Rare is the restaurant that grabs a hold of me and then completely blows me away. In fact, the only encounter I can recall occurred at Central in Lima, Peru [currently listed at number 4 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list].
How lucky I was to have the opportunity to re-live that feeling once more. Fäviken was like nowhere I have ever been and is unlikely to be matched by anywhere I will ever go. I left knowing that I had experienced something truly, truly special.
Housed in an eighteenth century barn, this remote fine dining restaurant currently holds two Michelin stars and is presently listed at number 41 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. With a heavy focus on foraging and fermenting, Chef Magnus Nilsson delivers bold, unadulterated flavours by serving up traditional Scandinavian food that has been creatively transformed.
The meal itself was strange, wonderful, sometimes challenging, usually delicious and always magical. Over the course of the evening, I was confronted with new flavours, new textures, new ingredients…and a new appreciation. It is so much more than a restaurant. And this was so much more than dinner. It was a journey, a lesson and an experience.
Follow along with my photo-fuelled story of this fairy tale!
Beginning in Stockholm, we underwent a 600 kilometre road trip north to the rugged Swedish landscape of Jamtland. As much as thirty minutes would sometimes pass without meeting a single car as we drove through a seemingly endless expanse of lakes, pine forest and meadows filled with wild flowers.
Arriving was surreal. Feeling a little uncertain, we took a turn off the main road [and by ‘main’, I actually mean ‘paved’] and headed down a dirt track that lined a picturesque lake. Just as we thought we had gone wrong, we tipped over the the crest of a hill and were presented with a vista of green that culminated on an enclave of traditional wooden houses. Fäviken.
Dropping our belongings in our minimally-dressed but comfortable room, we skipped downstairs for a few pre-dinner drinks. With a view into the outward-facing kitchen, we watched the chefs prep and cook as the sun began to set. Intermittently, various members of the team would run out into the surrounding fields and forest to gather additional ingredients. Ah, to live from the land.
When the timing was right, we were ushered into the downlit reception room of the ancient barn and offered a cosy table with sofa-style seating that faced a roaring fireplace, which formed the focal point of the warm wooden interior. Apparently worn by Magnus when foraging in the winter months, I immediately spotted the famed 200 year old wolf fur hanging off to one side. As for the rest of the decor, cured meat and fish hung lazily from the rafters and bunches of dried herbs and flowers graced the walls. Elegance in simplicity.
A huge glass vat filled with a pleasingly bitter house made rhubarb negroni was dramatically presented to us table-side [from which our glasses were constantly filled] and the parade of snacks began.
Classic Swedish sausage with fermented carrots.
Linseed cracker with vinegar and blue shell mussel dip.
Wholegrain wheat cracker with carrot salad and carrot seeds.
Dashi-style broth with the leaves of last fall, smoked and dried reindeer, crowberries and moss topping a fresh cheese curd.
Meadow flowers collected from the fields surrounding Fäviken in a crust of dried pigs blood.
Dripping-braised pig’s head coated in sourdough, deep fried and served with pickled rhubarb and tarragon salt.
Bird’s liver custard with malted cabbage, black garlic, unripe red currants and flower buds.
Cheek of sow salt-cured for one year.
After pre-dinner schnacks, we were invited upstairs to the main dining room where the feasting continued. First up – and one of my favourite dishes of the evening – were these huge Norwegian scallops cooked in their shell over an open fire of juniper ashes and birch. Served with their own juices, these were to be eaten in two bites with wanting little fingers. Pure, simple and intense.
King crab fried in a dried pan, sprayed with vinegar and served with almost burnt cream. Absolutely awesome – another favourite.
Hot-roasted lamb tongue according to Cajsa Warg with brined vegetables.
Mackerel that was delicately cooked by holding a basket of spruce needles and charcoal over the skin. Served with fermented jerusalem artichoke.
Sourdough pancake with seaweed and beef butter.
Lupin treated as a soy bean to create a curd similar to silken tofu and served as a gratin with fresh flowers and leaves. Mind blowing.
Quail egg conserved in ash and served with a dipping sauce of dried trout and pickled marigold.
Steamed beetroot, cream and Finnish fish roe.
Mutton with fermented, roasted and finely ground lupin.
Set broth with leaves and roasted oats.
Colostrum [i.e. the first milk produced by the mammary glands of a cow after it gives birth] with meadowsweet [a perennial herb] served in a meringue shell.
Raw jerusalem artichoke and dark-roasted cereals.
Ice cream flavoured with silage, the grass or green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions without first being dried…it is used as animal feed during the winter months.
‘Potato Dream’ – a take on the classic Swedish ‘Dream Cookie’, this was constructed of potato biscuits held together with a potato caramel.
Brown cheese pie with gompa, a savoury yoghurt-like dip made from cultured milk and herbs. Dark, smooth and caramel-ridden.
Back downstairs for coffee and petit fours, the next parade of treats began, starting with these frozen wild raspberry bon bons.
Bone marrow pudding with frozen milk. Set alight at the table, the custard was topped with a brûlée-style sugar crust.
Sugar-coated, semi-dried pickled root vegetables.
A ‘Meat Pie’ consisted of birch sap and dried reindeer meat that was then smoked. The crust was made of sunflower seeds.
A ‘Sweet Box’ filled with tar pastilles, meadowsweet caramels, dried rowanberry, smoked toffee, sunflower nougat and dried blackcurrants.
Sun-ripened berries plucked from the forests and fields surrounding Fäviken.
A collection of dragées featured aromatic seeds from the garden and found growing wild in the fields surrounding Fäviken. Coated in sugar and extract from the plant for colour and flavour, these included coriander, mint, mustard, dill and anise.
Magnus’ Swedish snuff, grown on the property and fermented in an old bitters barrel.
And to finish, house made liqueurs with flavours that included rhubarb, duck yolk, sour cream and blackcurrant.
We retired to the teepee outside to round off the evening with cigars and a nightcap. One conversation lead to another and we suddenly found ourselves in the wee hours of the morning. Time spent laughing in that cosy space lit by an open fire was time well spent…a perfect end to a perfect night.
I struggle to find adequate wording when it comes to describing what Fäviken brought me. Sure, with some dishes edging nearer towards the realm of ‘interesting’ as opposed to actually just being good, not everything was my cup of tea. However, there was an overriding sense of time and place that that surely runs unrivalled. From start to finish, I could not help but feel that I was, at that very moment, living and breathing something really special. It didn’t feel real.
The overall experience came down to every last detail…the journey that ended in witnessing a heartfelt vision brought to life, complete immersion in the idyllic setting and the unforgettable night that unfolded. As I said from the get-go, very few meals have impacted me in the way that this one did.
Testament to this is that weeks have now passed and I am still dreaming of the fairy tale that was Fäviken. And I think I will be for a few many more.