In Episode 20 in my travel podcast series I’m taking a winter break in Gothenburg on the West Coast of Sweden. We tasted our way through plenty of delicious food in between visiting Christmas markets and popping into the odd museum. We enjoyed our fika, the Swedish for coffee break, in several of the cosy cafes around town and tried the Gothenburg truffle topped with sea salt. We met Camilla Parkner, the head chef at Basement, one of the 5 Michelin star restaurants in the city and at restaurant Gabriel in the Fish market we learned how to get the best taste of oysters from the owner and oyster opening champion Johan Malm. And to prove that eating out in Sweden needn’t break the bank, we took a budget lunch at Sjöbaren – the Sea Bar in Haga and heard the drinking song that encourages you to knock back the snaps with a Swedish toast – Skol!
We flew with SAS to Gothenburg from Heathrow and arrived to find snow at the airport, although by the next day it had all melted. Over the long weekend we were staying at the Elite Plaza Hotel, a lovely 5 star hotel with an elegant, classical style, built in the 1880s as the headquarters of the Svea fire and life insurance company and converted in the 1990s into a hotel. Our bedroom was on the 5th floor, under the eves which allowed us a view over the copper topped roofs of Gothenburg towards the canal nearby.
We spent our first morning exploring some of the cafes and food venues in the Inom Vallgraven neighbourhood near our hotel. In the courtyard at Magasinsgatan we came across the Strömmingsluckan food cart which just opens for lunch to sell fried herring and mashed potato with lingonberry sauce – the owner Thomas told us that there are many of these food carts across East Sweden but not so many in West Sweden so they decided to open one in Gothenburg. In the same courtyard we found a small branch of the Da Matteo coffee shop while across the courtyard is the bakery or Panetteria, where they make sourdough bread and where you can see the coffee being ground with huge bags on the floor in a separate room to one side.
Next we stopped close to the canal, at the elegant Café Kanold where we enjoyed a warming cup of hot chocolate topped with chili flakes to keep out the chilly wind and tasted a few of the Gothenburg truffles topped with sea salt, invented by Jeanna Kanold who has built up this old family business.
Later that day I chatted with Camilla Parkner, the head chef at Basement, one of the 5 Michelin Star restaurants in the city and the only one that’s run by a woman; in fact she’s the only female head chef at a Michelin star restaurant in the whole of Sweden.
Camilla feels that the seafood is one reason why Gothenburg has such a great reputation for great food and also that the chefs here are down-to-earth and unpretentious in their approach to food – so they stick to what they know and love with really good results. Camilla describes the food at Basement as a little bit ‘rough’- but stylish-rough – meaning that they take the kind of food that you might eat for Sunday lunch at your grandparents but then give it a stylish twist. The restaurant is especially known for their slowly cooked roast meats. For the 10 years that the restaurant has been open there has always been a slowly cooked meat dish on the menu, which is cooked in the oven overnight at 85 degrees Celsius so that the meat gets very tender and is presented with a flavoured glaze.
The menu changes every 2 weeks and is based on whatever is in season, which is why they call it the Seasonal Selection. Camilla loves the changing seasons and tries to use the best from each season – she grows a lot of vegetables herself at home from March to November, which brings her inspiration and also her colleagues bring her ideas for the menu.
When asked whether being the only female head chef in a Swedish Michelin star restaurant should make her an inspiration for other female chefs, Camilla wasn’t so sure – she doesn’t really think of it as being a woman and a head chef – her focus is on just being a head chef – although maybe other women might look at her achievements and think – “Why Not?” – they could achieve this level too.
Camilla’s recommendation to visitors to Gothenburg would be to try the fish and the shellfish which she considers the best in the world. She may have eaten seafood all over the world but finds it doesn’t taste the same as here in Gothenburg – perhaps chefs in Sweden use more salt to cook their shellfish or it could be that the water is so much colder off the coast of West Sweden, giving the seafood a unique flavour. At Christmas Camilla will be serving seafood of course, with different kinds of herring and salmon and it will be washed down with Christmas beer and perhaps a snaps with the herring.
