October 30, 2014

Halloween and All Saints' Day


Whether you celebrate the more commercial Halloween or the more spiritual All Saints' Day, this is a special holiday weekend coming up (Oct 31st-Nov 2nd)!  Halloween does, of course, have its roots in the traditional All Hallow's Eve celebration... but the Americanized Halloween holiday has become more and more popular here in Sweden over the past 10-15 years. On the days surrounding the 31st, don't be surprised to see children and young adults dressed in costumes on the streets of Stockholm. But if you really want to party like a ghoul then you shouldn't miss the Shockholm festival, especially their parade (which is the largest Halloween parade in Scandinavia). The parade takes place on Saturday, November 1st, starting at 5pm from Kungsträdgården park... directly after a pre-parade party (3pm-5pm) with costume contests and other activities. The parade route will go around the old town (Gamla Stan) before returning back to Kungsträdgården for the after party!
http://instagram.com/globearenas
But the festival is more than just the parade! For one thing, they have transformed the Ericsson Globe Arena into the world's largest jack 'o lantern... lit up all week long. You can also stop by the Kungsträdgården park on Oct 30th, 31st or Nov 1st. 3 days of spooky workshops, events, food and music. Check their website for more events, exhibitions and other information.
Skogskyrkogården, photo by
(c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
For a more spiritual celebration of the holiday, head to the UNESCO Wolrd Heritage Site Skogskyrkogården. This is the beautiful Woodland Cemetery, designed by architect Gunnar Asplund and located in the southern suburbs of the city. This site is a great place to visit year-round, but it is especially beautiful (and significant) on this weekend when thousands of people come to the cemetery to leave decorations and candles at the graves of relatives. There will be staff on hand on All Saints' Day (Nov 1st) to help with maps and grave searches and there will be music in several of the chapels. To get to Skogskyrkogården from the downtown area, take the subway (green line) in the direction of Farsta Strand. Exit at the station Skogskyrkogården. Just 7 stops from the Slussen station which is near the Rival Hotel.

All Saints' Day. Photo: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se
And finally, to really get in to the mood... why not partake in a Ghost Walk sightseeing tour of Gamla Stan. This is the old medieval center of the city where many bloody events have taken place throughout the city's history (like the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath!). The guides on these walks really make this history come alive...

October 29, 2014

Kungliga Operan - The Royal Opera House

Exterior, photo by Mats Bäcker
Last week I was invited to a performance with the Royal Swedish Ballet at the Royal Opera (Kungliga Operan). The performance in question was "Bill", a modern dance performance in three acts. Each act choreographed by a different choreograph, featuring three of the world's most prominent choreographs: William Forsythe, Crystal Pite and Sharon Eyal. A very impressive performance by a great ensemble. I especially enjoyed "The Other You" (Pite).
Waiting for the royal family to take their seats...
This is a perfect opportunity to write a little about the Royal Opera in Stockholm. The current house is from the late 1800's and is built on the site of the old opera house. Both the Royal Swedish Ballet and Royal Opera Company were founded by King Gustav III in the late 1700's (making them some of the world's oldest companies).
Ceiling detail.
The Royal Opera House is the perfect venue for tourists who wish to see a show while visiting Stockholm. Visitors, I have noticed, are often surprised to find out that the vast majority of theatre in Sweden is performed in Swedish. But with opera, music and dance, language is really not an issue! The main calendar of regular performances extends normally from September through May. During the summer months there may be some special performances scheduled, but you also have the option of taking daytime tours of the opera house.
"The Other You - Anthony Lomuljo, Anton Valdbauer"
Photo by Urban Jörén.
This coming season, the Kungliga Operan have a lot of great shows in their calendar... including (the aforementioned) Bill, Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly, Dialogues of the Carmelites, Raymonda and the Magic Flute as well as special lunch concerts and events. Check their calendar for exact dates. One thing that is a little troublesome for visitors is that their website is only in Swedish and you have to use the Google Translate option to get it in English or another language. It works, just not the optimal solution.
"Bill - Jérôme Marchand", photo by Urban Jörén.
Tickets can be purchased through their website, at their box office or by contacting them directly by phone during certain hours (hours and phone number on website linked here). If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me directly for help in booking. The Royal Opera House is located just across the water from the Royal Palace in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival, it is either a 25-30 minute walk through Gamla Stan or else a short bus ride or 5 minute taxi ride.
Intermission in the "gold foyer".

