Story and photos by Bo Zaunders
STOCKHOLM OFF SEASON
The first thing we saw was a crystal chandelier, one of the largest in Europe, with more than 11,000 hand-made prisms.
My wife Roxie and I had just checked in at Hotel Kungsträdgården, where we would stay for the next three days, and were entering its 18th century courtyard, now turned into the multi-floored Brasserie Makalös at the top of which, under a glass roof, hung the magnificent chandelier.
Amazing, but far from the only remarkable thing about this new hotel, named for and situated next to Kungsträdgården, the King’s Garden, in the very center of Stockholm. The original building was constructed for Countess Eva Bielke in the 1760s in a style known as Gustavian, often described as a twist on French Classicism. Little has changed. Eva Bielke’s presence is still felt, making you feel as if you’re back in the 18th century.
Our room was so Gustavian it made the TV look out of place. It also featured a chandelier, albeit a small one, and offered a view of Kungsträdgården. I noticed the park’s small pond now being turned into a skating rink, an indication that winter was about to set in. It was late October and definitely off season. Still, as we were to find out, there were plenty of things to do in the Swedish capital.
Which brings to mind the great location of the hotel. The Royal Palace and the Old Town are about a five-minute walk, and just around the corner are the Opera House and nearby Nybroviken where ferries depart for the archipelago. As for shopping, the Gallerian Mall is practically next door, and a few minutes stroll will bring you to the department store NK.
And also, within easy walking distance, is Kulturhuset, the House of Culture, with a profusion of offerings throughout the fall. Theater, dance, concerts, design, literature, film, exhibits – the list goes on.
Before joining Roxie for dinner at Brasserie I spoke briefly with Linus Nerman, the concierge, who told me of the painstaking job Jörgen Björnstad, the founder of the hotel, had done, transforming the old courtyard into a spectacular restaurant. Every effort had been made to make it truly French. A wrought iron balcony and wall-climbing plants helped make you feel as if you were in a Parisian courtyard, but seemed of little consequence compared to what the food and drink were all about.
My appetizer: Crème Bruleé au Foi Gras. It came with figs and croutons and was absolutely delicious. As for Roxie, she chose Saint-Jacques au Pastis, and together we shared some Riesling Classic Josmeyer.
For a main course I picked Boeuf Bourguignon, said to be the restaurant’s most famous dish, and Roxie decided on Cuisse de Card Grille. Wine: Chateau le Fleur de Pins Rouge. Quoting my wife, “It was wonderful”.
More insight into the workings of Brasserie Makalös followed when, on the next day, I met with Rayan, the Toulouse-born chef, and watched him whip together one dish after the other. Amazingly specific about his likes and dislikes, he even let me know which his favorite dishes were, marking them off on the menu. Not surprisingly, the Crème Brulée was on his list, and so was Cuisse de Card Grille. Not altogether unexpectedly, the Bouef Bourguignon was not. Though very satisfactory, I didn’t think it met with the incredibly high standard of the restaurant. Incidentally, the word makalös means peerless or unrivalled, and refers to the colloquial name of a grand mansion once situated south of Kungsträdgården. As for peerless or unrivalled, the morning croissant was the most delicious I’ve ever eaten.
A booklet introduced us to Syster Disel, the play we were about to see: “Meet the nurse from Hell, who gives you both first and last help. This comedy is a reckless pursuit of all the clichés of well-brought-up nurses and nimble-fingered physicians. Décor and movie bits are mixed with well-known songs.”
The somewhat scatological performance took place in the slightly cramped space Under Fontänen at Sergels torg, and included lunch for everyone at small tables with red-checkered tablecloths. The nurse, played by Åsa Danielsson, kept us captivated, occasionally mingling with the audience or, during movie clips, disappearing behind the screen. Even Roxie, who understands only a few words of Swedish, was entertained. As for the lunch, it consisted of celery & truffle soup with pickled carrots and fresh bread, and was tasty indeed.
It may have been off season - there was a noticeable lack of tourists - and not overly crowded, but there was a lot of action.
After five years renovation and refurbishment, the National Museum, Sweden’s premier museum of art and design, had now opened its doors, and was featuring a number of exhibits. Paying a visit, I was especially reminded of how Dutch painting from the 17th century was abundantly represented. The same can be said of the museum’s collection of French paintings from the 18th century. And here were all the Swedish classics: Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, C. F. Hill and Anders Zorn. As for Zorn, I understand the museum is about to showcase his entire oeuvre as a whole, now in 2020, the year marking the 100th anniversary of his death.
During a leisurely walk in Gamla Stan, the Old City, both Roxie and I were struck by how alive it all felt. Had this been summer the cobblestone streets would have been packed. Now they were just lively, not overcrowded, giving you enough space to fully enjoy yourself. What a lovely mix of classic old and a bit of new. Earlier we had passed Den Gyldene Freden - the world’s second oldest restaurant to have the same surroundings according to Guinness World Records - and were now approaching Vapiano, serving pastas, pizzas & more, and very much a 21st century euro chic phenomenon.
The last time we visited Stockholm we had a wonderful time at Den Gyldene Freden. This time around we thoroughly enjoyed a freshly made gourmet pizza.
For more general information on Stockholm: www.visitstockholm.com
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