Meditation Menu; a culinary sanctuary in Stockholm

Meditation Menu; a culinary sanctuary in Stockholm

Louis Boshoff

Those in search of culture and meaning know that the true joy of culinary travelling lies in something more than what comes from the basic goodness of the land; it comes from something which is layered with a context of ‘near a thousand tables’, (to borrow the title from historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s book on food history). When visiting foreign destinations, there are often two easy ways to immerse yourself in the local culture; through the language or the food. The fact that you use your mouth for both is surely no coincidence.

For someone whose love of Scandinavia doesn’t begin or end with its smooth design aesthetics but includes its absolute passion for quality living and nature, Stockholm is a delightfully refreshing foodie destination; a bit left-of-trend where light and darkness assert themselves in many guises.

A general appreciation and sincere pride of the land and sea is vividly expressed even in urban places like Oaxen Krog on the island of Djurgården in central Stockholm; the Michelin starred restaurant of Magnus Ek and Agneta Green, whose efforts and selections beautifully balance sustainability and sensation.

Photo: Erik Olsson

Photo: Erik Olsson

The ex-boatyard shed, which houses their two restaurants, was elegantly refurbished to make the most of the light and the water. Awareness is everything when it comes to the Oaxen restaurants; the bistro (read cheaper) component of the establishment called Oaxen Slip, is a double volume space with a number of shipping vessels suspended overhead; the retro styling is completed with a nostalgic mix of Nordic earthenware crockery. Naturally, it also prides itself on heritage and a sustainable ‘Scandi’ menu albeit more hearty and casual; think robust Sunday slow-food with a gourmet twist. This is where you’ll find the crowd who have been to the Oaxen Krog and appreciate its philosophy of quality and simplicity or those who intend to go but are still saving up; it’s a lively mix of blond locals and some mindful tourists, occupied with a celebration of communal consumption,; like a boisterous post-war sailors mess meets Viking mead hall with a noise level to match.

Once past the latter crowd in the Slip, you’ll find the entrance to the gourmet Krog; a small door at the back leading through another set of double doors into a calm wooden panelled restaurant fully devoted to personalised experience; the effect of the intimacy is emphasised as you are warmly welcomed by what seems like the entire complement of staff. It’s clearly geared at conveying the chef’s own message of a simple and spiritual connection between the land that sustains us and our passing existence; wood, fire, water, salt, and ceramics complement the little ecosystem that becomes the canvas to the edible event, complete with sunset and lights dancing across the water outside.

The tasting menu choice of ten or six courses covers local, seasonal ingredients, which are carefully combined to create a sensory event of each dish, which in combination flow past like a religious procession, each reverently appreciated for their pleasure and sustenance. A powerful reminder of our own impermanence and though it may sound a bit far-fetched, that is exactly the length that such artisans as Magnus go to, ensuring a beautiful performance without a stroke out of place.

Photo: Per Ranung

Photo: Per Ranung

The respect for serenity is clear from the way the staff hush throughout the restaurant. Even in the open kitchen it seems that their synergy eliminates the need for communication and small details like the charger plates covered with a leather strip to minimise spills and clamour. The beef served in a leather bowl, which you raise to your mouth and scrape clean of the tasty juices with a wooden spatula is one of the metaphoric touches that take the meal to another level. Contemplation is integrated into the courses with thought-provoking compositions and interesting tableware; much more than mere presentations. The fermented and pickled vegetables served with ox marrow sauce, and roe is another example of the unexpected combinations, which separates Oaxen Krog from so many other gastronomic institutions, which only serve well-made food. Here there is a confidence and experienced knowledge which passes over fashionable superficiality; a true testament to the shared beliefs of the owners and staff.

Speaking of the staff; from the kitchen to the restaurant floor they convey a genuine interest while the ever-attentive sommelier makes the most of the wine pairing and drink selection. One feels more like an old family friend returning from abroad than just another dinner guest. The sommelier explains that their wines are exclusively from old world stock (the reasoning is simply a question of distance), without prejudice or the remotest risk of a lack of choice; the champagne list alone is a sparkling example of their selective variety. Though spoilt for choice and even if wine pairing isn’t really your thing, it certainly complements the vision of the menu and generally cuts out a lot of uncertainty, especially if you’re the ‘fomo’ type. As a finale, the sommelier suggests their homemade Negroni, which with their chocolates provided a perfect bittersweet farewell to what felt more like a memorable exchange than a meal.

A philosophy of authenticity, a retro-zen atmosphere, and confident interactive service combine to make Oaxen Krog deserving of its accolades and certainly a worthwhile pause on any traveller’s schedule.

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