November 29, 2012

Italian Restaurant: Nostrano

Yesterday evening I had dinner with a colleague at Nostrano, a cosy Italian restaurant just a couple of blocks from the Rival Hotel (click here for location). I've been meaning to try this restaurant for awhile now and was happy to finally have the opportunity! And it didn't disappoint... it is definitely one of the better Italian restaurants in Stockholm, without breaking your wallet. We started the dinner with a classic Carpaccio with arugula pesto and deep fried Pecorino cheese with orange sallad, honey and pine nuts. For our main course we chose Tortelloni (filled with ground veal, ricotta & gorganzola cheeses and black truffle) and Pasta Gratinati (with prosciutto, provolone, ricotta, leafy spinach and tomato sauce). All delicious!
Pasta Gratinati
One warning... it is a small restaurant and very popular, so you really need to book in advance. If you are staying at the hotel, you can contact me and I will help you with a reservation. Otherwise give them a call at +46(0)8 644 1035. Buon appetito! Not the best pictures, but it was quite crowded and I didn't want to take pictures of the other diners without their permission.

November 24, 2012

Restaurant Awards 2012

Every year the restaurant industry in Sweden pats itself on the back and hands out awards in several categories in a ceremony called Restauranggalan. I always think that these awards can be interesting for visitors to know about and I have reported in the past about the Michelin Guide and White Guide. What makes these awards of special value is that they are organized by the industry magazine Restauranger & Storkök and chosen by a jury made up of people in the restaurant industry.
There are several awards that might not be as interesting for an international visitor such as Sommelier of the Year, Waiter of the Year, Health Concept of the Year, etc; But here are some of the awards I think you might find of use when looking for a restaurant in Stockholm (if you wish to know the other winners, click here):

November 22, 2012

Christmas in Stockholm 2012

(EDIT: from 2012. For information about Christmas markets in 2013... click here) Some of my most popular blog entries have been those I've written about Christmas in Stockholm, so I guess it is time to write about what is happening this year in Stockholm! If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and need more detailed information, stop by and talk to me or drop me a line.
Main X-mas tree at Skeppsbron
The holiday season kicks off this Saturday, November 24th. This is the day the official Stockholm Christmas lights are lit and decorations revealed. 30 streets and squares in downtown Stockholm are decorated with thousands of LED lights. Last year was the first time the city made a real concerted effort to go "all out" for the holidays. There were some great decorations last year... should be fun to see what they come up with this year. Click here for map of the lights. While you are in the downtown area, stop by the NK Department Store to get a little more holiday cheer. Not only does this store have the best and most famous Christmas window decorations in Sweden, it is also the place to see Santa! He will be at NK every Friday-Sunday until December 13th when he also adds weekdays to his schedule (last day December 23rd).
Christmas market at Stortorget
This Saturday is also when the first Christmas markets open for business! In main square (Stortorget) in Gamla Stan you will find the Old Town Christmas Market, open daily from 11am to 6pm until December 23rd. In Skansen park and open-air museum, located on Djurgården, another Christmas Market opens. This one is very traditional and open between 10am and 4pm every Saturday & Sunday until the 16th of December. Skansen is also a great place to experience other Swedish Christmas traditions! Another large Christmas market opens on November 30th in Kungsträdgården park and will be open daily from 11am to 6pm until December 22nd. Kungsträdgården is right next to the above mentioned NK and is also where you will find the outdoor skating rink. Christmas markets in Stockholm are great places to pick up traditional Swedish holiday decorations, foods and handicrafts as well as to try glögg (Swedish hot spiced wine).
Ice skating at Kungsträdgården
Other Swedish Christmas traditions you should be aware of... many restaurants serve a traditional Christmas smörgåsbord called julbord, where a cornucopia of Swedish holiday goodies are laid out buffet style, and nothing else. This is a real treat and should be tried, but once is probably enough and you might want to find out which restaurants don't serve julbord to get a little variety. One great option is Strömma's Julbord boat cruises through the archipelago. A nice way to combine julbord and sightseeing! Then there is the whole Lucia celebration on December 13th (as well as Nobel Prize ceremonies). I will write more bout this later, but in the meantime you can read what I wrote last year to get an idea.
Julbord on Strömma boat cruise
Finally, two things just for fun, you have the popular gingerbread house competition at the Architecture Museum, right next to the Modern Art Museum located on Skeppsholmen (on display between Nov 28th and Jan 6th). And... got a craving for candy canes (polkagris in Swedish)? Stop by the Polkapojkarna in the Old Town, where they make the treats in front of your eyes, and get your fill! Merry Christmas!

