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Reviews of London's Restaurants, Supper Clubs and Hotels, Wine Tastings, Travel Writing, and Home to the Japanese and French Supper Clubs in Islington

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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The 2012 London Cocktail Week Highlights

Words by Simeen Kadi

The third year of the ever-growing London Cocktail Week was held earlier this month. This year, while much of the activity was concentrated around Covent Garden's Seven Dials, there were offshoots all around London.

A highlight of the week was definitely Smatt's Rum & Ice Cream Shack. Featuring Smatt's Jamaican rum, these were high voltage cocktails disguised as an innocuous soft scoop. Delicious but deadly, which was why the pop-up on Monmouth Street was packed to the gills. Let's hope Twist London, the creators, decide to find another home soon.


Murdock, the famed purveyor of grooming products for the discerning gentleman, collaborated with Sacred Gin of Highgate. This boutique gin  is crafted by Ian Hart at his north London home and he had created a special Murdock Gin to mark the occasion.


The thinking behind it was that many of the ingredients used in creating Murdock's popular colognes were also used in the production of gin.The Murdock Gin contained a heady mix of wood, fruits and precious spices such as Patchouli, cedar, Seville oranges, cloves and nutmeg and the result was an aromatic and refined gin which was beautifully showcased in the two cocktails created for the occasion. The Avalon Martinez was sharp and citrussy, with Campari and lemons as well as the gin while the Black Tea Gimlet featured essence of black tea and lime. Strong but very well balanced.


Gin has been having a moment for a couple of years now and this was evident in the number of gin-based cocktails during the week. Rum and whisky are also seeing interest from the new wave of London mixologists with the Worship Street Whistling Shop showcasing Talisker and oysters and Singleton of Dufftown (a winner of the World Whiskies Awards 2012) But, I was relieved to see that vodka had not been completely usurped, with Ketel One, Belveder and Zubrowka flying the flag for this fine spirit at Dial Bar in Seven Dials and uber cool Happiness Forgets in Shoreditch.


Kopapa, Peter Gordon's pan-Asian Covent Garden restaurant also entered into the spirit of things by collaborating with Sipsmith. There were two feature cocktails which were paired wth Kopapa's small plates such as Spring Rolls of Slow Roasted Tom Yum Pork, Coriander, Wombok (no, me neither) and Lime Mayonnaise. The Shiso Martini was a stand-out, made with Sipsmith barley vodka blended with shochu (Japanese or Korean plum spirit) infused with shiso leaves and garnished with pickled ginger. Complex but refreshing and moreish.


As London Cocktail Week mutates seamlessly into London Restaurant Festival there will be many more opportunities to explore spirits old and new and to indulge in some exciting food and cocktail pairings.

To get an early start on next year's London Cocktail Week visit their website here.

Monday, 29 October 2012

London Restaurant Reviews - Tramshed

Steak and chicken? Or just cock and bull?

Words by Simeen Kadi

The venerable Mark Hix has been very busy in the last few years. Since his first solo project, Hix’s Oyster and Chop House, launched in 2008 the openings have been coming thick and fast. Hix is a veteran and a pro in the restaurant game and has stuck to a winning formula. He knows what diners want and he delivers – mostly for the expense account crowd and the food luvvies for whom he can do no wrong. However, as a mere greedy food lover, I have had occasion to baulk at the prices at his Hix establishments in Clerkenwell, Soho, etc.

So, when his new gaff Tramshed was hailed as top dollar quality at pedestrian prices, it was definitely time to visit this old, decommissioned power station in Shoreditch. There is no denying the restaurant is stunning to look at – as tall as an aircraft hangar and complete with original two-tone tiles and other relics from its former life. Much has already been said about the Damien Hirst installation. Suspended from the ceiling in the middle of this cavernous space is yet another study in formaldehyde – this time a bull - looking regal and a little haughty although this could be the result of the bluish tinge of the pickling liquid in which he has been immersed. Or it could be the irritating fact that he has to contend with a cockerel perched on his back.

Tramshed restaurant

So far, so predictable. The other art in the restaurant, also around the cock and bull lines, is more interesting. Again, hailing from the studio of the great Hirst, the painting depicts the 1990s cartoon characters 'Cow and Chicken' from the Cartoon Network.

The restaurant is vast but clever zoning and a mezzanine make it feel more communal. It was buzzing when we arrived on a Monday night. The drinks list needs far more poring over than the food, there is a good selection of cocktails as well as a few of ‘Mark’s favourites’ such as a negroni. There are also good beers and ales, including Hix’s own IPA and Oyster Ale.

