The wizard of Oaxen, leading you down a nature trail-yellow brick road
Claim to fame: Excelling in New Nordic cooking long before the term was coined.
Reason to go: The unparalleled treasure trove of flavors, unleashed from local herbs, leaves and shrubs.
To look out for: The 200 year old mahogany clams.
The island of Djurgården has many attractions, some sophisticated, some more populist. Oaxen Krog and Slip fits right in with its two dining rooms, one for haute gourmandizing and one for leisurely eating. Not that the former is all that stuffy, it’s actually quite laid-back, sometimes it’s almost a fun-house, like when the playful amuse-bouches are presented. These light-hearted expressions counter Forward Legend Magnus Ek’s darker side, a wizard who occasionally delves into Freudian depths. Throughout the years, his cooking has revealed more about the Swedish psyche than artists Strindberg and Bergman (Masters of gloom and drama) ever did in their lifetimes. A soupçon of poetic melancholy echoes through Ek’s 18-course meal, most notably exhibited in the chef’s famous fermented ingredients.
Starting Ek’s culinary trip through the Swedish countryside are eight amuse-bites, the profoundest of which are seafood-based; sizeable shrimps to be eaten shell-on, served with the shrimps’ coral resting on a minute pool of cream of garlic scapes alongside fried swim bladder. You can’t be a Cowardly Lion when tucking into this viscera; it’s an acquired taste that takes courage to eat. Ek is the Godfather of picking wild things in the woods; he was gathering nature’s gifts already 20 years ago, long before foraging was a household term. These days he actively promotes a circular approach, trying to use and re-use all the edibles that are brought into his kitchen. His current obsessions are veggie stems and outer leaves, even moldering ones, i.e. scraps that are usually discarded. Ek also harvests the undiscovered bounties of his immediate environs, among them the highly aromatic lion’s mane mushrooms he finds on oak tree trunks around Djurgården. Local herbs and greenery have always been Ek’s specialty, every dish showcasing a selection of wild edibles. A bed of speckled, velvety thyme powder covers a plate flaunting a lamb loin resting on a round of chargrilled celeriac that resembles a slice of canned pineapple and tastes almost as sweet. Dandelion capers contribute with zest while various herbs, flowers and fronds add indispensable basic taste sensations while simultaneously reducing the need for salt and sugar. Mackerel is gently poached with grape leaves and served with cured, unripe black currants. King prawns, dressed in a thin veil of the outer fat-layer of beef entrecote, are dolled up with wood sorrel and clover blossoms, gilding them with acidity and sweetness. The beef itself is grilled tableside on hot stones. We’re not in Kansas the Culinary Doldrums anymore, Toto!
Ek’s wife and co-restaurateur, Agneta Green, pioneered organic and natural wines in Sweden, she also championed pairing delicate teas with food. Today the couple’s outstanding non-alcoholic offerings are serous contenders on the beverage list. Of course the house custom of expertly ennobling herbs, berries, leaves and flowers stretches all the way into your glass, the juice pairing is one of the best to be had, crowned by oak barrel-aged blackcurrants with mint, a concoction that can out-power any shiraz. Gently carbonating the lighter drinks is a stroke of genius, adding both freshness and longevity.