October 22, 2014

Restaurant Luzette

Entrance from station interior...
I usually try and not write about two restaurants or exhibitions in row but, as I just visited this newly opened restaurant, I will bend the rules. There was quite a bit of buzz about Luzette before it opened, one reason is because of its location: The Stockholm Central Train Station. At first, a train station might not seem like the ideal place for a nice restaurant. But when you consider that the train station has just undergone a large scale renovation and that Luzette takes classic restaurants once found in train stations, like Gare du Nord (Le Train Bleu) and Grand Central Station (Oyster Bar), as their inspiration, then the idea doesn't seem so strange.
Luzette's interior is beautifully designed and will seem somewhat familiar if you have visited some of Stockholm's more popular restaurants. Jonas Bohlin is the name of the designer and he is also responsible for the interiors of restaurants like Riche, Taverna Brillo, Sturehof and AG. Jonas often uses Swedish materials such as wood, tile, brass and granite. The high ceilings and light colors used makes the restaurant feel very airy and light.
red wine braised cheeks of veal
As for the menu, I would describe it as Continental/Swedish... with many classic favorites as well as more seasonal innovative dishes. They even have a rotisserie in the restaurant which produces 4 dishes on the menu. I had the very delicious cheeks of veal braised in red wine served with baked marrow and truffle mash. The perfect dish for a rainy autumn evening! My colleagues at the table were also very happy with their choices and we were all pleased with the large portions and reasonable prices.
Besides the restaurant and bar, they also have a gelateria, bakery as well as take-away counter... perfect for train travelers. Another feature which works very well with their location is their generous opening hours... they are open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As you can imagine, they are very centrally located in the city (entrance to the restaurant both from the street and interior of the station). To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is either 3 stops away on the subway (all lines) or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. Click here to read about my other restaurant visits and recommendations.
Bakery and gelateria...

October 17, 2014

Restaurant Taverna Bazaar

This is actually a restaurant I visited this past summer, but I didn't have a chance to write about them at the time due to so many summer events going on. So I thought that I would save them until the autumn. The restaurant in question is Taverna Bazaar; a new restaurant located on the square Järntoget in Gamla Stan. Stockholm obviously has lots of restaurants serving Swedish and New Nordic cuisine... but we also have great restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines from around the world.
Taverna Bazaar is a bit unique as they serve cuisine from the Eastern Mediterranean (a mix of Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese). These cuisines mix very well with each other as they use many of the same ingredients and spices. Another thing these cuisines have in common is the concept of mezes/mezedes. These are small appetizers, served warm or cold, and dips... similar in concept to "tapas" in Spain.
You will recognize many of them by name, like Tzatziki, Hoummus, Haloumi and Saganaki. The restaurant also has a tasting menu of mezes... which we took. Perfect to share and delicious! But it isn't all small dishes... they also have several larger fish & meat dishes prepared over a charcoal grill as well as other main courses like Souvlaki and their version of a hamburger.

The interior design of the restaurant matches the cuisine with lots of beautiful ceramic tiles as well as regional carpets, lighting fixtures and design details. During the summer months they have a nice big outdoor seating area on the square. It is just a 15 minute walk to the restaurant from the Rival Hotel. It is open daily for lunch and dinner and its location in the old town makes it a great place to take a lunch break when sightseeing. Click here for my other restaurant visits/recommendations.

October 9, 2014

"Sculpture After Sculpture" at Moderna

Yesterday I attended a sneak preview of the new exhibition at Moderna, Stockholm's modern art museum. "Sculpture After Sculpture" is the name of the exhibition and contains 13 pieces of work from three of the most important and innovative contemporary artists active in the medium of sculpture... Katharina Fritsch, Jeff Koons and Charles Ray.  
Fritsch's "Ghost and Pool of Blood"
Even if you aren't a modern art aficionado, you have probably at least heard of Jeff Koons. Besides his notoriety with certain artwork and performance art, he also holds the record for most expensive work of art by a living artist sold at auction... $58.4 million for "Balloon Dog (Orange)". Combining Koons with Fritsch and Ray in one exhibition is an intriguing move, not only for the similarity between the 3 artists but also for the differences. 
Koon's "Balloon Dog (Red)"
The entire exhibition is found in one large space at the museum which makes it, in my opinion, more interesting. As it is 3 dimensional works of art we are talking about, the art isn't just along the walls but spread out throughout the space. Upon entering the room, your attention is drawn immediately to the more well known sculpture, like Koons "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" or "Balloon Dog (Red)", and more imposing work, like Fritsch's "Elephant". However, you soon notice more subtle pieces. I especially enjoyed Fritsch's "Ghost and Pool of Blood" as well as Ray's "New Beetle". One word of warning... be careful where you walk!
Ray's "New Beetle"
This exhibition opens on October 11th and runs through January 18th, 2015. It is one of several exhibitions currently showing at Moderna... I recently wrote about another one entitled "A Way of Life". Otherwise you can click here for a list of other art exhibitions going on in Stockholm this fall/winter season. And if you are interested in sculpture and statuary, don't miss a visit to Millesgården when in Stockholm.
"Madonna" and "Elefant", both by Fritsch
The Moderna Muséet is located on the island of Skeppsholmen. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is easiest by ferry from nearby Slussen. As we move towards "low" season, make sure you inform them at the ferry that you wish to make a stop at Skeppsholmen... otherwise they may not stop there on their way to Djurgården.
Koon's "Michael Jackson and Bubbles"

