The Skandi Grand Coffee Tour: Inside Stockholm's best cafes and restaurants
A coffee tour of Stockholm? Go on then. Being a Viking is something I've dreamt of being ever since I was a child. So, when my DNA test came back showing I was a big fat 2% Swedish I wasn’t a bit surprised. Yes, a whopping 2% of me is thoroughbred Skandi. Another clear and obvious connection is of course our shared love of great coffee, writes Tim Nye
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to visit places such as Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Australia investigating their coffee credentials. Since opening Marmadukes in Sheffield in 2012, my passion for coffee has grown stronger and stronger, year on year. So much so, believe it or not, I won’t visit a country unless it has great coffee shops for me to sample. Maybe sad, but true.
And by great I mean speciality coffee. Highest quality beans, roasted and prepared by specialists, who love it as much as I do. I should mention here that this trip to my spiritual homeland was also a rather important celebration; yes, 30 years of argument free, blessed, marriage to my beautiful, talented wife Clare (bit too much?). I also need mention that this trip was gifted to us by our equally wonderful sons and daughters, 3 of whom still work in the family business. And, while I’m on such a gratitude roll a third mention and big thank you goes to Meagan and Donna from Monki in Sheffield, who kindly gave me lots of tips about where to visit.
As soon as we entered Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, I mentioned to Clare that I was seriously thinking that a distant relative could actually recognise me, or me them; either way I’d be happy. We were staying in Gamla Stan, which is the oldest part of Stockholm, and if you didn’t know is one of 14 islands in Lake Malaren on which Sweden’s capital has been built. The first of many impressive things we were to discover about Stockholm was the airport’s express train, which propelled us at 180kms per hour plus to our destination. 18 minutes later we are stepping out and yes, once again, I was eagerly looking for any sign of recognition from the locals.
We arrived late afternoon, so I decided my coffee investigations would begin the following morning. Food though was definitely on my radar and fortunately my eagle eyed wife spotted what turned out to be a historic 300-year-old restaurant on the very same street as we were staying (Osterlangastan). It’s called Den Gyldene Freden and without a word of a lie as we left we both agreed it is the best restaurant we have had the good fortune to visit. The building, the food, staff, all faultless. Such a warm friendly atmosphere, within a building full of character and charm. Clare plumped for Swedish meat balls, whilst I went with Carla our waitress' recommendation, which was a plate full of black pudding, bacon, lingonberries and nectarine. Both were delicious.
Next morning it felt like a childhood Christmas Day. I couldn’t wait to get out there and discover what coffee goodies were waiting for me. Clare is more of a night person, so out I emerged solo into the chilly, drizzly, gorgeous Stockholm day. Fantastic! I’d researched where I wanted to go and the first port of call was only 200 metres away. ‘Skeppsbro Bageri’ (bakery) is one of the many bakeries dotted all around Stockholm. Like me Stockholm clearly loves their cake and buns. It has outside tables just yards from the waterfront. Perfect! I grabbed a cardamon bun and my first Swedish filter coffee, which I happily helped myself to. It’s common for customers to serve themselves (plus free refills).
Now these guys aren’t exactly speciality coffee, but they are still fabulous and it’s clearly a very popular place with the locals (always a good sign). Not only is it popular with humans though I was quickly joined by a couple of cheeky sparrows, followed by a big raven type bird, who leered ominously from the chair opposite. Anyway, the coffee tasted decent, aided somewhat by the wonderful pastry. My only disappointment was yes, unbelievably, still no one recognised me.
Our next destination was most definitely a purveyor of fine coffee. ‘Drop Coffee’ have a well established reputation and after picking up Clare off we set on a 20 minute walk. Drop is located on Wollmar Yxkullsgatan on Sodermalm. The place, the filter coffee and flat white we both agreed were as good as the cool solitary member of staff.
On our walk back Clare suddenly felt inspired to throw a right turn into a small green area, which it turned out was the grounds of Maria Magdalena Church. And what grounds they were, awash with a stunning sea of lit candles. Candles lit we discovered in memoriam of lost loved ones. The poignancy of this was heightened by the very recent loss Clare’s much loved dad, Derick. We very nearly cancelled our trip, but concluded he would have wanted us to continue with our plans and his hand was most definitely on Clare’s shoulder encouraging us to make that right turn. We returned the following day with a lighted candle and it was a very special moment.