The food menu takes little deliberation and I suspect most people had arrived already knowing what they are going to order. The choice, as the name suggests, is either steak or chicken. The steak comes in 250 gram increments up to a kilo at £80. The chicken options are either a whole roast bird to share or roast poussin (spring chicken on the menu) for one. You can also have either meat fashioned into a salad, not something our table or any other diners that night were wont to do. The steak and chicken come with fries and there are sides such as onion rings, salad or seasonal veggies too. The starters offer more variety (well, three) and can change daily – you get to taste all for £8 a head.

The starters were fine. The Yorkshire Pudding with Chicken Liver Parfait was a little too cold and a little too heavy but the pud itself was crisp and light. Also, it was good to see that chicken offal was being used, as they must have a surfeit of chickeny bits to contend with daily. The Smoked Salmon on Toast was just that and the fish was on the over-smoked and oily side. An Early Windsor Waldorf Salad (whatever that means) was crunchy and light, pretty much what you may make at home yourself. Our wine arrived after the starters were half eaten. Shame as the Tramshed Red, Collovray et Terrier, VdePD `11 (£6.00 for a 175ml glass,  £16.50 for a 50ml carafe or £23.50 for a bottle) we chose would have gone well with the chicken parfait.

After giving us enough time to have the usual Damien Hirst argument (genius or one-idea wonder?) our main courses arrived. And what a deflating moment that was. We had watched as plump, golden birds had been delivered to neighbouring tables. As there were three of us, two wanting red meat, we had opted for the Roast Spring Chicken. This turned out to be a scrawny runt of a thing with feet and claws bigger than its drumsticks. It was served in the same way as its larger cousins, impaled neck first with feet and claws waving up at its diners. The skin was crisp and well flavoured, the flesh was moist but woefully inadequate for all but the smallest of appetites. Skinny fries, flavoured with rosemary, filled the gaping void.

The Steak was equally disappointing. At £20 for a 250 gram steak what arrived looked considerably smaller – a thin slab rather than a chunky wedge. Had we not wanted our meat cooked differently, we would have ordered the 500 gram version to get enough protein mass to withstand the cooking process. What we got was a weedy piece of beef with very little of the marbling advertised on the menu (it is called the Mightly Marbled Glenarm Sirloin) and so much charring that it just tasted burnt, rather than crisp and caramelised on the outside. Rare and medium rare beef should be treated with more respect. Much is made of the beef here; it is slow reared in Northern Ireland and then aged for 28 days in a Himalayan salt chamber which is said to tenderise the meat and bring out its sweet, bovine flavour. While the meat was tender it certainly lacked the dense, richness of well-marbled sirloin and the predominant flavour was charred meat. The chips and onion rings were both very good, beautifully crisp and well flavoured.

There are three choices for pudding, as well as a selection of ices and cheese. The Apple and Gooseberry Pie with Custard was comforting with a fruit filing providing a good amount of zing to the creamy custard. The Raspberries with Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream was simpleand delicious.

Tramshed also does a brisk trade in take-away steak and chicken sandwiches, which may be a good way to experience the cooking without committing to a whole evening and a bigger wad of cash. There is a basement art space which is open in the daytime with exhibits changing every six weeks, as well as a small library.

Cost: Around £50 per head including wine. Wines start at £18.75 a bottle

Likes: Great space and lively atmosphere

Dislikes: Both the chicken and steak were a disappointment

Verdict: In all, Tramshed is a good addition to the Shoreditch scene, bringing a bright and buzzy atmosphere and slick restauranting to an area whose cutting edge is being blunted by safe, crowd- pleasing alternatives. While I don’t think it is a culinary triumph by some way, it can deliver a good night out. Just go with lots of friends and don’t order the smaller sizes.

HIX at The Tramshed on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Pie Man Does Street Food US Style

Words by Simeen Kadi

Andy Bates, aka the Pie Man, asked his mother if she would help out with his Whitecross Street stall while he traversed the US experiencing street food for his latest television series for UK Food Network. Street Feasts USA begins this week and sees Bates sidling up to street food trucks from NY to LA sampling everything from waffles to po'boys. Meanwhile, his loyal mum took the train up from Kent to (wo)man his pie stall – and a fine job she did too as the stall was pretty much cleaned out by 2.30pm both times I walked passed recently.

Back in London, Andy Bates is keen to show us how unfussy and delicious street food can be and so he invited a few foodie types to cook and eat a couple of his street food recipes while sharing with us some of his experiences of street food US-style.

