February 27, 2019

Italian Restaurant La Bocca

I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner this past weekend, along with the board of Les Clefs d'Or Sweden, at the Italian restaurant La Bocca. It was a great dinner and we were treated with some classic, delicious dishes from the Italian kitchen. La Bocca is located in the Östermalm neighborhood, a short walk from nearby Stureplan.
Antipasto misto
The restaurant manager Claudio showed us around the restaurant when we arrived. He has a long history in the Stockholm restaurant and nightlife world, so it was fascinating to listen to his stories. Besides the restaurant itself, they have an impressive wine cellar, filled with Italian wines, as well as a chambre separée which can be booked for private dinners. The restaurant is split between a beautiful dining room and a more casual bar area, which is great if you just want to drop in for a drink and a bite to eat.
The chambre separée
They only use the freshest, seasonal ingredients available, with classic recipes. They don't concentrate on any specific region. Instead, you will find dishes from Sicily to Naples to Tuscany. Our group started with a great Antipasto misto, filled with delicious sausages and cheeses. For the main course, we had a choice of Tagliatelle al tartufo or Spaghetti alle vongole. We finished with a lemon sorbet. The whole dinner was delicious.
Tagliatelle al tartufo
The easiest way to get to La Bocca from Hotel Rival is by subway... just four stations away on the red line, stopping at Östermalmstorg station, exiting to Östermalmstorg and then walking a couple of blocks. Otherwise, it is about a 10 minute taxi ride. Click here for more restaurant reviews and recommendations. Or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for more assistance.
More casual bar area with...
...a touch of Dolce Vita. 

February 20, 2019

Stockholm Restaurants in the Michelin Guide 2019

Press image from Michelin
The 2019 Michelin Guide for restaurants in the Nordic countries was recently announced. It was a mixed bag for Stockholm restaurants with both surprising good news and expected bad news. Good news first... Gastrologik finally received their second star. Congratulations! Gastrologik has had one star for six years so they were very happy to be awarded a second star and it was well deserved. Unfortunately, chef Sayan Isaksson closed both of his one star restaurants this year (Esperanto and Imouto) so Stockholm lost two restaurants from the list. Here is the full list for 2019...

3 stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey")
2 stars ("excellent cooking, worth a detour")
Gastrologik interior (press image)

1 star ("a very good restaurant in its category")
Bib Gourmand (no star, but "exceptional good food at moderate prices")
Sunflower seeds with the freshest trout roe you can find
@ Gastrologik (press image)
Please keep in mind that the Michelin star restaurants usually need to be booked a few weeks in advance and often guaranteed with a credit card. If I had a dollar for every guest who has come to me on a Friday late afternoon and asked me for help in booking a table at a star restaurant for the same evening (only to be disappointed), I would be a rich man! If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, please contact me ahead of your visit for any assistance in booking a table. Of course, the Michelin guide isn't the end-all of restaurant guides and recommendations. There are plenty of other great restaurants in the city as well as other excellent guides

