May 19, 2018

The 2018 Summer Salon at Esperanto!

Photo courtesy of Esperanto
Every summer, the majority of fine dining restaurants in Stockholm (Michelin star and such) close for a few weeks in July and August. This is usually a disappointment for traveling foodies coming to the city for vacation. Thankfully, all is not lost as there are a couple who remain open all summer in one form or another. Next week I will be writing a blog article listing how the top tier restaurants in Stockholm will be open this summer. Stay tuned!
Photo courtesy of Esperanto
One such restaurant that doesn't completely close is Esperanto, which has been awarded Best Restaurant in Sweden by the White Guide for several years in a row as well as mainting their star in the Michelin Guide for 11 years. The head chef and restauranteur is Sayan Isaksson and he also runs Michelin starred Imouto and Bib Gourmand rated Shibumi, all located in the same building as Esperanto. Chef Isaksson was also the creative genius behind the Nobel Prize banquets in 2015 and 2016.
While Esperanto and Imouto do close between June 26th and August 2nd, Chef Isaksson instead opens a "Summer Salon" is a sun room just adjacent to Esperanto's main dining room on the second floor of the building. The salon is made up of a community table which seats 16 people and the serving is a la carte style (two seatings each evening). This has proven to be a popular concept and they have done a summer salon now for 5 years in a row.
Each year, the Summer Salon has had a theme when it comes to the menu. Spanish and French cuisine have been featured and last year they had a Dim Sum Palace. This year, they are going back to Chef Isaksson's roots and serving a menu with culinary inspirations from Thailand (the country he was born and adopted from). The menu is made up of small and medium sized dishes.
Photo courtesy of Esperanto
I was invited this week to a press lunch at Esperanto where the concept and menu of their Summer Salon was presented. It was delicious and the plates beautifully presented. The dishes are not Thai (as in what you would order in a Thai restaurant), instead it is the flavors and ingredients which you will recognize from Thai cuisine but all served with a modern, creative twist.
Restaurants located in the green building to the left,
in the shadow of Engelbrekt Church. 
As I mentioned earlier, Esperanto, Imouto, Shibumi as well as the Summer Salon are all located in the same building in the downtown area. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by subway... four stations on the green line from nearby Slussen to Rådmansgatan. From the station it is a 10 minute walk to the restaurants. Otherwise, it is a 10 minute taxi ride.

May 16, 2018

The Amusement Park Gröna Lund

I had a friend from London visiting this past weekend and I showed her around the city. We are having beautiful weather in Stockholm this week and she wanted to visit Gröna Lund, Stockholm's large amusement park. I hadn't actually visited the park in a long time (except for a concert or two) and it was fun to revisit it and get back in touch with my inner child. And, hey, makes for a good blog article!
To start off with, it is quite hard to visit Stockholm and not see the amusement park. Several of the rides are part of the city's skyline (we don't have high buildings here) and can be seen from many points in the city. Gröna Lund is located on the waterfront of the island of Djurgården, in Stockholm harbor. It is literally just a stone's throw from many of the city's main attractions like Skansen, ABBA the Museum and the Vasa Museum. So you will get close enough to hear people's screams of delight (terror?) as they ride the rollercoasters if you visit any of the other attractions.
Gröna Lund was founded back in the 1880's. It is quite unique in that several of the buildings in Gröna Lund were found here before it became an amusement park... so that they incorporated the buildings (restaurants, homes, commercial structures) into the park, giving Gröna Lund an historic feel. As it is located within the main part of the city, with no real opportunity of expansion, it is not a huge amusement park along the lines of Disneyland and Six Flags. But the park is filled with lots of rides, attractions, games and restaurants!
Before we get to the kiddie fun... Gröna Lund is also a popular attraction for adults due to it being a big summer concert venue. Many famous artists have performed here, like Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Kiss and Jimi Hendrix. This summer they will have over 70 concerts! Many Swedish acts (like Icona Pop and Lena Philipsson) but also international artists like Billy Idol, Ziggy Marley and the Offspring. See the full schedule by clicking here. No special tickets needed, just entry to the park.
In Gröna Lund, you will find a whole range of rides... 2 free falls, several roller coasters and classic rides like "tea cups" and a "flying carpet". And speaking of classic attractions, they also have carnival staples like a fun house, haunted house, bumper cars and carousels as well as typical tivoli games. In other words, fun for the whole family. If you are traveling with children, this could be a good treat for them after a day at museums. Lots of dining options as well (and bar options for the adults!).
The easiest way to get to Gröna Lund from the Hotel Rival is with the Djurgård Ferry from nearby Gamla Stan. In fact, the ferry terminal on Djurgården is right at the entrance of Gröna Lund! The ferries depart around every 15 minutes or so and the trip just takes 9 minutes. If you are in the downtown area, you can take the tram/trolley/street car out to Djurgården.
Gröna Lund is generally open from May to September, daily during the summer months. Click here for their calendar. Prices: entrance tickets to the park currently cost 120 SEK for guests ages 7 to 64 (free for others!). After that you buy scrip to use for the rides and attractions. Click here for more ticket information.

