Given a day in Sweden’s capital, one would be best advised to step away from the meatballs. Save those for a trip to Ikea. It’s not that the rise of Nordic cuisine or Stockholm’s abundance of Michelin stars — eight restaurants in the city have one star and one has two stars — have made Scandinavia’s largest city too cool for kottbullar (meatballs) and other standard fare. Stockholm, stretched across 14 islands where Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea meet, takes traditional Swedish food seriously. But these days, it’s presented with a twist, pairing classic ingredients such as potatoes or pickled herring with Japanese sauces or Mexican mole, or turning them into tapas. Even with that spirit of innovation, dishes such as kannelbullar (cinnamon buns), remain sacred, whether you get yours at a century-old cafe or at one of the city’s many new coffee shops.
When Ester Nordhammar opened Vete-Katten (vetekatten.se/en; 011-46-8-208-405; Kungsgatan 55, Normalm) in 1928, she was one of only a few female entrepreneurs in the city. Nordhammar hired only women to work in the cafe, which quickly gained a following for its breads and pastries. (Vete-Katten didn’t get its first male employee until after Nordhammar’s death in 1961.) Today, the cafe still serves some of Stockholm’s best sweets and sandwiches in a chic, retro space where you can sit beneath chandeliers at marble-topped tables or on brocade-upholstered couches. Its breakfast buffet (7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., about $18), which includes eggs, yogurt and house-made muesli and granola, is the healthier choice. But it’s hard to resist the kannelbullar and kardemummabullar (about $5) in the glass-fronted pastry cases. The former is a cinnamon bun topped with pearled sugar; the latter is filled with cardamom. Both are classic Swedish pastries, whether eaten for breakfast or later in the day with coffee, an ingrained afternoon break called “fika.”
Hidden inside a biodynamic farm complex on Djurgarden island, Rosendals Garden Cafe (rosendalstradgard.se; 011-46-8-545-81270; Rosendalsterassen 12, Djurgarden) serves a lunch buffet (about $18) in a greenhouse. Options include a variety of smorgas (traditional open-face sandwiches with options including shrimp or egg salad, as well as cheese and cold cuts) and sweet and savory pastries. It also offers a la carte items such as soups, salads, pastas and desserts (from about $10). Rosendals sources many of the vegetables and herbs from its own farm or, in winter, from its two greenhouses that surround the cafe. The farm has been an active garden for more than two centuries. Breads and desserts are baked in a wood-fired oven at the next-door bakery. In summer, it’s possible to eat alfresco at tables near rows of hedges, beneath trees in the orchard or near the farm’s flower gardens. In winter, coziness rules as diners crowd into the greenhouse.
The menus at the Tak family of restaurants and bars (tak.se/en; 011-46-8-587-22080; Brunkebergstorg 4) have to be interesting and strong to compete with the views from their shared perch on the 13th floor of a building in the heart of the city. (Tak means “roof” in Swedish.) There are four venues in one — Tak, UNN, Rabar and Bar. Tak is the restaurant at which you’re most likely to score a reservation, although even that isn’t a given. Since it opened in the spring, Tak has been among Stockholm’s hottest restaurants. In an opulently sexy, 1970s-inspired space with walls of windows, it prepares Nordic ingredients with Japanese techniques. The menu changes seasonally and could include appetizers such as Arctic char with daikon (about $17); sushi dishes such as soy sauce-cured salmon with trout roe, ginger-pickled turnips and sesame mayo (about $27); and entrees such as dry aged entrecôte with marinated eggplant, spinach and tomatoes (about $43). Start your meal with the Tak martini (about $18), made with vodka, sake and Manzanilla sherry. If the chocolate and rice dessert (about $15) — chocolate cake, maraschino cherries and Japanese whisky in yuzu fudge and topped with roasted rice ice cream — were ever taken off the menu, the city might revolt.