How long have you been inspecting restaurants and hotels in the Nordic Countries?
I’ve been very fortunate to have spent over 15 years travelling around all the Nordic countries. My first ever trip was to Copenhagen and I was immediately struck by the exciting ingredients and techniques.
Witnessing first-hand the development and maturing of ‘New Nordic cuisine’ has been an amazing experience, although we’ve never been very keen on that moniker as ‘new’ is such a nebulous word.
As we’ve expanded our Nordic Countries guide, I’ve also had the opportunity to be the first in a city to create a selection of restaurants for our readers. It’s great to arrive in a city without any preconceptions and to just start eating in its restaurants.
I love cuisine that is of a time and place and where ‘seasonality’ is so much more than just a catchword. I love the purity of flavours and how everything, from the food presentation to the service, is understated. It’s no coincidence that menus are usually refreshingly free from adjectives. Even as a diner, you feel closer to nature.
If my son wants to become a chef then I’d send him to work in Scandinavia to learn how to celebrate nature’s bounty, about how to make so-called humble ingredients shine and how to use techniques to bring out natural flavours. He could learn that for chefs it’s about doing as much ‘in-house’ as possible – not just fermenting, pickling or preserving but also growing vegetables, making their own bread, butter, jam and vinegar and even brewing their own beer.
Do you have a favourite journey?
The first time I went to Reykjavik for work I stayed on for a short holiday afterwards and tried to see as much of Iceland as I could. It’s not often one has the chance to drive along almost empty roads so it was a truly memorable few days, although I had to keep stopping the car and getting out to take in the awe-inspiring scenery.
I also really enjoyed the first time I took the train from Copenhagen to Aarhus; it was a great chance to see a lot of Denmark.
I’ll also never forget the day when I woke up in Oslo, had lunch in Copenhagen and dinner in Vejle.
I could eat herring every day; cured, pickled, dried, smoked – I just don’t mind. On a cold winter’s day there are few things better than roe deer. I also love skyr – I always feel that somehow it’s doing me good. Nordic chefs also make clever use of liquorice which is something I really enjoy. When I’m in Sweden afternoon ‘fika’ is always hard to resist.
Occasionally we’ll encounter a chef who has all the modern techniques but seems more concerned about being different for different’s sake. One of my colleagues had a dinner that involved about 40 courses. Granted, most were just bite-sized, but no one wants to sit at a table for nearly 5 hours, however good the food.
Visitors from all over the world are coming in greater numbers to this part of the world and sometimes the quality of the hotels doesn’t quite match up to the reputation of the restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful properties but there are also far too many hotels where you pay a considerable amount of money for something you rarely see elsewhere these days – a single bed.
I also wish more of the Starred restaurants would open for lunch! But I’m sure that will happen as tourism keeps growing and growing.