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Ekstedt in Stockholm - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 90.
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"No electric cookers, no gas burners; just heat, soot, ash, smoke and fire". It was that statement on the "About Us" section on their website, what drew me to Ekstedt. The exterior and interior suggest a modern Stockholm restaurant but the cooking techniques in the kitchen are quite the opposite. At Ekstedt all the food is cooked on a cast iron stove, over an open fire pit, in a wood-burned oven, in a 'stone age microwave' or smoked in a chimney, so no electricity is involved. Just in case you wonder: health and safety rules apply here too, so refrigeration and ventilation do involve electricity, but not the cooking.

The kitchen is run by chef-owner Niklas Ekstedt (b. 1978) and head chef Gustav Otterberg (b. 1982). Niklas Ekstadt has trained with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Charlie Trotter, Alain Ducasse and Heston Blumenthal. At the tender age of 21 he opened his first restaurant, simply called 'Niklas', in Helsingborg. Later on, in 2003, he opened a second 'summer restaurant' called "Niklas i Viken". In 2008 Niklas Ekstedt sold his (critically acclaimed) restaurants and relocated to Stockholm where he opened restaurant 1900 (renamed to Niklas in 2012). Restaurant Ekstedt opened its doors in 2011 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2013 Main Cities of Europe guide.

Ekstedt is open for dinner Tuesday till Saturday and you can choose between a 4-course (SEK 890) or 6-course (SEK 990) tasting menu. I had dinner with my husband at Ekstedt on Saturday 1 March 2014 and we both had the 6-course menu.

First to arrive, from the wood-burned oven, were a sourdough pizza with mozzarella, basil and truffle and a calzone with a veal sausage, Parmesan cheese and tomato filling. An excellent and very flavoursome start of the meal.

The first course was Seacucumber, smoked avocado, oyster beurre blanc, lightly creamed parsley puree and chopped almonds. Lovely soft and tender seacucumber, nice silky avocado and the oyster beurre blance was delicious; the addition of oysters delivered a nice touch of briny freshness. A wonderful flavour and texture combination, loved the grassy notes from both the almonds and the avocado (which seemed to be enhanced by the smoking).

Second course was a delightful and elegant combination of smoked Torbay sole and langoustine, served with four different textures of onion: crispy onion rings, onion puree, hay-baked onions and pickled onions. Both the Torbay sole and langoustine had gentle smoky flavours and combined nicely with the various flavour intensities and textures of the onions, ranging from bittersweet to a deep, caramelised sweetness. The pickled onions delivered a nice touch of acidity to balance the dish.

Next there was tender chargrilled octopus, chorizo and a 'salad' of bread, fresh herbs and anchovy, served in a cast iron skillet (no photograph). To accompany this rustic mixture there was a wonderfully intense and bittersweet, roasted red pepper puree. The hearty mixture in the skillet was seriously rich on its own, especially since the bread in the 'salad' had soaked up a lot of oil, but when combined with the red pepper puree, balance was almost restored.

This was followed by a delicious smoked beef and truffle sandwich. There was a creamy smoked beef tartare at the bottom, followed by crisp brioche, buttery shredded cabbage, crisp brioche and finally a mixture of chopped chanterelles and shallots, topped with freshly grated black truffle. An attractive and balanced dish with a lovely interplay of textures and temperatures and the hint of acidity in the chanterelle-shallot mixture added a nice touch of freshness.

Fifth course was smoked Duck 'bacon', duck foie gras and duck heart, served with grilled tomato marmalade, semi-dried 'chimney' tomatoes and a concentrated tomato paste that had a lovely spicy finish. For me this was an incomplete dish. Everything worked individually, but there was nothing to bring it all together and overall it was a rather dry plate that lacked some freshness. Having said that; the intensity of the tomato paste was fantastic and the tomato marmalade had a lovely jammy sweetness to it.

Dessert was lightly caramelised Socca (chickpea pancake), topped with rum-soaked raisins, nougat crumbs, chopped hazelnuts and orange curd, with some coffee ice cream on the side. A gorgeous combination; the coffee ice cream was quite sublime, it had good distinctive coffee flavours and just the right amount of creaminess.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Ekstedt. I loved the food and the ambiance; the interaction with the knowledgeable and hospitable sommelier Maximilian Mellfors gave an extra dimension to the overall dining experience. It was a good night out. In the context of this review however, I have been struggling to define what sets Ekstedt apart. That is easy, you might say. How many restaurants do not use electricity in their cooking processes? You would be right. On the other hand you might ask: cooking on an open fire, just how special is that? Surely any decent steakhouse uses a charcoal grill to cook its meat and even some fast food restaurants "charbroil"  the patties for their burgers? True. But only using wood to generate all the heat, that is required to cook the food in a Michelin starred restaurant is a very different affair altogether.

This intentional, technical self-limitation generates a creativity and an array of flavours that are very interesting to experience. With its primitive techniques and naturalistic approach, Ekstedt produces an attractive diversity of easy to love dishes, some more elegant and some more rustic, some working better than others. They like smoking things here - but that's no surprise in a part of the world that practically invented it. At Ekstedt's it is done with focus and skill and I enjoyed the intensity and the linear flavour sensation of the smoked fish and meat. And it irrefutably adds warmth to the food and to the restaurant - the perfect antidote to a chilly night in Stockholm.

Posted 28-03-2014


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