So on Thursday three eager and intrigued restaurant PRs forewent lunch and took a train, a plane and a car and travelled to Fäviken in Jamtland for our supper. Jamtland is 500km north of Stockholm in Sweden, not far from the Arctic Circle and certainly the farthest North I’ve been before. It took us about 10 hours to get there and over 12 to get back and we did the whole thing in less than 48 hours – I wouldn’t blame you for thinking we were a little bit crazy but it really was worth it for this is where the 28 year Viking-esque chef Magnus Nilsson lives and works. The restaurant feeds only twelve interpid guests each evening and lies in possibly the most remote territory I’ve ever encountered…
Despite driving at break neck speeds of around 100km an hour along a single road for almost three hours, we still only just made it in time and even then still worried we may have turned up in the wrong spot for only a small cluster of traditional farm buildings greet you upon arrival which lie in an otherwise isolated landscape surrounded by snow capped mountains, forest and vast shimmering lakes. It really is breathtaking stuff. Across this land, as we discover later, there exists an extraordinary abundance of readily available wild produce: from black grouse and moose to hares, eels and a myriad of wild mushroom varieties. The only imported produce is sugar, salt and vinegar.
The menu is the same for all with each dish being introduced by Magnus himself who leads a small team of six who harvest and preserve all the food for the restaurant by hand using the most natural methods possible – much of it centred around the application of direct heat through grilling and roasting over open coals, using traditional implements and relying on the chefs’ innate skills and knowledge of the product. This seemingly simple approach to cooking – in the hands of Magnus and his tiny team – results in the highly creative food they serve in the restaurant, the pure, intense flavours of which, far from seeming traditional, are remarkable. Magnus calls this Rektún or “real food”.
17 courses later and I felt like I was in a dream. Out here at this time of year it is light almost the whole night through which only serves to make the whole experience even more otherworldly. Highlights included a morsel of wild trout’s roe encased in a crisp crust of dried pig’s blood served on a cool slab of sandstone. Then a great beast of a langoustine, so fresh and creamy, barely heated through in a pan and served with “almost burnt” cream. There was a small ceramic bowl of nutty grains covered in beef broth filtered through Autumn leaves and the first wild vegetables. Then came warm marrow, freshly scooped from a femur carved in front of us and poured over diced raw cow heart and nettles which at the table we piled on to small sourdough toast and ate like little sandwiches. A challenging dish you may think but the heart was surprisingly tender and utterly delicious.
Then came a piece of beef from a “retired dairy cow”, seven years old to be precise and then aged for many months. This piece was dark and dense but cooked perfectly first in a pan then rested on the barbecue and served with creamy sour onions and morels. There were three dishes for pudding, all wonderful but there was one which really made me want to clap my hands with glee: raspberry jam, sour milk sorbet and whisked duck eggs muddled together at the perfect (almost warm) temperature reminiscent of a sabayon. This really is food from the magical realm
Afterwards, a tour with Magnus of the butchery room, vegetable store and vegetable garden. He and his team forage for between one and two hours in the peak season, which is early summer. In the winter months, they rely on pickled and preserved vegetables plus the wide variety of game, including black grouse and woodcock. The hobbitsville like underground vegetable store revealed shelves of vegetable specimens but far less at this time then had we come in the winter.
Magnus is doing very special things here so much so that it is starting to attract interest from all over the world – including the publication of a major cookbook, recognition in the World’s 50 Best list (Faviken has jumped from 71 to 38 in the last year) and eager talented chefs – such as ex-Noma chef Sam Miller – are wanting to work with him. To quote Wall Street Journal’s Bruce Palling, “Although the sense of isolation here does focus the mind and heighten the sense of anticipation, what makes the journey worthwhile is the boldness of his dishes and their utter simplicity”. A thrilling, otherworldy experience I can’t recommend highly enough.
In October Phaidon will publish the first cookbook by Magnus simply titled: Fäviken. You can pre-order it here: http://uk.phaidon.com/store/food-cook/faviken-9780714864709/
Getting there is a mission but a fun one of the kind one rarely experiences these days, we travelled to Trondheim direct from London and then drove the 280kms through stunning landscape to the restaurant. You can also fly to Stockholm and take the 4 hour train journey
Fäviken 216, 83005