October 7, 2014

Stockholm Jazz Festival 2014

Jazz Soppa with Anna Karin Westerlund.
Swedes have long had a special love for jazz music, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that Stockholm hosts a great jazz festival. Once upon a time, this festival was held outside at one venue during the summertime... these days the Stockholm Jazz Festival looks a bit different. The festival has moved indoors and takes place from the 10th through the 19th of October, spread out between 30 different venues in the city. Some venues, like Fasching and Kulturhuset will be hosting many of the concerts, but there are also a wide range of other venues to visit during the festival to enjoy some jazz. All in all, there will be around 130 concerts played during the festival and artists include some international big names like Jamie Cullum, Wayne Shorter and Angélique Kidjo as well as lots of up-and-coming talent!
Angélique Kidjo will perform at Kulturhuset.
There is no "festival pass" which gives you access to all of the concerts. Instead you need to purchase individual tickets to each concert. Many of the concerts, on the other hand, are free! You can find out more information regarding individual concerts (including ticket info) by visiting their program page. Unfortunately, the main program is in Swedish... but if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and talk to me and I can help you with finding some good concerts. Otherwise you can also contact them at festival@fasching.se with any questions. They do have a quick guide in English (with many program points/venues) on their website. It is in pdf form and the link can be found on the left side of the home page.
Carefree, photo by Martin Taesler.

October 3, 2014

Restaurant Köttbaren

Great burger!
Last week I had a meeting with a colleague over drinks at Köttbaren and, as we stayed there for a bite to eat afterwards, I thought it would a great opportunity to blog about the restaurant. To start off with... the name. It is Swedish for "the meat bar" and it describes the restaurant very well! Not only is the menu heavy on meat & sausage, but there is also an actual butcher shop in the restaurant where they sell fine cuts of meat as well as sauces, spices and barbecue implements. The wait staff's uniforms (white butcher smocks) add to the ambiance.
Entrance from the street Tegnérgatan.
The restaurant is located in the downtown area and is actually the more casual, sister restaurant to Grill, which is lcoated right around the corner from Köttbaren. For an extra Concierge tip... Grill, which I have written about before, is where I celebrated my birthday with friends last night. Super yummy! But back to Köttbaren...
Mini-boutique with everything you need to grill a great steak.
One thing to keep in mind with Köttbaren is that they do not accept table reservations unless you are a group of 8 or more persons (and then only on Mondays through Wednesdays). So it is on a drop-in basis! We arrived quite early (5-5:30pm) and the restaurant was basically empty, but by 7pm it was full with happy diners with people waiting in the bar for seats. They have long tables for 8+ persons which you share with other diners, family style. They do also have counter space next to the window. This is a fun idea and the tables are wide enough that it doesn't feel like everyone at the table is privy to your conversation.
Dining room, pre dinner rush...
For dinner, I decided on their hamburger. It should be noted that gourmet hamburgers are the latest trend in Stockholm's culinary world. Some are actually calling it a "burger war" with restaurants putting forth their version of a gourmet burger (finer meat used along with fancier toppings, like truffle mayonnaise). Click here for a list of the best burgers in town (Google translate button in top right hand corner). I can report that the burger at Köttbaren was very good!

...and during dinner rush.
To get to Köttbaren from the Rival Hotel... take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen, 4 stops northbound to the station Rådmansgatan. They will be expanding the concept in the coming months, opening a second Köttbaren on the street Vasagatan. Not sure on the exact location or when they will open yet. Click here for more restaurant reviews!
Butcher shop in the restaurant.