Later that evening at Basement we tried the 4 course tasting menu and were impressed by the attention to detail and the passion with which the combinations were put together. You can add on a couple more courses to make a 6 course tasting menu or if you just want some simple dishes there is a different menu available in the bar area where you can’t book in advance. We also tried the tasting wine menu which is carefully selected to complement to food in the tasting menu and changes each time a new food menu appears. Although it isn’t cheap at 675 sek (£62/$98) for the 4 course tasting menu and 895 sek for the 6 course plus 495 sek (£44/$71) for the wine menu, we felt it was good value if you are looking for a gastronomic experience, with complete harmony of food and wine. We enjoyed the slowly cooked meats for which Basement is known with neck of suckling pig and reindeer tongue marinaded in honey, with each course of food and wine being described in great detail to us as it was served.
The next morning we visited Kronhuset which is one of the oldest buildings in Gothenburg and was originally an artillery store, with the buildings arranged around a courtyard. In the Kronhuset or Crown House there was a Christmas Market with many different craft and charity stalls where we bought some Christmas decorations before coming into the Café Kronhuset to have a fika break with coffee and a cake. The atmosphere was very jolly and traditional with red tablecloths and a fire burning at one end.
At lunchtime we had ate at restaurant Gabriel in the Feskekörka fish market (literally the Fish Church) and had a chat with the owner, Johan Malm about the seafood in Gothenburg. We started with the famous Gothenburg oysters that had been caught the day before, accompanied by a glass of champagne and then we had a plate of different styles of marinaded herring followed by some fish soup, washed down with the local Ocean lager and snaps with the herring.
After lunch I learned from Johan that the seafood is a long tradition in Gothenburg – there’s water all around and fish has always been a major part of the diet in West Sweden. The water is highly salted and very cold here and in winter it’s dark most of the time so the fish grow slowly in deep, cold water and that makes them very fresh and tasty.
At Gabriel they serve mainly locally caught fish and shellfish and anything that is in the fish market can be served in the restaurant. There is a menu but it is just a guide for what you could eat and if you find something in the fish market that you’d like to try that’s not a problem. They serve oysters, mussels, herring and the fish served changes with the season depending on when the fish are at their best. The month of December when we were there is the perfect time for oysters before it gets too cold.
Johan was the oyster opening champion in the Galway championships in 2010 and he told me how he came to be competing there. In Gothenburg they had a contest between all the different restaurants that serve oysters, to promote the fish restaurants in Gothenburg and Johan won that competition which qualified him for the Swedish championships where he came second enabling him to go to Ireland to attend the Galway contest. He had such fun over the 3 days that he decided to keep going back until he could become the world champion which happened in 2010. At the contest in Galway each contestant opens 30 oysters per heat although in the Nordic championships they would open three times that so their hands are pretty sore at the end of the contest.
Johan prefers to serve the oysters very cold and fresh (the ones he served us were hand caught the day before) and as natural as possible with just a splash of lemon. You can cook them as they do in the US and serve them with Tabasco, but Johan’s preference is to taste the natural flavours. His recommendation is that you must chew the oyster and not just swallow it down if you want to get the full taste and flavour.
After our meal at Gabriel we hopped on an old fashioned wooden tram to take us to the entrance at Liseburg, the biggest amusement park in Sweden which at Christmas becomes the biggest Christmas market. We used our Gothenburg city card to get into Liseburg and found the whole park lit up with lights covering every branch of every tree (50 million of them and counting). There were lots of stalls and rides and we just caught the end of the ice show. As it was the end of the day we were rather tired and the park was very crowded so we didn’t stay too long and took the tram back to Haga where there are cafes and shops and cobbled streets – but at 6pm on a Saturday night it was dead with hardly anyone there – they were all at Liseburg instead!
On our first day we had tried the good value lunchtime menu at the cosy restaurant, Sjobaren (The Sea Bar) in Haga which is typically served in many local restaurants for office workers. This normally comprises a choice of salad which you help yourself to from the bar, bread and a main dish which is served with water and coffee. It’ a good way to try different local dishes if you’re on a budget, as for £8-10 you can get a hot lunch with salad.
We also learned about the Swedish customs around snaps – a spirit that’s drunk during all the main Swedish holidays at Easter, Christmas or in the summer at the crayfish parties – it works especially well with herring to cut through the slightly oily taste. You can sip it or drink it down and there are many snaps drinking songs that encourage you to knock it back with the Swedish toast of Skol!
