I wish someone had warned me that Swedes take off their shoes to go inside a house. I see my bare big toe sticking out of the foot of my tights. So I’m warning you: always wear darned/new socks, long stockings or tights to Sweden.
Tonight’s supper club host is Linn Soderstrom. She came to The Underground Restaurant in April and now I am returning the favour.
Long after supper clubs and pop ups will stop being trendy, their long term future lies in tourism. After all, it was a trip to Cuba and visiting a ‘paladare’ that inspired me to start The Underground Restaurant in the first place. My ambition is to visit every supper club in the world, a goal which would combine all my various interests.
Linn’s flat is modern. She works as a chef’s assistant during the week. I see her making sour cherry (from her mother’s garden) icecream. I love sour cherries. The Scandinavians seem to have more berries than anybody else: cloudberries, lingonberries, bilberries, which grow north of the 55th parallel, along with the blueberries, wild strawberries, elderberries and blackberries that we have too. In the bathroom there is a giant pink flamingo in the shower, balancing on one leg.
People are chatting in English. But when I return from the loo, they are talking in Swedish. They are being very polite by spending the entire dinner party speaking in a foreign language for my benefit. Sometimes I drift off and don’t listen, but then I feel guilty. I must hang on every word. It costs them. I also find out that the ‘Sami’ aren’t Sami at all, they are Korean. Out of the eight guests, three of them just happen to be Swedish Korean. In the 60s and 70s many Swedish parents adopted Korean children. All of the guests are interested in food fortunately, even the normal ones on the end of the table who aren’t chefs or food publishers or who run tea shops. We spend most of the evening talking about pickling. I bring up the Euro and the Assange case. It’s noticeable that the Swedes talk about the Europeans as separate, they think of themselves as Scandinavians. Regarding Assange: the men think he was set up and the women think he’s an asshole.
This is a picture of Linn (left) and her sister. They are beautiful as you can see. Their parents are from Finland. Finns used to be badly treated in Sweden.
Next we ate salmon with cabbage and another kind of berry or perhaps it was crab apple (?). I don’t even like cabbage but this tasted great, again reprising that sweet/sour flavour combination.
Cheese with crackers (Peter’s Yard style, excellent!) and home made fig chutney. All the tastes were clean and precise. Linn served christmas beer and wine matched to each course.
Finally the divine sour cherry icecream on gingerbread alongside coffee. The Swedish drink alot of coffee. The price of the meal including drink is 500 kroner.
Sunday: I wake up late, panicking. The hotel hasn’t given me an alarm call as requested. I dash down to breakfast, grab a couple of boiled eggs and some fruit and stagger to the central train station to catch the train to Gothenburg.
Passing the Swedish countryside, pine forests and industrial plants covered in graffitti streak past the window. I start reading Stieg Larsson’s best seller ‘The Girl with the dragon tattoo’.
Gothenburg: Fortunately the tourist office has booked me into a hotel above the station, First hotel G. I check in and meet Eva Lehmann from the Gothenburg tourist office. She will give me a foodie tour of the city.
I buy these candle holders for 20 kroner each (£2) which I will stick into my Christmas wreath at home.
Back at the hotel, I indulge in a Swedish massage (£60 for an hour). Suitably relaxed I eat at a ‘Christmas buffet’ Wasa Allé. Book early to get in, they are very popular.
I’m given a ‘glogg’ (mulled red wine) accompanied by, what I believe is, an ‘amuse bouche’ of almonds and raisins, which I dutifully munch, not realising until the next day, when a Swedish person gives me a strange look, that you are supposed to put them in the glogg.
At the buffet the chef
Arets Julklapp Mats Nordstrom explains that all of the ingredients at Wasa Allé are locally sourced and shows me the 12 different kinds of herring. I take a small portion of each one. At the table, my mind pops, my taste buds explode, my heart zings. I’m in love with herrings. I want to know all about herrings. How do they make them? Why are they so good? How come herrings here are so crap? I go back and get a second plate of 12 sorts of herrings. There are herrings with rosemary, with horseradish, with elderberries, with lime and chilli, with dill and mustard, fried and pickled, with beetroot. I can’t stop eating them. I think I’m turning into the weird kid from The Tin Drum or…perhaps I’m pregnant. Arets Mats explains that very fresh herrings are cured in salt then pickled in Attika vinegar which comes in two strengths 12% and 24%. It can be used to pickle, to kill weeds or to clean toilets.
Unfortunately my herring gluttony means I can’t eat the rest of the buffet, the gravadlax, the smoked salmon, the poached salmon, the prawns, the eggs topped with roe, the Janssen’s temptation. Obviously I skip the reindeer, bear and other meat. I struggle to scoff a couple of puddings and the sweets to go with the coffee but I am defeated. I call a cab where I need to lie down. At the hotel I pass out fully clothed.
Part 3: More Gothenburg, Lucia Day and the Middagsklubben supper club due later.