The weather that evening was vile – all stormy and windy and with a windchill below zero – and I didn’t want to venture far from my hotel. I was staying in the Scandic Alvik and while there’s a good supermarket and good cafes nearby, there are few restaurants in the area. It’s in a good spot though as the train gets you into central Stockholm quickly but that night really was something; I needed somewhere to eat close by. I did note a cute restaurant at the end of the street by the water on Google maps and heck, that restaurant – Sjöpaviljongen – turned out to not just be by the water but on the water. They found a table for me right by the open fire (I must have looked like a drenched rat) and I am forever grateful to them for it. Service was exceptional that evening and I was made to feel most welcome.

Open Fire!

The selection of bread that was brought over was divine. My favourite was a sweet-ish dark bread that was utterly divine with lashings of the accompanying whipped butter. I could have eaten the whole lot if I didn’t have lots to look forward to.

Bread and Butter

My first course of Råbiff på svenskt gårdskött, ramslökskräm, betor, kapris och sommartryffel (Steak tartar on Swedish meat, ramsons, beetroots, capers and summer truffle, 165 SEK) was beautiful, all delicate little things tossed together with contrasts in every bite. Slivers of fried potato gave the whole mixture a lovely little crunch.

Råbiff på svenskt gårdskött, ramslökskräm, betor, kapris och sommartryffel

I was extremely happy with my Sjöpaviljongens fisk- och skaldjursgryta med aioli (Fish- and shellfish casserole with aioli, 199 SEK) – again another little break from cream. There was salmon, cod, another white fish I couldn’t identify, shrimps, crayfish, and mussels all mixed up in this tomato based broth with fennel, onions and dill. A little slurp of soup, a little dollop of aioli on my fish….mmm… I’m salivating just thinking about this.

Sjöpaviljongens fisk- och skaldjursgryta med aioli

It was lovely and cosy in there and I wished I didn’t need to head back to hotel! The photo below shows you the inside and its coziness reminded me of many of the traditional Swedish restaurants I visited when I visited West Sweden a few years back.

Sjöpaviljongen

I loved the place so much I returned later that week for another dinner, this time with colleagues. And this time the weather was gorgeous (such a change less than a week later!) and we had drinks prior to the meal on the deck on the water. We could look out upon the calm waters across to Kristineberg (another Stockholm district).

This time I started with Toast Skagen med kalixlöjrom (Toast with a mix of prawns, dill and mayonnaise and a fish roe topping, 129 SEK), quite a common classic Swedish starter.

Toast Skagen

I was really looking forward to my main course of Biff Rydberg med rå äggula och senapsgrädde (Biff Rydberg with egg yolk and creamy mustard, 259 SEK); I was thinking about it all day since we had to choose our dishes in advance for such a large group. This was fabulous – a kind of luxurious version of the classic Swedish pyttipanna, which is a hash of potatoes, onions, and meat. And here there was fried potatoes, fried onions, fried pieces of fillet steak and a raw egg to hold it all together. Oh, and a butter sauce. Delicious.

Biff Rydberg

A final photo of the restaurant!

Sjöpaviljongen

If you go, do make a booking if you can – the best way to contact them is via their email address on their website.

Sjöpaviljongen
Tranebergs Strand 4
167 40 Bromma
Stockholm
Sweden

Apparently Friday nights are taco nights in Sweden. There’s some understanding (thanks to a clearly ridiculously successful marketing campaign) that Friday nights are for cosy nights in with tacos (or pizza) and junk food; there’s even a word for it – Fredagsmys (cosy Friday). Swedish tacos are … very different from Mexican tacos and perhaps are more similar to those eaten of the Old El Paso kit variety here in the UK. Actually there are some clear differences from these as well as this hilarious Reddit post illustrates.

Anyway, I thought of this tradition as I munched away on some excellent Mexican food in Sweden. We’ll rewind to half an hour prior to proper tacos – after a few days of butter and cream, I couldn’t face another very rich cream-laden Swedish meal. I contemplated the highly rated vegan Chinese place near my Airbnb flat but when I saw the reviews for La Neta, a Mexican joint just a little further walk away, tacos tacos tacos consumed my mind.

