Fäviken has been described as one of the best restaurants in the world located in the middle of nowhere. And it kind of is. Part of a hunting lodge in northern Sweden, the restaurant is in a remote area of the country. And I have to admit, that was part of its appeal.
On a lark, I decided to email to see about the possibility of getting a seat. Low and behold a few weeks later, I got a reply saying there was a seat at the communal “gate leg” table. I checked for cheap flights (luckily the reservation was 4 weeks out) from Estonia and the hotels the restaurant recommended in Åre, Sweden (cute ski village worth a visit), located about 30 minutes away, and then confirmed that I would be there. A month later Chef Magnus Nilsson and a bunch of staff was on hand to greet me and the others as we walked into Fäviken.
I admit, I was a little star struck. When you travel this far for a meal, service and making people feel welcomed, that they are embarking on an “experience” makes sense, it is just as important as the food. (Just read the recent 2-star The New York Times review of Per Se, if you don’t believe me). I was seated at the table with seven strangers, all foodies, but as the drinks were poured and we began talking, it felt like dinner with friends.
The food came out like clockwork. You could tell the staff had done this dance many times before. And the cellphones came out as we started taking pictures of the courses and the wines involved in the wine pairing.
Fävike has a reputation of being hyperlocal. All there food providers are nearby, they grow their own food and store it for the winter months and they forage. Basically, I knew what to expect, but didn’t really know what to expect on the dinner table. All the food was good or used flavors I’d never tried before, but now, a couple of weeks later, a couple of things stand out:
- Vegtables! Thankfully, there was a lot of vegtables on the plate! One of my favorite bites was this wheat cracker with carrot salad and “tasty paste.” That carrot chip was amazing, sweet and savory in one bite.
- Trying new things. I was an incredibly picky eater growing up (and well into my 20's), but I ate things at this dinner that I never would have 10 years ago and foods, frankly, I hadn’t even heard about. In this case, I think ignorance is bliss…yummy, tasty bliss.
3. It’s not all bells and whistles. I’ve been to restaurants that are about reinventing food, using different techniques and chemicals to change people’s perception of food. Some of them have been great, others so-so. What I liked about Fäviken was that cooks were creative and had technique, but you could tell they also mastered the basics. The dish that I loved was the most was the retired dairy cow. A plain, but well cooked piece of beef that melted in the mouth, that I wish I could order up right now.
4. Food is fun. The last two dishes that stand out in my mind was the Lupin curd gratin, which reminded me of mac and cheese. I’m sure that’s not what any chef wants to hear, but I love mac and cheese. And it made something that looked like tofu, the tastiest small bite of the night. The was the Brown cheese pie and gompa. What I loved about this wasn’t the taste (it was good and sweet, which I loved, but not all my table mates enjoyed), but the whimsy and fun of the presentation. That smiling face made me smile.
And that sense of fun extended to the wine pairing. Frank our server/sommelier found an old bottle of birch wine in the cellar and decided to serve it to us. He warned us he didn’t know if it would be good or bad, but we were up for whatever that dusty, green, no-labeled bottle had in store. I loved it. My table maybe not so much.
5. People matter. As much as I enjoyed the food, I think what I’ll remember most about dinner at Fäviken is the people. Our table started as 4 separate groups, but by the end of the night I knew how people met and couples fell in love, about their jobs (the good and the bad), where they wanted to eat or travel and what brought them to this table. I’ll also remember Frank, the cooker of Sunday roast, friendly, informative and taker of any request we had (like getting most of the staff to sign my copy of the Nordic Cook Book), John, one of the cooks that night, who came out to the table because some were worried about the lack of vegetables on his Sunday roast Saturday dinner plate, and the Chef, who cheerfully posed for picture after picture with our table after a long night in the kitchen.
Would I travel this far for a meal again? Probably not. But would I travel this far for the experience? Without a doubt, yes.