The first was a vegetarian scotch egg and I was pretty sceptical. Scotch eggs have been given pretty much every twist and turn recently and every pub with foodie leanings has had a go at making their own, some with delicious results. But a vegetarian scotch egg? It wasn't grabbing us foodies on a wet Saturday morning, in any case. But we all persevered and the result was surprisingly satisfying and delicious. While the chick pea/bean combo did not have the chewiness of forcemeat, there was still a rich mouthfeel and the ginger and coriander in the mix went well with the egg.

Here is the recipe if you would like to try them out for yourself:

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

Serves 8
Preparation 20 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes

4 large free range eggs
1 x 400g can chickpeas
1 x 400g can red kidney beans
1 x 400g can white cannellini beans
1 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp chilli
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
125g plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 free range eggs, beaten
400g white breadcrumbs  
Vegetable oil, for deep frying


Place the eggs, still in their shells, in a pan of boiling water, simmer for 6 minutes. Drain and cool the eggs under cold running water, then peel.

For the filling, drain the canned beans and chickpeas, and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Mash them together, creating a coarse mix. Add the coriander, ginger, chilli and seasoning  and mix.

Divide into four 100g portions and flatten each out on a piece of clingfilm, into ovals about 12.5cm long and 7.5cm at its widest point.

Place each egg onto bean mix oval, then pick the cling film square up by its corners, and use it to wrap the mix around each egg. Make sure the coating is smooth and completely covers the egg.

Prepare a crumbing station by adding flour to a wide bowl. In another bowl, combine the beaten eggs with milk. Put the breadcrumbs on a large plate.
Roll each one first in the flour, then in the beaten egg, making sure it is completely coated. Then roll in the breadcrumbs to completely cover. Repeat the process excluding flour to double-coat.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 180⁰C. Carefully place each Scotch egg into the hot oil and deep-fry for 7-8 minutes until golden and crisp.

Carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

We also tried our hand at making Andy's take on Po'boys. Po'boys (derived from Poor Boy) is a sandwich with origins in New Orleans where seafood such as oysters were a cheap source of protein. Deep fried and stuffed into a bun, they are still a famous New Orleans attraction. Andy was inspired by the idea and created his own version, this time using prawns roughly mixed and deep fried accompanied with a crisp celeriac remoulade to cut through the richness of the prawns. The result was a very fine sandwich indeed with a substantial filling which looks impressive when cut in half. A great recipe which will wow your guests but is actually quick and easy to make.

Prawn Po Boys

Serves 2
Preparation 20 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes

1 tsp mustard
1 tbsp mayonnaise
I tbsp crème fraiche
1 tbcp chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 celeriac, peeled then julienned using a mandolin

20g cashew nuts
200g whole prawns, raw and peeled
Pinch cayenne
Zest of 1 lemon
10g panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
40g Parmesan
1 focaccia roll
20g butter
10g baby leaf spinach


For the remoulade. In a bowl put the mustard, mayonnaise, crème fraiche, chives, salt and pepper and stir. Add the celeriac to the bowl, mix and put to one side.

For the parmesan crisps, put 4 piles of Parmesan on to a heatproof mat and put them into an oven at 200°C for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and crisp up.

Put a pan on the heat and add the cashew nuts, stirring until toasted. Remove to a board, roughly chop and place into a bowl until needed.

Reserve 6 of the whole prawns and put the remaining amount into a hand blender and add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Blitz until it becomes a purée, pour into a bowl then add the remaining 6 whole prawns and fold in.

Put a pan on the heat and pour enough oil to cover ½cm depth. Wet your hands before forming the prawn patty into two oval burger shapes, try to keep the whole prawns in the middle of the patties.

Carefully place in the pan away from you, check after 3 minutes, turn over and cook for a further 3 minutes. Once cooked, carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Take the ends off the focaccia and slice through the middle. Butter the focaccia and place on to a hot griddle until golden.

To serve, put the patty on the bread, then the cheese, some spinach, spoon on some celeriac, sprinkle over some cashew nuts and finally the Parmesan crisps. Using some greaseproof paper, roll it over to become a wrap and twist the ends. Eat immediately.

Watch a bunch of food bloggers cooking up and serving these tasty treats

Champion street food around the UK and you could win a free lunch - To mark the new series UK Food Network is asking for your help to identify the UK's street food heroes. Just take a photo of your favourite street food and post it through Twitter or Instagram using #StreetFeastsUSA. And don't forget to add the hashtag of your fave street food vendor too.

Or have a look at what others have posted on the Stweet Food Map. More details here.

