September 27, 2014

Fine Dining at Restaurant "Pontus!"

Birds-eye view of the dining room at Pontus! (Photo provided by Pontus)
(EDIT: closed temporarily as they change concept, reopening in May '15 as "Burger & Lobster") 

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

September 20, 2014

Taxis in Stockholm... Be Careful!

I have written this several times over the years... but it is good information that bears repeating!
Click on above picture to enlarge!
Taxis in Sweden are not regulated. This means that it is free pricing and taxi companies can determine their own cost per minute/kilometer on their taxi meters. When the government deregulated the taxi industry, I am sure they did this with the best intentions (allowing smaller companies to be competitive). However, it has backfired. Small companies can legally charge double or even triple what larger companies do. As a Stockholmer, I know exactly which taxis to take or not. Unfortunately this means that the smaller companies end up preying on visitors who do not know better. This might sound a little bleak... but as long as you stick to rules above (checking the window sticker) you should be fine. Another rule of thumb is to stick with the larger companies, which all have similar pricing. Here at the Rival Hotel we use Taxi Stockholm among others. Other good companies include Taxi Kurir, Top Cab and Taxi 020. Another tip is to avoid hailing a taxi on the street and always have the hotel, restaurant or store call you a taxi. That way you are sure to get a "good" taxi.
And here you have some handy tips for catching a taxi at the airport!
Taxi Stockholm!

September 18, 2014

Fall Art Exhibitions at Museums & Major Galleries

The weather is getting cooler and there is a crispness in the air. Perfect weather for visiting an art museum or gallery when in Stockholm. Lots of different options to choose from! Something for everyone, as the saying goes...

At Moderna- Jeff Koons
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988. Porslin 106,7 x 179,1 x 82,6 cm Astrup Fearnley Samlingen, Oslo, Norge © Jeff Koons 
These are just the highlights at the major art museums and galleries. Keep in mind that there may be other exhibitions going on at these venues that I haven't mentioned. Check by visiting the venue's website (all linked above). There are also many smaller galleries in the city. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, check directly with me for information about exhibits at the smaller galleries. I will definitely be visiting Moderna, Fotografiska, Millesgården and Waldemarsudde in the coming months... so check back for my reports!
At Sven-Harry's: Estrid Ericson's precious possesions.
Photo by:Lennart Nilsson/Svenskt Tenn 

September 16, 2014

Catholic Church- St Eric's Cathedral

Many years ago I wrote blog articles about different religious services in Stockholm (here and here)... but as I get mostly asked about Catholic services and the fact that I recently visited the main Catholic church in Sweden, I thought it was time for a new article!
While Sweden isn't a very religious country, the official religion is Lutheranism (Church of Sweden). That being said, Catholicism still has a large presence in Sweden, especially as many of the larger immigrant groups come from Catholic regions (especially South America, Poland and Croatia). There are several Catholic churches spread throughout Stockholm with the main church, St Eric's Cathedral (Katolska Domkyrkan), located on Södermalm and just a 10-15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel.
While St Eric's Cathedral is close by, it is still a bit hard to find... mainly because it is located on a side street between two large buildings. Originally built in 1892, it doesn't look like much from the front, but it is actually much larger when you enter. This is because a large extension was added to the back in the 1980's as the church was then deemed too small to cater to the needs of Catholics who had moved to Sweden during the post war period.
They do have daily masses at the cathedral and on Sunday they have masses all day long in different languages (Swedish, Latin, Italian, Polish, Spanish and Croatian). They do have special schedules, of course, during holidays like Easter & Christmas. Unfortunately, their website is only in Swedish. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, talk directly with me for exact times/languages. Otherwise you can contact them at
No masses in English at St Eric's. But if that is something you are interested in, then I recommend a visit to St Eugenia Church where they hold mass in English every Sunday at 6pm (subject to change!). This church is located in the downtown area, near to the park Kungsträdgården. Interested in the main Lutheran cathedral in Stockholm? Click here.

September 13, 2014

Autumn Farmers' Market

Entrance to market on the street Katarina Bangata.
One good way to get a feel for a city and people is to visit a local market. Here you can experience the local sights, sounds, tastes and maybe even get a unique souvenir to take home with you. Today, during my lunch break, I took a walk with a friend and visited the popular Farmers' Market ("Bondens Egen Marknad"). You probably already know the concept of a farmers' market, but just in case... these are markets where local farmers bring their produce to town to sell directly to the public. The produce is often ecologically friendly and grown in the surrounding area.
Some of the produce sold... 
Besides things like fresh vegetables, fruits and berries (hard to take home with you as a tourist), you will also find jams, jellies, honey, sausages, flowers and fresh bread. There are several vendors also selling lunch... I saw one lady making salmon crepes. A couple of popular food trucks are parked nearby as well. But even if you are not hungry or looking to purchase items, it is nice to just stroll and soak up the atmosphere.
The mushroom table!
This particular farmers' market is located in the nearby Sofo neighborhood, just a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. The autumn market is open between 10am and 3pm, every Saturday in August, & September and the first three Saturdays in October. Looking for food markets on other days? Don't miss one of Stockholm's great indoor food markets!
A popular market.

