Deep in the Swedish Wilderness, Discovering One of the World’s Greatest Restaurants- page 3 | Travel | Smithsonian
Scallops served in shell, cooked over smoking juniper branches and moss. (Fäviken)

Deep in the Swedish Wilderness, Discovering One of the World’s Greatest Restaurants

At Fäviken, Chef Magnus Nilsson takes locavorism to an extreme by relying on subarctic foraging, farming, hunting and preserving traditions

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This, however, is summer, when the sky never fully darkens and the produce is at its peak. We bump down a gravel road several hours after leaving the airport (obligatory stops were made at a moose petting farm and a hippie-like restaurant commune in Nilsson’s hometown that he recommended), unsure of whether we should have turned left at that last lake, or gone straight over an old bridge. Here, cell phone GPS guidance is out of the question. A break from the trees, however, finally reveals our destination: across a glacial lake, Fäviken’s red barn stands out against the green.

Wildflowers and herds of free-range sheep blaze by on our final approach, and not even a cold, persistent sprinkling of rain can put a damper on this triumph. Through a window on the converted barn, we can see the chefs are already bustling about the kitchen, though it’s just 2:00 and dinner doesn’t begin until 7:00. Karin Hillström, another Fäviken employee, bursts out to meet us with a welcoming smile, ushering us into a pine log room (an original from 1745) filled with lambskin sofas and a wildflower-bejeweled bar. Hillström assigns each party for that evening’s dinner an arrival hour—we were 3:00—staggered to allot time for an individual welcome and a private session in the sauna. A fire warms the room, and Nilsson’s big, wolf-fur coat hangs on one wall like a trophy. Robert Andersson, the sommelier, wastes no time uncorking the first bottled aperitifs.

Nilsson soon emerges from the kitchen wearing his chef’s whites, politely greeting us before Hillström shows us to our room, which is marked not with a number but a hand-painted portrait of a black bear. Because of its remoteness, many guests chose to stay the night at the restaurant’s small guesthouse. The sauna, just across the hall, is fully stocked with champagne, regional beer and local berry juice, along with “some snacks” of homemade sausage and hairy pickled turnips, hand-delivered by one of the chefs. From the delicate bouquets of wildflowers to the slate-slab tabletops, Fäviken seems to epitomize attention to detail. 

Feast at the farm

Tonight, we’re sharing hors d’oeuvres with a British couple, Rachel and Matt Weedon. Outside of Norway and Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the U.S. supply the most visitors. They met in the restaurant industry “many moons ago,” spent their honey moon eating their way through San Francisco and Napa Valley, and now travel twice a year on food holidays. “In the chef world, this guy [Nilsson] is talked about so much,” says Matt, who runs the kitchen and manages the farm at Fallowfields, a restaurant in Oxfordshire. “I heard about him, bought the book, and said OK, we’re going.”

We nibble on crispy lichens dipped in lightly soured garlic cream (the delicate growths nearly dissolve in the mouth), and pop tarts of wild trout’s roe served in a crust of dried pigs blood (oddly sweet, with juicy bursts of fish-eggy saltiness), then proceed upstairs to the spartan dining room. Tables are scattered throughout the room, seating a maximum of 16 guests and spread far enough apart so that each couple or group feels almost as if they are enjoying a private meal. Andersson pours the first wine—mead, actually—made locally and “just like the Vikings used to drink.” Rather than match wines for all 14 of the main courses, Andersson chooses five eclectic pairings that can complement a number of dishes. “I like to drink wine, not taste it,” he explains.

Menu highlights of the evening include a fleshy langoustine impaled on a twig and served with a dollop of almost-burnt cream that Nilsson instructs us to apply to each bite of the creature. A festive porridge of grains, seeds, fermented carrots and wild leaves comes with a glass teapot that is brimming with living grasses and moss rooted atop a bed of moist detritus. Andersson pours a meat broth filtered through this bushy assembly into our porridge; when he removes the teapot, a tiny, squirming earthworm is inadvertently left behind on the table. For a dish of marrow served atop diced raw cow’s heart with neon flower petals, the chefs carry a tremendous bone into the dining room, then proceed to saw it open like a couple of lumberjacks to get at the fresh, bubbling essence within. The butter served throughout the meal—simply the best I have ever tasted—comes from a little cottage nearby, where it takes three days to collect enough milk from the owner’s six cows to churn out a single batch.

The most standout dessert of the evening is an egg yolk, preserved in sugar syrup, plopped next to a pile of crumbs made from pine tree bark. We diners are instructed to mash these ingredients into a sticky, rich dough, while the chefs turn the clacking crank of an old-fashioned ice cream maker, then spoon out portions of the icy, meadowsweet-seasoned goodness alongside our fresh dough.

We round out the evening by sipping on sour cream and duck egg liquor, and sampling simple sweets—dried berries, sunflower seed nougat, pine resin cake—laid out in a jewelry-box assortment, like a child’s prized collection of marbles and shells. Only the tar pastilles, which taste like a mix between chainsaw exhaust and chimney soot, fail to deliver. The final, optional offering is a strip of chewing tobacco, fermented for 70 hours and issued with a warning that the nicotine could prove too much for guests who aren’t used to it. “This smells like my dad,” I overhear one patron say.

A master of the craft

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