Words by Simeen Kadi
Simeen Kadi is a technology marketer and a bonne vivante. She has recently begun sharing her dining and drinking exploits as a guest reviewer, writing about food, cocktails and fun times from around the world. Simeen lives in and is in love with London.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Scone in sixty seconds…

Words by Felicity Spector

There can’t be many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon: a gloriously bohemian venue, some of the country’s best chefs whipping up a range of specially created cakes and scones - and all to raise money for Action against Hunger.

Image by Lisa Barber

Top marks, then to the inaugural session of The Scone Club, sponsored by the bespoke tea company Lalani & Co, in the space currently occupied by the Pret a Diner pop up at the Royal Academy’s Burlington Social Club. It was all part of the London Restaurant Festival, which was filling London with all sorts of exciting and eclectic events earlier this month.

Image by Lisa Barber

The seats were packed in around a large square bar, with a space in the middle where a group of chefs were busy doing clever things with confectioners’ sugar and icing trays of buns. We negotiated our way through the subdued lighting and snagged some seats at the back, nearest the cakes: always best to be near the cakes, in my experience.

Image by Lisa Barber

Nadeem Lalani showed us a ‘Tea Library’ with a brief selection of rare, seasonal teas, and then presented us with a small individual pot of First Flush Gopaldhara Garden Darjeeling, together with a little timer to ensure we let it brew for long enough as we waited for our scone fest. It was beautiful, light and fragrant, and incredibly fresh. And all the better for being drunk out of a glass.

Image by Lisa Barber

The food menu couldn’t have sounded more promising, from an array of chefs with 5 Michelin stars between them: there were a couple of savoury options, a brace of cakes, and an intriguing fruit soup concoction from Nobu’s executive pastry chef Regis Cursan.

Image by Lisa Barber

In fact Regis himself was stationed right opposite us, down in the kitchen area, and soon sorted us out with a large slate full of baked goodies to share.

We tried a savoury pinwheel scone stuffed with roasted onion and herbs, from Marcus Waering and Oliver Wilson at the Gilbert Scott, but my favourite was Richard Corrigan and Chris McGowan’s pumpkin and cobnut scone, pale green with pumpkin seed oil, filled with goats cheese and a thick layer of pumpkin chutney.

Image by Lisa Barber

From there we segued easily into the cakes: Anna Hansen, from the Modern Pantry, urging us to take a couple of her delicious pistachio and pandan cakes, while my friend also made short work of a lemon drizzle from Le Manoir. Ravinder Bhogal, best known as Cook in Boots, offered a huge tray of rose scented mini scones with raspberry jam, and some bite sized peanut butter and jam madeleines.

Image by Lisa Barber

You might think any normal person would have been full at this stage - but try resisting Regis Cursan’s interpretation of ‘cake’: an apricot soup, tart and refreshing, with a huge pile of amazingly buttery, melt in the mouth peanut butter cookie pieces - I didn’t have the beer ice-cream which went with it, as I’m teetotal, but everyone around me seemed to be wolfing it down.

Image by Lisa Barber

It would clearly have been rude not to try the special fruit brioche buns, or ’manchets’, from Jeremy Lee which apparently aren’t normally allowed out of Quo Vadis. All I can say is that it was worth the effort. One of my favourites of the afternoon. I did admit defeat at the chocolate scone-brioche from Alexis Gaultier, although I sneaked it home for later. You’d have done the same.

All of this amazing spread managed to raise £2,000 for charity, a fantastic achievement by the boys from Lalani & Co, the chefs who took part, and everyone who pitched in to help.

Image by Lisa Barber

Hopefully this will just be the first Scone Club of many. Personally, I’m thinking of taking out a life membership, if they’ll have me. Hope no-one finds out I sneaked that chocolate brioche home in my handbag.

Words by Felicity Spector
Felicity Spector has worked at Channel 4 News for 23 years and is currently chief writer. She has a bunch of fancy Masters degrees from Oxford and Harvard and writes about US politics. She is also passionate about food and has judged the Great Taste Awards for 5 years, helping to champion the country's best small producers. She is especially passionate about desserts. Cheesecake and brownies a particular specialty.

 Images by Lisa Barber
If you would like to see more of Lisa's fantastic photography, visit her website here.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The London Foodie Goes to Sweden - The Swedish Lapland

Back in May 2012, I was lucky enough to be asked to be one of four hosts in London for a "Swedish Blind Date" event. This consisted of dinner for myself and four guests at my home, cooked by a top Swedish chef.  Each host was allocated a specific region of the country by Visit Sweden, with regional chefs flown in specially to prepare the meals at the Swedish embassy, before heading out across the four locations in London to serve their fare simultaneously.