February 16, 2019

Stureplan District

Stureplan square with the famous "svampen".
Aaaah... Stureplan. It is a name that has almost taken on a mythical status in Sweden, sometimes with a positive connotation (exclusive fashion) and other times negative (partying kids at nightclubs). In truth, Stureplan is just a small square where the streets Biblioteksgatan, Kungsgatan, Sturegatan and Birger Jarlsgatan all coverge. There is nothing really special about the square itself either, though the architecture of some of the buildings is beautiful. However, just about everyone in Sweden, young and old, have heard of Stureplan. Why? It is basically because of its location and the businesses found on the square and in the surrounding area.
Stureplan is located just in-between the downtown commercial district (Norrmalm) and the fashionable, old-money neighborhood of Östermalm. For Stockholmers, this is quite central and Stureplan has become a place where we often meet up with each other. Especially the flat mushroom shaped structure in the middle of the square called "Svampen" in local slang (it literally means the mushroom), so you often hear locals say "meet you under the mushroom".
During the daytime, Stureplan is a high-end shopping and business district. It is mostly (though not only) upscale shops that are found here, including several of the international fashion houses. You also have the smaller shopping center Sturegallerian right on Stureplan as well as the fashion district of Bibliotekstan with concentrated shopping opportunities. And just 2-3 blocks from Stureplan, you will find the department store NK and the Mood Stockholm shopping center. If shopping tires you out, you can always stop at the exclusive Sturebadet spa inside Sturegalleriet to pamper yourself.
Shopping street Biblioteksgatan
As day turns into evening, Stureplan takes on another form as the center of Stockholm nightlife. The square and surrounding streets are filled with restaurants, bars, movie theaters and (later in the evening) nightclubs. Here you will find favorite restaurants like Sturehof, Riche, East, Taverna Brillo, EatalyNosh & Chow and many more. But it is the nightclubs that are synonymous with Stureplan for many Swedes. Around 75% of Stockholm's nightclubs are located around Stureplan. Places like Spy Bar, Sturecompagniet, Berns, Rose and Hell's Kitchen are located in the neighborhood.
Berns
Photo from MyNewsdesk
Most of these places are under the same umbrella organization, Stureplansgruppen (the Stureplan Group) along with several restaurants. Swedish tabloids are always filled with stories of celebrities and royals behaving badly in Stureplan nightclubs which has given the name a slightly negative association with some Swedes. But they are generally all good nightclubs of the high-end variety and worth a visit if you are in the mood for some nightlife! It is also nice to have them all located in the same vicinity, keeping travel time down if you want to visit several.
Star club at Berns
Photo from MyNewsdesk
Stureplan is easy to get to from the Hotel Rival... whether you are going for shopping, dinner or clubbing. You can either take the subway (red line) four stations to Östermalmstorg (exit Stureplan) or else it is a 7-8 minute taxi/Uber ride.

February 14, 2019

Jonas Bendiksen at Fotografiska

"The Last Testament"
There are many things that I like about Fotografiska (The Swedish Museum of Photography). Besides the photography, location, space, generous opening hours and restaurant, it is their mix of exhibitions that I really enjoy. They are very particular in making sure that the three or four ongoing exhibitions are very different from one another. While one exhibition might be more flashy and glossy with a fashion photographer, another will be more gritty and realistic with a journalistic point of view. A third exhibition might be more historic in nature. At any rate, it keeps it more interesting and makes it more likely that visitors will all find something that appeals to them.
"The Last Testament"
I was at Fotografiska this past weekend to see an exhibition called "The Last Testament" by the Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen before it closed (Feb 17th is the last day). For three years, Jonas traveled around the world meeting and documenting seven men who all claim to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. At first I didn't think this exhibition would be my cup of tea, but it turned out to be quite fascinating and compelling.
"The Last Testament"
What makes it interesting is how diverse this group of men are and what level of success they have reached (i.e. number of followers). Jonas found these men in places like Brazil, the UK, South Africa, Russia and Japan. Some, like the man in Japan, preached by himself from the back of a truck while others, like in Russia, seem to have a much larger following. Seven very different men from all over the globe, all claiming to be Christ returned. The exhibition also contains a video showing how Jonas Bendiksen tackled the project.
"In Character"
Another new exhibition is "In Character" with, another Norwegian photographer, Anja Niemi (until April 7th). Her work is described as putting "Hitchcockian Blondes into Lynchian landscapes" which is a good description! You still have the opportunity to see the fantastical exhibition "Wonderland" by Kirsty Mitchell (until March 3rd) which I blogged about earlier. Keep your eyes open for some great new exhibitions coming this spring...
"Wonderland"
Fotografiska is located on the northern waterfront of Södermalm, just a 15-20 minute walk from the Hotel Rival. The closest subway/bus station is Slussen (10 minute walk from the museum). One extra special aspect of Fotografiska is their generous opening hours, closing at 11pm on Sun-Wed and 1am on Thurs-Sat. They are also open daily all through the holiday season, including Christmas! They also have a café and award-winning restaurant on the top floor with views of the harbor... well worth a visit.
They are doing some major construction in the Slussen area. But just follow the signs, like the one above, to get to Fotografiska.

