n the west coast of Sweden sits a vibrant city most Americans have never heard of: Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish). It is the second-largest city in Sweden, the headquarters for Volvo, and home to a major university.
It is also home to gourmet dining, indie fashion and a unique island archipelago.
What to eat: Gothenburg has become a culinary hotspot, and will host the 2013 World Food Summit. Restaurant Gabriel is located in a loft fitted into the city’s fish market that resembles a cathedral, with the restaurant looking down on the stalls and pews. The intimate-sized operation — for lunch only — is much more elegant than the typical market stand, including wine and a lovely presentation of the food. It is fiercely popular with a whole range of clientele, from the working class to professionals, for whom sitting at the bar is a usual option. The restaurant is owned by father and son chefs, Gunnar and Johan Malm; the latter has won 1st and 2nd place in the World Oyster Shucking Championships.
On a hidden curved residential side street is Familjen — a true neighborhood hangout. The Ered A brasserie is run by Björn Persson, who is also in command of the Michelin-starred Kock & Vin and Björn’s Bar. Servers are really knowledgeable about what which wine goes with the various menu items. Dress is casual. There are a couple of prix-fixe arrangements on the menu, a great way to go. If you want to add a special course or two, they can do that. Familjen prides itself on its “meat cooked overnight.” What could be more indicative of comfort food?
Norda Bar & Grill is a creation of Chef Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef in Sweden and in New York, where he owns Red Rooster. Norda Bar & Grill is in what was the main grand post office for Gothenburg, adjacent to the Central Train Station. The menu combines local food products — there’s a current trend highlighting the flavors of the area through the “Taste West Sweden” program — and American style. The menu has non-intimidating items like sliders, or check out the chef’s tasting menu, which shows off a couple of entrees and desserts.
Where to stay: The Hotel Flora is a funky little boutique hotel where you’ll see younger couples and in-the-know European businessmen checking in. The location is centrally located: many of their trams (light rail trains) stop within a block and there are entire shopping districts within walking distance.
The rooms are petite but super-cool in their interior design. The building was an Edwardian-era fish market. Life-sized vintage photos of the area were made into what serves as wallpaper; the light fixtures are snowflake-inspired acrylic. White good down pillows and comforters are toasty on a cold, Swedish night. Bring a round electrical adapter with two prongs to fit into recessed, round outlets.
Gothenburg features an archipelago in the western part of the city where people really do live and work – so much so, that their public transportation includes an hourly boat that stops off at the different islands. Pensionat Styrsö Skäret is on the island of Styrsö. Tell the boat captain to take you there; Styrsö Skäret is not one of the regular stops. When you’re ready to come home, adjust the mirrored signal at the dock, so the boat can see you need to be picked up. There are no cars on the islands; people get around by walking or on scooters. Each island has its own personality: some are where fishermen live, some are “very religious,” some have high-end boutiques, and some are for artists.
Styrsö Skäret is owned by Ola Tulldahl and his wife Ylva, a young couple who have been in the hospitality business for several years. Despite their youth, they are renovating the grand cottage on the hill to resemble “grandmother’s house.” It has an eclectic, vintage style, rather than the ubiquitous modern Scandanavian look. Do not picture being knocked in the face by Hummel figurines — you’ll just be comforted by touches like a real burning fireplace and sink-in sofas. People visiting love to walk or borrow a bike to check out the island’s rugged, beautiful scenery. Ola can also arrange for one of the area’s famous “seafood safaris” where you can help catch lobster and other creatures of the sea.
Styrsö Skäret has a gourmet restaurant that obtains the finest local seafood and produce surrounding them, open to the general public. Ola says that if you have 4 hours, you can come and have dinner, if you have 6 hours, you can take a stroll on the island after your meal.
What to do: Besides the seafood safaris, the city has a major museum and even more major fashion shopping. Sweden is home to cult denim brands Nudie and Acne as well as other Indie clothing designers. Right around the corner from Hotel Flora, Gothenburg has street after street of shops including Danish favorites like Masai Clothing Company and, of course, H & M. You’ll also find lots of vintage clothing stores. If you’re tall, Sweden’s clothing lines are perfect – 36” is a typical inseam.