Stockholm was once known for rather pedestrian food and restaurants that failed to inspire. These days the scene is not just thriving, it’s growing and making its mark as a destination for food lovers the world round. No longer the province of cream, dill and potatoes (although you won’t go wrong with that combination!) the food scene in Stockholm now offers pretty much whatever your palate desires.
January kicks off award season the world round and in Stockholm Gulddraken (The Golden Dragon), presented by top Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter, is the most prestigious culinary award in town. The award honours restaurants in six different categories: Luxury, Middle and Budget – with bar and café categories, as well as a special ‘guest prize’, which is presented by the well-known British journalist A.A. Gill. There are generally five nominees in each category, which are announced towards the end of the year prior.
DN has been covering the Stockholm restaurant scene for more than 35 years and in 2001 established Gulddraken in order to bring attention to the best the capital has to offer to the inveterate foodie. The jury is made up of an anonymous ‘Pub Commissioners’ who visit nominees on multiple occasions, judging on Taste Experience, atmosphere, value for money and level of employee satisfaction. Ambition, imagination, wine list, and kitchen savvy also play into the final decisions.
This year’s awards were presented at Stockholm’s glamorous Café Opera the 27th of January and the excitement was palpable as the 500 guests gathered to nibble on finger food and sip bubbly as they awaited the announcements.
Presenter Magdelena Ribbing kicked off the evening, bringing roars of laughter with her quick etiquette tip when announcing the Budget winner, : ‘Do not talk with food in your mouth so that it spits and sputters – it’s too crowded between tables at budget restaurants’. Anyone who has crammed their way into a table at one of Stockholm’s smaller restaurants knew exactly what she was talking about.
The Budget winner was one of the new kids on the block, vegan/vegetarian Restaurant Voltaire (Systrarna Voltaire). Owners Sally Voltaire and her mother Lotta were praised for creating ‘an oasis of green food enjoyment without lecturing’. Much was made of two women winning, as the room was 80% men and the field is, for better or worse, male-dominated.
In the Middle category it was Vasastan’s Little Ego (Lilla Ego), awarded for its ‘warm atmosphere inside the rustic brick walls’. Little Ego is known for its high ambition and low pretension and the win was well deserved.
Oaxen was the big winner of the night, taking a gong not just in the Luxury category but also A.A. Gill’s International Guest Dragon. A.A. Gill said that when in Stockholm he always chooses Oaxen. Oaxen, which until recently was located out in Stockholm’s archipelago, is not easy to access, being situated on Djurgården, the Royal Park abutting Stockholm’s tony Östermalm neighbourhood. But it is worth the taxi or tram trip as the menu, which is sourced locally, is considered one of the finest in the country.
Café Esaias, located on the always buzzing Drottninggatan – which is sometimes called “Stockholm’s hottest tavern square ” – was awarded the gold dragon in the Café category. It was noted for its top-notch coffee (very important to the coffee-loving Swedes) and excellent pastries and sandwiches.
Old Town’s Tweed won for Best Bar, praised for its combination of passion and perfection. Known for it’s cozy surroundings, Tweed is the place to sink into a Chesterfield and sip a soothing cognac or whiskey while discussing the events of the day in extreme comfort.
In addition to the traditional six winners, three special prizes were awarded this year: Daniel Crespi was designated the Year’s Tavern Profile, Gro Restaurant was noted for being the Year’s Lunch Heroes, and Gaston Wine Bar got the trophy for being the Year’s Everyday Improver.