Saturday 12 May 2012

Blind Date with a Swedish Chef

Blogging has its perks and one of them is befriending MsMarmitelover. We met when we both started to blog at the same time more than three years ago and we have remained chums ever since. She knows me well; I deplore and object to freebies and ‘invites’ to review restaurants but a blind date with a Swedish chef at her place sounded entirely plausible and exceptional. It rekindled memories of the 10-10-10 Menu at the Blueprint Café.

 The above ‘date’ was organised by the folks from the West Sweden Tourism Board and VisitSweden. It was one of four dinners cooked by well-known Swedish chefs and held simultaneously at the homes of four leading London food bloggers: Tamarind & Thyme, CookSister, The London Foodie and of course, Marms. It was a memorable event that I’ll treasure to bits!

The chef assigned to cook using Marm’s Aga was Gustav Trägårdh (Sweden’s Chef of the Year, 2010). He’s Sweden’s definitive fish guru and a classically trained chef who plies his trade at Sjömagasinet, a famous seafood restaurant in Gothenburg.

The meal-
First course. Contrary to what the menu suggested a medley of sill (herrings) was served instead of prawns. But the latter was retained as a kind of a token dish to break up the monotony of the pickled clupeids.
It came with a basket of wonderful crisp breads and the mother of all rye breads. The rye bread was reminiscent of our malt loaf but tasted fresher and less stodgy.
From the horse’s mouth- 
Chef Trägårdh’s own hand-written description of what to expect of the first course. Can I just add that chefs write like GPs do, i.e. illegible and indecipherable.
1. Inlagd sill- plain pickled herring. Please do not confuse this with the rollmop crap one finds at Tesco’s or Asda’s!
2. Senapssill- mustard sauce herring.
3. Prästost- literally priest’s cheese and has been matured for three years.
4. Kaviar matjes- herring in cod roe mayonnaise, I believe.
5. Basilika- basil sauce herring.
6. Rökt tomat- herring with smoked tomatoes and made even more enticing with the addition or fresh miniature tomatoes.
7. Räksallad- literally prawn salad. Or alternatively Skagenröra or Skagen salad with shrimps. I see it as an authentically posh prawn mayo.
8. Kumminost- cumin flavoured cheese loaded with additional allspice and cloves.

NB it’s worth noting the entire sill dishes listed above involve the herring being faithfully cured in a solution containing the three vital ingredients of water, sugar and ättika (strong Swedish vinegar). The Swedes call the procedure ‘1-2-3 lag’ (thanks Maria H.).

The first course was served with a refreshing Riesling from the Alsace ('Les Princes Abbés' 2009 Domaines Schlumberger) and a strange beer.
The Lunator hails from Grebbestad on the western coast of Sweden. And it’s brewed during the first full moon night of the year. It was fruity, smooth but ultimately too lightweight for my liking, give me a pint of Moorhouse Black Cat any day!

Everything on the plate tasted memorable, so much so that I’ve decided to include herrings as part of last meal. My favourites were the basil infused sill, the crack-like caviar variety and that outstanding cumin cheese.

Main course of West Coast cod served with smoked quail eggs, golden citronette butter, Grebbestad anchovy and oysters, and not forgetting the carbs element of new potatoes. A buttery and fragrant Meursault (forgot the name) accompanied the course.
I don’t usually order cod when I dine out, I prefer the oily varieties like mackerel or the humble sardine but if I’m forced to choose from a menu consisting only of white fish then it has to be turbot (I'm currently skint) haddock. Lobster is bland and overrated when compared to a good king prawn, well the same goes for cod when pitched against the much more flavourful haddock. The cod dish served by Gustav implicated it was time for me set my prejudices against Britain’s favourite fish aside. As expected the cod was flawlessly cooked; the richness of the herb-infused oyster, umami-laden anchovies and pickled cucumber sauce lifted the fillet to a level beyond words.
Oh did I mention the smoked quail eggs; well they were equally emotive as well! If I’m going to sample another cod dish in the future it has to be cooked only by Gustav, that man understands cod like no one else.
Meanwhile, in between the mains and pudding course-

A night at MsMarmitelover’s wouldn’t be complete without experiencing one of Kerstin’s historic moments. Here Gustav was accosted and challenged. As recalled by her-

''I just remember me shouting and drinking and laughing and asking if salty liquorice gave Gustav erection problems''

Gustav’s facial expression suggested all Vikings are naturally impervious to the said dysfunction. Desserts!
The pudding- Chef Trägårdh’s signature vanilla cheese cake with a rhubarb trio and white chocolate praline filled with liquorice. It was paired with a sweet and an intense Monteolivo Moscato d'Asti.

Disclosure- I’m not keen on rhubarb but the salty liquorice somewhat contributed to me licking the platter clean.

I had a great night and it was one of the best dinners I’ve been to in a while. Thank you MsMarmitelover for the invite, big hugs and thanks to Gustav and his intern Jay for the amazing dinner. And likewise to both the lovely Maria Zihammou and Anna Hjerdin from West Sweden Tourism Board and VisitSweden. As well as hey! to my two other dining companions, Maria Grist and Sienna.

Tack och adjö, does anyone have the phone number for Saga Norén?


thora said...

Love it, looks like fish heaven. I eat all kinds of fish, in fact everything that lives in the sea, in lakes or rivers. Beautiful pics, would have enjoyed more of Gustav and his intern.

Keep fingers crossed tonight! Berlin: BVB vs. Bayern. German cup final.

Su-Lin said...

I loved seeing what regions the rest of the bloggers got! Love the look of the spread of herring... dying to try the basil one.

bellaphon said...

Thora- 5-2!!! Great news for Chelsea!

Su-Lin- Looking forwards to your write-up :)

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Great pix as usual.
The herring and the rye malt bread were sublime.
A great night, such a treat to be cooked for by Gustav and Jay.

Maria Zihammou said...

The herring with cured lag and allspice works any time for me. It was great joy meeting you and read your blogg. What a super photographer you are!
Hope to meet you again.
Please keep me posted on interesting food to write London!!!

isekai no kami said...

Thanks for the ppost