Friday, August 28, 2009

Scandinavian Dining : Oaxen Skärgårdskrog

Apparently, THE place to dine in the Stockholm archipelago is the 50 seat terrace at Oaxen Krog overlooking the bay of Himmerfjärden. Due to inclement weather we had to eat inside - but I didn't mind. The dining room seats 40, and is absolutely charming. I was glad to explore the building - and I can sit on a deck any day.

Oaxen has been named as one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the world (#32) along with El Bulli (#1) and The Fat Duck (#2). Emphasis is on VERY local and quite often 'humble' ingredients transformed with all culinary arts blazing. And what can you say about the setting? - The Stockholm Archipelago is like no other place on earth. It has many moods but all are simple, stark, elegant and chic.

Their webpage is here. Address - Oaxen SE-153 93 Mörkö Sweden. Phone: +46 (0) 8-551 531 05

About 50 km out of Stockholm, it’s rather difficult to get to without a boat - but worth the effort. We hired a cab which took us through farm fields and dropped us off at a small hut on a brackish shore, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The hut kept the rain off us, and eventually a ferry arrived. After a brisk walk in the rain trying to make it on time, we found Oaxen Skärgårdskrog. (We had missed the shorter route over a hill. I was glad I didn’t wear my ‘kitten heels’. I felt like something the cat dragged in when I arrived.)

From our window seat we could see the Prince Van Orangiën, a boat which doubles as accommodation for Oaxen Krog. A great Flickr set about staying overnight on the Prince and eating at Oaxen is here. Check it out to see what the place looks like in the sun and what the rooms are like on the boat.

Here's what we ate. Not to belittle the service - it quickly became apparent that the servers couldn’t describe the courses very well and the English menu had many errors. So, some of my descriptions may be inaccurate – take all this with a grain of salt.;)

The ‘amuse’ that was sent out was a play on 'chips & dips'. A perfectly shredded and deep fried pig’s ear was paired with a dip that tasted exactly like an Alabama white BBQ sauce. I was in heaven; and it was the best version of pigskin I’ve had since Eastern Europe. I could have eaten a plate of these. The other chip was described as an ‘Isfahan sausage puree chip’ and indeed it had a mild lamb 'kubideh' taste to it but crispy. It came with a roe and herb mayo that came off a bit like a taramosalata. (no picture, alas)

The first little course was quinoa (?) with foie gras and little hats of some sort of vegetable leather (?). In tumblers was a mushroom gelée with a white sauce of some kind and glasses of ‘local water’. If this was indeed the brackish water of bay of Himmerfjärden, I wouldn’t be at all surprised - I could barely get it down.

Cockle and beef heart 'marinated with oregano and light smoke' arrived but it was scarfed down before I had a chance to take a photo. Here’s the shells, though…yes, they were superb.

Two butters from the island made from local herds (we probably saw them on the road) - one with a hint of bay leaf are served on local stones. I asked about the origin of the flake salt, but I got the impression that the server thought I was pulling her leg.

Breads were very good (as everywhere in Sweden) but at Oaxen they tended towards the soda variety and were a bit sweet for us. Undoubtedly crowd pleasers, the first ones to arrive were their ‘pancake’ (mini loaf) soda bread and sourdough (croissant shaped) roll. A second serving was sweet black soda bread (mini loaf) and Chef’s baguette slice.

A "Trou Normand". Oaxen kir royales with arctic raspberries & Pineau de Charente and a contented dinner companion.

Working from the menu provided the starters are described as – “raw shrimp & lobster with cold smoke, beetroot crudité (sic - actually was more like a canapé), sorbet of buttermilk (it looks like an egg), vild (sic) chive juice & pea crust. The raw shellfish was sweet and succulent – much like ‘dancing shrimp’ of good sushi bars.

Mark’s starter was described as – “oysters and perch with lemon verbena & horseradish jelly, broad bean pureé & blue clay baked parsley root” All I can remember is the effect of the blue clay (I had a bite) and I swear that this is the picture of the dish – but I can’t make heads or tails out of it!

My main was – “seared herb spiced top round steak of veal with deep-fried brisket of veal & molasses bread, cauliflower and loan lichen (?), sweetbread fried in garlic ash & red wine jus”. The veal was unbelievable.

Mark’s main was - “Baltic cod marinated in seawater, charcoal baked with reed (?), crab in oat porridge, pike roe, bouillon of roasted fish bones & rooster with carrot & cucumber”.

A little cheese course was – “cheese truffle with warm marmalade of Arctic raspberries & blackened goat cheese”. A little difficult to see; but all these things coated in ash were remarkable. It wasn't going to be the last time we were served somethng in ashes on this trip, either.

My dessert was – “marmalade of green tomatoes (more like poached, sweetened green tomatoes) with paté à chou (in shards), cream cheese ice cream, vanilla cream and meringue of cacao”. It was excellent.

Mark’s dessert – “pudding of raspberries with crust of white nougat and burnt sugar whit (sic) ice cream”. It was more like a custard with perhaps raspberries in it with a brulée crust.

As it is their 15th Anniversary season, a beautiful box was presented at the end of the meal with recipes in Swedish (and a promise to email translations – although I have yet to hear from them), and the menu – without which I wouldn’t have been able to describe these dishes.

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