Inspired in equal parts by the wild forests of Scandinavia and the prestigious kitchens of Paris, Ekstedt creates gourmet food using only wood fire
When you think of Michelin Starred restaurants, you think of one of two things. You probably imagine a storied place, which draws on centuries of accepted tradition and produces excellent food, the way it has always been done. Or, you might picture a new wave of fine-dining establishments that take those traditions and incorporates fancy futuristic trends like molecular gastronomy. However you most likely don’t think of brasseries as being Michelin rated. Well, the truth is that a brasserie with one of the prestigious Michelin awards does exist, and it’s amazing AF.
The star that Ekstedt has been awarded, is perhaps recognized by how the place manages to marry two seemingly polar opposite elements with ease. You see, the main attraction is meat. Meat cooked up on open flames powered by wood smoke, served in a dark environment and accompanied by things like berries, hay, smoke and other earthly elements. Do the mental equivalent of squinting, and you can almost imagine you are sitting in a cave thousands of years ago dining on food hunted and gathered by your caveman friends. Ok that might be a stretch, considering you’ll be washing it down with premier wines and having unique combinations like mooseheart and lingonberries.
You come to Ekstedt to eat meat. But not a big piece of grilled meat that resembles something you grill up for family BBQ’s. At Ekstedt, the meat is seemingly exotic (dried deer sausage flakes anyone?) and everything is cooked over an open flame, using different types of Scandinavian wood. The dishes are tender, soft and romantic even, definitely adjectives I don't associate with meat, or a grill. I’ve heard the restaurant described as primal, and I get it. Meat grilled over a flame screams primal, masculine and strong, yet for me, every dish at this restaurant was beautiful and delicate and full of so much flavor.
This contrast of primal and romance is an expression of owner Niklas Ekstedt’s life. Today he is a celebrity chef living in Sweden’s busy and cosmopolitan capital, but as a child he lived in the forests of Jämtland in the Arctic north of the country. This is a place where snow-capped trees outnumber humans, and the indigenous Sami people live in a way not too far removed from that of the cavemen mentioned earlier. Having been taught to look outwards while training to be a chef, Niklas eventually decided to fuse the knowledge and trends he saw elsewhere with the spirit of the place he was from.
Just as with the food, Niklas wears these two sides to his upbringing with ease. He is charismatic and warm. When we met him at his restaurant – me seven months pregnant and both soaking wet from a thunderstorm – he welcomed us in with open arms, and we were instantly given drinks. Champagne for Chris, and a convincing equivalent for me in the form of a sparkling juice. He didn’t judge when he spotted me taking a couple of sips from Chris’ glass, and was soon showing us pictures and videos of his sons. A video of his younger one trying oysters for the first time sparked a conversation on how to introduce children to the more interesting foods (just go for it), and once we had finished talking he continued making the rounds of his patrons – greeting them all with genuine excitement.
The space we found ourselves in was warm and cozy. It had a laid-back feeling thanks to the tasteful design which incorporated everything from wooden tables and cabinets, to exposed metal pipework. It’s the type of space you can spend a long time in, catching up with friends and enjoying an incredible meal. We sat at the long bar in front of the kitchen, and this gave us a front row seat for the show, which is Ekstadt’s chefs preparing the food. We saw with our own eyes how they took the meat from the campfire like pit, and then transformed it into a visual work of art, with the precision of surgeons.
Our welcome dish was cooked tableside and was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It consisted of moose heart cooked with spiced butter, parsley, mushrooms and lingonberries served up on a taco-like disk. Two more delights followed: oysters seared in beef fat (cooked on a wood fire of course), and seared langoustine with dried deer meat shavings on top and langoustine broth poured over. More dishes followed and we soon found ourselves completely mesmerized by what we were eating and seeing.
Dessert was a cheese plate with Swedish Löfstalund shaven onto the plate to be scooped up with bread. Everything about this was delicious. In a continent synonymous with cheese it can be hard to stand out, Scandinavian dairy products don’t get enough recognition. Meanwhile, before even tasting it – just watching it being pulled out of the wood fire stove – I already knew that this would be some of the best bread I had tasted in a long time.
Chris was given a wine pairing with each course, whereas I had a juice paring. I find it hard to believe that I am saying this, but I would recommend trying it even if you are not forced to by factors like pregnancy. The fresh juices mixed fruits, vegetables and herbs, and each was designed to complement the dish they accompanied. My favorite was a blackcurrant and pomegranate juice, which was paired with my serving of birch fired lamb loin with fennel and lovage. It was not a poor imitation of the wine I would otherwise be drinking, it really felt like I was drinking a rich dark Burgundy, I might even go as far as to say that it was better.
It can be difficult to get into Elkstadt as it has become one of Stockholm’s most popular restaurants. They have resorted to releasing bookings online six weeks in advance at midnight – almost like a music festival. Once there, it is easy to understand why, and if you’re a meat eater and/or lover of fine dining you have to make this a stop when in Stockholm. The methods of cooking alone are worth the visit, and the food is just mouth-wateringly good.
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