Asador Etxebarri (2013)

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Tucked away within the majesty of the Basque mountains is a small unassuming town called Atxondo. Several years ago, my brother and I found ourselves dining at the hands of its famed grill master, Victor Arguinzoniz, where a couple of hours at his helm left an impression on me that was both humbling and unparalleled. Since then, our travels and culinary experiences have been filled with exciting adventures to distant lands, but the memory of his perfection was never supplanted. More than two years after our initial visit, a return to Asador Etxebarri was long overdue.

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The Takeaways: Restaurant Frantzén

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In honour of one of our favourite local sporting publications and columns, The Provies, we are taking a page out of their book to start The Takeaways - a fun, lighthearted and less formal way of articulating our gastronomic experiences.  In certain cases The Takeaways may be accompanied by a more traditional write-up, but in other cases it will be a standalone piece.

In this inaugural edition, we revisit our dinner at Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm last October.

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Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren

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Consistent is how I would describe our lunch at Mathias Dahlgren’s Matbaren last fall.  There was nothing overly dazzling or concerning, but more than anything, everything felt very steady; an underlying confidence in both the front of house service and the food that was served to us.

Should I have been surprised by this?  Most likely not, as the man steering the ship has quite the cooking chops to back it up – starting with winning the Bocuse d’Or in 1997 and having two restaurants in Stockholm with Michelin stars, Matbaren having one star and the adjoining Matsalen with two more.

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Fäviken Magasinet

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As I waited for our luggage to appear at the Åre Östersund airport in the central Swedish province of Jämtland, a sign right above the single carousel read “Welcome to the culinary capital of Sweden”. At the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the statement, and I wondered what made this place worthy of such a title. But shortly after our arrival, our stay in a nearby restaurant and hunting grounds known as Fäviken, gave me a crash course on what this place was all was about.

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Ekstedt

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Ekstedt

The flame that burns at Ekstedt is the restaurant’s heart and soul. To work with it, control it and wield it within the constraints of a lone wood burning fire pit and a more than a century old home stove requires a tedious and manual process that is rarely seen today. It is an ode to the way cooking was once done. And in this modern restaurant setting, the arduous and austere balancing act that keeps the flame dancing all through the night is an admirable trait and is Ekstedt’s vehicle to magnificence.

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Lisa Elmqvist

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I have rarely been disappointed eating at a market. Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, La Boqueria Merkat in Barcelona and the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver are just a few of the places I have enjoyed having a meal over a counter. And now I have Östermalms Saluhall in Stockholm to add to that list, with Lisa Elmqvist being the vendor of choice. Currently in its fourth generation of the family, Lisa Elmqvist is comprised of a number of stalls, offering a range of Swedish delights, that enclose to form a restaurant. But what it is known for, and what the restaurant mainly serves, is seafood, being noted as having an “inherited sense of the delicacies of the sea”.

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Rolfs Kök

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Unlike the empty and quiet streets that greeted us upon our arrival into Stockholm mere hours earlier, Rolfs Kök was energetic, bustling and overflowing with people. And given that this was a Sunday night, I took this as a good sign that we chose well for our maiden meal in Sweden.

Rated by the Michelin guide as one of Stockholm’s Bib Gourmand restaurants (good cuisine at a reasonable price), Rolfs Kök (meaning Rolf’s Kitchen and pronounced rolfs shook) serves a selection of simple, no-fuss traditional Swedish and internationally influenced dishes, with a keen focus on using high quality seasonal ingredients.

Trying to sample as much as we can from the major parts of the menu, during our dinner we ordered five plates – a snack, two starters and two mains.

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Den Gyldene Freden

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With a failure rate of roughly 60 per cent within the first three years of opening*, the restaurant business is no doubt a tough place to be. So when a restaurant is around for an insurmountable length of time, one cannot help but marvel at this seemingly unfathomable feat. Since 1722 Den Gyldene Freden, within the historic Stockholm district of Gamla Stan, has been serving traditional, rustic and seasonal Nordic cuisine and is well known today as being the oldest restaurant in the world to have the same surroundings.

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Ibai

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I thought I had an idea of what I was getting myself into when I made a reservation at a restaurant called Ibai in San Sebastián. No menu. No prices. No English. No problem. I was born ready for this. But when I decided to read a little more into others’ experiences a day before our reservation, I psyched myself out. My mind was suddenly full of uncertainty: Was I ready for the eccentric chef and owner? Would he allow me to sit down and eat? How do I order without a menu? What is dover sole in Castilian? How much would I have to pay? How much cash should I bring? All of a sudden my courage disappeared. I began to get nervous. My stomach churned, and sleep was a luxury I did not have that evening.

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Sweden and Spain

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Jamtland

The sprawling lands of Jämtland, Sweden

I remember it happening like it was a yesterday. It was a late September rainy evening when I picked Sonny up on our way home from work. “I found a restaurant we should go to, its an hour plane ride from Stockholm, then an hour drive out and it only has six tables” he said to me. Then later that evening, I read a little more and saw this YouTube video. I was sold and Sweden was pencilled into our annual summer trip east of the Atlantic which generally included a trip to Basque Country in Spain and another country in the vicinity.

But that was more than a year ago and since then, our timeline has changed. What was supposed to be a trip in the summer turned to autumn due to professional circumstances, and an unwillingness to coincide with San Sebastián’s international film festival in late September, Gastronomika in early October and Arzak‘s closure in November. To time our trip with a new season, the change of ingredients and the Auroro Borealis up in Sweden was another consideration and late October is what we settled on.

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