Anyway, back to the serious business of coffee. As we walked back by the waters edge we decided to jump on a ferry that had just docked alongside us. It would soon be heading back to another nearby island, that of Djurgarden, which has, wait for it, an absolute must see attraction. Yes, an ABBA Museum! Someone had said it was there, but that it was a bit expensive. I’m sorry, but we both grew up with ABBA and this was not something we were gonna’ miss. Inside is an incredible array of memorabilia and opportunities to live out your Abba fantasies. Yes, I became the 5th member of Abba, white gown and all. Travelling back on the ferry we braved the open front of the boat. Only a few minutes journey, but the sea breeze completely invigorated our senses, brushing off any remaining cobwebs and making us both feel that we’d truly arrived in Sweden. Back on dry land we wandered around Gamla Stan and started to realise just what a massive eating out culture there must be. In fairness most places were actually fairly quiet given it was Tuesday and out of season. You won’t be surprised to know interspersed between the eating places are lots of lovely independent shops, selling super Skandi stuff. It might not be everyone’s thing, but we loved it.
The next morning to start the day we both went back to Skeppsbro Bageri - Clare’s favourite spot - This was followed by a wander around the impressive and again nearby Kungliga Slottet, a royal palace. Overlooking the lake front its rather Buckingham Palace-esque complete with very young armed guards. Gamla Stan is made up of lots of little side streets and we were drawn into a small, but perfectly formed craft and gift shop, Company Kolibri. We were in there for a good 30 minutes chatting to the owner, Katarina, (I did briefly wonder if we might be related) Anyway, we bought a few things including a mug. I have a real thing about cups and mugs. Hot beverages have to be served in the right vessel, no question.
Now Stockholm is a rather posh place, full of sophistication and class, but what happened shortly after I left this shop, as shocking as it initially was, is something I feel in the interest of balance that I have to share. One of the things you notice in Stockholm is that there are no bins. That’s because the refuse collection system is not just sustainable, it’s all underground. One of the things that really grinds my gears in Sheffield and UK cities generally is that bins are left out for days, sometimes even weeks on end, uncollected and overflowing.
Clare joined me up on the square a few moments later and we dived into the nearby Grillska Huset, yet another wonderful old cafe. I didn’t try their coffee, opting instead for a breakfast tea and a few cute little buns; ‘Notros’ is atruly delightful.
There’s a much larger restaurant alongside their cafe, but time was limited and my sights were set on our planned trip to Cafe Pascal on Skanegatan, again on Sodermalm. A good 30 minute walk, was made even more enjoyable by a mini diversion up onto the Katarina walkway, via the Katrina lift (which, by the way, most definitely didn’t smell of anything). The views it provides over the water and city were stunning. There are even a couple of bars up there if you wanted to hang out a little longer. But not for us, we were on a mission.
As soon as we entered Cafe Pascal I knew it was gonna’ be good. Sacks of flour just inside the door the open kitchen, a menu listing guest coffees, bags of their own retail coffee and a few of the days fresh pastries still left on the counter. It all looked right, as did the hipster looking young man and woman behind the bar. Both dressed in black, but with nice friendly smiles.
My filter coffee had a nice zippy zing to it, an Ethiopian bean we’ve had in Marmadukes from Yirgacheffe. Now zippy zing isn’t a recognised coffee flavour note, but I have to say I sometimes struggle with the notes attributed to some beans by roasters. I get fruity, nutty, chocolatey and floral, but many roasters use words such as bubblegum, or fruits I’ve never even heard of, let alone tasted. No, for me, lightly roasted speciality coffee is all about making sure an interesting taste or flavour is still there, unlike darkly roasted beans where the flavour has just about disappeared. Some of our customers complain that the coffee is off, because it tastes different. It’s the job of people like me to bang the coffee drum for speciality beans that celebrate those differences. We don’t like predictable.