The restaurant on Barnhusgatan is tiny – it’s a basement joint with a large kitchen (I believe they make their tortillas on site) and shared dining tables and a counter by the window. Queue at the till, place your order, find a seat, and pick up your order when your buzzer goes.

I had one each of the tacos on offer that day: Tacos de Pastor (marinated pork with pineapple), Suadero (a slow cooked beef), Bistec (grilled steak). They were 22 kr each and were served on homemade corn tortillas.

Tacos

Of course, tacos are not complete without a salsa bar – and I’m glad to report that La Neta had a little one! I added the chopped onions and coriander and helped myself to the green and red salsas on offer. From what I can see on Instagram, their salsas are made fresh each day. They were perfect – the tacos and the salsas. The meats were all tender and flavourful and tacos just looked right. An aside: I read recently that La Neta was opened by two natives of Monterey, California, both of whom missed the Mexican food they could get easily back home – these were legit tacos.

Tacos and Salsas

There were quesadillas too.

Quesadillas

had a Rajas (poblano chili, courgette, corn, onion and philadelphia – 28 kr) …

Rajas

… and a Choripapa (potato, chili, onion and chorizo – 28 kr). Both were excellent and of note was the Mexican chorizo which was totally on point.

Choripapa

My Mexican dinner hit the spot – and fret not, I went straight back to trying more Swedish foods after my palate was refreshed here. There are freshly made tortilla chips and larger tacos in flour tortillas too. And you can even buy their freshly made corn tortillas by the kilo. I love this place!

La Neta
Barnhusgatan 2
111 23, Stockholm

There’s a second branch on Södermalm.

Head south from Gamla Stan in Stockholm and you’ll pass the metro station Slussen. In front of the station is a large square that will be filled with the usual fruit stands and flower stands; somewhere towards the back will be this van, with its large fish sign emblazoned with ‘Nystekt Strömming’.

Nystekt Strömming

The name of the van translates to ‘Freshly Fried Herring’ and yup, that’s all they do here. There are options to have your fried herring in a burger bun, or on some brown bread as an open faced sandwich, or as a ‘meal’, which is the option I chose. This was my small fried herring plate that came with mashed potatoes, pickled cucumber, sliced onions, coleslaw, and a piece of knäckebröd. I think this was about 60 kr (SEK). There are a few tables on which to park yourself though if the weather is nice, there’s plenty of ledges on which to sit around the area.

Small Herring Plate

I do believe fried herring is now my favourite herring preparation – I love the flavour of the oily fish when cooked like this! The fish was fresh and tender and not at all fishy and the salads help cut through any richness you may find. I wish I’d had more opportunity to try the rest of the menu; the burger looked great as did the open sandwich. Or if you don’t find yourself in the area, you can find fried herring at some traditional Swedish restaurants too (more on that later).

It’s not for late night eats (I believe it closes at 6pm on most days) but an order from there makes for a perfect snack or light lunch.

The first thing that comes to mind when Sweden is brought up is probably meatballs. Or Ikea. Or Ikea meatballs. Of course, on a week-long trip to Stockholm (for business and leisure), there’d be plenty of time to try the real thing. I had my first meatballs on this trip at Meatballs for the People, a meatball-loving pub/restaurant located in the trendy area of SoFo (south of Folkungagatan) in Södermalm.

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I visited for lunch and there was a short menu of traditional Swedish meatballs, a Caesar salad with rooster meatballs, and an open-faced meatball sandwich. One of the first for me please! This was also my first experience with the lunch deals in Stockholm. I placed my order for my meatballs and the total price with a drink came to about 130 SEK. I waited for my lunch, there were little stations around to help yourself to homemade pickles, bread (and knäckebröd) and butter, and after your meal, biscuits with coffee. Lovely!

Swedish Meatballs!

My bowl of beautifully tender meatballs came with a little hill of mashed potatoes, lingonberries, pickled cucumber slices, and plenty of the usual cream gravy. I loved the lingonberries, clearly just fresh berries cooked gently with a little sugar; they made for a sweet-tart pop beside the creamy gravy and potatoes. Highly recommended!

They also sell their meatballs (quite a few varieties from what I could see that day) to have at home.

