Stockholm is undoubtedly the place to go to for meatballs but at the other end of the dining spectrum the city has been giving Copenhagen a run for its money for some time now – as have Oslo and Helsinki for that matter. Gastrologik has been going strong since 2011 and seems to show no sign of slacking. But is it worth the ludicrously expensive price tag?
Gastrologik is a curious name for a restaurant. Eating is logical, for sure. The chemistry involved in certain ingredients working together is logical. Perhaps there’s a cruel logic to gastroenteritis, too. But what about gastronomy? Is that not art? Or a craft? We could be here all day debating that, but perhaps the central idea of Gastrologik is to be curious about food, since there is no choice in the menu. Like The Fat Duck, you literally have no idea what you’re going to experience. This does immediately raise a value for money issue, as the epic no-choice 17 course extravaganza starts at 1595 Swedish krona, which in Brexit exchange rate terms is around £150 (probably more since writing this). And that’s before any booze. As I’ve harped on about before, I’m not a fan of menus where there’s no choice of food and the wine comes as a pre-packaged all-inclusive cost (in this case 1195 SEK or £110). If you’re comfortable with paying a fixed price for a non-negotiable magical mystery thrill ride, even if there are one or two dud dishes, then that’s fine, but you need that warning beforehand. (Sometimes I wonder whether a true contract is formed between customer and restaurant when you haven’t really consented to every course, but there you go).
Those caveats aside, everything else about it is great. Let’s start with the service. They have obviously had time to practice since 2011 but they have got it down to a fine art. I received a warm welcome on arrival: a waiter with strawberry blond hair and a navy blue shirt opened the door and knew exactly who I was. As he showed me to the table, we conversed as if English was his native tongue – though I noted he deliberately took a route past the semi-open kitchen, as an estate agent would show off a property’s “well-appointed facilities” whilst hiding the absent owner’s laundry.
a meal like this is essentially a canapé party – but each morsel was consistently good, occasionally challenging
The general atmosphere is convivial and disarming: co-diners, perfect strangers to one another at the beginning, actually speak to each other, which is quite unusual. This is probably because everyone eats every course at the same time, so it becomes a shared experience – like going to the theatre, you laugh and cry at the same moments; at Gastrologik every fleck of salt and sip of wine is experienced more or less in concert. Landlocked between an American couple on one side and a Lithuanian businessman dining alone on the other, it wasn’t long before we broke the ice and compared notes. It was also nice to see co-chef patrons Jacob Holmstrom and Anton Bjuhr actually working and meeting and greeting customers, rolling up their sleeves to reveal their tattoos (a requirement now for any chef under 30). The interior design is uninspiring and bland perhaps because the focus is supposed to be on the food: going to the loo punctuates some of the po-faced Noma-esque minimalism of the décor – as you relieve yourself, Abba’s greatest hits play in the background. It’s just a subtle touch of self-aware humour without being corny.
Holmstrom and Bjuhr’s approach is driven by seasonality and making the most of Sweden’s produce. Yes, yes, we’ve heard it all before, and that cringe-worthy word “foraging”, but they are continuing to do great things here. I lost count after about the 8th course – a meal like this is essentially a canapé party – but each morsel was consistently good, occasionally challenging. The stand-outs for me were the smoked turbot, the quail with truffle (the leg of said quail hanging over the edge of the plate), the chicken liver with sorrel on a leaf you eat all in one go, and the Mangalitza pork from Blekslätten with plums, salsify and flowers. Golly. Some dishes were very curious indeed, such as plums with ice cream made from the stones of said plums, whilst others seemed pointless non-entities, such as the iced lettuce and bee pollen sweet. Bee pollen I can take or leave, frankly.
the flavour sensations and combinations, the faultless and friendly service and laid-back ambience make for a memorable meal
The wine pairings were spot on, but poor value. One course was matched with a Stockholm beer, which made an interesting change, despite mixing grape with grain. Value-wise I did have qualms about this, as this probably cost them peanuts but it was charged at around £20.
Gastrologik is undoubtedly expensive, and won’t lead you to some kind of rapturous epiphany, but the flavour sensations and combinations, the faultless and friendly service and laid-back ambience make for a memorable meal nonetheless.
114 51 Stockholm
by J A Smith