May 13, 2018

Restaurant NOI

I was invited earlier this week with Les Clefs d'Or Sweden to try a new restaurant called NOI. It is located in the Nobis Hotel, in the downtown area. This was the location of another restaurant for the past few years called Caina that served Italian cuisine... but earlier this year they did a major change to the interior design and, in the process, changed their name to NOI, with modern European cuisine now on the menu.
...and interior.
The entrance to the restaurant is down a flight of stairs, inside the hotel lobby, and the new interiors, designed by Gert Wingårdh, give the restaurant an elegant yet cozy feel. The dishes and flavors on the menu are a mix of European cuisine, like Spanish, Italian, French and Swedish, often with a modern twist.
As we were a larger group of 12 persons, our table was served several starters to share (Buffalo mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes, steak tartare with caper créme and fried red prawns), followed by a couple of main dishes that were perfect to share (seared tuna and dry-aged beef). These main dishes were served with a variety of sides and dipping sauce. It was all very delicious.
Buffalo mozzarella
It is good to keep in mind that NOI will be closed for a few weeks during the high summer season. The easiest way to get to NOI from Hotel Rival is by subway, just four stations away on the red line to Östermalmstorg station (exit to Birger Jarlsgatan). Otherwise, it is just a 7-8 minute taxi ride. In the neighborhood and not hungry? Their Gold Bar and Lounge are well worth a visit! You can book a table on their website or contact me if you are staying at the Rival. Click here for other restaurant recommendations and reviews.
Dry aged beef with side dishes.
...or seared tuna. 

May 8, 2018

Fotografiska this Summer

I was invited yesterday to a showing and information meeting at Fotografiska (The Swedish Museum of Photography) ahead of the busy summer season. Fotografiska, one of my favorite museums, is a real Stockholm success story. They opened 8 years ago in a beautiful old brick building (a former tollhouse) in Stockholm harbor and have, over the years, presented some fantastic exhibitions with many of the world's best photographers... Penn, Leibovitz, Demarchelier, Corbijn, Mapplethorpe, Brandt, Ritts and many more.
These days Fotografiska welcomes over 500,000 guests annually and has become one of Stockholm's top attractions. The concept of photography as art has become so popular that Fotografiska will be branching out and opening in both London and New York City within the next year. Some things that add to their appeal are their generous opening hours (7 days a week until at least 11pm), great location with beautiful views of the harbor as well as an award-winning restaurant.
The restaurant at Fotografiska is located on the top floor of the museum and has garnered a few awards over the past few years, including being named Best Restaurant in Stockholm (mid-price range) and it came in second place recently for Best Museum Restaurants in the world. It is very ecologically friendly, based on sustainability, where organic vegetables and fruits are the focus and meat and fish are secondary dishes on the menu.
Some great news we received yesterday was that the restaurant will be open all summer! In past years they have closed for a couple of months during the summer (as many high end restaurants do) and opened an outdoor barbecue restaurant in front of the museums instead. This year they will keep the restaurant open and will have an outdoor café instead. Good news if you are coming this summer and want to try the restaurant.
They will have some great exhibitions this summer featuring the work of Evelyn Bencicova, Simen Johan, Linda & Mary McCartney and Cathleen Naundorf. After yesterday's viewing, I took some extra time to visit the current exhibition of the work of German fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth ("Devotion! 30 years of Photographing Women"). I have always loved von Unwerth's work... like her iconic images of Claudia Schiffer which she took for a Guess! campaign and where she played with Schiffer's resemblance to Brigitte Bardot. This exhibition is only showing until May 20th... so don't miss it if you are in town! All pictures in this article are from the von Unwerth exhibit.
Fotografiska is located on the waterfront of Södermalm... just a 20 minute walk from the Hotel Rival. Otherwise, the closest subway station is Slussen (red and green lines) and from there it is just a 10 minute walk. Keep in mind that Slussen is currently an enormous construction project, but just follow the signs for "Fotografiska" to find your way to the museum! Another good option, during the summer months, is the Hop On Hop Off boats which make a stop at Fotografiska.