The region and cuisine allocated to me was Swedish Lapland, and this was when I first met Graeme Richardson, of Visit Luleå, who came specially to help host the event, and explain the cultural background to our meal (more on this dinner here). As is often the way, one thing led to another, and some months later I found myself on a plane touching down in Luleå to meet Graeme once again, this time on his home territory.

Image by Graeme Richardson

It was difficult for me, arriving in Luleå, the capital of Swedish Lapland, to imagine that a 3 hour flight from London's Heathrow airport could transport me to such a different and fascinating world - of hunting, dining on reindeer, moose and brown bear, sleeping in posh tree houses, gazing at the Northern Lights, and savouring nature and the wilderness. I don't get to do many of these things in Islington or anywhere else for that matter, and was keen to discover what the four days ahead of me would bring.

Image by Graeme Richardson

Even for the Swedes, the Swedish Lapland (the most northerly part of the country) is one of the most undiscovered of regions. It is certainly one of the most unspoilt I have ever seen, and it was interesting to experience a place where people are so connected to nature. The Luleå River and surrounding forests dominate the scenery, and unsurprisingly, hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are just a way of life for most locals.

Image by Graeme Richardson

On arrival, my introduction to Swedish hospitality could not have been more auspicious. My first night in Luleå was spent at Graeme's home, with his Swedish wife, family and friends, where I was treated to a home cooked Swedish meal. Cured trout, thinly sliced and served on crispy brown bread was followed by sea bass marinated in sugar, salt and dill, which made for a delicious dinner. Both fish were caught and prepared by Mr Gustafsson, who has been fishing in the Luleå river for 40 years, and were of superb quality and freshness.

The next four days showed me that Northern Swedes connection with nature extended well beyond food to almost every aspect of their lives.

What to Do

The town of Sörbyn is a short drive away from Luleå, and this is where I headed to meet Palle Anderson and Magnus Lidberg for a local hunting expedition. Palle and his folks opened Sörbyn Hotel and Conference Centre in the heart of Råne River Valley, on the shores of Lake Vitträsket. The location has a new hotel with 8 twin or double rooms, as well as a number of four-bed self-contained cabins suitable for families or those wanting to participate in the many outdoor activities offered at the hotel.

One such activity is hunting. The Sörbyn woodland is home to deer, moose, reindeer, brown bear, as well as lynx, hare and many birds including capercaillie. The woods are also rich in plants including lichens and mosses, orchids, and numerous types of wild berry, making a perfect habitat for the local fauna.

Image by Graeme Richardson

Kallkällan (The Spring) is the hotel's restaurant where head chef Richard Karlsson cooks the fine local produce. I had one of the best meals of my stay there, cooked by Richard himself (see where to eat, below).

No sooner had we arrived at Sörbyn than we were out hunting in the forest with a dog and rifles. In Swedish Lapland for centuries, hunting has been regarded not as a sport, but as a necessity for food, and for management of the forest wildlife. We were hunting for capercaillie, and the technique was fascinating. The dog would find the bird in a tree top, and bark assertively (but not aggressively) to hold its attention (too loud and it would fly away). While the bird is distracted, the huntsman would gently approach the tree and shoot the bird, still mesmerised by the dog. So having a well-trained dog is key to catching the prey.

While we hiked through the forest following the dog, we walked through streams, and across stunning scenes of moss and lichen, eating forest berries as we found them. When we caught up with the dog, it had found a female capercaillie, which Magnus expertly saw to. Lunch, finally!

In addition to hunting, Luleå is a magnet for those who love outdoor activities, as there are many. I was there in autumn, but I was told on more than one occasion that Swedish Lapland is at its best during the winter months, when temperatures may fall to as low as -40C. Skiing is an obvious example, but beyond that, some other more exotic winter pursuits on offer. These include dog-sledging with Huskies, riding snowmobiles, ice-hockey, and driving cars on frozen, snow-free rivers. Fishing, white water rafting and canoeing are popular during the rest of the year.

Image by Graeme Richardson

During my stay, I visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gammelstad Church Town, close to Luleå. In former days, Swedes had to pay a hefty fine to the state if they did not attend church service. Transportation and particularly accommodation near the church were very much in need to fulfil this duty. Since distances are huge in Swedish Lapland, and Gammelstad had the only church in the region, land owners from afar were allowed to build small tin and wood cottages where they could stay when they came for service. These were the reasons behind what is now a famous and intriguing cultural attraction.