November 21, 2012

Middle-Eastern Cuisine, Around the Corner from the Rival

Opening party at Tehran Grill
Stockholm is a melting pot of many nationalities and this is often reflected in the different cuisines available at local restaurants. In the Rival Hotel's neighbourhood (Mariatorget) we have Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Chilean, French as well as Swedish restaurants. In the past couple of weeks, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to try two local restaurants, both specializing in Middle-Eastern cuisine. Last week I was invited to the grand opening of a new restaurant... Tehran Grill. It's always nice with a new restaurant in the area and it is especially fun with a little ethnic/culinary diversity! The owner, Nino Armoni, says that for years he has been homesick for cuisine from his homeland, especially a restaurant specializing in grilled dishes. He has brought an experienced chef from Iran to the restaurant to keep it authentic. The opening was popular and we got to try small variations of their different dishes. Very tasty! Located on Timmermansgatan 5.
Mezze dishes at Tabbouli
The other neighbourhood restaurant serving Middle-Eastern food (this time Lebanese cuisine) is Tabbouli. This restaurant has been quite successful, opening sister restaurants on Kungsholmen and in the downtown area. I have been to the Kungsholmen restaurant a couple of times and I do love Lebanese cuisine. So when my colleague Anders told me that he was going to dine there, I asked him to make a report and take some pictures. If you haven't tried Lebanese cuisine before, then you should definitely try the mezze which is the Lebanese version of tapas or antipasti.... a variety of small hot & cold dishes that, combined, make a great meal. Located on Tavastgatan 22.
Lighting detail at Tabbouli

November 16, 2012

Shopping and more at Sturegallerian

Entrance on Stureplan square
Sturegallerian is really more of an upscale lifestyle center than a shopping center. It occupies one of the best addresses in the city... located right on Stureplan square in the posh Östermalm district. There are plenty of smaller boutiques and even a few larger stores like Zara, but here you will also find one of Stockholm's best spas: Sturebadet. The spa is quite large and offers, besides treatments and massages, a pool, first rate gym, steam and sauna, relax area as well as a restaurant... all in beautiful surroundings. A great way to pamper yourself for the day! And speaking of restaurants, there are a few nice options located inside Sturegallerian. Sturehof is a personal favorite! There is also a newish French restaurant called Grand Escalier Brasserie and a good place to stop for a drink or bite to eat and do some great people watching is Tures. And, if you really feel like kicking up your heels, the nightclubs Sturecompagniet, V, Suite and Hell's Kitchen are all to be found here later in the evening. The Stureplan district is, after all, the center of nightlife in Stockholm!
Hell's Kitchen 
To be honest, I am seldom here to shop. More often than not I am here visiting Sturebadet, one of the restaurants or just passing through. Sturegallerian connects the Stureplan square with the shopping street Grev Turegatan (where the back entrance of the shopping center is located), and it is a wonderful place to walk through and browse, soaking up the atmosphere. Sturegallerian is easy to reach from the Rival Hotel... just four stations away on the red line (Östermalmstorg station).
Interior atrium
If you are wondering about all of the names starting with "Sture-", it is the name of a family that was very influential in Swedish history.

November 14, 2012

Restaurants Riche, Teatergrillen and Lillabaren

Writing about three restaurants in one post? Have I become lazy? Not really... all three restaurants/bars are actually located in the same building and have the same owner. I was invited last week for a meet-and-greet with the management, so I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to write about these cultural & culinary landmarks.
Riche is the grand dame of Stockholm restaurants and has been around in one form or another since 1896; for many years it was run by famed Swedish restaurateur Tore Wretman. Just about every Stockholmer has been there at some point in their lives... whether for a celebration, dinner or just drinks. The name and interior design of the restaurant comes from its Parisian namesake Café Riche. The menu today reflects the restaurants history with classic Swedish dishes mixed with French influences and favorites. The bar is very popular with people of all walks of life, from after work drinks to late night partying. Riche is located on the street Birger Jarlsgatan in the upscale Stureplan district. I especially like their generous opening hours... Riche is one of the very few restaurants open for a la carte breakfast (weekdays from 7:30am).
Teatergrillen ("The Theater Grill") is located in the same building, though the entrance is in the back on Nybrogatan. Where Riche is loud and boisterous, Teatergrillen is quiet and sedate. The name comes from the restaurant's proximity to the Royal Dramatic Theatre ("Dramaten") and it has long been a favorite of the theatre artists. The menu contains the same influences as Riche... the difference is that perhaps you go to Riche to be seen and Teatergrillen for some privacy. Lillabaren ("the little bar") is as the name suggests and is located adjacent to Riche on Birger Jarlsgatan. This can be a loud and rowdy with a younger clientele. They have live performances on their stage about 5 times a week. They do have a great veranda where you can eat simpler dishes from their bar menu.
While all three have their own seperate entrances, they are all connected inside and guests often find themselves going from one locale to the other as the evening progresses. Chief sommelier (Källarmästare) Anders Timmel has a great way of describing their concept... many of their clientele start in Lillabaren as youngsters before moving on to Riche as up-and-comers before finally graduating to Teatergrillen as discerning adults. It is easy to reach from the Rival Hotel, either by a 7-8 minute taxi ride, or 4 subway stops to Östermalmstorg (red line). All pictures provided by Riche (much better than mine turned out!).

