Djurgården, there are few places like it. I wouldn’t mind getting lost here for hours, breathing in the remarkable freshness and quiet of the place before returning to the noisy city. One of the 24,000 scattered islands and islets making up Stockholm’s massive archipelago, the place is home to a vast array of historical buildings, natural areas and the world’s oldest open-air museum, the Skansen. Having visited Skansen already as a child and spent hours marvelling at the glass blowers and other artisans, I skipped it this time around. I think it’s funner to go as a child anyway. But as it turns out, Djurgården had something in store for 28-year-old Lili as well. Following the path of ultra-Swedish wooden buildings preserved from the 18th century, we arrived at Rosendals Trädgård, a gorgeous garden near the pretty pink Rosendals Palace.
In what is one of the most Swedish things I have ever heard, the garden is owned by the non-profit Rosendals Trädgårds Stiftelse trust fund and used to teach the public about biodynamic agriculture and the cultural effects of gardening.
The nature complex includes several glass greenhouses, housing a garden shop that specializes in seeds and tools, as well as a produce vendor selling fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the garden. There is even a little vineyard with grapes, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen grapes that green in August. Somehow I doubt they’ll be cranking out any Premier Crus anytime soon… One of the things I loved the most was the vast open-air garden full of flowers. Visitors are invited to take a walk among the various plots and pick whatever they want, then pay for their bouquet when leaving the garden. It all seems to be based on a trust system though, since there is nothing stopping visitors from not paying for their precious florals.
Further along, there is a greenhouse that has been transformed into a cafe, serving seasonal numnums made from the garden’s own biodynamically grown vegetables. The organic bread is baked in a wood fired stone oven in their own artisan bakery. Dishes are even decorated with flowers snipped fresh nearby. You really can’t get more farm-to-table or sustainable than this.
In the center of the greenhouse is a long table holding a buffet of various little goodies laid out and covered with netting. These are salty sandwiches and sweet treats perfect for fika, which is a Swedish tradition of “coffee break with snacks.” Collect a few of these and walk to the cashier, where the daily main dishes are also listed. There are heartier dishes for those who crave lunch, everything seasonal and super fresh. On another table to the right there is a pile of fresh bread and a ginormous block of butter to smear from. There is also coffee, a selection of wine and beer, and a soup of the day. As many of their products are taken straight from the garden, this cafe is perfect for vegetarians and vegans, while also satisfying more carnivorous appetites with their wide array of delicious dishes. I also imagine this is the ideal venue for any private event, wedding even.
I practically jumped at the first choice on the buffet line, and picked myself out a nice slice of their freshly baked artisanal bread smeared with fluffy goat cheese, and topped with a few piece of cherry tomato, good olive oil, salt, black pepper, fresh basil and shavings of a harder cheese. I could eat this, and just this, for lunch for a week. The bread was wonderful, considered some of the best in Stockholm, chewy and soft with a nice crust and a mildly yeasty flavor. The texture held up against the generous heap of crisp white goat cheese, which delivered a gorgeous acidity and mild barnyard flavor to the mix of vegetal olive oil and plump tomatoes. The simplest choice but by far my favorite.
My cousin ordered a thick and delicious soup, the perfect treat on a cool August (yes, August) afternoon in Sweden. Although the color hinted at pumpkin, the soup was also made with pureed kohlrabi, which left its signature flavor, that wonderful natural sweetness. The soup was accented with a drizzle of olive oil and a few toasted walnuts. Surprisingly autumnal for August but perfect considering the weather.
Another fika-hour open-sandwich was smeared with a thick and delicious chickpea puree and topped with a mound of thinly sliced ribbons of cooked green and yellow zucchini. I really enjoyed the mild nutty flavors of the chickpea puree which, with no sesame oil, was not really hummus but something lighter altogether. The zucchini was also cooked to a great texture, tender but with a bite, and the dusting of paprika over the top added a light heat to each bite.
Next up, a heartier fika sandie, but still very light and wonderfully fresh in flavor. This one comes topped with a light smearing of butter (no doubt, homemade), along with two or three layers of smoked ham, a cabbage coleslaw salad and slices of pickled red onion. It’s a gorgeous dish of pink and white, loaded with flavor. The smoked ham is positively meaty and lean, with very little fat but tremendous wood-smoke flavor that goes perfectly with the crunchy, creamy and slightly sweet coleslaw. The latter is also hydrated by just the right amount of mayonnaise and seasoned with the perfect dose of mustard seed. The onions, finally, add a tart finish to the mix.
And for dessert, this dense vegan ball made with nut, coconut shavings and dried flowers. A gorgeous little mess of colors and flavors, only slightly sweet from the coconut and molasses or honey used to bind it. I really enjoyed the gooey and moist texture of this treat, with some added crunch from the pieces of nut.
And then the nut roll, which was light, fluffy and moist rather than the dense, hard clump I was expecting to bite into. Various types of ground nuts are held together with something like eggwhite and baked until caramelized and crunchy.
Organic, biodynamic, sustainable… At Rosendals Trädgård Cafe this type of thing is done right, in a way I can only imagine the Swedish (and maybe the Japanese) succeeding at it. It’s not too difficult to access from the city center. It’s a wonderful place to rest and relax with healthy food in a beautiful natural setting. And after your meal – best enjoyed with a flute of sparkling wine – the garden awaits, offering the perfect take-away bouquet.