Image by Graeme Richardson

While in Luleå, another unmissable activity is to go food-shopping and attend a cookery class at the Hemmagastronomi (a beautiful deli selling local artisan products/cookery school/events venue), in the North Harbour at Luleå. The founder, Simon Laiti, is a bit of a celebrity in his native Luleå. Having worked at a number of renowned Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Sweden, he opened his own, scooping the best restaurant in Sweden award in 2006. After its closure, he moved back to Luleå and opened Hemmagastronomi, and is today a true ambassador for Swedish Lapland's gastronomy.

I was lucky enough to meet Simon and had a long chat with him about what makes the local cuisine so special. His view is that being uniquely northern Scandinavian, it does not and should not emulate other international cuisines. Rather, it has kept its own identity, having strong roots in local produce and seasonality. For example, they will hunt and cook game and serve it with berries from the same forest, generally use only local cheeses, and even extract caviar (Löjrom ) from local fish (Löja), all of which I was fortunate enough to try at Hemmagastronomi. I loved the space Simon has created - a definite must-visit for any foodie in Luleå.

The Luleå archipelago has over 1,300 islands, many of which are uninhabited and unspoiled. It is relatively easy to take a water-taxi or sailing boat to any of these islands, which the locals do to go hiking, foraging or fishing. In winter months, the Luleå harbour is also the starting point for the ice road, from where you can drive by car over the frozen sea to these islands. On our trip, I travelled to the island of Hindersön, to stay at the lovely Jopikgården guest house and restaurant (more details in "where to stay", see below).

Where to Stay

Tree Hotel

Britta and Kent, a couple in their 50s, wanted to move away from their conventional careers into something new. After much searching, they found in their home town of Harads a former old people's home which was in great need of renovation. They acquired it to open a guest house, little suspecting that today, they would own one of northern Sweden's most iconic attractions.

It all started when Kent, on one of his fishing expeditions, happened to be in the company of some of Sweden's most renowned architects. They were having a discussion about a fantasy of building a hotel made of tree rooms, when they decided to put pen to drawing board and give it a go. Fast-forward a few years, and today the Tree Hotel houses five such rooms, making Kent and Britta into national celebrities, and the hotel one of the most talked about in Sweden. 

The main guest house (Brittas Pensionat) has maintained many of its 1950s features, and has been decorated with a beautiful array of vintage crockery and furniture, and with its artwork and vintage artefacts, feels quirky and charming. It is here that breakfast is served, and also where Britta prepares home cooked meals for her guests.

A few hundred metres away into the forest, the tree rooms could not be further removed from this retro scene. The ultra-modern rooms are perched high in the forest's ancient pine trees, each one designed by a different Swedish architect. 

The Mirror Cube is an hiding place among the trees, camouflaged by the mirrored walls that
reflect their surroundings. The base consists of an aluminium frame mounted around the tree trunk and the walls are covered with reflective glass. To avoid birds flying into the mirrored walls, they have been clad with infrared film which is invisible to humans but highly visible to birds. The interior is made of plywood and the windows provide a panoramic view. Guests enter by a 12 meter long bridge leading up to the tree room.

The Cabin's location was chosen based on the idea of creating a platform high up on the
hillside overlooking the Luleå river valley. Guests enter the hut through a horizontal bridge among the trees. The Cabin is like a capsule, a foreign object in the trees.

The Bird's Nest, as the name suggests, resembles a giant bird’s nest perching in a tree top. The interior however, is surprisingly spacious, and can accommodate a family with two children comfortably. The walls are clad in wood, and the windows almost disappear amidst the many branches on the exterior. Guests enter with the help of a retractable stairway.

Unlike the Bird’s Nest, which harmonizes with its surroundings, the idea of creating an environment that was completely “out of place” gave rise to The UFO. The room is cast in durable composite materials, while the interior has a modern feel. Entrance is via a retractable stairway.

The Blue Cone, where I stayed, is a traditional wooden structure, and despite its name, is bright red. Guests enter the room via a bridge from the nearby mountainside. The interior is simply but elegantly furnished with Nordic-designed pieces. The most magnificent thing about my room though, was the view into the forest, and the mountains and lake in the distance. On the upper floor of my tree room, there was an observation area, the roof having a large round glass window to allow a view of the stars and Northern Lights should you be lucky enough to see them. This was an idyllic experience, unlike any I have had before.

My Room View

Among the tree houses, there is a central wooden building which houses a relaxation room, Swedish sauna, showers and toilets. It is here that guests staying in the tree houses will shower.

