It’s the kind of challenge I dread. With a convert’s passion, I always want to show the best of Stockholm to visitors and usually that’s not too difficult.
The best view in the city – piece of cake. Up to Monteliusvägen, the clifftop path on the northern edge of Södermalm with its wide panorama. To the east, the greenery of Djurgarden with its Tivoli and Saltsjon stretching into an endless archipelago; and to the west, the lake of Malaren disappearing under the giant spans of Västerbron bridge.
The best museum – easy. The Vasa museum, housing the awe-inspiring slice of 16th Century maritime engineering which sank a tragi-comical 15 minutes into its maiden voyage.
The best boat trip – well, head east on an archipelago boat on a sunny day and anything will pass muster as the best.
But when it comes to declaring a restaurant to be the best I lose confidence. In an attempt to minimise expectations I emphasise that people don’t come to Stockholm for the restaurants – they’re just the refuelling points between the views, museums and boat trips.
Anyway, that wouldn’t have been good enough on this occasion. My visitors like to describe themselves as ‘gastronauts’, so the restaurant I picked had to be safer than a refurbished Space Shuttle.
When the stakes are so high, it’s often a good idea to transfer responsibility to a higher authority – so I turned to Michelin.
Only one restaurant in Sweden enjoys the accolade of two Michelin stars and that is Edsbacka Krog. But the approach to the place is not a charming stroll through the cobbled streets of the old town or a waterside amble in the city centre.
Instead, it’s a taxi-ride out to the dull suburb of Sollentuna – a spiritless enough journey to dry up every last drop of gastric juice by the time you arrive.
Four hours of mouth-watering later, you’re more concerned about dribbling on the taxi’s seats. Oh yes, Edsbacka Krog is good.
The inn itself has been there since the 17th century and the small, tastefully-decorated dining rooms provide a wonderfully intimate atmosphere. No grands salons for this Michelin badge-wearer, no pompous waiters, no culinary intimidation: the proprietor Christer Lingström calls it ‘a small restaurant in the country’ and the welcome is appropriately warm.
The menu is not overpopulated, but there is more variety of flavours in one dish at Edsbacka than in many entire menus at lesser establishments. The delicate appetisers followed by an amuse bouche of velvety chilled potato and onion soup banish all remaining thoughts of Sollentuna and from here on in, it’s all about the food.
I can’t resist a spot of herring as starter and my ‘Scandinavian temptation’ was a plate of mini local specialities. But with all of the different colours and flavours, perhaps palette is a better word than a plate.
Working clockwise around the palette, then, there was a deep fried, mustard-marinated herring with mustard-crème fraiche and lemon, followed by a shrimp and dill omelette and then cold-smoked salmon in asparagus jelly with a horse-radish foam.
Some ham and cheese variations rounded off the experience, but in the middle of the plate was a superb cold asparagus soup with whitebait roe and green asparagus.
The other three in our party went for the stuffed fillet of sole with a taste-bud-awakening lemon, fennel and vanilla sauce.
It was a hot night and after the starter a waitress appeared brandishing what appeared to be hot towels in a pair of tongs.
“We don’t have air conditioning,” she said. “So perhaps these will refresh you.”
In fact, they were iced towels. Do it yourself. Moisten a small towel, fold it up, stick it in the freezer for twenty minutes. You won’t regret it.
My main course of sander, a fish caught in Lake Mälaren and poached to perfection, was served with cabbage, white asparagus and horseradish. But there were two notable flavours that kept teasing my tongue. One, explained the waitress, was apple nestling in the cabbage while the other was smoked potato.
The selection of Swedish cheeses with a strawberry jam was, perhaps, a little lighter than its French cousin might have been – and how much more civilised, we all agreed, to bring out the cheeses before the desert than at the end of the meal.
Indeed, not just before the desert, but before the pre-desert. Each of us was presented with a little glass of raspberry soup, capped with a coconut foam, and a mini apple crumble with a heart of vanilla custard.
By now my gastronaut guests were so spaced out on the food that the superlatives were flowing as richly as our gastric juices. Her desert of ‘Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’ practically knocked her out with its intensity, while his milk chocolate and coffee mousse was served in an espresso cup and combined delightfully with a fruity pear sorbet.
I had the champagne and berries punch bowl with a rhubarb sorbet and summer flowers. It looked too good to eat, but that didn’t stop me.
Rounding off the eight courses were the petits fours which accompanied the coffee. They were not by any means petits and we got through a lot more than four – an achievement in itself, since the quality of the food was matched by the generosity of helpings.
Best restaurant in Stockholm? If there’s a better restaurant in the whole of Sweden I’ll eat my hat. Preferably with a fennel and vanilla sauce.