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Fika Bar: helping Londoners satisfy their Swedish cravings

Keith Moore · 24 May 2011, 13:39

Published: 24 May 2011 13:39 GMT+02:00

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The fascination with Swedish culture in the UK seemingly extends beyond its cars, clothes, and nifty furniture designs, to one of the things you’d least expect – its cuisine.

Standing alongside some of London’s best Indian restaurants, you wouldn’t expect to find a restaurant serving reindeer sausage and kladdkaka. But if it’s a hit of Swedish culture you’re after, you’ll find it among the throngs of shoppers and East London hipsters at Fika Bar & Grille in trendy Brick Lane.

Stockholm native Sadaf Malik opened Fika in 2008, and it has overwhelmingly been a hit with Swedish expats and Brits alike, if online reviews are anything to go by:

“Definitely recommend this place if you want a lovely atmosphere and reasonably-priced food on Brick Lane but can't bear another curry - have herring instead!” writes a reviewer called Harry.

“It is more a restaurant than a cafe but works both ways. Beautiful but plain design, and relaxing music. The menu is, surprisingly, very much about Sweden. Meatballs or salmon served with potatoes…they have only one vegetarian option in the mains,” says another reviewer, Katri S.

Of course, Swedish food has never had many foreigners dribbling in anticipation, and others haven’t been as impressed with the food or the Swedish prices. But in this bustling city, it’s the fika concept that seems to have struck a chord.

“We’re a more relaxed place, where people can come and have a coffee late,” says Malik.

“There’s not many places that actually do that, where you can talk with your friends or just have a casual chat with someone, and that’s what I felt was missing.”

Aside from the style of food and the concept, the other thing that sets Fika apart from its neighbours is its uniquely Swedish appearance.

While most of Brick Lane is a combination of dilapidated looking vintage stores and garish Indian eateries, from the outside, Fika is made up of Ikea-style wood panels.

Inside, the dark colours, stone floors and minimalist decor as well as a giant picture of some reindeer covering one wall try to create a feeling of being in a cabin in the forest.

“That’s pretty much it: get away from the busy lifestyle you lead, get away from the really busy Brick Lane and create noises of calm,” Malik explains.

“The first impression is that it’s really, really cozy, and that’s the effect that we wanted – it’s like a home from home. “

Staffed by the obligatory foppish, skinny jeans-wearing Swedes, you’re likely to hear both Swedish and English conversations drifting around the restaurant. It’s definitely more of a shabby, relaxed Södermalm style that fits in with London’s alternative culture.

Story continues below…

“So many people come in and they want to know some Swedish if they’re not from Sweden and I find it bizarre, because it’s not a language you can really use everyday,” says Malik.

“There is a fascination about the Swedish culture, definitely.”

Malik said that she plans to open more Fika restaurants in the UK. And while it’s very unlikely that meatballs and lingonberry will replace curry and chow mein in the nation’s affections, another little bit of Sweden seems set to make its mark over here.

Keith Moore (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:43 May 24, 2011 by motti
Of course Brick Lane along with the nearby Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane) were oringinally established Jewish sunday markets. Being unanle to trade on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday)

I am pleased to tell you that you can also fill yourself with Salt beef (or corned beef in the USA) on rye bread. Or smoked salmon bagels. This is world famous and on a late Saturday night, you can watch the beggars asking for money, (the Jewish bakery also clears its bread and cakes to them) luxury cars parked neaby after people had visited the west end theatres, and buy Sunday newspapers.

Once you have eaten your fine Swedish delicate food but are still hungry. The Bagel Bakery with fill you very cheaply. You simply must try it as well.

If after you have eaten delicate
23:07 May 24, 2011 by spy
HAHAHAHA! The standard of TL's news stories have reached a new low (and frankly I didn't think that was possible!).

if you think any sane person would eat in a Swedish restaurant in London then you are probably as mad as they would have to be. Let's face it Swedish food is muck.
09:13 May 25, 2011 by HYBRED
Who would want salmon and potatoes in London when you can have fish and chips? The way fish should be eaten. Lingonberry should be outlawed, nuclear waste sounds more appetizing.
09:51 May 25, 2011 by Rick Methven
"I am pleased to tell you that you can also fill yourself with Salt beef (or corned beef in the USA) on rye bread."

Used to buy a salt beef sandwich dripping with juice from a Jewish deli off Picadilly circus 40 years ago, I can still taste it.
10:16 May 25, 2011 by Nemesis
This knocks Brick Lane down a couple of notches which is a bad thing.

Brick Lane is part of old London culture and well worth a visit.

As for Swedes speaking English in a London cafe, does that mean we can all fly over to London to have a Swede speak actual Swedish to us?

@ spy

It is called slumming it:)
19:16 May 25, 2011 by Swedesmith
Next to open, "A Taste of Haiti". You simply must try the mud cookies.
20:04 May 25, 2011 by KennyC
I wery much lijk the Svensk food. It tastes wery fresch!
02:18 May 26, 2011 by ctrlclick00
I've been past it many times but never gone in. I usually go down there on a Sunday when it's very busy and I'm not really interested in eating a sit down meal. I shall give it a try.

