At first glance Martín Berasategui (pronounced as Mar-teen Ber-a-sa-tei-gee) is a burly man with a commanding presence. He is good at what he does and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Today, he boasts the title of the Spanish chef with one of the most, if not the most, Michelin stars through a very successful international horizontally integrated empire.
At his eponymous restaurant in Lasarte just outside of San Sebastián, an entire wall in his kitchen houses a massive television screen to watch Real Sociedad football matches. And during service, his mostly-male front of house team’s respect and admiration for the man is thoroughly evident with any comments or questions answered as if he was all-knowing and ever-present.
In many ways, you can say that Martín Berasategui is your very definition of a man’s man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.