The museums of Stockholm host cafes and restaurants that are immersive experiences in their own right and each has a great story to tell. By Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
Minus 14° Celsius is something I usually associate with the temperature at which I like my ice cream. This surreal comparison was my earworm as I braved the cold in the Swedish Laplands in November last year. I was wrapped in several layers of clothing but still couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. The last leg of my trip was a solo adventure in Stockholm. Flying into the Swedish capital, I got an aerial view of the city that occupies an archipelago of 14 islands, connected to one another by 57 bridges. Walking from one island to another and exploring the city on foot, I was told, is the best thing to do. And I was looking forward to slipping into my snow boots. The weather did go easy on me in Stockholm, remaining at a steady –5°C. While I had mostly acclimatised to the cold in the Laplands, I’d seek respite inside a warm museum a couple of times each day.
ART ON A PLATE
Stockholm has over 50 museums. There are those dedicated to art, culture, famous people and their discoveries, etc. Then there are the unique ones, like The Viking Museum (thevikingmuseum.com), the Museum of Spirits (of the imbibing kind, not the haunting variety), the Nobel Prize Museum, and ABBA The Museum (abbathemuseum.com).
There is also Fotografiska, technically not a museum but one of the world’s largest exhibition and meeting places for photography. The two exhibitions on display in November had me strolling around for nearly two hours. By the end of this deep dive into the decisive moment, I was warm as toast and hungry for some.
By no stroke of luck, Fotografiska’s restaurant on the topmost floor was an integral part of my itinerary. Helmed by Chef Paul Svensson, it strives to be a no-waste restaurant and does some exceptional work. I opted for the three-course menu with an add-on of a fruity Berliner beer. As I buttered warm bread, the young lady handling my table told me of their wonderful cyclic process of waste management: leftover bread from the kitchen is sent to a local brewery to make beer, and spent grain from the beer-making process comes back to the restaurant for bread!
The entire meal was a lesson, in fact. In my first course—potatoes in browned butter, with smoked sour cream and lumpfish roe—the crispy garnish on top was finely grated potato skin that had been deep-fried. My main course—compost baked onion, with mushroom and Jerusalem artichoke with truffle—featured onions that had been grown in compost from leftover onion heads. And for my dessert—apple pizza with apple sorbet—the sorbet had been made from apple stems, which surprisingly hold a lot of the apple flavour.
Fotografiska, the restaurant, exhibited art on a plate, perfectly complementing the museum. It was also the meal that got me curious about other museum cafes and restaurants in Stockholm.
The next day, I found myself standing at the doors of The Nobel Prize Museum, feeling every bit of the –6°C chill the weather app was showing me. Stepping in was a relief, and almost instantly, I found myself absorbed in the digital interfaces detailing Nobel Laureates and their achievements over the years. I particularly enjoyed the exhibits made from personal belongings of Nobel Laureates—from Malala Yousafzai’s shawl, which she wore to the ceremony, to Randy Schekman’s microscope, to Amartya Sen’s bicycle.
The beautiful crockery collection of The Nobel Banquet had me hooked for a while, but I eventually weaned myself away to the museum cafe to check out something I had read about. The cafe has 80 chairs, each of which has been signed by Nobel Laureates—around 300 signatures and counting. Among them are the Dalai Lama, Alice Munro, Barack Obama, Steven Chu, Amartya Sen, and Nadia Murad.
Sitting on one of these chairs, I treated myself to the restaurant’s speciality—the Nobel Ice Cream, made in collaboration with Daniel Roos, who created the dessert for The Nobel Banquet four times. Inspired by festive ice cream bombes, this dessert is a miniature vanilla and berry ice cream bombe and comes with an edible chocolate Nobel medal (which you can also pick up at the museum store).
My next destination was The Vasa Museum, located on the island of Djurgården. This unique showcase is the home of a 17th-century, 64-gun eponymous warship that went down into the sea on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged with a nearly intact hull over 300 years later. I chose to take the ferry to the island from Slussen and stood on the deck for the 20-minute ride—I was starting to get used to the cold! The Vasa takes your breath away. At every level of the vessel, my imagination went wild trying to picture how the crew must have manned the ship and then, tragically, gone down with it. I wanted to sit down at the museum restaurant and process all that I had seen while going through my photographs.
The cafe at The Vasa Museum is all about provenance and ensures that all of its produce comes from local farmers and producers. The fish they use is sourced from Ekofisk, which is eco-audited, and its reindeer meat comes from Tornedalica Special, a small family-driven company. The wines and coffees too are procured from eco-friendly sources. I asked for the most popular dish at the restaurant and was served delicious meatballs with cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumber, and potato puree. As soon as the plate arrived, the phone was set aside. Pondering on the Vasa could wait.
It was just around 3 pm, and the sun had almost set, making the temperature plummet again. I had deliberately kept the Museum of Spirits (or Spritmuseum) for the end, so that I could wrap up the visit with a tasting, boosting my ability to deal with the cold on the five-minute walk to the tram station. This interactive museum takes you through the history of alcohol in Sweden, especially its iconic Absolut brand of vodka. Visitors can smell fusel oils, a by-product of alcohol fermentation, and sing drinking songs loudly on a karaoke machine. At the end of the experience, I came down to the museum’s restaurant and sat down for a four-spirit tasting of Scandinavia’s iconic spirit, aquavit (meaning ‘waters of life’).
The tasting began with OK Henderson, a recipe dating back to the late 1800s—the oldest still in production. Next was Rånäs Brännvin, made from Swedish wheat. Spiced with bitter orange and cinnamon, it would become my pick of the tray. This was followed by the Bäska Droppar aquavit, which lives up to its label that proclaims it’s “loved and hated since 1917.” With all the bitterness of wormwood, let’s say this one is an acquired taste and I understood the hate some may feel towards it. And that’s why ending on Roslags Punsch was great. Palm tree dates make for a spectacular finish.
As I headed back out, snow began to fall and lights twinkled all around the pier. Not only was my heart full of art, history, and inspiration, but my tummy too felt content. Stockholm’s museums come with restaurants and cafes that are culinary experiences in themselves. Chewing on this thought, I walked to the tram, and for the first time on my Sweden trip, I didn’t feel cold.
WHERE TO STAY
Set over the harbour Strömkajen, Grand Hôtel sits on the perfect location. You will be near museums like Moderna Museet and high-end shopping options at Bibliotekstan. Doubles from INR 18,580; grandhotel.se. Berns Hotel has 82 stately rooms and a restaurant set in a space that was once a grand salon. Doubles from INR 8,240; berns.se
Spritmuseum is open from Monday to Wednesday, 10 am–5 pm; Thursday to Saturday, 10 am–7 pm; and Sunday, 12 pm–5 pm. Tickets priced at INR 969 for adults; spritmuseum.se. The Nobel Prize Museum is open from Thursday to Sunday, from 11 am-5 pm. Tickets are priced at INR 1,050; nobelprizemuseum.se. Fotografiska is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 am–11 pm. Tickets are INR 1,373; fotografiska.com. The Vasa Museum opens on July 15. Opening hours are between 10 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday. Tickets are INR 1,211; vasamuseet.se.