The lady at the table to my right was jumping out of her seat – actually, genuinely, uncontrollably jumping, shaking her hands and looking first at her partner, and then around the room to check she wasn’t the only one.
I suppose as my eyes were scanning the restaurant I was looking for the same affirmation; though it was hardly needed given the groans of sheer pleasure coming from my dining companions.
Special dishes create moments that people can’t help but share. Clearly, this was exactly such a dish, and very definitely one of those moments. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, though, the dish in question was merely a simple (looking) 5-6cm length of crab meat, with a blob of reduced cream on the side.
Some context is necessary.
I’d woken at 3:30am that morning for the first of two flights: Gatwick to Stockholm; Stockholm to Åre Östersund (an airport in what I assumed was Northern Sweden, but looking at the map now I see there’s about half a country more further north). And then we drove, eventually arriving at Fäviken Magasinet at 5pm local time. Magnus Nilsson’s restaurant is billed as one the world’s most remote. As it happens there are a number of urban centres relatively nearby, but it sure does take a while to get there.
The restaurant and its few rooms are based in a large Nordic red (obviously) building, which forms part of a hunting estate. Inside is all plained pine beans and log fires; to know that it was previously a moose fondue restaurant is useful background.
However, as with the apparently simple crab, the stripped back furnishings are deceptive. In reality this is modern hospitality at its best. There’s an overwhelming feeling of serenity and calm and throughout the short stay (checkout immediately follows a 9:00am breakfast), service is pitch perfect – personal, friendly, thoughtful and considered. It’s a textbook example of how a restaurant can live up to its label and be restorative.
An evening at Fäviken is much more than a meal. It’s a communal event, with every guest eating the same dish at the same time (16 upstairs, 8 on one sharing table below). I remember writing 4 years ago that a visit to Mugaritz only really came together when the entire restaurant was served the same thing (in an immersive and theatrical way), despite being at varying stages of our meals. At Fäviken, rather than wait, they skip straight to that shared experience when the first bite is introduced to the room via a sharp double clap and explanation from the chef.
If the restaurant served dodgy fondue, but with the level of hospitality and theatre that exists now, I suspect I’d still have walked away a fan. Perhaps you’d like to know more about the food, though.
I count 23 different snacks, dishes and petit fours (plus a pot of home fermented tobacco (snus) to absolutely ensure the evening was a head spinning one). It’d be boring to recount them all, so I’ll simply describe a few highlights, which I think also help to sum up the eating experience.
The crab mentioned at the beginning of this piece was from the leg of a Norwegian king crab. I don’t imagine I’ll ever taste a purer, sweeter, or minerally fresh example of this; the very essence of the beast it came from and very little else. Just prior to that, we’d each been presented with a scallop cooked over smouldering juniper branches in a closed shell full of reduced scallop stock. Like the crab, this was unfussy and deliberately unpretentious (there’s no cutlery – eat with your hands), and absolutely massive. No doubt the execution of the dishes was far more complex than appearance suggests, but both these dishes presented an opportunity to simply enjoy relatively local produce in its purest form.
A fault of some tasting menus is that they focus on ‘interesting‘ and ‘impressive’, rather than ‘tasty’. To my mind, Fäviken’s menu never verged too far (if at all) from the enjoyably flavourful. Many of the techniques involved were about preservation rather than transformation: the house guanciale; incredible aged, salted, sucker-punching herring; pickled, semi-dried root vegetables as a sweet petit four, for example. Which means you’re wowed by flavour, rather than construction – surely the more desirable option for most consumers. The peak of this was probably in the middle of the meal, when we were served a steamed but still crunchy sprout top, Finnish caviar and a drop of local unpasteurised double cream. Salty black roe was set against the sweet/bitter brassica and then the smooth, cold, luscious dairy – an unexpected but wicked threesome. The skill of the chefs was in the sourcing and matching, rather than hours of fiddle.
Of course there’s magic going on in the kitchen too. Until this evening my only experience of lupin was knowing that it’s an allergen, but not knowing if or why I’d ever eat it. Turns out this legume does everything that soy can do and more. We first see it in a bubbling curd gratin – more moreish than any tofu I’ve had the pleasure of eating. Later, we’re told that a brown disc the size and thickness of a ten pence coin, is fermented, roasted and finely ground lupin bean. The first taste is like sweetened cacao, then bitter and dry but not unpleasant tannins come through. It both matches and cuts the ferrous pink piece of wild duck that comes with it.
The food couldn’t be termed classic Swedish, nor does Magnus Nilsson want it to be labelled ‘New Nordic’ – it’s just his food. But is is of its region. “Porridge of grains and seeds from Jämtland finished with a big lump of salty butter, fermented carrot and wild leaves, moose broth filtered through local moss” is one example of that. And there’s also reference to more traditional foods, like the gloriously brown cheese pie which is served with gompa, a sami mix of cultured milk and angelica (which on this occasion was surely too bitter). Bottom line being this is absolutely a time and place meal, where the menu is completely tied to the local area. The obvious question to ask of anyone travelling just to eat, is whether the meal is really worth the journey. Whilst the answer can only ever be a personal one, in this case you can be absolutely sure you couldn’t have the food anywhere else.
This food, then, is pure, enjoyable, inventive and very much of its surroundings … which sums it up pretty well, save ‘it’ really is only a fraction of the Fäviken experience. We drank exceptionally matched wines too, though, again they were enhanced by the easy, natural, engaging introductions from the sommelier; if you could bottle the atmosphere created by the rooms and the restaurant’s team, you’d be a miwwionaire.
We return to our table at 09:00 the next morning. It’s set with the most perfect Scandinavian breakfast: house hams, cheese, patés, eggs, fish roe, rye breads, and a multi-grain porridge that’s been lovingly stirred for two hours by the (obviously patient and predictably perfect) waitress running the room. It’s like a dream and, aside from the fact I’m still totally stuffed from the night before, I’m disappointed only that we’ll soon have to leave. I’ve no doubt that, as with the crab moment, I share that view with every other person in the room.
Fäviken in 3 words
Pure. Communal. Restorative.
SEK 2200 SK for the food. SEK 1750 for the wine. A room for 2 people including breakfast is a further SEK 2500.
www.favikenmagasinet.se/en – Fäviken 216, 830 05 Järpen – 0647-401 77
NB: I was a guest of the restaurant and of Visit Sweden. I have no doubt that everyone had exactly the same experience, and I’m pretty sure that even with a lighter wallet, I’d sing the same praises.