Meatballs for the People
Nytorgsgatan 30
116 40 Stockholm
Sweden

Oh, how I wish I could title this post Kielbasa and Kabbage! We’ve had a Mleckzo Polish delicatessen open up in Croydon recently and I am in awe at the selection of kielbasa (Polish sausage) that is available – there must be at least 50 different kinds in their refrigerated display cabinet! They’re all different colours too – some more reddish, others darker and possibly smoked. Some are pork only, others are beef, still others are pork and beef or turkey. Anyway, I have no real idea how to use all of them but I do know that a lot of them will work well cooked with cabbage.

I don’t claim that this is a particularly Polish recipe – I just put it together based on what I had to use up in the house. And it tasted great! I love the combination of the strong sausage with the cabbage – I love cabbage in stews. I’ve tried this now with a couple different types of cabbage and a few different kielbasas from the display. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the different types as they are all labelled in Polish, which I don’t read! Ah well.

Kielbasa and Cabbage

Kielbasa and Cabbage
serves 2

1 length of Kielbasa – about 25cm
1 small cabbage – green or Savoy
1 large onion
olive oil
200 ml cider
1 tsp caraway seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut up your onion and soften it over medium heat in a little olive oil in a large saute pan. Slice the kielbasa into bite sized slices and when the onion is soft, add them into the pan with the caraway seeds. When they have browned a little, pour in the cider and let it all bubble.

Get your cabbage cut up into bite sized pieces, leaving the core. Add them to the pan, stirring through and adding a little more water if it’s looking dry. Cover and reduce the heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is cooked to your liking. Season to taste.

Serve hot with a little bread on the side – rye is a good choice.

I love thin crust pizzas. Not the thinner than deep pan kinds but the really, really thin ones….the ones we had at Pizzeria La Montecarlo in Rome. While the cracker thin crust I recalled wasn’t exactly achieved at Pizza Union, it makes a good attempt at these thin crust Roman-style pizzas. And they’re extremely budget friendly!

Pick Up

The most expensive pizza on the menu at Pizza Union is £6.50; the cheapest is £3.95. For that price, you get a large thin-crust pizza that is plenty for one for a meal. If you need dessert, there’s a sweet dough ring with mascarpone and nutella (I didn’t try it but it looked amazing) or gelato from Oddono’s. We started with drinks and olives while we waited for the buzzer to go off, letting us know when to pick up our pizzas.

Olives and San Pellegrino

My Calabria, with mascarpone, spicy n’duja sausage and rocket, was excellent with plenty of each ingredient. The n’duja gave a lovely punch to the crisp pizza. Again, not the thinnest but thin enough. If you’re expecting soft, fluffy Neapolitan-style pizzas, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Calabria

Blai’s Regina, with parmesan, ham, mushrooms and olives, was a classic and I think the layer of melting cheese worked well with the crisp base. Oozy cheese, crispy base. Yes.

Regina

For dessert, we shared a tub of gelato (£2.50) which was generously filled though a little denser than we like it – unlike freshly scooped. But like everything else on the menu, it’s very good value.

The place does fill up quickly on a Saturday night (when we went) but with lots of communal tables, you’re sure to find a seat; the pizzas also fly out so turnaround is quick. I like it very much.

Pizza Union
246-250 Pentonville Road
King’s Cross
London N1 9JY

There’s a second branch in Spitalfields.

Day 3 was not a public holiday and the streets of Milan finally bustled again. Everything was open and we had our choice of cafes and bakeries for breakfast. We ended up at Panarello, a Genoan chain that is excellent. Our pastries were fantastic and if you have space for a box of their canestrelli (a buttery, ring-shaped biscuit), do get them.

Breakfast

Panarello
Piazza S. Nazaro in Brolo, 15
20122 Milano, Italy

We spent a long morning at the Pinacoteca di Brera, the main art gallery in Milan. The collection is amazing but poor Blai’s heart was broken as its Caravaggio was currently on loan elsewhere. Ah, an excuse to come back surely!

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We kept things simple for lunch, knowing that we would feast in the evening. We stopped into a cafe near the Pinacoteca which seemed to attract a huge lunchtime crowd. They had the usual primi and secondi for those who wanted a relaxed meal but it struck us that Milan was very much like London with its quick lunches on the run. Most people opted for the piadine and toasted sandwiches for their lunch; actually, this cafe seemed to specialise in piadina sandwiches, boasting a long list of them.