As for the Jewish bakery, one can't be Jewish as they sell bacon. As for the other one I don't know. Are they any good; no. A little over priced and a bit of a tourist trap. Much better places for quick snacks near by. The salmon is the mass produced stuff anyone can pick up in a wholesalers, I know as when I ordered it they had to open a pack in front of me.
07:58 May 26, 2011 by SamQam
"stuck in London" these words shouldn't be in one sentence.
11:40 May 26, 2011 by ehune
"Stuck in London" was a good start of the article (I feel stuck here some days) - but I was a bit disappointed that you only mentioned one cafe, making it seem like advertising for Fika instead och showing off a few different places with Swedish and Scandinavian food in London. There's Scandinavian Kitchen, Nordic Bar, The Harcourt Arms, Garbo Restaurant and the Totally Swedish shop as well as few other gathering spots which are popular both to us Swedish immigrants and to the local Brits and other people - and they tend to get great reviews in local newspapers.

Either way, I agree about the bagel shop next door - and would almost go so far as to say I prefer it to the Swedish Fika cafe. However, once in a while it's nice to get away from all the greasy, smelly fish n chips or disappointing Indian food and instead have delicious, fresh Swedish food in a relaxed place..
13:29 May 26, 2011 by BrittInSweden
"The fascination with Swedish culture in the UK seemingly extends beyond its cars, clothes, and nifty furniture designs"

You are kidding right? Sweden's clothes look like they are from the 80's Britain and Volvo is known as an old persons car.

The only real thing that goes over there is IKEA.
16:31 May 26, 2011 by ctrlclick00
"You are kidding right? Sweden's clothes look like they are from the 80's"

There is a Swedish clothes store only 5 min walk from there that sell vintage clothes and they are very busy.
08:13 May 27, 2011 by cookiemaster
People buy those candies because it reminds them that they are in a beautiful Sweden...British visit Sweden because they love one, so there is no wonder those sweets sale very well in UK. My only problem exists with word "fika" itself(sim. to Germ. "ficken" etc"..but that's my problem only, I promise you that:p hahaha
11:44 May 27, 2011 by motti
The Bagel Bakery in Brick Lane (there is another bakery next to it) does not sell bacon or any meat other than beef. The fish is salmon.

The portions are huge, whether it is a saltbeef on rey bread with mustard, or a smoked salmon bagel. The prices are cheap, otherwise there would not be queus waiting to get into this 24/7 bakery, open every day except one. That is the Jewish Yom Kippur.

The owber is an Israeli name Sammy who was a Jewish refugee from the Yemen one of nearly 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab/Moslem countries)

The bakery sells various breads (including darkbrown malt/rye - delicious) pastries, cakes, etc. You can also buy non alcoholic beverages there, standing room outside please, as the shop will be filled with people weaiting to be served..

Incase you ask. No I am not a relative, nor a friend, just a well satisfied customer.

Just enjoy and forget the calories
19:55 May 28, 2011 by foordranata
That´s a good effort, I think.

Never mind the food, Swedes at least promote their swedishness.

The question is: Why the hell not?
20:18 May 28, 2011 by Kynbcfc
I went to FIKA, the food was nice and simple but overpriced! The place is really relaxing with good chilled out swedish indie music in the background, however the staff were pretty useless although it was hard to work out who the actual staff were as it did seem like a pretentious Swedish youth club at times!
08:59 May 30, 2011 by JulieLou40
Why would we "dream of reaindeer and lingonberries"? Yes, lingonberry jam may be nice, but I think reindeer tastes like s**t...
23:24 May 30, 2011 by LordSqueak
"Would you like a fika? Yes! I'd like a fika!"

http://remix.kwed.org/index.php?search=fika Recommended listening. =)
09:50 May 31, 2011 by mightyMonkey
It's quite sad to watch the gentrification of Brick Lane these last 6 or so years, and I guess the gentrification is now complete that the inhabitants of old have all been kicked out and the aesthetics have been replaced. It's a pity as East London has several rich cultures that now don't exist at all. Good luck finding a single cockney accent in the Shoreditch triangle, any of the original street art, the Jewish or Bangladeshi community.

Brick lane used to be the place to get a curry, enjoy a little Banksy or Eine art, catch a market or enjoy a street party, now it is where homeless people come to flog rubbish to hipsters (a lot of which are from Sweden) or fine artists come to pretend to have a graffiti background and grab a reindeer sandwich. It used to be a cultural experience and now it feels like a stale, sterile place for pretentious types to pretend they are roughing it.

11:54 May 31, 2011 by EtoileBrilliant
@Rick Methven

You must know my dad as 40 years ago he used to frequent the same place on Great Windmill Street.
23:08 May 31, 2011 by Vasteras101
"fascination with Swedish culture"

Gee that made me laugh. The only fascination most brits have of anything from Sweden is IKEA and blonde pornstars. Maybe H&M but then they don't even know thats Swedish!
21:43 June 1, 2011 by cookiemaster
Actually real Brits do appreciate everything Swedish...absolutely everything that is Swedish and this with great respect.
15:03 June 2, 2011 by TS
What an appalling piece of journalism....so bad I have made the rare effort to log in and comment. "Fascination with Swedish culture"???????? In Britain there is passing interest in some Scandinavian crime thrillers but aside from that the only general awareness of anything regarding Swedish culture is boredom and the frontline warzone of Malmo. Who on earth accepted this drivel for publication on this website???
19:55 June 2, 2011 by Maggie Malay
Well, an original business idea can always win admirers, and even be a huge success.

Maybe one thing the 'Fika Bar' will do is help get Sweden noticed?
10:29 June 3, 2011 by si
Swedes are generally under the impression that the word and concept of "Fika" is unique to swedeish culture - and it is - in my experience it involves sipping muddy water in a bland nothing cafe with little to no customer service skills.

Why anybody would choose this over a funky upbeat London cafe defies belief..
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