October 29, 2017

Restaurant La Colline

A restaurant has recently opened up just a stone's throw from the Rival Hotel (10-12 minute walk) called Brasserie La Colline. They invited members of the Rival staff this past week to come by for dinner and a presentation. As they have the same owners as the popular restaurant Tranan and have recently received great reviews in two of the daily Swedish newspapers, I was eager to give them a try.
Assorted small dishes
La Colline is located on the nearby pedestrian street Götgatsbacken. For the most part, this street has been the home of pubs and cafés and not many proper, good restaurants... so it is great that they have opened up here. In fact, the locale they took over used to house one of these pubs. There is definitely no sign of the former owners now... the interior has been designed by Jonas Bohlin, who has also designed some of Stockholm's most well known restaurants like the above mentioned Tranan as well as Sturehof, Luzette, AG and Stadshuskällaren.As a Stockholmer who goes out often, I both recognize and appreciate his design style.
I would say that the cuisine is mainly Mediterranean, though with some hints of the wider world (even Sweden) on the menu. While they do have a few main courses on the menu, they have a lot of "snacks" and many appetizers as well. Our waitress recommended that we order several of these to share, tapas style, which we did. She also mentioned that the menu is constantly changing and they even have a chalkboard where they have several extra daily dishes.
My colleague and I chose the Padrones (Spanish peppers), Pulpo (octopus), Bleak Roe, Tartar and Beetroot dishes. They were all very good. I especially liked the Pulpo with garlic and a Jerusalem artichoke créme. For dessert we also chose a few to share. Cherry sorbet with meringue, cream with cloudberries and chocolate ice cream with coconut. The perfect way to end the evening.
As I mentioned, La Colline is just a short walk from the Rival Hotel. Otherwise, the closest subway station is Slussen (green & red lines). As they have received some great reviews, I definitely recommend booking a table in advance... either online or, if you are staying at the hotel, contacting me directly for help. Click here for other restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Assorted desserts

October 26, 2017

Theatre: The Bloodbath of Stockholm!

Now and again I get asked by visitors about going to see some theatre or a show... and they are usually disappointed to learn that the vast majority of theatre and shows in Stockholm, with the exception of opera, are in Swedish. Thankfully, we do have a theatre company (SEST- the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre) that does theatre in English from time to time. I have written about them earlier when they did a production of Macbeth.
Photo courtesy of SEST
Now they are back with an original piece written by one of their members (Keith Foster, who also stars in it). What makes it even more interesting is that the subject of the play is one of the darkest and most fascinating moments in Swedish history... the Stockholm Bloodbath. An event that took place just around corner from the play's venue at Musik Valvet Baggen. The background story: in 1520 the tyranical and treacherous Danish king, Christian II, deceived the Swedish nobility and Stockholm population. In an attempt to quell any future Swedish resistence to Danish rule, Christian rounded up and beheaded/hanged 82 noblemen, bishops and citizens in the square Stortorget (spoiler alert: his plan to quell resistence backfired and Sweden was permanently split from Denmark shortly after). It is said that the streets ran with blood. Superstitious people today say that during heavy rain, the water running down the streets will take on a red hue.
Is that blood?
Now, nearly 500 years later, SEST is putting on a play based on these events. The play focuses on three of the major players of this gruesome event: King Christian II, Kristina Gyllenstierna and Archbishop Gustav Trolle. The play's venue is in a medieval cellar vault, which will lend an appropriate historic atmosphere to the proceedings. The play will be performed on 6 dates mid November through early December. Tickets can be purchased online. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more information or help booking tickets.

October 24, 2017

Christmas Overview 2017

Ho, ho, ho! Too early? Not really. I am already getting plenty of e-mails with questions on what to see and do in Stockholm during the holiday season. In the coming months I will be posting articles about the Lucia festivities, restaurants/stores/museums during the holiday season, winter activities and other good-to-know information. But I thought I would start off with an overview of what to expect if you are visiting in Stockholm during this time of year so that you can plan your visit a little better.
NK department store.
It is probably best to begin with looking at the calendar. The traditional start to the Swedish holiday season is skyltsöndag (basically "store window Sunday"). This is the Sunday where the big department stores, like NK, unveil their holiday window displays. Once upon a time, this happened on the Sunday two weeks before Christmas. But these days it has been moved up in the calendar... to the sixth Sunday before Christmas (Sweden is just like every other country in the Western world- it feels like X-mas comes earlier and earlier every year). This year it is on Sunday, November 19th.
Part of last year's Christmas light display...
The next date of note in the holiday calendar is Saturday, November 25th. This is the day when the official city Christmas lights are lit. Over 35 streets, squares and bridges in downtown Stockholm are lit up using hundreds of thousands of LED lights (one of the biggest lighting projects in Europe). Skansen opens its historic Christmas market on the 25th as well (open on the four weekends leading up to Christmas, but not Christmas weekend). On November 30th, the Archtecture & Design Center opens up its annual gingerbread house competition/exhibition (until January 7th). Always fun to visit!
Christmas market in Gamla Stan.