February 9, 2019

Gulddraken Awards for Best Restaurants 2019

Dish at Rutabaga, one of the nominated restaurants
Photo by Lennart Weibull
Most lists and guides over the best restaurants in a city are generally filled with gourmet and high-end restaurants. For example, Guide Michelin and White Guide. Let's be honest, many of these restaurants, while fantastic, can drain your wallet. That is why Gulddraken is a refreshing change as they offer three categories... budget, mid-price and luxury. The Gulddraken ("golden dragon") are awarded annually by one of Sweden's main daily newspapers Dagens Nyheter. As these are local awards and all of the information is in Swedish, I thought that I would present all the nominees here. EDIT: The winners are marked in bold!

Budget
Mid-priced
Luxury
Every day life in Stockholm
Photo by Rickard Rönnerstam// mediabank.visitstockholm.com
A Gulddraken is also awarded to the best café and the best bar. And the nominees are...

Café 
Bar (compare with this recent list from White Guide)
Click here for other restaurant guides and lists. 

February 5, 2019

Winter in Stockholm

I am back from my vacation... and it was a bit of a shock to return to a very snowy Stockholm after three weeks on a tropical beach. But Stockholm in the winter definitely has its beauty and charm also! Yesterday I took a nice walk around the island of Riddarholmen to enjoy the winter landscape... some of the pictures in this article are from yesterday for inspiration. There are a lot of fun winter actiuvities to do in Stockholm and the immediate vicinity and below you will find some recommendations of what to do.
Hammarbybacken. Photo: Skistar
As Stockholm is a seaside town with no mountains in the area, people really don't equate alpine skiing with the city. But we actually have a slope, called Hammarbybacken, located in the southern suburbs of the city. In fact, from the top of the hill you have splendid views of the city. Hammarbybacken is preparing to open for the season (check their website, linked above, to see when it opens) and it offers 4 pistes and 2 lifts as well a children's area. Ski equipment rental is available as well. Not exactly St Moritz or Aspen, but a fun activity to do when visiting Stockholm during the winter. To get there from the Rival Hotel, take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen to Gullmarsplan. There you switch to the tvärbanan (tram) to Sickla Kaj. From there it is only a 10 minute walk to the slopes! The whole trip (hotel to slope) should just take you about 30 minutes.
Besides alpine skiing you also have ice skating. You have the choice of skating on an outdoor rink or being adventurous and take a tour on the waterways around the city. For rinks, the best bet is the one located in Kungsträdgården. Centrally located, generous opening hours and skate available. There are several other outdoor rinks throughout the city, but generally skate rental isn't always available. The countryside around Stockholm is filled with lakes, inlets, canals and other waterways... not to mention of 30,000+ islands of the archipelago. This means you can also experience skating on natural ice. In this case, it is strongly recommended that you do this with a guide who knows where to go. One great company for this is Stockholm Adventures. Or Ice Guide.
Skating on natural ice. Photo: Henrik Trygg/ mediabank.visitstockholm.com
More winter activities can be found at the outdoor activity area Hellasgården. Here they have ski paths in the forests and are one of the few places in Stockholm to rent cross country ski equipment. Skate rental is also available if you want to take to the ice of the lake. Feeling particularly courageous? Try ice swimming! They do have a sauna for warming up before and after your dip (not for the faint hearted- literally). Hellasgården is located on the outskirts of the city but only requires a 15 minute bus ride from Slussen (near the Rival Hotel).
Another great tour company which offers winter excursions in and around Stockholm that we like is Green Trails. For example, they offer cross country ski tours (with equipment) which is a wonderful way to get out and see the nature around the city and enjoy the outdoors. They also offer snowshoe hiking and ice skating tours. I think that it is great that these cross country ski tours are now available... only a few years ago it was hard to even find a place that rented skis for visitors. With any of these activities, keep in mind that winter is fickle and they often depend on the amount of ice/snow available. Snow in Stockholm tends to come and go, so keep an eye on the above linked websites or weather sites for up to date information.
Lots of winter activities! However, there is one that you can't find in Stockholm and that is dog sledding or one-horse open sleigh. Every winter I get requests from hotel guests for these types of tours. As I mentioned, winter is fickle in Stockholm. A dog sledding company, for example, needs months of guaranteed snow to be economically feasible. And in that vein, there is no reindeer sledding here either. For these types of activities, you have to travel north to the alpine areas of Dalarna and Jämtland or the far north in Norrbotten. Definitely a fun, side trip when visiting Stockholm in the winter!