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.
In spite of its age, however, the restaurant did not seem at all dated. Sure, Den Gyldene Freden’s hardwood floors creaked once in a while, the coat room too made me feel a sense of claustrophobia and the tables were the thinnest I have ever eaten on, but all of this together merely evoked a sense of old world charm, and I quite liked it (a stark contrast to the feeling I got when I visited the Sabrino de Botin in Madrid). And similar to the atmosphere was the food. With the Swedes’ need to pickle, preserve and enhance many of their ingredients due to the cold winter months, the salty, sweet and sour flavours of Sweden really shined through the rustic dishes we ordered that evening.
Although not ordered, everyone who dined here, was given a variety of traditional Swedish breads, including sweet bread and crisp bread which we had on numerous occasions on this visit to Stockholm. And as I looked through the menu and around the room, the Swedish meatballs were everywhere. Apparently, one of their most popular dishes, it seemed to be calling for me from every direction. Though it was extremely tempting, my brother instead started with oxtail stew alongside porcini mushrooms, beetroot and Jerusalem artichokes. Not so much of a literal stew, instead it was served as shredded pieces of ox mixed with its reduced sauce. The partnering porcini mushrooms were chilled, and the artichoke was sliced thin and served crispy.
Sonny followed that appetizer with a medium rare steak and tender tongue from Swedish veal served along a tangy cherry tomato and sage sauce. He mentioned the veal had a pleasing crust of salt to it and though I did not taste it, I imagine it to not be as good as my order of sausage of roe deer served with pears, pickled shiitake, chili and pumpkin purée. This felt like a perfect Swedish autumn dish to me, with the bits of sweet and crunchy pears and pickled shiitake mushrooms bringing a sharpness to the mild roe deer sausage.
Feeling quite satisfied from the heavy proteins, dessert was quickly on the block. Unfortunately, my brother disliked his poached white peaches with pistachio, red peach sorbet and raspberries as it was overall too sweet. But separately, the pistachio sauce was quite delicious, and did its best to neutralize the overall sweetness of the poached peaches. Contrarily, my sorbet and glass dessert composed solely of a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and another of berry sorbet, was another dish of perfection that evening. The smooth vanilla bean ice cream against the subtle sour berry sorbet was the perfect balance of contrasting flavours and textures, even against the chill of the midnight Stockholm air waiting for us outside the restaurant.
Before we left the restaurant that evening, I mentioned in a previous post that my heart sank for our server who had to describe to a foreign guest what herring was. Tourists, including ourselves, can sometimes carry along a negative connotation. And although this restaurant was the most tourist-filled restaurant we visited in Sweden, we simultaneously arrived with about 50 Swedes and inside the restaurant was a mix of both locals and foreigners. And after eating here, I realised that with their no fuss, well executed dedication to the ingredients and preparations of the Nordic people, this is a restaurant that everyone can enjoy, and is the main reason why it has withstood the test of not only the Michelin critics but most of all, the test of time. Which is the greatest success of all.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
Carla and Sonny
*Statistics are quoted from The Globe And Mail Article Five Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Restauranteurs.