My favorite spots for Swedish-cuisine classics
Publish date: 15 March 2022
Toast Skagen, meatballs, or the archetypical crayfish buffet? Here are my tips on restaurants, steeped in history, serving the evergreens of Swedish cuisine.
I often get asked about which restaurants I would recommend for typical Swedish food, especially from friends visiting from abroad. And sure, I got some tips I'd happily share. But when it comes to Swedish food classics knowing who makes a great traditional meal is only part of the equation; any place can serve good meatballs and Toast Skagen. When it comes to a classic Swedish menu, choosing the right venue is just as important.
Den Gyldene Freden
The textbook definition of "classic" is "very typical of its kind" and "judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind". Surely, Den Gyldene Freden in Gamla Stan (often just called "Freden"), ticks all the boxes. It also happens to be one of the oldest restaurants in the world!
Freden has been a celebrity hangout since long before the word celebrity even existed. Carl Michael Bellman, Anders Zorn, Evert Taube, and Cornelis Vreeswijk were all regulars, and the Swedish Academy (the girls and guys behind the Nobel Prize in Literature) hold weekly dinners here to this day.
History is ever-present at Freden, even by Gamla Stan's standards. But, despite its age and a reputation of being a hangout for the cultural elite, the atmosphere at Freden is unexpectedly hip and informal which I love. More to love is the small menu with simply awesome food (meatballs are available, but not on the menu – just ask and you'll come across as a local).
As the icing on the cake, you’re more than likely to get a lovely performance of live music from some talented guest playing away at the bar's old piano.
“Where should we go for meatballs?” is a question that I probably should add to my personal FAQ. My go-to answer, without a doubt, is Riche on Östermalm. Whether or not meatballs are a Swedish invention is one thing (probably not, actually), but how they should be served is not up for debate. Riche serves them by the book, without frizzles; creamy gravy, potato, lingonberries, and pickled cucumber.
However, whenever I get the meatball question, I point out that a more “truly Swedish” dish would probably be “toast Skagen"; French toast, topped with "skagenröra" (a kind of shrimp salad), and garnished with roe. And Riche is the place where this incredible dish – my personal favorite – was invented by the great restaurateur Tore Wretman! Wretman put Sweden on the gastronomical map back in the day. His inventions and restaurants have become institutions, for example, Teatergrillen (next door to Riche) and Operakällaren. As a venue, Riche is more akin to a traditional French bistro. Whether you come for lunch during the day, dinner in the evening, or breakfast in the morning, Riche will always have a nice lively atmosphere, full of guests.
Everything on Tennstopet's menu is a Swedish classic. Even if some dishes aren't originally from Sweden, they're Swede-ish; an import that has become integral to Swedish cuisine. If you're looking for 100% Swedish authenticity just ask the staff for help, they're experienced, helpful and often very direct and fast to make decisions for you (which is a pretty un-Swedish way to be).
Tennstopet also serves many seasonal menus. For example, the first asparagus of April (most likely an import of the German “Spargelzeit”-tradition) or traditional crayfish-buffets and "Surströming" (the infamous fermented herring), both in-season in August. The latter is from the north of Sweden and is an acquired taste. But definitely a dish you’ll remember, even if you didn't taste it! If you know, you know…
Tennstopet makes for a lovely visit any time of the year. Though I think it's at its best when the weather is warm and you can eat in its outdoor area. The corner (at Dalagatan/Odengatan in Vasastan) is in my opinion one of the nicest in Stockholm. A nice bit of trivia is that author Astrid Lindgren, of Pippi Longstockings-fame, lived literally just across the street.
Pelikan or Kvarnen
I'll group these two restaurants –and bars together since, as a tourist, you don’t have to visit both. But you should most definitely visit at least one of them. They're so similar, that sometimes I forget which one I'm actually visiting. Both have roughly the same menu of Swedish classics, both are former eateries [instituted in the early 20th century to offer cheap meals and booze to the impoverished workers of Södermalm] with very beautiful turn-of-the-century Jugend interior with big beautiful windows. And both have a classy yet down-to-earth atmosphere. Both are as good for lunch as they are for dinner.
A big difference though is that Kvarnen turns into a popular club at night, which can be fun for dessert. None of them has outdoor seating though, so I'd suggest letting the weather decide when to take shelter from rain or cold in any of these very cozy places!