October 1, 2014

Stockholm's Affordable Art Fair

 "Buy on the spot, love forever". Yes, it is that time of the year again... the popular Affordable Art Fair (Oct 2nd through 5th) is back in Stockholm. The first Affordable Art Fair was opened in London in 1999 and these days you can find them throughout the world, including Singapore, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Mexico City and Seattle. The concept behind the fair is to show that you don't have to be either a millionaire or an art expert to purchase or enjoy great art. This weekend in Stockholm, 60 international art galleries will present thousands of works of contemporary art... from both well established and up-and-coming artists. The art presented is for sale and the price tags run the gamut from 500 to 50,000 SEK. So stop by and either enjoy the art on display or purchase your very own piece of art to take back home with you. Artwork preview!
The fair is held at Magasin 9, which is located in the Frihamnen area. The easiest way to get there with public transportation is to take Bus 1 from Stureplan to Frihamnen (final stop). The bus ride just takes a few minutes. Otherwise the Fair does have free busses departing at the top and bottom of every hour from Karlaplan, which is just six stops away on the subway from the Rival Hotel. More information: click here.

September 27, 2014

Fine Dining at Restaurant "Pontus!"

Birds-eye view of the dining room at Pontus! (Photo provided by Pontus)
Earlier this week a colleague and I tried out the new autumn menu at the restaurant Pontus!. The restaurant is run by the award winning Swedish chef Pontus Frithiof who has several restaurants in his culinary empire. I have already reported on his more casual eatery Pocket, which is actually located at the same address as Pontus!, but on this outing we were trying the Matsal ("dining room") which is their fine dining option.
Staircase leading from Pocket down to the main dining room.
The entrance to the Matsal is through Pocket and down a stately staircase. The interior design of the main dining room is quite well known to Stockholmers... with incredibly high ceilings and sky lights, the quirky wallpaper resembles book binders giving diners the illusion of being in an elegant library. The dining room is separated from the kitchen by a large glass window... so if you get bored with your dining companions you can always watch your meal being prepared.
4 of the 5 courses on the tasting menu (Call of the Wild".
While there is an ala carte menu, we opted to try one their 5 course tasting menus (Pontus Temptations). They have two different ones to choose from, both very seasonal. We chose the one called "The Call of the Wild". I was happy to see that the other tasting menu, "Terra Nostra", was completely vegetarian... filled with autumnal flavors. The "wild" tasting menu was very good with lots of yummy seasonal dishes like scallops, venison, char, bleak roe, reindeer, carrots, mushrooms and blueberries. Friendly and knowledgable service!
My own birds-eye view of the main dining room.
Pontus! is located in the dowtown area, just a stone's throw from Stureplan. The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is by subway... 4 stops on the red line to Östermalmstorg (exit to Stureplan). Otherwise it is a 7-8 minute taxi ride. Click here for other restaurant recommendations.

September 25, 2014

Three Festivals Dedicated to Food & Drink This Weekend!

Source: Stockolms Öl & Vin AB. Photo: Örs Gubas
If you are coming to Stockholm this weekend and are interested in fine dining and/or alcoholic beverages... you are in luck! We have three festivals going on in the city that are dedicated to just these very subjects. First out we have two festivals in one... Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival and The Taste Experience. The latter festival is for wine, champagne, rum, cognac and tequila. Both festivals are are from the 26th through 28th of September (and then once again next weekend- Oct 2nd through 4th). They are both being held at the Nacka Strandsmässan (congress center) located just outside the city center.
Source: Stockolms Öl & Vin AB. Photo: Örs Gubas
The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is by bus 71 or 443 from nearby Slussen (approximately a 15 minute bus ride). The entrance fee (250 SEK) gets you into both festivals. Click here for specific opening hours, ticket information as well as directions. These festivals are very popular with tens of thousands attending every year. At the festivals you will find tastings, classes, exhibitors, competitions, restaurants and bars. Please note that you need to be at least 20 years of age to enter the festival grounds.
Cooking class at Chef's Secrets, Taste of Stockholm
The third festival is called Taste of Stockholm. This festival runs from the 26th through 28th of September and is dedicated to the gastronomic world of fine dining. They describe themselves as "foodie heaven"! At the festival you can try the signature dishes of some of Stockholm's best restaurants as well as visit their farmers' market and see different exhibitions. Two program points not to be missed are the Electrolux Taste Theatre and Chef's Secrets. At the Theatre you can enjoy presentations from both Swedish and international chefs where they will either be preparing signature dishes or challenging themselves by preparing dishes with ingredients from a "mystery box". The Chef's Secrets are your opportunity to prepare a dish alongside a top chef. A unique experience! More information. The festival will take place in Wasahallen, located on the island of Djurgården right next to the Museum of Spirits. The easiest way to get to the festival from the Rival Hotel is with the Djurgårds Ferry. For more information on tickets, program and hours... click here!
Taste of Stockholm by Electrolux