Hovering over Slussen in central Stockholm like a gigantic construction crane is Gondolen, a walkway forged in black metal, leading to the historic Katarinahissen (Katarina Elevator). Originally built in 1881, this passenger lift once served as a shortcut to the various levels of Södermalm Island. To understand just how old it is, imagine: it originally ran on a steam engine that was replaced by an electrical one in 1915. The walkway is now connected to a modern (but not very nice looking) building and the lift was closed to the public in 2010. Nevertheless, this structure has become a beloved emblem of the city, often referred to as “Sweden’s Eiffel Tower.”
Lining the bottom of the metallic pathway to Katarina Elevator is a space that has long served the people of Stockholm as a lookout point over their city. Originally inaugurated in the 1930’s by King Gustav V, Gondolen restaurant has, during its almost century-old history, changed hands several times. In the 90’s Swedish Celebrity Chef Erik Lallerstedt took over the challenge of restoring the space and created a restaurant serving classic Swedish fare with an elegant twist to enjoy with a side of stunning views.
On our last evening in Stockholm we met my uncle and aunt for dinner here and took a seat in front of windows that boasted an endless panorama over the Stockholm archipelago, Gamla Stan, Slussen, the Port and Gröna Lund in the distance… Come to think of it, Ben and I actually spent much of our Sweden trip in high-up places: a rooftop tour (only one like it in the world), lunchtime at Himlen, cocktails at Tak… But by far the most impressive of them was Gondolen, sticking straight out into Stockholm’s gorgeous historical center with sweeping views over it all. The restaurant itself is certainly cozier than what I was expecting, despite being simultaneously very elegant. It’s formal but not stuffy. There’s a large, round dining room inside the building with views over the Gamla Stan. We sat in the slightly less formal bar area, still furnished with beautifully set, white linen topped tables. The rounded ceiling, big windows, wooden floors and comfy leather furnishings reminded me of being inside some sort of beautiful boat, suspended in the sky and surrounded by cloud. The service is perfect, the wine list exquisite and the cocktail bar in the center of the restaurant warrants a visit to the place on its own. We sat and ordered a bottle of bubbly, followed by a fresh Chablis to match what would be a mostly seafood-based meal. Bread service arrived tableside soon after: a roll, a kind of fresh potato bread and (it wouldn’t be Sweden without) some large sheets of crunchy rye knäckebröd with creamy butter to start.
To start, we ordered some deconstructed Toast Skagen with a light pink and white heap of shrimp salad with buttered toast triangles served on the side. The salad was ethereal, the fresh and naturally sweet bits of shrimp bound only very lightly by the mayonnaise, and flavored with some fresh dill running through. Topping the mound was bright orange trout roe, full of murky seaside brine that contributed plenty of flavor to the dish and nudged the shrimp to remind it of its origin.
I ordered some Kalix Löjrom, which is the roe of a small fish called vendace. This product is the only Swedish one so far to be granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and is commonly served at royal dinners and Nobel Prize banquets. The caviar is incredibly fine and slightly coarse on the tongue, bright orange in color with a nice mild taste. A very generous quenelle of the stuff was served with a heavenly smooth crème fraiche, some bright red onions and slices of buttered toast on the side. A complete bite included the crunchy, nutty, warm toast, smeared with the cool cream, topped with a juicy dollop of caviar and a few pieces of red onion (but not enough to mask the delicate flavor of the roe) sprinkled on. An upgrade, I will admit, from Kalles Kaviar.
The most popular dish at our table (ordered by 3 out of 4 of us) was the White Wine Poached Hake, which came plated in an exquisite cream sauce, seasoned with tarragon. The flaky, smooth pieces of fish were mixed up with some mussels, a scallop or two, some tender baby vegetables (baby carrots, grilled asparagus), juicy layers of bright white onion, some spring radish shaved over the top and fresh horseradish to mix in. It was a creamy white, subtly sweet mess of soft and softer textures, everything beautifully cooked and impossibly delicate.
And then there was my ballsier Gondolen Fish and Shellfish Casserole, similar to a San Franciscan cioppino. The collection of ingredients in this thing was quite amazing: white fish, mussels, scallops and shrimp with carrots, zucchini, potatoes and mushroom all swimming in a tomato-based sauce spiced up with chili. Served on the side were some crunchy croutons and creamy garlic aioli to munch along with the soup. I delicious dish and very generous with both ingredients and portion, though it lacked a tiny bit of salt, and the flavors of the broth seemed to overwhelm a bit the more delicate taste of the seafood inside. Very good, nevertheless; but on retrospect I regret not also ordering the hake.
As an extra side dish, we also tried some of the baby potatoes dressed in parsley and dill that seem ubiquitous around Stockholm. These are wonderful, with a tight skin and buttery interior.
And for dessert, a Crème Chiboust with coconut, freeze-dried and fresh strawberries and a quenelle of lemongrass ice cream. Fresh and creamy with a subtle hint of florals, complemented by the perfect tartness of the berries. A wonderful pairing with my last sip of wine.