Trend: So so so Scandi-lous
By Natalie Hardwick
It started with Sarah’s Faroe-knit jumper. Then came Saga’s leather strides. British television was peppered with the sassy doyenne of ‘Nordic Noir’ and viewers were falling head first for the genre’s ice-cool oeuvre. By 2014 - a time when ASDA sells gravadlax and Danish chef Rene Redzepi is household-name- enough to appear on Desert Island Discs - it can be safely said we’re collectively worshipping at the altar of ‘Scandi chic’.
Love of a semi-Anglicised Scandinavian cuisine and aesthetic is no new thing – hello IKEA, H&M and, umm, Netto – but what we’re talking now is an undiluted fetishisation of anything Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or Finnish. With their protected economy, unfussy design ethos, fairytale landscapes and politely assured swagger – not to mention £20 Ryanair flights to Oslo – we’re now closer, and more in love, with our neighbours than ever.
Like all cuisines, Scandinavian food varies wildly by region, but new restaurants and bars across London are adopting the best of it. The city’s willingness to absorb global gastronomy to an extent rivalled only by New York City, combined with the unthreatening and understated nature of Scandinavian food, means we’re welcoming dozens of avenues through which we can explore polser, smorebrod, pytti panna and their ilk.
Hackney now hosts a number of Scandinavian venues, few finer than Cooper & Wolf on Chatsworth Road. Owned by exceptionally-amiable Swedish ex-pat Sara Ratcliffe and her British husband Alex, what the café lacks in typically Swedish décor – their look is far more homely and rustic than the more typical clean-lines and bright-light mimimalist approach – it makes up for in toasty atmosphere, family recipes and authentic comfort dishes.
Dishes like home-cured beetroot gravadlax, a range of smorgarsbord (open sandwiches), Grandma’s-recipe meatballs and herring pickled in spirit vinegar and spices. As well as ‘dagens’ (daily specials, such as falukorv, a traditional Swedish sausage), the café serves a range of baked pastries and cakes, including a truly magnificent cinnamon swirl, best served with their creamy white coffee – executed in typically slick Scandinavian fashion topped with a glossy, sweet pillow of heated milk.
Sara says the reception from locals has been warm, helped by the fact she slightly tailors dishes to her Clapton clientele. For brunch, C&W offer ‘pytti panna’, a kind of bubble and squeak (but flavoured with rosemary and paprika and served with pickled beetroot) to quench the British thirst for a cooked breakfast – back home a cold breakfast of bread, pastry or cereal is preferred.
Sara’s 15 years in London have provided insight into how her native culture has translated. She says the upsurge in interest and appetite has gone hand-in-hand with not only Nordic noir, but also increased activity in interior design, literature and fashion. Cheap Monday, & other stories and Monki have been welcomed onto our high street, and the clothing of higher end designers such as Acne and Peter Jenson sit comfortably with London style while being loyal to their Swedish and Danish origins.
Back to the food, and onto one area in which Scandinavia excels – fish. Before making her own gravadlax, Sara sourced smoked salmon from Hansen & Lyderson, a Norwegian smokehouse in Stoke Newington. Owner Ole Hansen brought his family business over from a small fishing town in Finnmark, a Norwegian region north of the Arctic Circle. He uses a four generation-old recipe to smoke salmon in a small wooden hut in N16 and supplies fish to restaurants including Ottolenghi, Nopi and The Albion.
He doesn’t sell the traditional dill-fringed gravadlax, but his traditional salmon recipe is Norwegian through and through. Smoked salmon in the UK has gone from luxury product to the norm, but with supermarkets cutting corners by dyeing fish, using cost-saving, harsh brines and mass-slicing fish by large machines, Ole’s rich-flavoured, deep-coloured fish is a welcome return to a fading art form.
Baking is another Scandinavian forte – Danish pastries rival anything produced in patisseries (anyone visiting Denmark’s capital Copenhagen should visit Meyers Bageri in Norrebro, home to deep, moist, traditional rye breads and cinnamon ‘snegls’, swirled yeasted buns). Signe Johanssen’s book Scandilicious Baking may have a truly terrible name, but it’s a great entry-level for those wanting to explore baking from across the whole of Scandinavia. Those wanting to go one step further can celebrate the marvellously dedicated Danish Cinnamon Roll Day in October.
Swedish bakery Fabrique recently set up shop in a railway arch in Hoxton, a far cry from the company’s Stockholm home but the formula works. They specialise in stone oven-baked sourdough bread, and also sell soft St Lucia saffron bread, hallongrotta cookies with raspberry jam and cardamom buns, all typically Scandinavian bakes, with their glazes, light spicing and coarse grains.
There’s no shortage of ‘Scandinavian-inspired’ venues too. Hackney Central’s Oslo, a multi-purpose venue in a former railway ticket office, loves the Nordic aesthetic so much it not only decked out its interiors in swooping fabrics, drop lighting and hinterland rustique, but also named the entire thing after Norway’s capital.
The owners of wine bar and charcuterie Verden, soon to open off Lower Clapton Road, love Danish design so much they plan to have all their crockery custom-made to fit in their ethos. Those looking for the real deal should visit Chase and Sorensen, a Danish furniture shop with petite and welcoming stores in Dalston and Victoria Park.
But of course not everyone in Scandinavia has Aalestrup lights dangling from their ceiling, and the Norweigan-owned pub The Kenton has a cosier feel, being full to the brim of knick knacks and an obligatory taxidermy moose. Don’t go expecting rakfisk (a eye-watering north Norwegian fermented trout product that’s buried underground until its fetid - nice) – the Kenton’s current food menu is a series of “Northern soul food” burgers.
Moving slightly beyond our Chomping Ground, Fika on Brick Lane is a Swedish institution and sleek coffee shop. The Nordic Bakery has cafes throughout Covent Garden and Soho, while Danish ‘polser’ are cropping up at food markets across London. To the uninitiated, ‘polser’ is a seriously delicious pillarbox red hot dog sausage served in traditional Danish style with gherkins, remoulade, crispy and fried onions and mustard, served in a too-small bun. If you’re up for a trip on the Victoria Line to E17, Swedish café Bygga Bo is one of Walthamstow’s newest gems.
Returning to our territory, keep an eye out for Scandinavian beer in venues around East London, such as Mother Kelly’s and Brewdog Shoreditch. The area’s thirst for craft beer gives bar owners an opportunity to source weird and wonderful brews from around the world. Three breweries to watch out for are Norway’s Nøgne ø and Denmark’s To Øl and Mikkeller, all independents doing extremely interesting things with processes, flavours and branding.
But despite swathes of Scandinavians based in London – May even saw Norway Day celebrated across the capital – we can make room for far more smokehouses, bars and cafes. We’d love to see a smattering of Finnish cuisine in the capital, and far more of the exceptional Scandinavian coffee culture. But for now, we’re happy with our quota of snegls.