December 2nd is when the main Christmas market opens for business in Gamla Stan (old town). It is open every day until December 23rd. It was recently named as one of the top 10 markets in Europe. Next up... Sunday, December 3rd. Click here for a list of all Christmas markets with their opening hours. This is the first 
Sunday of Advent (fourth Sunday before Christmas Day). This marks the core, 3-4 week, traditional holiday season in Sweden. It is during this time that the majority of Christmas markets are open. It is also during this time when many restaurants in the city serve the traditional Christmas meal: julbord
Boat cruise with traditional julbord, offered by Strömma
Another important date... December 13th. This is Lucia (or St Lucy's Day) and is one of the most Swedish of holidays. I will write more about this later, but in the meantime you can read my article from earlier or just watch this video to get the gist! Not a holiday event, but if you are coming to Stockholm this week... keep in mind that December 10th is when the Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in Stockholm. While the general public really can't take part in the Nobel Awards, it is good to know that it is going on as the city will be full of invitees and traffic can be a bit chaotic in the evening.
One of the many Lucia processions in the city...
December 24th & 25th... what everything has been leading up to! Most restaurants are closed (except hotel restaurants and a select few), stores close early on the 24th and are closed on the 25th and many museums are closed. More detailed info to come later... but you can click here and here to read information from last year. Every year we do get visitors coming to stay with us on these dates and they are always confused by the closures which surprises me. Isn't it the same in most western nations? 
The main Christmas tree, located at Skeppsbron.
What happens after the 25th? Well, to start with... the 26th is a bank holiday (2nd Day of Christmas). But otherwise, the traditional Christmas celebrations come to a grinding halt. No Christmas markets to visit or julbord to eat. To be honest, Swedes are totally X-mased out by this point. Every year, without fail, I do get visitors asking me during this time where they can go to partake in traditional Christmas celebrations. Impossible without a time machine! What does continue are the more commercial aspects of the holiday. The lights and decorations, for example, traditionally stay up another 20 days until Tjugondag Knut. The days between Christmas and New Years are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are, like in many other countries a huge time for the retail industry with lots of mega sales... called mellandagsrea here in Sweden.
Fingers crossed for a white Christmas this year..
This is just an overview to help you start planning your visit to Stockholm. I will be writing more detailed articles as we get closer to the holiday season. In the meantime you can read some of my posts from last (many linked above) or, if you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more information.

October 19, 2017

Restaurant Wedholms Fisk

Three restaurant articles in a row... I have been obviously eating out a lot lately and trying new (at least for me) restaurants.
This was a work lunch and my boss was kind enough to choose a restaurant I have never been to, and a great one at that. Wedholms Fisk has been around since 1985 and was one of the first restaurants in Stockholm to be awarded a star in the Michelin Guide. These days, even if they don't have a star anymore, Wedholms Fisk is still considered the best seafood restaurant in Stockholm and one of the top ones in Sweden. They, along with others like Ulla Winbladh and Den Gyldene Freden, are one of those classic, legendary Stockholm restaurants.
Seafood is what they do and they do it exceptionally well. If someone in your party doesn't eat seafood, don't worry... they do have a daily meat dish. Their menu has an interesting set up. It is categorized after fish or shellfish type. Sole, turbot, prawns, scallops, monkfish, etc.. Then after that you have a variety of choices on how the fish is prepared and served. For example, they have sole served four ways... maybe grilled with chantarelles and shallot-hollandaise or poached with trout roe and champagne sauce?
When I was there, I chose from their daily lunch menu and opted for the halibut with prawns, dill and champagne sauce. Wedholms is well known for their sauces and I probably would have eaten plywood if they had served it to me with that champagne sauce. Another thing Wedholms is known for is the size of their portions. You don't have to worry that you will go home hungry! The prices are quite high (even by Stockholm standards), but the quality of the seafood and the size of the portions won't leave you feeling cheated.
Wedholm Fisk's location on the waterfront of Nybroviken in the downtown area is both central and beautiful. Inside the design is very minimalistic and Scandinavian with large windows looking out on the quay where the archipelago boats are all lined up. The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is either taxi (5-6 minutes) or subway (closest station is Kungsträdgården on the blue line). Click here for more restaurant recommendations and reviews.

