The smorgasbord is practically the Swedish national dish, a cornucopia of all that is delicious in the freshest local food. But there is a science as well as an art to enjoying the gastronomic extravaganza. As we were seated at the Veranda restaurant at The Grand Hotel, Stockholm’s finest and one of the oldest, we were handed an elegant card, a sort of road map for the meal. The overall message: you’re in for the long haul. Pace yourself. Don’t overload your plate. Make several trips to the buffet and take a fresh plate each time.
Begin with the herring dishes traditionally accompanied by hot potatoes. Together with the herring try a slice of sharp Swedish cheese, crisp bread and a shot of aquavit chased with cold Scandinavian beer. What it failed to mention was that there were eight different varieties of herring to be sampled. Each one had its own very distinctive taste and texture. Talk about dying and going to food heaven.
Next, sample the fish dishes and try the Swedish speciality “gravlax” marinated salmon. Don’t forget the mustard sauce with dill. Try the smoked salmon with a squeeze of lemon. Again, there were at least eight different types of salmon with noticeably different tastes and textures, including an impressive beetroot cured one. There are four suggested wines (as well as a comprehensive win list for those wanting to go it alone.) The Riesling was a perfect companion. And they were right. The Mustard sauce with dill is a worthy companion.
Then we suggest a variety of salads, egg dishes and cold cuts of meat and poultry. Even if you help assemble the most abstemious platter and leave aside all but the barest of green salads, you have to have at least eight varieties of meat. Just to be fair to the chef. Plus flourishes of horseradish and a balmy pumpkin hummus.
Now take your pick of the hot dishes – and remember to take lingonberries with your home-made meatballs. I have to admit. The tastebuds were willing but the stomach was beginning to feel the pressure. However, after a brief breather where we could enjoy the wonderful view of the harbor and people watch the largely local crowd also dining, it was back to the real action. Ironically (in the home of the meatball) this was my least favourite, perhaps a little too tightly textured for my taste, although the lingonberries were tangy and terrific. The little turbot noisette was, however, heaven in a row boat.
And finally, enjoy one of our most famous desserts. Interestingly, after a small survey, I can reveal that the male diners out-desserted the females by an estimated three portions to two. One macho diner managed to wedge eight different samples on his plate and carried off a glass dish of perfectly pink mousse in the other. I was feeling virtuous with just a small taster of three, more a result of not having a sweet tooth than a question of restraint. And then I discovered the blue cheese.
The evening was an overwhelming success. The setting and ambience was outstanding. The staff friendly and helpful (a bit like having your own food coach). And the food was irresistible. All of it.