November 9, 2012

New Bicycles for Rent on Djurgården
Announcing, for the first time ever in Scandinavia, a year-round bike rental system! For a few years now, Stockholm has had Stockholm City Bikes which has been extremely popular for visitors and locals alike... a fun and inexpensive way to bop around the city. The only two negatives, really, have been the lack of bike stands on the island of Djurgården and the short season (April-October). Well, this has been solved by the company Djurgårdscykeln! You will now have the opportunity to rent bikes all year round on the island of Djurgården which, besides being a large national city park, is the home of Skansen, Vasa Museum, Nordic Museum, several art galleries and much more. The bikes are equipped with winter tires and lights which is why they can be used year round.
As with the Stockholm City Bikes, you can rent the bikes for three days at a time and use them for 3 hours at a time. Before the three hours is up, you need to leave the bike at its stand or you will be charged a late fee. You can, of course, take a new bike from the stand. This system stops people from keeping them at home overnight and allows more people a chance to use them. While Stockholm City Bikes is very inexpensive, Djurgårdscykeln is ridiculously cheap! If you already possess a Stockholm City Bike season card or a SL long term card (bus&subway)... then it is free! If not, then it is only 10 SEK for a three day bike pass! You just use your debit or credit card at the station. They have one station and it is located in between the entrances to Skansen and Cirkus. To get there from the Rival Hotel is very easy... just take the Djurgård Ferry from Slussen (10 minute walk from the hotel- ferry ride is another 10 minutes). This system started yesterday, so I haven't tried it yet... but you can get more information from their website (linked above).

November 8, 2012

Ice Skating Rink in Kungsträdgården

(EDIT: This info is for 2012, for current opening hours and prices... click here!) A sure sign that winter is just around the corner (besides the dropping temperatures) is the opening of the outdoor ice skating rink in Kungsträdgården for the season! For decades this has been a popular activity for young & less-young, natives & visitors alike. It is quite affordable... free if you have your own skates, otherwise renting skates costs 50 SEK for adults and 20 SEK for children up to 19 years of age (prices per hour). The skating rink is open 7 days a week (usually into late spring), from 11am to 7pm on the weekends and 10am to 8pm on the weekdays (open to 9pm on Tues & Thurs).
This is a great activity to take children to and, when the Christmas Market opens in Kungsträdgården on November 30th, the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit. Kungsträdgården is a park located in the downtown area, just a 25-30 minute walk from the Rival Hotel (through Gamla Stan), otherwise bus #43 or #55 will take you there in about 10 minutes. Happy skating!

November 7, 2012

Stockholm International Film Festival- 2012

Photo by Emanuel Castro Skött
(EDIT: this is info for the 2012 festival. For 2013... click here!) Today is the kick-off for the biggest cinema event of the year in Sweden... the Stockholm International Film Festival! The festival runs from the 7th to the 18th of November and has really become a popular event with Swedish cinephiles as well as international visitors. Several awards will be handed out including the Bronze Horse for Lifetime Achievement, "Stockholm Achievement" and Visionary Award. These winners have already been announced and will be at the festival to accept their awards. They are director Jan Troell, actor Willem Dafoe and director Jacques Audiard respectively. A series of awards (Platnium Horse for best film, actor, actress, etc;) will be chosen during the festival by a jury. The jury's chairman this year is none other than Peter Fonda!
Photo by Carla Orrego Veliz
 170 films from 40 different countries will be screened in 9 different movie theatres spread out through downtown Stockholm during the festival. Besides the screenings, there will be quizzes, parties and seminars. Something for everyone! The non-English language movies will have English subtitles. There is a lot of information regarding tickets, availibility, program and competition. Instead of writing down everything here, I thought it would be easier to link to the festival website's FAQ page (click here) where all answers can be found. Otherwise, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and ask me about the festival.

November 2, 2012

All Saints' Day at Skogskyrkogården

All Saints' Day is celebrated in Sweden this year on the 3rd of November and the best place to celebrate this holiday is at the beautiful Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården). This cemetery, designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site... which denotes a place of special cultural or physical significance.
(c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
On this day many Swedes come to the cemetery to place lit candles on the graves of loved ones or light candles in general for loved ones who have passed. The Woodland Cemetery is a beautiful place year-round, but with all of the candles lit it becomes a magical place. On November 3rd they have longer opening hours: 10am to 8pm instead of 11am to 4pm for the rest of the week. There will also be choir and organ concerts in the Chapel of the Holy Cross (Heliga Korsets Kapell) between 3pm and 7pm. Just remember that it is a working cemetery and that you remain respectful of other visitors. Another tip... bring a flashlight if possible. The sun does set at around 3:50pm!
(c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
The cemetery is located on the southern outskirts of Stockholm and is easy to reach by subway. From the Rival Hotel you take the subway from Slussen, south in the direction of Farsta Strand. The cemetery has its own subway stop: Skogskyrkogård. Just follow the signs after exiting the station...