Forget meatballs and pickled herring. The restaurant scene in Scandinavia has never been as animated as it is today; you’ll find an enticing combination of old and new, of innovation and tradition, and of laid-back bars and elegant Michelin-star restaurants.
Scandinavia’s many eco-friendly initiatives extend to the wine and food world, too, with a focus on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients and natural and biodynamic wines.
Top restaurants and wine bars in Stockholm
In Sweden, 70% of all wines are sold through Systembolaget, the Swedish off-trade monopoly. While the monopoly stores mainly provide big brands and bag-in-box wines, restaurants and bars, particularly in the Swedish capital, offer great alternatives, with creative lists full of small-scale wines from all over the world.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of new wine bars in Stockholm, creating an energetic wine scene. One venue is Ambar, a cosy wine bar near St Eriksplan square in the city centre.
Run by Englishman Damon Young, the warmly lit bar has a laid-back vibe and has become a second home to many locals. The wine list is eclectic, specialising in natural wines, with a particular focus on orange wines.
Young and his staff also prepare a small selection of delicious Asian dishes in the tiny kitchen, and both the food and wine list are good value.
‘Stockholm’s wine scene has exploded over the past few years, with new wine bars popping up all over, many with a unique approach,’ says Young. ‘We have become an active community, supporting each other rather than competing against one another.’
Less than 2km away from Ambar is Babette, a busy neighbourhood bistro that is elegant yet relaxed – and never disappoints.
Sit at the counter and watch the chefs produce simple, flavourful dishes. The menu changes daily; look out for the irresistible gourmet pizzas with creative toppings. The long and carefully sourced wine list is varied, featuring artisanal wines from around the world, from Jura to Oregon, and Hungary to Tasmania.
Babette’s owner-sommelier Fredrik Lundberg is on hand to guide you through the list, and he talks passionately about everything from different grapes to producer profiles.
To anyone who wants to take a deep dive into Nordic cuisine, there are two places with a firm hold on Stockholm’s culinary scene.
The first is Hantverket in Östermalm, one of the most affluent areas of Stockholm. The award-winning head chef Stefan Ekengren offers a simple, more rustic take on artisanal Swedish cuisine, resulting in a range of clever, unpretentious dishes.
The chanterelle sandwich with roe, spiced cheese, sour cream, leek, dill and rye bread is a must-try. There are both classic and niche wines on the drinks list, which also features two large sections for Swedish cider and craft beer. The service here is passionate and genuine.
The second venue is the sophisticated one-star Michelin restaurant Agrikultur on Roslagsgatan.
For those seeking a Michelin-star meal, there are nine restaurants to choose from in Stockholm. At Agrikultur, the interior design is Scandinavian minimalism at its most stylish, where every corner could be featured in a design magazine.
Nonetheless, the ambience is warm and welcoming. Chefs Joel Åhlin and Filip Fastén enjoy contrasts – something that shows in everything they do.
In the open kitchen, with its Aga and wood-fired oven, the ambitious team makes traditional Swedish dishes with a twist, offering imaginative combinations of vegetables alongside a small selection of noble cuts, all sourced from local, sustainable suppliers.
The wine list, however, is fairly classical, and is centred around a small number of producers. Head sommelier Jon Bergqvist explains: ‘I like to build a wine list based on a few selected areas and try to get a depth in both producers and age before broadening it out.’
Lovers of Burgundy, Rioja and Montalcino will not be disappointed. For example, you’ll find a selection of vintages of Brunello di Montalcino from Stella di Campalto going back to 2004.
Agrikultur celebrated its first Michelin star in 2018, the same year that city-centre restaurant Frantzén became Sweden’s first three-star Michelin restaurant, just a couple of months after opening.
Frantzén is big, with modern and luxuriously stripped-down spaces set over 521m2 on three floors. Despite the large surface area, you’ll still struggle to get a table. Only 23 people at a time get the chance to enjoy Björn Frantzén’s cuisine, but more than 100,000 people vie for each of the 600 seats released every month on the restaurant’s website.