October 15, 2017

Restaurant Hjerta

Last week I was at the opening of the new Norm Form exhibition and afterwards my friend and I wanted to grab a bite to eat. The museum, ArkDes, is on the island of Skeppsholmen and there are not many restaurants there except at a hotel and the museum. The one exception is Restaurant Hjerta. As I had never tried Hjerta before, this was a great opportunity to pay them a visit.
The island of Skeppsholmen is in the middle of Stockholm harbor but is still a little off the beaten path. The location on the waterfront of the island with the boats and views of the harbor make it very idyllic and worth the effort to get there. It's not that it is hard to get there, it is just that you won't likely be walking by it spontaneously unless you have just been visiting Moderna, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities or ArkDes.
To share... three fish tacos and two vegetarian tacos.
I know from friends that Hjerta has a really popular outdoor seating area during the summer months and I can imagine that it must be really beautiful sitting in the sunshine with all of the boats passing by. The day we visited was sadly on a rainy autumn weekday so we didn't get to experience that aspect of the restaurant. Instead the weather made the restaurant all the more cosier, especially with the open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant.
I would say that the cuisine is a fusion of Latin American and Swedish with some pure Latin/Mexican dishes like gorditas and ceviche while other dishes are more European fused with Latin flavors... like a broiled cod with garlic fried mini octopus and chorizo butter. My friend and I opted to share a plate of tacos, both fish and vegetarian (halloumi). They were very good!
There is a bridge connecting Skeppsholmen with the downtown area so you can take a taxi or walk to the restaurant. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can take the Djurgård ferry from Gamla Stan. Just tell the ferry staff that you wish to disembark at Skeppsholmen and they will make an extra stop on the island (during the summer months they do make regular stops there). The ferry trip just takes 10 minutes and you disembark a 5 minute walk from the restaurant. Click here for other restaurant reviews/recommendations.

October 12, 2017

Fine Dining Experience at Restaurant Aloë

My job as Concierge does come with some wonderful benefits, like being invited to try great restaurants like Aloë. This restaurant has been on the White Guide's list of best restaurants in Sweden over the past couple of years and I have been really curious to try it so I was obviously very excited over the invitation. I did, however, find out that I have been pronouncing the name incorrectly... it isn't pronounced a-low (like in aloe vera) but instead a-loe-ay. It is Latin and loosely translates to "unknown origins". More about that later...
Opening salvo of caviar royale and champagne
Aloë's location sets it apart from other Stockholm restaurants as it is located in the southern suburbs of the city. It really isn't as daunting as it sounds. You can take public transportation there (subway + bus) which takes about 30 minutes or a taxi/über. I opted for the latter and it only took me 10 minutes to get there from the Rival Hotel, which is about the same amount of time to get to the downtown area from the hotel. I found the location actually quite charming as it, coupled with the interior design, made it feel like you were dining in someone's home. Albeit someone with great taste! The locale is small and intimate with a beautiful open kitchen. The spacing between the tables gives you a more private dining experience.
Open kitchen
The cuisine/menu also sets it apart from other Stockholm restaurants of similar quality and standard. Many of the top restaurants in Stockholm (Scandinavia for that matter) do what is called Nordic, or New Nordic, cuisine which uses mainly local, seasonal, often ecological, produce. Instead, Aloë takes its inspiration from a variety of world cuisines, using the freshest quality ingredients wherever they find it. Hence the name "Aloë" (see above). The menu we ate had flavors from places as geographically different as Russia, the Far East, southern Europe and Latin America. Makes for an interesting and creative menu! The chefs are very merited with backgrounds that include competing in Bocuse d'Or and working at Michelin star restaurants like Operakällaren, Mathias Dahlgren and Esperanto.
Squid dish
Aloë serves a tasting menu made of around 15 dishes/servings. You can also choose a beverage package to go with the menu or just order by the glass/bottle. The dishes were interesting and the flavors great, ranging from good to superb with no misses. We had the wine package (8 beverages including a champagne and a sake) which complimented the dishes well. Some personal favorites on the menu were the caviar royale, langoustine with fermented beans and Gochjuang, venison with "oriental spices" and squid with green pepper and jalapeño. The desserts were spot on and I was definitely full and satisfied afterwards. I would say that the flavors were quite rich throughout most of the menu and I could have used a lighter dish or two to break it up... but that is just a matter of personal taste. The service was excellent; both personable and knowledgeable.
Booking is best done online and, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, I can help you with that... though you will have to confirm your booking with a credit card. Keep in mind that while they can accommodate certain allergies and dietary restrictions, they do need to know this well in advance and definitely not while you are sitting down to dine! Click here for other restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Venison dish
Dessert sampler to end the evening...
...after which you are presented the evenings menu as a souvenir

