Planning a trip is just a tad less stressful when my uncle and aunt host. On our most recent trip to Stockholm, they literally thought of everything. Just the right amount of sightseeing, some shopping and exactly the right restaurants for experiencing what Stockholm’s food scene has been up to recently. Our trip to Rosendal’s Trädgård was as memorable as our night of fine dining with a view up in Gondolen, followed by craft cocktails at Tak rooftop bar. Add to that a traditional kräftskiva (Swedish crayfish party with hats and everything…) and countless wonderful smörgåsbords for breakfast, a lamb grill and a delicious marzipan prinsesstårta, and it really will seem like we tried a month’s worth of Swedish specialties over a period of just 4 days. For our last meal before the airport, my aunt and cousin took us to an effortlessly vibey restaurant and lounge called Himlen on the 26th floor of the Skrapan skyscraper in the Södermalm district.
The floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the restaurant offer spectacular views of Stockholm’s less touristy but equally gorgeous neighborhoods, long rows of colorful houses and the water sparkling in the distance. It would be our last chance to check off our bucket list one of the most cliche Swedish dishes in existence. I’m quite sure this crossed my aunt’s mind too as she booked a table for lunch that day.
We started with a classic Skagen Toast, loaded with fresh shrimp and some beautiful slices of smoked salmon. Lain over all that seafood was a poached egg and a generous mound of freshly shaved horseradish to mix in with the velvety yolk oozing everywhere. Ben and I had already tasted a Skagen Toast with salmon at Östermalms Saluhall the day before, but this version was particularly good. The paper-thin slice of bread was there just to give some textural contrast to the many forkfuls of subtly sweet shrimp, salmon and egg. A delicious and light choice before the plane, though I would even say there was maybe too much shrimp piled on for one person. This dish might be better as an appetizer to share than as an individual dish.
Next up, the famous köttbullar (a.k.a. Swedish meatballs). I must admit that the most recent variation on this dish that I’ve had came frozen in a big plastic IKEA bag. And while the defrosted and oven-baked meatballs somehow manage to be simultaneously dry and greasy, I am somewhat ashamed to say that I enjoy them, especially dipped in good mustard. Himlen’s version has effectively ruined for me that pathetic counterfeit, perhaps for good. These were hands-down the best Swedish meatballs I’ve ever tasted, and perhaps even some of the best meatballs in general. Juicy little balls of veal and pork mixed up with soggy bread for creaminess and cooked to a perfectly tender texture, with some of the exterior slightly charred. The meatballs sit in a puddle of heavenly gräddsås, a gravy-like cream sauce with a gorgeous orange hue, no doubt made from the pan-stickings of the meat diluted in fresh Swedish dairy. The sauce added a wonderful toasty, salty flavor to both the meatballs and the gorgeous potato puree served alongside. And finally, no köttbullar is complete without lingonberries, these bright red beads that add so much zest, freshness and tartness to balance the rich meatballs and equally voluptuous sauce. The lingonberries bleed their juice into the bowl, combining with the gräddsås to form a mouthwatering sauce to dunk the balls into.
I didn’t think it could get much better than the classic Swedish meatballs until I tried my aunt’s wallenbergare, one big meatball (or patty?) made with ground veal, egg yolk and cream, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. This dish is decadence extraordinaire. It is heavenly soft and sumptuous, with each bite revealing an abundance of fresh cream mixed in with top quality meat. Expertly made, this wallenbergare also featured a heavenly layer of breadcrumbs tightened up into a firm and crunchy crust that contrasted perfectly with the unbelievably juicy and soft interior. As if this dish wasn’t luxurious enough already, it came served with skirat smör (clarified butter) that was, nevertheless, balanced by the bright red juice flooding out of the lingonberries. Also in the bowl, a generous pile of bright green peas and the same smooth potato puree. A top notch dish indeed.
Finally, Himlen also offers a thick slab of gorgeous Cantonese-style roasted pork belly. Caramelized and crunchy skin that I heard smack, crackle and pop across the table. It comes served in a classic combination with apples and cabbage. And on the side the gorgeous little round potatoes that I’ve seen everywhere in Stockholm, often dressed up in dill and parsley. Here they were left alone to soak up the sauce that marinated the pork.