May 4, 2018

Ports and Docks for Cruise Ships

Ferries and cruise ships travelling through the archipelago to Stockholm.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Summer is around the corner and the cruise ship season has already started. Cruises in the Baltic Sea have become increasingly popular with such interesting stops like Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki, St Petersburg and, of course, Stockholm. Copenhagen and Stockholm are the two ports where most Baltic cruises either start or end... which is great for us as it means more visitors and hotel nights. I get a lot of questions regarding the distance between the harbour and the Hotel Rival. It is actually not an easy question to answer. What many people don't understand is that there are four main ports servicing cruise ships in the Stockholm area, some closer than others. So the answer depends on which port the cruise ship will be docking at.
Stadsgården port with Skeppsbron in the background.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Here are the four ports and their distance from the hotel:
  • Stadsgården- One of the two main cruise ship ports. It is located on the north-east coast of the island of Södermalm (where the hotel is located as well), just a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the Hotel Rival. This is also the docks where the Birka and Viking Line ferries to Finland and Åland depart from.
  • Frihamnen & Värtahamnen- The other main cruise ship port. These two docks are right next to each other and are located in the northern outskirts of the city, about a 20-30 minute taxi ride from the Hotel Rival. There are also special buses that can take you to the City Terminal next to the Central Train Station.This is also where the Silja Tallink Line ferries to Finland, Latvia and Estonia depart from.
  • Nynäshamn- Cruise ships get bigger and bigger each year and some are so huge that they cannot make it through the narrow straits in the archipelago to get to Stockholm. These ships dock, therefore, in the port of Nynäshamn located just south of Stockholm. Some other cruise ships may dock there if it is especially busy at the other Stockholm ports that day. It is about a 50 minute taxi ride to the hotel, otherwise there is also a commuter train and the cruise ships often have their own buses. This is also where the Destination Gotland ferries to the island of Gotland depart from.
  • Skeppsbron or Strömmen- The smaller, and often fancier, cruise ships (like Silver Seas & Seabourn) sometimes dock right at the Old Town, either at the Skeppsbron dock or moored at a buoy in Strömmen. This is about as central as you can get... just a 15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride to the Hotel Rival.
Map from showing
location of Värtahamnen, Frihamnen, Skeppsbron &Stadsgården.
The Rival Hotel, not marked, is in the bottom left hand corner of the map.
I should point out that the Hop On/Off busses make stops at Skeppsbron, Stadsgården and Frihamnen during the summer months while the Hop On/Off boats stop at Skeppsbron and Stadsgården. If you don't know which dock your cruise ship will be using, you can check the Ports of Stockholm's website. For more cruise port information, check Visit Stockholm's cruise page. There are taxi queues at the different ports. Just stick with the main taxi companies (Taxi Stockholm, Taxi Kurir) to get the best prices. Prebooking a taxi transfer can sometimes be problematic as taxi companies want an exact pick-up time (more or less) and cruise ship guests often don't know exactly when they will be disembarking, just when the ship is due to dock.

April 28, 2018

Exhibition "Art et Liberté" at Moderna

This week I was invited to the press showing of the new exhibition, Art et Liberté, at Stockholm's modern art museum... Moderna. "Art et Liberté" was a collective of Surrealist artists who were active in Cairo, Egypt between 1938 and 1948. This exhibition has been on a tour of Europe, making stops in Liverpool, Paris, Madrid and Düsseldorf before arriving, at its last stop, in Stockholm. 
I really liked the exhibition. I do enjoy Surrealism and I wasn't really aware of Egyptian Surrealism earlier so it was especially interesting hearing their history and seeing their works of art. And the discovery of this lesser known art collective is really the point of the exhibition, as well as showing that it wasn't a fringe movement... it really was closely connected to other contemporary (and more well known) Surrealism art communities around Europe and the world. 
It was also interesting to see how the disruptive political landscape of that era, with the rise of Fascism, World War II and the end of colonial rule, influenced the collective as well as Egypt itself. The 200+ pieces in the exhibit range from large and small paintings to drawings, photographs as well as literature (pamphlets, magazines, documents, etc.) and more.
"Art et Liberté" will be showing until August 12th. Besides this exhibition, they have several other temporary exhibitions as well as their permanent collection. There is an entrance fee to certain exhibitions (like "Art et Liberté") while others have free admission. It is always free to visit their permanent collection! They do have a nice lunch restaurant and a café there... and don't miss a visit to their gift shop which has many great art books as well as fun design objects.
Moderna is located on the island of Skeppsholmen. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by the Djurgård ferry, which makes a stop at Skeppsholmen, from Gamla Stan. There is also a bridge leading over to the island from the downtown area, so walking (it is a beautiful area to walk around), bus and taxi are other options. No subway station on this island.
One fun note... I just learned that the museum's main autumn exhibition will be with the work of Andy Warhol. Apparently, Warhol's first solo exhibition at a museum was in 1968, 50 years ago, at the Moderna Museum! Andy Warhol 1968... can't wait to see that. 