‘I get a lot of inspiration from our Nordic ingredients,’ says the acclaimed chef, who is set to make his UK debut in 2022 by opening a restaurant in Harrods.
‘Here in the north, we are forced to be very focused on raw materials, because it is such an extreme climate up here. The seasons differ so much, and it is important to adapt.’
His cult dish, French toast with seasonal truffle, balsamic vinegar, aged cheese and truffle tea, is a permanent fixture on the menu. The wine list includes more than 1,700 labels from some of the world’s most prestigious wine regions.
Best restaurants in Oslo for wine lovers
Norway’s capital Oslo is a city where modern and medieval cultural influences sit side by side.
Located at the end of the Oslofjord, a picturesque narrow body of water, the city has a stunning backdrop, and there are more than 40 islands within the city limits alone.
Modestly sized for a capital, with only 670,000 inhabitants, everything is within walking distance. The city has recently become a foodie hotspot.
Welcoming diners from all over the world, Maaemo, in contemporary waterside development Bispevika, is the only three-star Michelin restaurant in Norway, and draws on more than one Scandinavian country in its style.
The name is Finnish and means ‘mother earth’, while the chef Esben Holmboe Bang is Danish. He interprets Norwegian food traditions in a modern way by looking at local culture through a contemporary lens.
Another hip restaurant in Oslo is Katla by chef Atli Mar Yngvason, who previously ran Pjoltergeist, a hard-to-find, speakeasy-style dark basement venue that was one of the most popular restaurants in the city before it closed in 2018.
Atli has now started again, and at Katla, situated in Tullinløkka, the darkness has been replaced with big windows and high ceilings, and it is easy to find.
Rather than following the strict New Nordic path, Atli is doing his own thing here. He’s still using local ingredients, but there are influences from Mexico, Korea and Japan on the menu.
The wine list has a large selection of organic and biodynamic wines from all over the world, with a particularly impressive French selection. Don’t miss Katla’s highly sought-after Margaritas served before or with the meal, or in the bar area, which serves food until 1.30am.
One of Oslo’s most exciting newcomers is Rest, tucked away just off Kirkegata. Here, chef Jimmy Øien has taken the no-waste philosophy to a new level.
The name of the restaurant refers to ‘leftovers’, and the goal is to work towards zero waste, which involves using ingredients that no one else wants.
It could be parts of the animal that are too difficult for most chefs to make into something delicious, or ingredients considered to be out of date when in fact they are better than ever.
Even the plates at Rest are made from leftovers such as old oyster shells and chicken feet. It might not seem inviting to eat leftovers, but Øien will convince anyone having doubts.
For something a little more classical, Statholdergaarden is a safe choice. In a charming 17th-century building in the city centre, Bocuse d’Or winner Bent Stiansen has been offering lavish dining for a quarter of a century.
For Oslo, this is the obvious choice for special occasions and celebrations. It is old-fashioned, in a beautifully positive way, with tablecloths reaching the floor, and attentive and polished service. The six-course tasting menu will not disappoint.
Territoriet wine bar
As for the wine scene in Oslo, wine bars are popping up one after the other like mushrooms in the Scandinavian forests. A favourite among wine lovers in Oslo is Territoriet, an intimate wine bar in an area that’s bustling with bars and restaurants.
The wine list includes everything from easygoing Cava to top Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundy, as well as boutique producers from the USA or South Africa – and it offers almost 400 wines by the glass.
Best restaurants in Copenhagen
Whether you’re looking for a bistro or a Michelin-star restaurant, you should find something that fits the bill in Copenhagen. The restaurant scene is among the world’s most innovative, and caters to all budgets, tastes and situations.
The food and wine renaissance here began, of course, with Noma. In 2003, chef René Redzepi opened the doors to what became a milestone for Danish gastronomy and New Nordic cuisine.
In 2018, following a year’s hiatus, the restaurant reopened in a new, lakeside location in Christiania, the former base of an experimental anarchist community that proclaimed itself self-governing and self-sufficient. Here, chef Redzepi has greenhouses and gardens from which he sources the ingredients for his highly acclaimed summer menu.
