Posted on Thursday, 3rd September 2009
My visit to Sweden was the part of my two month itinerary which I have been most excited about. You see, I was meeting my sister here. As she lives in Oz, we don’t get to see each other very often. Therefore any time we have together is extremely precious.
She is a foodie too (must be in the genes), and it didn’t take long to convince her that we ought to try out some nice restaurants. First on the list was Oaxen Krog, a restaurant which made it to number 32 in the 2009 San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The restaurant is a collaborative effort between the husband and wife team of Magnus Ek and Agneta Green, and is well known for its use of biodynamic local produce and traditional methods of curing, smoking and preserving. The restaurant does not have any Michelin stars, and when I chatted to Agneta at the end of my meal, she told me that Michelin has visited the restaurant, but that their policy in Scandinavia is to not award stars to restaurants which are more than a 30 minute taxi ride from the major cities.
The couple opened the restaurant about 15 years, but it wasn’t until last year when they bought a boat called Prince Van Orangien which they converted to provide accommodation to their guests. The boat does not have twin rooms, just doubles, which meant that the consequence of an overnight stay was that I would have to share a bed with my sister. I love her dearly, but jeez, we’re hardly honeymoon lovers. More like an old married couple who fight over the duvet in the middle of the night.
With this to look forward to, we set off in search of the restaurant, ‘search’ being the operative word. Oaxen Krog is about an hour south of Stockholm. It’s situated on the island of Oaxen, and to get there you have drive to the village of Mörkö and then catch the ferry. And so it was that two ditzy girls who didn’t know the way set off in a hire car with no sat nav and only a very bad map for this fabled destination. The rest was a pretty long story, but fortunately, as with all good stories, the ending was a happy one once we actually managed to get there.
There’s a seaside feel to the restaurant with its exterior of blue and white. Inside, its simply furnished, very comfortable and homely with neutral muted tones. We decided to choose from the a la carte menu which costs SEK875 (about £78) for three courses and SEK995 (about £89) with an additional cheese course. I’ve also listed the prices of the various tasting menus below.
For the amuse bouches, we started with pig’s ears fermented in Swedish vinegar (bottom in the picture) and crispbread with cured salmon and sausage cream. The pig’s ear was very crispy and not too sour, and the sausage cream had a nice smoky flavour which was offset by the sweetness of the cured salmon.
There was also a trio of cep-flavoured polenta, mushroom puree and mushroom jelly; duck terrine with burnt butter and dinkel (a type of wheat which retains its husks after threshing); and a drink made from distilled pine leaves. The trio, rich with the flavour of mushrooms was delicious and creamy. The terrine was quite buttery and the dinkel provided a ‘puffed wheat’ texture to its taste. We were told that ducks in Sweden are not force fed, therefore this terrine did not have the same richness that you would typically find in foie gras. The drink of distilled pine leaves was refreshing and tasted like tea. It served as a good palate cleanser.
Next was a cold smoked cockle with beef. The smokiness of the cockle was subtle and worked well with the beef.
A starter of beef and scallop tartare had an earthiness to it and was fresh and pleasant tasting. The rich meatiness of the tartare was nicely cut by by the acidity in the accompanying pickled vegetables and yoghurt mayonnaise. There was also some rockweed puree which was quite interesting as it was a little salty and tasted of the sea.
Another starter of herb steamed tartare of wild salmon and cockle was wonderfully light and delicate. It was served with a fennel salad, horseradish foam and warm cream cheese. There was also some shrimp snow which was the most interesting aspect of this dish. Texturally, it was like a fine powder that tasted of shrimp. As it was served cold I thought it was very refreshing, although my sister did not like it as she found it too shrimpy.
We both had the same main, which was a Baltic cod marinated for two days in a salty water bath that had been made to replicate seawater, cooked sous vide at 38C for 20 minutes, and charcoal baked in reed at 200C for one minute. The cod was perfectly cooked, moist and succulent. There was also some pike roe which was lusciously creamy, and a crab and oat porridge. The use of oats added bite to the crab. The dish was finished off with a roasted fish and rooster bouillon which was rich with flavour when you first tasted it. However it became quite vinegary over time as the accompanying carrots and cucumber had been pickled and their flavours merged with that of the bouillon. For me, the change in the bouillon from savoury to sour detracted from the fish and consequently it didn’t quite sing out to me, although I think this might suit Swedish palates. The main was served with some roasted potatoes and onions which were lovely.
The cheese course was a cow’s milk cheese truffle with a warm marmalade of Artic raspberries. The truffle had been coated with burnt grass and goat’s cheese, the texture of which was very fine and granular. It did not taste burnt or like grass but like a slightly crunchy powder. It added a fantastic contrast to the cow’s cheese, and together with the lovely sweetness of the marmalade made for something quite stunning.
To breads, and we were first provided with a sourdough with molasses and a pancake bread. The sourdough was not as elastic as other types that you might encounter and it did not have a strong taste of molasses. The pancake bread was interesting for it had a spongy texture like a crumpet. When we finished with these two, we were served two other types. One was oatmeal, and the other was a brioche with pig’s blood and raisins. The taste of the blood was quite distinctive, but its heaviness was offset by the raisins. I quite enjoyed this bread (although my sister didn’t), but it was quite rich, and eating more than one might prove difficult for some.
Pre-dessert was a cream cheese sorbet which tasted like frozen milk. It was accompanied by a puree-like ‘pear porridge’ and ‘ropey’ milk (slightly off milk). The latter provided a slightly curdled nature to the dish. It was pleasant but not strong in flavour.
A marmalade of green tomatoes, cream cheese ice cream and vanilla cream was delectable. Similar to eating lots of beautiful cream, there were some crunchy additions to the dessert with the inclusion of some ‘pate a choux’ and cacao meringue. The marmalade was refreshing, not too sweet, and provided a touch of acidity to the composition.
A pudding of raspberries with crust of white nougat and burned sugar with ice cream was also delightful. The crust was sweet and powdery, and the ice cream worked well with the raspberries. This was a nice summer dessert, although more fruit would have enhanced the dish further. Petits fours were lovely.
The service was excellent and polished. There was a real sense of professionalism to it without any overwhelming sense of formality.
The food at Oaxen is creative and original, and the cooking technique is precise and accomplished. A lot of care is taken in the selection of the ingredients that the restaurant uses and its to their credit that some of them are ones which are not widely seen in other restaurants. There is a sense of honesty, sincerity and provenance to the food which I found quite thought provoking. I enjoyed this meal a great deal, but on balance, more from an intellectual perspective than a feeling of great ‘satisfaction’. I cannot fault the restaurant in any way – the preparation of the food was excellent. But there’s an element of the unconventional to it, eg, the prawn snow and the pig’s blood brioche, which might not suit all palates. That said, the setting is truly unique and beautiful.
Finally a quick note about the breakfast (SEK200 (about £17)). It included some lovely baked goods, juice, coffee, etc, and some fantastic boiled eggs which had been cooked at 64c for 2 hours. These were delicious. The texture was like a soft jelly and silky and creamy.