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Scandinavia Does London

Ben Norum takes us on a culinary tour, due north

Published on September 22nd 2011.


Scandinavia Does London

ASK your average Londoner about Scandinavian food a few years ago, and the likelihood is they’d be able to mention little more than gravlax or Danish pastries. Question them as to where you could find food from this part of the world in London, and the canteens at flat-pack giant Ikea, famed for their mass-produced Swedish meatballs, might have featured prominently in the answer.

Following the lead of Noma’s chef Rene Redzepi, wild food, foraging, unusual ingredients and basic presentation have become the cornerstones of the cuisine.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Spurred on largely by the success of current ‘best restaurant in the world’ Noma in Denmark, the food of Scandinavia is finally getting some serious attention. Following the lead of Noma’s chef Rene Redzepi, wild food, foraging, unusual ingredients and basic presentation have become the cornerstones of the cuisine.

North Road The most notable example of Noma’s influence is probably at North Road, where Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova serves such dishes as pork, which is slow roasted in a bed of hay for 48 hours in order to impart the flavour, and even a hay ice-cream. There’s no pretence that many people – or even restaurants – in Scandinavia actually cook in this way, but the use of hay as a cooking medium does have its roots firmly set in Viking times, and there are traditional dishes which will be made for special occasions across Denmark and Norway which to this day still call for hay, or other grasses or sticks to be used as flavourings. Of course, Hruskova’s training under Kiwi chef Peter Gordon, owner of The Providores in Marylebone and widely regarded ‘king of fusion food’ has also been influential in many of his wackier dishes.

Madsen in South Kensington has been around since well before the Noma craze, and in fact has a much larger following in Scandi circles. Their more homely dishes include pickled herrings, smørrebrød (open sandwiches), kjøttkaker (meatballs) and lots of poached and grilled fish dishes. This is also undoubtedly the restaurant to go to for celebrations to mark occassions such as Swedish Midsummer, when crayfish will be served, or the Norwegian independence day on 17 May, when the traditional celebration cake Kransekake will be available.

It’s also worth calling by Madsen to get a taste of some of Scandinavia’s burgeoning micro-breweries and craft beers. They stock an impressive and ever-changing range, primarily from Denmark, whilst others, including the fantastically hoppy Nøgne IPA from Norway are starting to be found at good beer pubs, such as The Euston Tap. Yes, that’s right – there’s much more to Scandinavia than just Carlsberg!

Gjeitost cheeseGjeitost cheese

For a relaxed lunchtime snack, to buy some of the aforementioned beers, or to find the less common ingredients to make Scandinavian food at home, The Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street near Oxford Circus is a must. It also acts an unofficial gathering place for the thousands of Scandinavians in London. Delicacies which come recommended include gjeitost, a dark goat cheese made primarily in Norway which has a taste not dissimilar to toffee; Scandinavia’s famous salted liquorice (which isn’t quite as salty as it once was, thanks to health & safety...); all kinds of salami made from wild boar, venison and even horse; and the region’s spirit of choice, akavit.

Scandinavian KitchenScandinavian Kitchen

Celebrity chef Trina Hahnemann is the Jamie Oliver of Scandinavia, and her books are fast becoming bestsellers in this country, too, showing the increasing popularity not only of Scandinavian restaurants, but of the food in general. Food writer Signe Johansen of blog Scandilicious is also making her name for herself as she helps spread the word on Nordic cuisine.  But with Garbo’s in Marylebone, Fika in Brick Lane, Michelin-starred Texture in Mayfair and the simply titled Nordic in Fitzrovia all very heavily influenced by the cuisine and by all accounts going from strength to strength at the moment, the word seems to have already spread. And don’t forget that there’s always Ikea...

 

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