On our last morning we returned to Haga, the old working class district of Gothenburg with pretty houses and narrow cobbled streets where there are many interesting shops and cosy cafes that are the ideal place to have a fika – the Swedish for coffee break. This is where you might meet with friends for a coffee and a chat and perhaps eat one of the enormous cinnamon buns or the saffron buns that are served at Christmas. We found a space in Cafe Kringlan on the main street of Haga, where we tried a huge cinnamon bun and found a Christmas market of stalls selling interesting food with choirs singing and a marching band parading along the main street of Haga Nygata.
On the way to get the tram back to the airport I popped into the Kanold chocolate shop in Viktoriapassagen to buy some Gothenburg truffles as a gift and met by chance Jeanna Kanold who was serving in the shop that morning. Her family own the Kanold business and she is known in Gothenburg as the inventor of the Gothenburg truffle which is topped with sea salt and I asked her what was the inspiration for making the Gothenburg Truffle? Jeanna told me she was going to a competition in Stockholm and she was trying to come up with a chocolate flavour that would epitomise Gothenburg and the West Coast of Sweden, perhaps some combination that included seafood which is so spectacular here. After a while the combinations of seafood weren’t tasting so good and then she realised that she could use sea salt to represent the sea and the seafood of Gothenburg. Now she’s started a trend for chocolate with salt and she told me that it’s particularly good to try with champagne.
After eating our way through some fantastic food, enjoying the atmosphere of the Christmas markets and seeing some of the sites of Gothenburg we’d highly recommend the city for a short break or for a longer visit to see something of the beautiful coast of West Sweden.
Places mentioned in the Podcast
Elite Plaza Hotel in Gothenburg – An elegant and stylish 5 star hotel housed in a 19th century building that was once the headquarters of a Swedish insurance company. Address; Västra Hamngatan 3 404 22 Göteborg. Check for the best hotel prices in Gothenburg and book here.
Strömmingsluckan – A food stand selling traditional fried herring with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce – only open at lunchtime on weekdays. Address: Magasinsgaten 17, 411 18 Göteborg
Da Matteo – recommended for excellent coffee with two branches in the Magasingaten courtyard, one of which is a Panneteria where they make sourdough bread and I’ve heard they do excellent pizzas. There is another small branch in Viktoriapassagen.
Kanold Chocolates – An old family business making chocolates and known for their Gothenburg Truffle topped with sea salt invented by Jeanna Kanold. They have a café on Grönsakstorget where you can buy some of the chocolates and a larger branch just for chocolates and hand-made candy nearby at Södra Larmgatan 14 (beside Viktoriapassagen) as well as a workshop in the Saluhallen food-hall. These are all very close to one another near the canal in the Inom Vallgraven neighbourhood.
Basement – One of 5 Michelin Star restaurants in Gothenburg and the only one with a female head chef, Camilla Parkner. The restaurant is open in the evenings serving a seasonal tasting menu and if you want something simpler you can sit in the cosy bar area which is not bookable in advance. Address; Götabergsgatan 28, 411 34 Göteborg
Gabriel – One of the two seafood restaurants in the Feskekörka fish market and is co-owned by Johan Malm with his father. He was the oyster opening champion in the international Galway championships in 2010. Check out their Facebook Page. Address; Feskekörka 411 20 Göteborg
Sjobaren– The Sea Bar situated on the main street at Haga which served excellent fish and seafood with good value lunch dishes. They also have a second restaurant at Lorensberg Address; Haga Nygata 25, 413 01 Göteborg
Liseburg – The biggest amusement park and Christmas market in Sweden with many rides and attractions for all ages – ideal for families.
Visitor Information for Gothenburg or Göteborg
- The local tourism site Göteborg.com is full of information on the best things to see and do
- For information on West Sweden visit the West Sweden Tourism site or follow them on Twitter @WestSwedenTB or on their Facebook page and you will find their blog at ExploreWestSweden.com
- Another useful site for all things Gothenburg is I Love Göteborg
- If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing it’s worth getting the Gothenburg City Card which will allow you entrance to all the major attractions as well as public transport. Look out for the deals that some hotels offer that include a Gothenburg Card with the hotel booking.
- We stayed at the elegant 5 star hotel, Elite Plaza Hotel which is right in the centre of Gothenburg in the Inom Vallgraven district and walking distance from most things.
- We flew to Gothenburg from London Heathrow with Scandanavian airlines, who have 2 flights a day to Gothenburg from London.
Music Credits: The entry music on the podcast is Venus as a girl by Andy McGee on Musicalley.com and other music was recorded on location in Gothenburg
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