During our visit we had a great chat with the Cafe Pascal staff during which we told them they’d been recommended by Drop Coffee and added that they were put forward as the only alternative in Stockholm. Perhaps predictably they also struggled to come up with anywhere else for us to try. We had however a suggestion of our own. Gast is a well established speciality coffee shop with an international reputation. They gave it a qualified thumbs up, but in the absence of any other coffee shops we resolved it could be worth a visit. Before leaving we were invited to try another filter, which they kindly brewed up for us. It too was full of flavour and I left full of caffeine and joy at finding such a terrific speciality coffee shop with staff, who clearly cared about their product and craft. I even bought a bag of their own brand Pascal coffee beans.
The following day, the last of our trip to Stockholm, I was up bright and early. Before my wanderings began once again I popped into Skeppsbro Bageri for a morning filter coffee and cinnamon bun. A view of the water is irresistible for me, as is the case for the sparrows and ravens, who again joined me for breakfast. Very pushy are Swedish sparrows I have to say, shamelessly hopping onto my plate and nicking off with the remnants of my bun. Before long though I was again pounding the local streets, looking this time for an espresso bar called Caffelini, a place recommended by Katarina, the lady in the gift shop. It’s on Vasterlanggatan a street bursting with cafes and shops. It’s very small, with standing room only, and operated by an Italian guy, who likes to chat to locals. I had to do a couple of walkbys before there was room to step inside. I was looking forwarding to chatting, but sadly he didn’t seem to know much English and my Swedish and Italian is even more limited. Hey ho, I sampled his flat white and it was a nice drink. Not the flavour I prefer, but I could see why it was popular.
Soon after I was joined by Clare and we were Gast bound. Our walk there took us through a more built up modern shopping part of Stockholm called Norrmalm. Gast itself is on Radmansgatan just beyond the retail district. As we got near we spotted their ghostly Gast logo standing proud from the building. On entering our first impressions of the layout and design were positive. It actually looked a bit like our original Marmadukes site on Norfolk Row. Their offer included a brunch menu with egg dishes such as Benedict and Royal. I went for the benedict and Clare a chicken salad. Both were nicely done and tasty. The filter coffee and flat white wasn’t quite up to Drop and Cafe Pascal, but it was definitely drinkable and with their great food offer we were in no doubt it was every bit worth the trip.
Back in Slussen where we were staying we had a couple of hours to kill before setting off to the airport. Clare plumped for, yes, you guessed it, Skeppsbro Bageri, whilst I had an attack of cultural wanderlust and headed for the National Museum, which for the past few days had been gazing invitingly at me across the water. Once inside I took a trip through the ages, starting with the 16th Century on the top floor down through to the modern art and sculptures near the entrance. By the way, there is a huge toilet block in the basement, which is smarter and cleaner than most cafes or shops customer areas in the UK. Sad, but true. I enjoyed my trip to the museum, but as I desperately searched for the slightest family resemblance on the many portraits on display there, I couldn’t help, but reflect on all the people staring back at me through the ages. Here today, gone tomorrow. Also sad, and also true. But, what it made me feel after a brief moment of sadness, was that this is life and while we are knocking about it is to be cherished and enjoyed.
Drinking great coffee is of course one of those little things we should cherish. I absolutely love being part of not just the UK’s, but the World’s cafe culture. Over the past 11 years I have met some wonderful people, some of whom are now good friends. The coming together and sharing of great food and drink is something we humans have done for a very long time and long may it continue. The cafe culture actually originated, not in Italy, but in the Middle East as an alternative to taverns, where forbidden alcohol was served. Radio 4 did a great programme called The Mohammadian Bean. Definitely worth a listen if you can find it.
We loved Denmark, Norway and surprise, surprise, we now love Sweden too. And yes, I know the Vikings were Danish, but I like to think that as well as all the pillaging and stuff at heart they were also an inclusive, multi cultural lot picking up customs and people as they ransacked their way across Europe. Finding great coffee shops is something they didn’t get to the chance to do, but thankfully we all can. Your caffeine intake should of course be limited, so if you are going to drink coffee please drink great coffee. It’s usually round about the same price as in the chains and one fabulous way to explore a new town, city or country. It certainly works for me. Where to next? I’m thinking Germany, maybe Berlin or Leipzig - I love JS Bach.
Wherever we end up it will, like Stockholm, have to have great coffee. ‘Hej da’, for now