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.
A magnificence talked about by many, but not initially experienced the evening we visited. More than an hour into our dinner, I was anything but pleased having had only two small pizzas and a couple of drinks. Although the pizza dough was just the right texture coming out of their oven, and the truffle and sausage toppings left an impression faint enough to tease my palate for the meal ahead, you would think being one of the last patrons to enter the restaurant would translate to some sort of expedited service. But after all that time waiting, it seemed they just wanted to taunt us with some of the goods, whet the appetite and leave us yearning for more.
When half the patrons had already left the once packed room, I just about had it, and when I was ready to vocalize my pejorative thoughts to the next staff member to cross my path, the hostess came to us with our first main course, apologizing profusely for the delay. The stove was the problem she said. With a packed house, the temperature within the oven becomes difficult to control. Combined with an imperfect first attempt on our protein, our dishes had to be completely redone. I empathized greatly with their attempts at perfection, and for the few moments after, I was silenced.
Silenced by the perfectly cooked langoustine that lay before me. Where piercing through the salty seared crust made way to a creaminess of raw langoustine tail cut by drops of intense cured lemon sourness. But there were more to the small bites of langoustine in the dish: an inherent smokiness from a piece of avocado, and a slight buttery nuttiness from shaved almonds and emulsion cream. Together, not one flavour overpowered the next, but instead, created a festivity of harmony and subtleties of all the aforementioned flavours in those few bites. It was a remarkable delight, and one certainly worth the wait.
Assured that a delay would not happen again, our first course was promptly followed by char baked in hay and burnt for a few seconds before its skin was removed. Once again, the protein was cooked perfectly, providing a nice gelatinous texture and a pleasant burnt smoke flavour that permeated all the way through the char. Draped over the protein were flavours so prevalent during out time in Sweden: a saltiness from bits of roe, a creaminess from an emulsion of brown butter and a sourness from pickled onions and chanterelles. It was another superb dish, evoking a sense of celebration for the strong bold flavours of Swedish cuisine combined with the primitive work of the fire.
But even when the food does not feel so Swedish or Nordic, the execution delivered. As with a seared octopus that lay in a cast iron skillet and mixed alongside spicy fried chorizo, a subtly sweet purée made from roasted red peppers, anchovies and sourdough bread. Although the dish leaned more towards the Mediterranean, the execution of the octopus – with its caramelized outer crust encasing its tender inside – was just the same as the initial two courses of the evening.
Then bringing us right back to Sweden were the lean and tender scarlet pieces of venison fried in dried pine and served separately but alongside a plate of cloudberries, smoked pumpkin, juniper and sauce made of red wine spiced in orange. It was a visual representation of the warm tones of the season at hand and a gustatory celebration of all that autumn has to offer in this country.
Juxtaposed by the lightness of the previous course was an extremely rich combination of smoked bacon and sausages. The smoky flavour once again permeated into every inch of the bacon – continuing to prove to be Ekstedt’s invisible and most powerful ingredient – and when the thinly cut pieces of bacon fat fell into my mouth, it melted to my touch. The accompanying sausage was extremely sweet from its sauce and the adjoining pieces of fig were cooked to its mushy tenderness. And to complete this journey through land, was a puree of pig’s blood that brought a level or tartness to this rather heavy dish.
The tart flavours followed onto “a day in autumn in your garden”. Here, apples were baked in autumn leaves and served alongside flambéed Calvados, apple doughnuts and ice cream. With the warmth from Calvados, smokiness from the apples and ice cream equating to a gustatory sensation of walking through a damp wooded forest, there was no better name to this dessert and no better ending to our final meal in Sweden.
Ending our visit to this Nordic country brought me to contemplate on our week long journey through Sweden. It was a visit marked by the crisp cold air and foliage of the season. As we walked through the streets of Stockholm and rolling hills of Järpen, we could literally breath the season into our lungs. But to experience it through our palates, was to experience a meal at Ekstedt. A restaurant where the auburn colour palette set the tone against the scents and flavours of burning foliage, where the flames continually danced through the night and where the food danced along with it, providing in its own way a festive journey through Swedish autumn.
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