Forced to close its doors during the pandemic, the famous restaurant adapted by selling cocktails and hamburgers outdoors. This summer, Noma reopened again and was awarded a third Michelin star in September.
Over the past 10 years, Copenhagen’s restaurants have developed an even stronger focus on making exquisite meals from local, seasonal ingredients. Copenhagen continues to surprise, time after time, and today there are 14 Michelin-star restaurants in the city. Still, it offers a wide range of culinary experiences, formal and informal, innovative and traditional.
Copenhagen is also one of the world’s largest hubs for natural wine. A favourite spot is the informal and passionate Ancestrale wine bar in the Vesterbro area.
Once famous as the red-light district, today the area houses an eclectic mix of fashion stores, sex shops, bars, restaurants and family living.
At Ancestrale you can expect mouthwatering small plates and a great selection of natural wine from all over the world. And you’ll also undoubtedly experience the homely ‘hygge’ – the Danish concept of finding comfort, pleasure and warmth in simple, soothing things such as a cosy atmosphere or the feeling of friendship.
A rising star since its opening in 2017 is Mes, owned by chef Mads Rye Magnusson, the former chef at three-star Michelin Geranium. The motto of this inviting little restaurant, set across the street from Orsteds Park, is ‘affordable luxury’.
Creativity and playfulness are the guiding principles here, whether it is about interior design, the wine in the glass, or the menu that changes frequently.
Mes is a perfect stop for anyone wanting to expand their culinary vision without breaking the bank. The simple ‘snacks’ are excellent, for example blinis with smoked cheese cream, pickled beetroot, and sweetcorn croquette with browned butter, tarragon and chicken skin mayo.
The wine list puts a lot of focus on Germany and Jura, two of the chef’s favourite wine regions.
You can’t leave Copenhagen without eating the traditional smørrebrød (literally meaning ‘buttered bread’).
Essentially it is an open-faced sandwich, usually made with rye sourdough bread, and comprising different combinations of seafood, meat, vegetables and condiments, typically enjoyed with a local beer or aquavit spirit.
For a particularly innovative version, you could head to Selma, where Swedish chef Magnus Pettersson has renewed the Danish tradition. He offers an à la carte menu with, for example, a smørrebrød with new potatoes, chicken skin, leek, hazelnuts, elderflower and cress.
There is also an affordable set menu, and a large selection of local craft beers from Mikkeller on tap.
John’s Hotdog Deli
Finally, John’s Hotdog Deli has legendary status in Copenhagen. From his humble food truck by the central train station, John Michael Jensen serves the best hot dogs in town.
Maybe it is due to the quality meat from Hallegaard on Bornholm island, the homemade toppings, or the hot, hot sauce? Don’t be surprised to meet some of the aforementioned chefs in the queue if you go for a late-night snack.
New Nordic: at the heart of Scandinavian food
The Swedish travel and food writer Anna Norström describes the new Nordic cuisine in the following way: ‘The New Nordic cuisine is perhaps not so new anymore. Today it’s referred to as just “Nordic”.
‘Behind it all is a food manifesto initiated by restaurateur, author and Noma co-founder Claus Meyer in 2004 and signed by many Nordic chefs, including René Redzepi of Noma and Mathias Dahlgren from Sweden.
‘It changed the way we look upon food in the Nordics. Instead of looking to French cuisine as the only authentic fine dining, we started acknowledging our own surroundings – and what we have here.
‘Currently at the top of the World’s 50 Best list for the fifth time, Noma has been the restaurant most closely connected with this kitchen style. Its core values are local sourcing, using and preserving local produce – and reconnecting to our Nordic food heritage so that old methods and thinking don’t disappear. The global comeback of the use of fermentation, has much to do with this.
‘The strength of the manifesto that underlies the Nordic cuisine is that it can be implemented anywhere – just take out “Nordic” and add your own.’