Brandyn Tepper is the bartender at Los Angeles hotspot Hinoki and the Bird , the stylish pan-Asian restaurant with a decidedly Japanese bent and tremendous amount of elegant simplicity. The establishment is regularly found on lists comprising the city’s best restaurants and top “power lunch spots”. Equally as impressive as the cuisine at chef David Myers’ restaurant is the cocktail program, which focuses on variations of classic drink presentations. Brandyn wrote in to us about a recent menu research trip to Sweden.
My recent trip to Sweden marked the first time I crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I split my time between the town of Bonäs – which is four hours northwest of Stockholm along Orsa Lake – and Stockholm.
Bonäs is a town of about 500 people, where traditions of the “old way” – such as farming and harvesting – are strongly upheld. The highlight here is visiting a small bed and breakfast resort about 20 minutes into the mountains, called Fryksas. A woman runs a restaurant that sits atop a mountain, where traditional Swedish breakfast, lunch and pastries are served. I can still taste the sweet jam that the Swedes put on pretty much all pastries and bread, made from the very Scandinavian lingonberry.
The second half of my trip was spent in Stockholm. A bar mentor and buddy of mine, Sam Ross (formerly of NYC bars Milk & Honey, Little Branch and Pegu Club and currently in charge of Attaboy) put me in contact with a Swedish friend involved in the industry. Our first night out was spent at a bar called Corner Club, located in the Gamla Stan area of the city. It is rewarding to see that the bar mixes strictly classic cocktails, in the style we do at Hinoki & the Bird. You would have thought that Sam Ross himself consulted on their menu, the way they go about sticking to cocktail formulas and families. (It turns out that he did… indirectly. Sam trained our friend who took us there, Joel Black, who trained the Corner Club staff). It is great to see that this style of bartending – if you want to call it that – has a global presence: an emphasis on consistency, fresh juices, quality spirits and quality ice. This style doesn’t necessarily reinvent the “cocktail wheel,” but rather keeps it turning in the right direction.
Transportation in Stockholm is night and day compared to Los Angeles. Sweden’s capital city is comprised of about seven major areas (Gamla Stan, Normalm, Ostermalm and Sodermalm are the most populated), and two subway lines can get you pretty much anywhere.
Besides having a keen interest in the cocktail scenes of the cities I visit, I also enjoy exploring the local food. It’s no secret that Scandinavian food has become increasingly popular in the United States. Stockholm is home to one of the world’s best restaurants according to San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list, with Restaurant Frantzén sitting at number 12. Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken – located in the Northern town of Järpen – is ranked 34th, and both restaurants have garnered two Michelin stars. Sadly, the closest I got to eating at these restaurants was a look through the window of Restaurant Frantzén.
I did, however, have the chance to dine at the Michelin-starred Ekstedt, which is part of a new wave of Nordic cooking. Restaurateur Niklas Ekstedt, who is renowned for cooking over open fire, opened the establishment in 2011. There is no electricity in the kitchen (besides lights) and all dishes are cooked over an open wood-burning pit on hot cast-iron skillets.
The six-course chef’s menu includes dishes such as scallops baked in hay with mussels and squid, and lemon and leek baked in embers. A third course consists of lamb baked on spicy applewood with peach, onion and herbs. It is fascinating to witness how they use old methods of Scandinavian cooking to execute fairly modern cuisine.
Södermalm is one of the up-and-coming areas of Stockholm. Many are quick to refer to it as “the Brooklyn of Stockholm,” noting its blossoming culinary scene and an abundance of youngsters moving there. My last night was spent at the highly recommended Linje Tio (Line 10), a bar/restaurant located in the back of a bakery and barbershop. It is astounding that the craft cocktail movement finds even the tiniest of bars worldwide.
The craft cocktail movement is very much alive in Sweden. There are no boundaries to the drinks that bartenders are serving and how they are serving them. Mixing classic cocktails allows the craft to be approachable for just about anyone. For example, the average person can make a great gimlet with the proper knowledge of cocktail family formulas. It is this simple approach that has allowed the craft cocktail movement to spread globally.
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