As we approach the Feskekörka or Fish Church, overlooking the Rosenlund Canal, we can see how it got its name. The brick building that houses Gothenburg’s Fish Market was built in 1874 with Gothic arched windows under steeply pitched eves giving it a somewhat ecclesiastical air. The building was considered quite futuristic in its day with an open interior and no supporting columns and it originally housed the fish auction for the city which was later moved to a new location in 1910. Since then the Feskekörka has been home to the Fish Market with a number of stalls selling fresh fish, ready-prepared fish dishes and two restaurants, including Restaurant Gabriel that we’ve come to visit.
As we arrive only just in time for our 1 o’clock lunch booking at Restaurant Gabriel, we by-pass all the glass cabinets with interesting looking fish on ice and hurry up the stairs to the mezzanine restaurant level at one end of the building. At the top of the steps we are greeted by the tall owner Johan Malm, wearing drainpipe jeans and Doc Martin boots under his chef’s jacket with a close cropped beard making him look like a rather trendy fisherman. (Of course my husband spotted the Breitling watch well before I did). We squeeze in among the closely packed tables to be seated with a balcony view over the fish market below, from where we observe the ebb and flow of business in the fish market and a steady stream of people coming up the steps hopeful of a table.
We study the menu card until Johan assures us that it’s only a guide to what’s on offer and that he can cook anything that’s fresh and tasty in the market today. We start with a shot of frothy fish soup to chase down a lightly cooked mussel and then get on to the oysters that Johan recommends since they are at their peak in December, before the waters off West Sweden become too cold. I feel I can trust his judgement as he’s won countless oyster opening competitions in Gothenburg and Stockholm and was the winner of the oyster opening championships in Galway, Ireland in 2010. “How many oysters would you like?” asks Johan. “Just a few to try” we say, not sure if we are true oyster lovers, so he brings us 3 each and opens them at the table, demonstrating the oyster opening techniques that made him a prize winner.
Apparently it’s not just about speed in these competitions but about making sure that the shell doesn’t get broken and that you can separate the oyster cleanly from the shell without nicking the delicate flesh with your knife. I’m mesmerised by Johan’s deft hands opening our oysters and even happier after I’d eaten my 3 oysters washed down with a glass of champagne. The best way to eat oysters according to Johan is as natural as possible – with just a squeeze of lemon. These were hand caught yesterday and with something so ultra-fresh it would be a shame to mask the flavour. The trick, he assures us, is to make sure that you chew the oyster properly to get the slightly metallic flavour of the sea and perhaps an aftertaste of water-melon! It seems rather a shame that the oyster that took between 5 and 7 years to grow to full size is swallowed down in a nano-second. Take a look at the video of me eating oysters at Restaurant Gabriel
In between courses Johan tells us how he grew up helping his father in the restaurant; ‘’I got my first chef’s jacket when I was only four years old” he tells us, proudly showing us the framed photo of himself as a child dressed in the chef’s whites. He left Sweden to live for a while in South America and in Spain, before returning to run the restaurant together with his father, Gunnar Malm. I asked Johan what makes the seafood so special in Gothenburg and why there are so many fish restaurants in the city. “It’s a long tradition”, he explained, “We have the water all around us and so fish has always been a major food for us. The water is highly salted and at this time of year the fish grow in deep, cold water and that makes them very fresh and very tasty”. You can hear my interview with Johan Malm in my Gothenburg Podcast.
Our next course is a fish smörgåsbord; a selection of small fish bites served on a large slate platter to share between us. Of course the herring plays a leading role here, as it’s a staple food in Sweden and one that is typically served at Christmas, washed down with snaps to cut through the rich, oily flavour. Every family has their own special way of preparing the herring, Johan tells us, and we taste the classic style with onion, a sweet and sour sauce with cucumber and a herring with tomato and horseradish salsa – just like Grandma might make. There’s also the fried herring on crispy bread that’s another Swedish speciality – we’d tried something similar at the Strömmingsluckan Herring Cart at Magasinsgaten. There are waxy potatoes and some flavoursome Swedish Västerbottenost cheese that’s a bit like a creamy cheddar, to add a salty element to the meal. It’s all washed down with locally brewed Ocean beer and a shot of snaps.
Johan breaks off to discuss some wedding arrangements with a couple who will be having their reception in the Feskekörka – after the doors have closed to the public, there are often catered evening events in the central hall down below and later when we are leaving the tables are being set out for that evening. “What else would you like?” asks Johan, and as we eye the cold water from the canal outside, ready to overflow the banks and the grey rain-soaked skies, we shiver a little and ask for something warming. We get just what we need, a bowl of saffron-yellow thick fish soup arrives, with mussels and chunks of fish at the bottom. Just the thing to sustain you on a winter’s day in Gothenburg.
I ask Johan to tell us the story of how he came to be competing at the Galway oyster-opening championships which he won in 2010. In Gothenburg they had a contest between all the different restaurants that serve oysters, to promote the fish restaurants in the city. As Johan was the winner, he qualified for the Swedish championships where he came second enabling him to go to Ireland to attend the Galway contest. He enjoyed himself so much that he decided to keep going back until he could become the world champion which happened in 2010. He admitted that after opening so many oysters his hands were pretty sore by the end of the competition.
It’s nearly four in the afternoon and I can see the stalls below are starting to pack up so we decide it’s time to leave our heavenly meal at Restaurant Gabriel to have a last look around the Fish Church. There are big bowls of crayfish and lobsters, slabs of fresh fish and plenty of tasty samples to try at the stalls that sell fish dishes to take away. Even if you’re not eating at either of the two restaurants (the other is Kajutan) I reckon you could taste your way round the fish market and in summer buy your picnic to eat by the canal or in one of the nearby parks. The seafood is one of the great specialities of Gothenburg – everyone from the man on the street to the Michelin star chef will tell you so – from the crayfish parties of August to the winter oysters to the endless varieties of Christmas herring – and where better to try the Gothenburg seafood than in the Fish Church itself.
More good things to eat in Gothenburg
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 classic 5 star hotel, Elite Plaza Hotel which is in the Inom Vallgraven district and walking distance from most of the sights of Gothenburg. Check for the best hotel prices in Gothenburg and book here.
- We took flights to Gothenburg from London Heathrow with Scandinavian Airlines who have 2 flights a day to Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport, a 30 minute taxi or bus ride from the city.
- If you’d like to use a guidebook during your visit to Gothenburg I’d recommend the conveniently sized Thomas Cook Gothenburg Pocket Guide which we used.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey