Shibumi takes a traditional Japanese street style of dining and adapts it for a European audience. The result is an experience as delicious as it is innovative
In an increasingly connected world where everyone is fighting for the attention of potential customers, it is rare for a restaurant not to put serious effort into making itself as visible as possible. The best places to eat are usually at great pains to let you know about their quality, and draw you in through their doors. Search for restaurants online in your chosen city and you will be bombarded with flashy visuals, superlative reviews and heavily edited photographs.
This is part of the reason we found Shibumi so refreshing. From the outside it is hardly noticeable, and it actually took us a whole ten minutes to find it. The sign outside is about six inches long so very easy to miss, and once you do spot it, you enter through a small door...It’s all very clandestine. Even the website is minimalist and lacking in flashy visuals (it looks a little like it was made in the 1990s), although they do put some effort into their social media game.
Once inside, the lack of marketing starts to make sense. The Shibumi experience speaks for itself. The best way of describing it is like a chic spin on Japanese izakaya. Izakaya is the Japanese equivalent of the pub, except that they have a stronger dining element to them. Small snack dishes can be ordered between drinks, and are usually shared like tapas. The first izakayas were little more than shops where people could buy sake or beer. Soon owners started to sell snacks to entice people in and gradually they evolved into their modern form.
Shibumi twists the concept a bit, turning it into more of a restaurant experience, but the core of the Izakaya experience is retained. The food is shared and uses Japanese ingredients and recipes, and it comes out in stages. It is also spectacular. The chef – Sayan Isaksson – owns four restaurants (the other three are just upstairs), and his most famous – Esperanto – won him a Michelin star.
Isakson is an interesting character. He is Thai by birth, and his life would have turned out very differently if he had not been adopted by a Swedish couple as a baby. Having been given all the opportunities that being raised in Sweden provides, he has become a successful restaurant owner and chef. Perhaps this duel heritage is what inspired him to draw on the traditions of Asia in his restaurants. When looking for a home for his first, he chose an old run-down theatre which had once been an important part of Stockholm’s punk music scene. This gave him plenty of room to expand, and also helped transform the neighbourhood from a culinary backwater to one packed full of interesting food options. Over time he opened the rest of his businesses in different parts of the theatre.
Embracing the Izakaya model of dining, we set about ordering as many small tasting bites as we could, ready to share them as they came. We may have gone slightly overboard, but everything looked and sounded so good that we found it hard to narrow our choices down! The result was a constant stream of goodness, and too many favorites to list.
That said, some things did stand out even from such strong competition, and these were too good not to mention. The eggplant in dashi with black sesame was a great early dish. Served cold, the flavor of the sesame was strong but not overpowering. This was quickly followed by corn tempura which, if you ever visit, is an absolute must. It is at once crunchy, salty and slightly sweet. We also loved the okonomiyaki - a savory pancake loaded with all sorts of toppings. This one transported us straight back to Japan, and the flavors reminded us of the times we have tasted this dish on trips there.
The main event however, was undoubtedly the enormous lamb rib, as in a singular rib! Coated with in a sweet and savoury glaze, this is served unaccompanied on a rectangle of black slate and was one of the most beautifully arranged meat dishes we have ever seen. No Izakaya would be complete without good drinks and Shibumi has a wide selection. Best of all are the craft cocktails which are, for the most part, accompanied by small snacks.
Even if it takes you an hour to find it, don’t give up! This place is worth finding. The concept is fun and brilliantly executed, making the whole experience something you will remember from your trip to Stockholm. Whether you are a fan of Japanese food and culture or not, you will enjoy the delicious food and laid back atmosphere.
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