September 10, 2014

Thai Restaurant: Koh Phangan

Stockholm, Thailand?
Now for something a little different! When it comes to eating out in Stockholm, it isn't all about Michelin star, Nordic cuisine hotspots. Just about every world cuisine is represented in Stockholm's culinary scene: Italian, Japanese, Greek, American, French, Indian, South American, etc. One of the most popular is Thai cuisine. Thailand has long been the top tourist destination for sun crazed Swedes and, because of this, there has been a healthy exchange of culture and peoples between the two countires. There are Thai massage salons and Thai restaurants found throughout the city.
Nua Pat Kratiam
One restaurant which has long been Stockholm's most popular Thai restaurant is Koh Phangan with their catch phrase "same, same, but different". Stockholmers have flocked here for years, not only for good, inexpensive Thai food but also for the ambiance. The restaurant is decorated just like a beach-side restaurant on an island in Thailand with blinking lamps, bright colors and questionable (taste-wise) bamboo decor. This is probably as far from Nordic minimalism as you can get... which is probably why Swedes find it so exotic.
Thai wall decoration?
 The original restaurant is located in the SoFo neighborhood, a hop, skip and a jump from the Rival Hotel. However, they recently opened at a second location in the Östermalm neighborhood. It was this restaurant I recently visited with a friend. Good food & prices! They used to not take table reservations, just drop-in guests... but they recently changed ownership and now they seem to be more willing to take reservations. Another fun option for Thai cuisine in Stockholm is the Thai Boat. This is an actual boat, moored along the southern waterfront of Södermalm. Less "blinking lights" decor than Koh Phangan, it still has a taste of authenticity with its own man-made beach adjacent to the bar. During the summers Stockholmers come here to put their feet in the sand, drink cocktails and relive their recent vacation in Thailand. Click for other restaurant reviews.
Beach at the Thai Boat...

September 6, 2014

"A Way of Life" Exhibition at Moderna

Yesterday evening I attended the opening the Moderna's (modern art museum) new fall exhibition "A Way of Life (Swedish Photography from Christer Strömholm until Today)". The exhibition is based on the museum's own collection and features over 300 photographs by 29 different Swedish photographers. The photographs have a real documentary feel... looking at day to day life. The photographers have not only captured life here in Sweden, but have also documented their travels abroad.
The works represent a time span from the 1940's to today. As the secondary title explains... the exhibit starts with the work of Christer Strömholm, considered one of Scandinavia's leading photographers (and one of my favorites). Fotografiska (the photography museum) recently had a retrospective of his work, which I really enjoyed. So it is nice to see his work again along with some of his contemporaries. In fact, the exhibition's title is taken from a quote where Strömholm described his work in the medium of photography.
One of my favorite photographs by Christer Strömholm.
Strömholm inspired generations of Swedish photographers, including his immediate contemporaries like Walter Hirsch and Agneta Ekman (both a part of the exhibit). Modern Swedish photography is well represented with works by Anna Clarén, Martin Bogren and more. Besides the photography itself, I really enjoyed that the exhibit has such a wide range of photographers instead of the work of just one artist.
This exhibition will be running until February 15th, 2015. If you are in town this week, you still have time to see their great Nils Dardel exhibition (last day is Sept 14th!).  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. One good tip: On Fridays, between 6pm and 8pm, admission is free for the Collection on floor 4 and the Exhibition on floor 2. More visitor information.

September 2, 2014

Tax Free Shopping in Stockholm with Global Blue

Tax Free shopping, not to be confused with Duty Free shopping, is a great way for visitors to save some money when shopping in Stockholm. I often get questions about this as it is a little confusing with the rules. Let's see if I can break it down for you. To start with, tax free shopping is basically where you can get the sales tax refunded for goods purchased in the country upon departing from said country. Sounds easy? Well, here come the rules...
Tax free shopping in Sweden is only for non-EU citizens (or if you have a 1 year residence permit in a non-EU country) and is for goods purchased at certain stores (look for the Global Blue sign in the store window or at the counter). Some stores might not have the sign visible, so ask the cashier to make sure. Remember, goods not services. For example, you cannot get a tax refund for a hotel or restaurant bill. At the store, when making your purchase, you need to ask for a Tax Free Form from the cashier. The goods purchased must remain unused (in original package) until you have departed the EU. Keep your receipts! Tax refund only for purchases more than 200 SEK.
Some examples of Global Blue signs displayed at stores.
To get your tax refund, present your goods (in original package), filled out tax free form, passport and receipts at the Global Blue counter in the departure hall at the airport. If Sweden isn't your last EU departure point, you need to go to Customs for your stamp. You then visit the Global Blue counter at the airport from which you depart the EU from (Paris, London, etc;) for stamp and refund. It perhaps goes without saying that you shouldn't pack your goods in your check-in luggage. After you get your tax free form stamped, check in for your flight and go through security... your refund is obtained at the Global Blue office on the other side of security (cash or credit). At Arlanda airport, the Global Blue offices are in the main international terminal (#5). If you are departing from the smaller international terminal (#2), you need to first visit terminal 5 for stamp and refund (in this case you get your refund credited to your credit card, not cash). Arlanda map.
Global Blue counter at Arlanda terminal 5.
Confusing? These are just the basics. There are other small print rules so make sure you read the full rules and regulations for Sweden and check the answers to the most common tax shopping questions. Don't be discouraged though... it is easier than it seems, just some follow the rules and you are good to go. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and have any questions, come talk directly with me!