Each tree room has a modern, environmentally friendly combustion toilet which heats to 400C to dispose of waste hygienically and odourlessly, and water efficient sinks. Room rates are around £400 per night, including breakfast. More details are on their website here, and you can also see the You Tube video below that features this fascinating hotel.


On the island of Hindersön, a 15 minute boat ride from Luleå's harbour is the charming boutique hotel of Jopikgården. I was fortunate that my visit coincided with the Löjrom (caviar) festival on the island, and it was here that my host Graeme Richardson of Visit Luleå took me to stay. The hotel is small, with only four rooms, plus rooms with bunk beds in the adjacent house. It has a lovely country estate look to it, and the beautiful restaurant is elegantly furnished, opening into a large conservatory that is used as a dining room, and looks out onto the sea. 

Visitors come here from Luleå to meet friends for dinner, bed and breakfast, go hiking or fishing, and enjoy the hospitality and food at the hotel. Graeme had invited some of his friends to Jopikgården, whom I had the pleasure to meet over a fantastic and boozy dinner which ended up in a hot tub at around 4am. More information on this excellent dinner is in the "Where to Eat" section below.

Image by Graeme Richardson

My en-suite room was simply but comfortably furnished. Room rates at Jopikgården are 188 Swedish Kroner, or about £190 including breakfast.

Where to Eat

Kallkällan Restaurant at Sörbyn Hotel and Conference Centre

Following our hunting expedition at Sörbyn, we headed back to the hotel to meet Head Chef Richard Karlsson who would be cooking the fruits of our labours - our precious capercaillie. He kindly allowed me into the kitchen to watch the preparation, and explained in detail the local ingredients he would be using, their origins, and the dishes we were about to eat.

Our starter was a Nigiri Sushi made with Arctic Char, a local fish.  He cleverly used a mix of oat porridge and crème fraiche in place of sushi rice, and served the sushi with sliced blowtorched cucumber, lobster oil, cabbage and ginger mousse. I loved the flavours and presentation of this dish, especially his Nordic take on a Japanese classic using local ingredients.

For main course, naturally, we had Roasted Capercaillie, which was surprisingly dense yet tender, flavourful, and not nearly as gamey as I had expected. Chef Karlsson served it with a black liquorice glaze (a heavenly combination - game and liquorice), carrot and roasted garlic puree cooked in a crayfish broth, sliced cabbage cooked in port wine and balsamic vinegar, vasterbotten cheese fries (a local cheese similar in flavour to Parmesan).

This was  a delicious main course, and I particularly enjoyed the carrot and roasted garlic puree.  Chef Karlsson transformed the humble carrot into something else. He added the sweetness of roasted garlic, and by poaching the vegetable in a broth made from crayfish shells, the resulting puree had many different layers of flavour.  

The dessert was an ultra-light layered sponge cake covered in meringue, and filled with satsuma and crème chantilly. This was a refreshing, delightful dessert.

Chef Karlsson raises his own pack of Huskies, and offers dog-sledging tours in winter via his company Isdimma.  If you would be interested in trying his cooking closer to home, he will be in London from Monday 22nd to 24th October 2012 for a 3 day VisitSweden pop-up at the Old Truman Brewery (see "Travel Essentials" below).

Image by Graeme Richardson

Image by Graeme Richardson
Tree Hotel

At the main guesthouse (Brittas Pensionat) I had another lovely meal while staying at the Tree Hotel. Like the decor, the food is homely and delicious. Britta and Kent are very warm hosts, and come to sit and talk to their guests during dinner.  I was invited into the kitchen to see Britta prepare some of the food we were about to eat, including brown bear fillet.

We started with a lightly curried soup with salmon, tomatoes and crème fraiche which was creamy, light and well flavoured.

This was followed by moose meatball served with lingonberry jam, Madeira wine sauce and mashed potatoes. I had never eaten moose before, and found it had a gamey quality to it.  Although I suspect moose meat is something of an acquired taste, I enjoyed it, and particularly with its accompanying fine lingonberry jam.

The main course was brown bear fillet with morchella mushroom (morels) sauce, mashed potatoes, blackcurrant jam.  Although eating brown bear might raise some eyebrows, it has been the custom in this northern part of Sweden for centuries. The bear was exquisite like the finest beef fillet, very tender with a delicious savour, and to my surprise had no discernible gamey characteristics. The Pensionat has a limited but impressive wine list.  Graeme and I shared a bottle of Amarone which, needless to say, went down a treat with the bear fillet.

Meals at Brittas Pensionat were one of the best parts of my stay at the Tree Hotel, not only for her delicious home cooking, but also for her and Kent's warm hospitality. 

