By Julia Champtaloup
By Julia Champtaloup
Arriving at Fäviken Magasinet, a restaurant renowned for its eccentric and original style of cooking, one is struck by its setting in a hamlet-like compound of 19th century converted barns. Fäviken was a former moose hunting estate that now exudes Swedish country charm and style after recent renovations. Despite being located in a ‘remote’ area in the heart of northwest Sweden’s forested wilderness, the restaurant has become ‘required’ on many foodie bucket lists.
The restaurant’s location requires culinary pilgrims to embark on a considered journey. By car, it is a 470-mile drive from Stockholm or an hour’s flight to Östersund, and then an hour by taxi. On a late November afternoon, with the sun already set, the evening’s prospective diners are welcomed by a blazing fire in a teepee in front of the restaurant, and offers of champagne and a visit to the sauna (for overnight guests). The restaurant itself is hidden away in the top of one of the beautifully converted barns and most guests opt for staying overnight in the newly built but perfectly designed minimalist accommodation.
Recognised as one the world’s most daring restaurants, Fäviken’s remoteness, unique culinary offerings and strict regime of locally hunted, foraged, fished, farmed and preserved ingredients, have earned its young chef, Magnus Nilsson, top awards and much praise. Coming from a family of local farmers, Nilsson put his knowledge to work on using local produce and animals to their best and most efficient use. This process also ensures he achieves the quality and consistency his strives for. He also incorporates cultural heritage and traditions into the preparation, cooking and presentation of the dishes in unique ways that are left better to surprise than description. Since opening Fäviken in 2008, Nilsson has been pushing the boundaries of hunter-gatherer cooking, evolving and refining the restaurant and the seasonal menu as he goes.
The restaurant is at full capacity every night that it is open, in every season. A table in summer is in high demand but reservations are easier to come by in the colder months. Diners are seated around simple wooden tables, with only 16 guests per dinner. Surprisingly, when Magnus started the restaurant he wondered if people would come to a place in the middle of nowhere, close to the Arctic Circle. But he rightly points out people are eager to go to a mountain village in Tuscany in search of a fine meal (travelling an hour and a half from Milan) so why wouldn’t they come to the north of Sweden?
In fact, the otherworldliness of the place is what makes it so incredibly special. What seems to be isolated is in fact a very busy place with many locals working as loyal employees. The seasons in Sweden are so distinct. Summer is extreme, and highly celebrated during the summer solstice. Colder seasons are mean and unreliable in terms of produce. Magnus and staff are active all year round, foraging, drying and pickling. Butchering takes place in a barn on the estate as does the drying and curing of meats The vegetable garden is abundant in the short summer and August brings cloudberries, carefully preserved and served on a beautiful breakfast porridge in winter. Nilsson also uses fire in his food, bringing the smell and taste of the wilderness into the restaurant.
The outcome of his cooking is not so much a taste of the seasons but a rather exaggerated confection, something contrived in the most intellectual and sometimes humorous ways. As a chef, Nilsson has reconnected to the earth in a way that pulls the heartstrings of many of the visitors, enhancing their experience beyond expectations.
Without revealing too much, (the menu and number of dishes is not revealed until you sit down for your aperitif) suffice to say dishes, like little birds perfectly cooked over an open fire, gently poached trout served with lichens or local duck eggs coated in ash, tantalise the palate throughout the evening. Garnishes of pickled vegetables, juniper, lichens, lavender and fermented juice of mushrooms add tastes of the forest floor and nearby meadows to dishes. Sweet courses such as colostrum with blueberries and a fine meringue or potato dream with caramel are also incredible, each course outdoing the previous, yet the creativity and taste sensations keep coming.
Here is a the kind of place we long to be – somewhere close to the land and earth, with fire, ice and stars but also an extraordinary sense of theatre. Nilsson has achieved success by creating a most unpretentious yet refined restaurant, while amusing himself and his guests at the same time.
Nilsson claims he is not planning to expand his restaurant any time soon (if ever), ensuring he can continue to do exactly what he wants without the pressure of an expanding empire. Staying focussed on presenting real food in one of the most beautiful places in the world seems to be his top priority and thank goodness for all of us who will be lucky enough to make the journey there.
Note: Overnight guests are treated to an unforgettable breakfast that almost rivals the dinner. This is one that has to be experienced and cannot be revealed.
Magnus Nilsson just released his lasted book The Nordic Cookbook – a compendium of Nordic cooking and culinary history.