April 18, 2018

Restaurant Unn

Intimate dining for 8 at Unn
Les Clefs d'Or Sweden was very grateful to be invited last night to try Restaurant Unn, the sister restaurant of Tak Stockholm... which I visited recently. You can describe Unn as being a dining experience within a restaurant, as it is located in a separate room within Tak itself. Unn is comprised of 8 seats around a chef's table (teppanyaki style) and you have one chef and a sommelier taking care of you during the evening. They serve a set, multiple course menu where all diners are served at the same time.
Tak is a fun and popular restaurant and there is a feeling of luxury being ushered into an intimate, private room, away from the hustle and bustle. Well inside, we were greeted by Chef Albin and Sommelier Mikkel as we took our seats around a teppanyaki table. As champagne was served, they explained Unn's dining concept to us. The cuisine is a fusion of Nordic and Japanese, using a lot of Nordic flavors and ingredients while employing Japanese cooking techniques.
Chef Albin and Sommelier Mikkel presenting the dessert
Albin and Mikkel guided us throughout the evening. I have been to several "chef's table" experiences and the ambiance of the evening is really dependent on the staff as it is such an intimate experience. They were great! Very sociable and informative, without being stuffy, and spoke excellent English. I am always impressed when a chef can create a complicated dish in front of you all the while holding a conversation. I get stressed just when someone asks me a question while I'm trying to boil water.
Presentation of the ingredients
The fresh ingredients for each dish come in their own individual handmade wooden box which the chef presents to the diners before preparing the dish. This is a great presentation of the ingredients and a fantastic way to introduce each course. Unn is able to accommodate some food allergies and dietary restrictions when given advance warning. However, as it is a small, intimate dining experience, they aren't able to work around every type of allergy & restriction. See the full list on their website.
The dishes were all paired with a variety of beverages, like champagne, wine and sake. The Sommelier was very knowledgeable and, as we are more familiar with wine, it was especially interesting to hear about sake, like the different varieties and how it is made. Currently you are able to order three different pairings... with alcoholic beverages, with non alcoholic beverages or a mix of the two. There may be plans in the future of having an "a la carte" beverage list as well. These guys put on quite a show as the evening progressed... ingredients were presented, poured, diced, shaved, seared and even, at times, lit on fire.
Special mention has to be made for Unn's location. As I mentioned earlier, it is located with the restaurant Tak which can be found on the top floor of a building on the square Brunkebergstorg in downtown Stockholm. Above the restaurant, on the rooftop, they have an indoor/outdoor bar and terrace with amazing views of the city. Nothing excites Swedes more than the combination of sunshine and alcohol. This was the definitely the place to be last summer on a warm, sunny evening... and it is bound to be even more popular this coming summer as they are expanding to the rooftop on the neighboring building.
You can't beat this view
The whole project is called "Stockholm Under the Stars" and you will find, besides food & drink, a sun deck, an outdoor gym and cinema and more. There will be a bridge connecting the two rooftops. During this summer's World Cup (football/soccer) they are planning on showing matches on the outdoor cinema screen. Should be a fun time! The best way to get to Tak & Unn from the Hotel Rival is subway (blue line, station Kungsträdgården, exit Regeringsgatan), a 15 minute bus ride, a 30 minute walk or else it is a 5 minute taxi ride.
Booking seats in advance at Unn is a must! They are currently only open on Wednesdays through Saturdays and have one serving an evening. This means only 8 seats an evening, four nights a week, which makes last minute reservations more difficult. You can book through their website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me for further assistance. Click here for more of my restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Sommelier / Barista
A bit of heavenly fudge to end the evening