This was my piadina, a thin flatbread folded over a number of fillings and then toasted.

My Piadina

And inside? I chose the one with smoked ham, a bitter chicory similar to radicchio (I believe), mushrooms and tonnato sauce. Yes, that rather brilliant creamy sauce made with tuna. Delicious.

Tonnato Sauce!

Caffè Ponte Nuovo
Via S. Marco, 14
20121 Milano, Italy

There was more wandering around Milan, some sitting in a cafe, and then while Blai browsed a bookshop in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, I worked up an appetite by climbing up to the roof of the Duomo! It’s good fun and it wasn’t at all as busy as I expected up there.

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And that night, we finally had Milanese food! I had had a few people recommend the Antica Trattoria della Pesa for classic Milanese cuisine and that was our one blowout meal. It’s not cheap but it was excellent. We were offered a few bites of a saltfish fritter and one with peppers as we perused the menu.

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OK, so we shared a Roman salad first but I do love an Insalata di puntarelle so! It was fresh and bitter and salty and tangy here.

Insalata di puntarelle

We had to have a Risotto alla milanese, though their risotto al salto (a fried pancake of rissoto alla milanese) was also tempting. It was utterly fantastic, smelling strongly of saffron, and with a wonderful bite to the rice and an overall savouriness.

Risotto alla milanese

A pasta dish that was shouting at us was their Tagliatelle ai carciofi , which was brilliant, with a touch of tomato.

Tagliatelle ai carciofi

And then we eschewed the ossobuco and the cotoletta for Cassoeula, which is a very typical wintry Milanese dish. It’s a heavy dish of pork sausages and other pork bits (not offal exactly but not common cuts) cooked for ages with lots of Savoy cabbage and served with soft polenta. This massive platter (the photo doesn’t seem to show its size) was really a serving for one that we split between the two of us! This was a hearty dish that filled us up and I can see its appeal and its necessity on a cold, wintry day.

Cassoeula

The desserts on offer were simple but after all that rich food, simple is all one desires. We split a Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa. The fruit used in the homemade jam was some kind of plum. Again, simple but perfect.

Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa

It’s not cheap, however, as the bill came to about €100 altogether but nothing could be faulted. It was a fantastic meal; do try to book ahead as it fills up quickly.

Antica Trattoria della Pesa
Viale Pasubio, 10
20154 Milano, Italy

Our final morning and our final breakfast in Milan (I barely eat breakfast here in London but if all cafes and bakeries here were like Milanese cafes and bakeries, I would have breakfast every day). This was the weakest bakery of our trip but was still better than many places in London. A pistachio croissant was fine while my cappuccino was too milky.

Pistachio Croissant

A savoury salame sandwich was excellent though.

Salame Sandwich

Our last morning was spent at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a small and intimate collection of art and antiques that doesn’t seem to attract the usual crowds of tourists (though to be fair, it did seem to be generally quite quiet in Milan – perhaps most tourists in Italy don’t bother with this city?).

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After a couple hours in the museum, there was time for an early lunch, which started in a queue in a fishmonger’s. Oh yes, the Pescheria Spadari is a fishmonger’s that’s been situated in central Milan (a 5 minute walk from the Duomo) for around 80 years. In addition to selling fresh fish, they run a lunchtime bistrot with delicious fresh fish dishes. I think the menu changes a little each day but there’s always fritto misto, which we bought to takeaway and eat outside. It was about €10 and was as fresh and amazing as you’d expect.

Fritto Misto

Pescheria Spadari
Via Spadari, 4
20123 Milano, Italy

A final bite, before taking a tram to the main station, from where we caught a bus to the airport, was at Princi – yes, my beloved Princi in London is the only international outpost of this Milanese chain. Two slices of fantastic focaccia – one topped with sliced vegetables …

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… and the other sliced and filled with Parma ham. Yes, it’s as good as the one in London and while writing this up, I realise I need to make another visit to ours soon to get a taste of Milan again.

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Princi
Via Speronari, 6
Milano, Italy

I love Milan! Of course, with more time, I think we would have ventured out of the city centre more, especially to eat and I bet I would have fallen in love with it even more. Next time….there will be a next time. As is usual, all the photos from our trip can be found in this Flickr album.