October 8, 2017

Norm Form Exhibition at ArkDes

ArkDes is the Swedish Center for Architecture and Design... a museum, study center and focal point for discussion about architecture and design. It is in the same building (with same entrance) as the modern art museum Moderna, so it is convenient to visit both (2 birds, 1 stone). I have been there a few times, like for their past Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition, though mostly for their annual gingerbread house competition. This time I was there for the premiere of their new exhibition for the fall/winter season: Norm Form.
Norm Form looks at elements and forms of design that break the norm, whether it is gender, religion, sexuality, age or other cultural norm. Hijabs designed for Muslim women working in the fire department, a male version of a gynecological chair and jeans designed for a disabled individual confined to a wheel chair are some of what is on exhibit. Over 50 designers and artists have taken part in this exhibition which runs until February 11th, 2018. Free entrance!
I found it interesting, especially the pieces focusing on gender norms. Really made you think about gender norms and how many of these norms are forced upon you at an early age and reinforced throughout your life. From how boys' and girls' toys are packaged and sold to how men's and women's shaving products are advertised.
ArkDes is located on the island of Skeppsholmen and, as I mentioned, has the same entrance as Moderna. Many of the exhibitions in both museums have free entrance so this is a great way to visit two museums and soak in some culture without breaking your budget. The easiest way to get to the museums from the Rival Hotel is to take the Djurgård ferry from Gamla Stan. There is also a bridge connecting the island to the downtown area. Closed Mondays.

October 5, 2017

The Wine Bar Dryck

It was my birthday the other day (no presents please, cash is fine) and, after a long day at work, a friend and I decided to go out for a glass of wine. We had been discussing for a while about trying a wine bar called Dryck, that opened up a few months ago around the corner from the Rival Hotel... so this was the perfect opportunity. Wine bars (vinbar in Swedish) have become quite popular over the past few years here in Stockholm. Basically they are bars that specialize or concentrate on wine, with knowledgeable staff and small dishes that go well with their wine selections. These bars often offer wine tastings as well.
Dryck (FYI: Swedish for drink/beverage) was the location of a popular health food store called 8T8 until the owner decided to change directions a few months ago and follow her passion for wine. And it has proven to be successful. It is an intimate and cozy bar with a communal table in a back room as well. They do also have outdoor seating in the summer months and, as the street turns pedestrian during those months, it is quite a large outdoor area.
During our visit, we had two glasses of the Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. They do have a bar menu with mostly small dishes like a selection of cheeses and charcuterie but a few larger dishes as well. We however just chose a couple snacks this visit... a variety of olives and popcorn with truffle oil and grated parmesan. Perfect to snack on while enjoying some wine. The service was good and personable... they were knowledgeable without being pretentious (like some sommeliers can be). In fact their tagline is "wine nerdiness without snobbery" (vin-nörderi utan snobberi).
Unlike many wine bars, they do also have a wide selection of great beers for those who prefer grain over grape. Don'y worry, they also have several good choices of non-alcoholic wines. I would say that this isn't a place to go for a quick glass of wine or just to get your buzz on. Instead, come here to enjoy and great glass of wine or beer, with a date or with friends. As I mentioned, Dryck is located right around the corner from the Rival Hotel. If you are coming from somewhere else in Stockholm, then the closest subway station is Mariatorget (red line). Skål!