a Muscat vin de liqueur 2002, we would order a dessert. The menu reliably informed us that, at the time of printing, 49,237 of this particular dessert had been ordered and who were we to go against the tide?

It was described as baked wild chocolate from Bolivia. Yes, indeed, it was made from cocoa beans that apparently grow wild in that great nation. Effectively, it was a melting chocolate fondant drizzled with some caramel sauce, but the edge had been coated in caramelised cocoa beans, to give it an occasional pop and crunch. On the side, a dollop of toffee ice cream sat on top of a slick of sour cream and some crumbed nuts. Gluttonous husband was welcome to those elements but Greedy Girl struggled with her dark demons to give up half of the chocolate. It was absolutely worthy of only the second OMG for this trip.

Opting not to have coffee, we sat and sipped the drinks and were presented with some complimentary petits fours – tiny crunchy madeleines and some peanut and chocolate fudge. Jessie said she’d had clients who complained about the fudge saying everything else they’d eaten that night was sublime, but they couldn’t deal with the combination of chocolate and peanuts. Who were these people? Did they come from planet earth? Greedy Girl is still shaking her head at that one.

But then again, as delightfully friendly as the Swedes generally are, there are some, er, unusual sights. Greedy Girl was surprised, and not in a good way, about the lack of sartorial style throughout the city.

In her opinion, Stockholm and its attendant female population wore the Worst Shoes Ever. There were plenty of blonde bombshells roaming the streets in their spray-on trousers and bare, paunchy midriffs. But the best example of Swedish style was saved for last – in the person of one of her fellow diners. He arrived sporting a business shirt and dungarees – yep, you know the all in one thingies that workmen wear – except this was made of a heavy blue fabric like a suit.

Resisting the temptation to break into a chorus of the ‘Green Acres’ theme song, Greedy Girl couldn’t take her eyes off this incredibly ungainly-looking ensemble. In which parallel universe did this look good? Perhaps in the same one where people don’t think chocolate and peanuts belong together.

Mathias Dahlgren food bar was a triumph – each dish just got better and better, which is a feat in itself. Greedy Girl has been to plenty of establishments that start off with a bang and go the other way. This was one way traffic to a great food experience.

With thanks to Mathias Dahlgren for supplying the pictures in this blog.

Food Bar

Grand Hôtel Stockholm, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 6

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