Gothenburg is, so they told me, much like my home town of Liverpool – a once thriving port, with its own dialect, music scene and quirky sense of humour. I forgot to ask if it had an underperforming football team, too. But I wasn’t there for similarities, I was there for differences. Unlike Liverpool, Gothenburg is somewhere you go for great food, especially seafood and it is perfectly positioned geographically and culturally to take advantage of the current thirst for all things Nordic and locavore. I was here to eat.
If you want to see the legendary Gothenburg bounty from the sea, you visit Feskekörka – the Fish Church, which really does look like a Piscean house of worship – market on the riverside, where the downturned mouths and black-button eyes of dozens of marine species stare back at you from their marble resting places. Better yet, you climb the stairs to the mezzanine level, where tiny Restaurant Gabriel (00 46 31 139051, restauranggabriel.com, lunch only, approx £30pp) takes the produce from the slabs below and cooks it as simply as possible – if at all.
Chef Johan Malm won the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway in 2010 (and came a close second in 2012) and he apologises profusely that he has no Swedish bivalves to offer me, blaming ‘lazy divers’ (all Swedish oysters are hand-harvested and, in fact, there have been storms). Instead, he serves up six fat French numbers and a perfectly poached piece of hake. ‘People don’t really believe this, but our menu is just a guide. If you see a fish you want downstairs, tell me how you would like it cooked, I’ll buy it and I’ll do it. It’s as close as you can get to eating straight from the sea.’
The best way to get to Ulf Wagner and Gustav Trägardh’s Sjömagsinet (Adolf Edelsvärds gta 5, 00 46 31 7755920, sjomagsinet.se) is to take a trip on that sea, or at least along the river towards the sea, out past the fish market, the giant Stena ferries and the new waterfront developments to Klippen. Here, in an old East India Co. warehouse, is a very different take on using the local produce.
Sjömagsinet is unashamedly fancy food, not so much in the cooking techniques – there’s no molecular trickery – but in the combination of flavours. So expect baked anglerfish with chipotle jus, ragout of piglet shank and black salsify or saddle of venison with oyster vinaigrette. It was Ulf who told me that Gothenburg has the best seafood on the planet. At Sjömagsinet the meat’s pretty damn’ good too. A set menu is around £65; matching wines doubles that.
It is a long way from hip and heaving Harlem to nature-loving Gothenburg – the nearby archipelago is one of the city’s great attractions – but for Jimmy Lappalainen it is a homecoming. Born in a small village up the coast, as a young cook he went to New York and managed to secure a position with Marcus Samuelsson (Ethiopian born, Swedish-raised in Gothenburg, American culinary star), who opened the ground-breaking Red Rooster up at 125th St, Harlem in 2010, with Jimmy as chef. When Samuelsson was invited to oversee the restaurants at the new Clarion Hotel Post in Gothenburg, he brought Jimmy with him to be Executive Chef in situ (Samulesson pops over from Harlem every other month), although he has since moved up to be overall Food & Beverage manager for the hotel. ‘Obviously I’ve shipped some of New York back with me, too,’ he says. Not least in the scale of the room, which feels like a NYC public building.
The hotel is a new-ish (opened January 2012) conversion of the grand old city post office, and Norda (00 46 31 619060, nordabargrill.se), its restaurant, is located in the former postal hall, all soaring pillars and panelled ceilings, draped with great swathes of deep red curtains, giving it a vast, theatrical feel. The food is Swedish with an American twist – the classic hot dog is still in a bun, but it’s a wild boar sausage in brioche with home cured pickles (£12), or there’s elk carpaccio with maple syrup (£15). And, again, there is very good plain seafood: ‘Some things you just let talk for themselves,’ says Jimmy. And the oysters all say: ‘eat me’.
GETTING THERE: SAS (0871-226 7760, flysas.com) flies to Gothenburg from Heathrow. The Clarion Hotel Post (00 46 31 61 90 00, clarionpost.com) has doubles from £130, room only.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Visit Sweden (www.visitsweden.com) and Gothenburg (www.gothenburg.com).