Raw Deli

The Raw Deli is the baby of Jonas Berger, a food and wine connoisseur who lived in London for many years, and now back in his home town, decided to open a natural foods business. His Raw Deli serves a variety of freshly made wraps using local ingredients. On my visit, I had a wrap of lightly smoked salmon (gravadlax) with julienne cucumber, lettuce, spring onions and ginger with a wasabi dressing. I loved the combination of local ingredients with an Asian influence.  In fact there are a number of similarities between Swedish and Japanese food, with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients and a preponderance of fish, so the combination worked very well.

Another great wrap was of locally grown raw shiitake mushrooms with grated manchego cheese. Another unusual  but delicious combination. Wraps are accompanied by a wide variety of iced teas (I tried peach and oolong tea, which was excellent) and freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices.


On the island of Hindersön in the Luleå archipelago, the boutique hotel of Jopikgården was hosting the annual Löjrom (caviar) festival on the island, and this is where I had another great meal.  

The meal was to show how versatile and delicious Löja, the tiny local fish, and its caviar Löjrom can be.  The fish is small, between a whitebait and sardine in size. The flesh is delicate and well flavoured. The fish is unique to this part of Sweden, living exclusively within a 40km stretch of water where the Luleå river meets the Baltic Sea. It is the caviar though, known internationally as Kalix Löjrom but referred to in gastronomic circles as the "gold of the North", which was the main focus.

Image by Graeme Richardson

We kicked off with grilled Löja, smoked on the premises by Jopikgården's owner, Mr Johansson. This was followed by fried Löja, in a very light batter, tempura style.  They were both delicious, and I was struck by how tiny they are, and could not help wondering how many fish they need to extract a small jar of Löjrom.

Next, we had the famed Löjrom itself.  This is Sweden's answer to sturgeon caviar, with a delicate freshness of flavour, supple texture and subtle saltiness. I was hooked! It was accompanied by many glasses of chilled Swedish spirit made of birch sap, and at each toast, the whole table would sing a traditional Swedish song.

The main course was a delicious moose stew in a rich wine sauce, served with potatoes.  It was a warming, satisfying dish.

The four days I spent in the Swedish Lapland were some of the most fascinating I have had away from home, but I felt I only scraped the surface of this enormous country. I cannot wait to return one day to try some of the winter activities including dog sledging, touring the Luleå archipelago aboard a snowmobile, and even staying at the world famous Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi.

Image by Graeme Richardson

Many thanks to Graeme Richardson of Visit Luleå in Swedish Lapland and Visit Sweden UK for hosting my visit.

Travel Essentials

SAS Airlines flies daily to Lulea via Stockholm - http://www.flysas.com/en/uk/

VisitSweden will be hosting a 3 day pop-up from Monday 22nd to 24th October 2012 at the Old Truman Brewery, 1 Corbet Place, 15 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR. The brewery will be transformed into a traditional Swedish red cottage, and will serve as a venue to show the best of Swedish gastronomy from Luleå on 22nd, West Sweden on 23rd and Skåne on 24th October. There will be a bookable free lunch between 12 and 2pm on a first come first served basis.  To book your space, please contact rsvp@redcottagesweden.co.uk.

Sörbyn Turism and Konferens - http://www.sorbyn.se/en/start/

Isdimma Husky Adventures by Chef Karlsson - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Isdimma-Husky-Adventures/189469074448489

UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gammelstad Church Town - http://www.lulea.se/churchtown

Simon Laiti's Hemmagastronomi Deli and Cookery School - http://www.hemmagastronomi.se/

Tree Hotel - http://www.treehotel.se/?sp=en

Jopikgården in the Luleå archipelago - http://www.jopik.nu/Start.html

Raw Deli - http://rawdeli.se/

If you would like to learn more about the activities, hotels and restaurants in this post, you can contact one of the below tour operators in the UK:

Black Tomat0 - http://www.blacktomato.com/country/sweden
Best Served Scandinavia - http://www.best-served.co.uk/sweden/holiday/11.html
Nordic Experience - http://www.nordicexperience.co.uk/sweden
Original Travel - http://www.originaltravel.co.uk/europe/sweden/treehotel
Simply Sweden - http://www.simplysweden.co.uk
Sunvil Discovery - http://www.sunvil.co.uk/discovery/sweden/northern-sweden/holiday-ideas/winter-holidays-in-luleå
Taber Holidays - http://www.taberhols.co.uk/holidays/sweden/winter_activities
Week end a la carte - http://www.weekendalacarte.co.uk/Lapland-holiday-adventure.php

Other interesting sites on Swedish Lapland:


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