Palate’s Guide to the Ultimate Swedish Meatballs


The Romans invented the Carbonara, the English Shepherd’s pie, the Greeks moussaka – nearly every civilisation has catered for its hungry workers with a classic meat and carb combo, often using cheap or processed meat and readily available ingredients.

The humble meatball, now immortalised by IKEA’s in house canteens, is arguably Sweden’s “national dish.” At face value it’s amazing that they’re so highly regarded, since the concept of minced meat compacted into a ball is neither parochial nor exciting. Some say the secret with Swedish meatballs (“köttbullar”) is the soaking of breadcrumbs in the milk of a sacred elk. The distinctive flavour comes from combining ground beef and pork with nutmeg and allspice. Like a tagliatelle al ragu, there are as many recipes for this dish as there are people, but there are certain principles that remain universal: the balls are nearly always coated in that creamy peppery gravy (“gräddsås”) and flanked by a healthy dollop of pureed potato, lingonberries and pickled cucumber. As a dish it will never win awards for fancy presentation but it tastes fantastic and is incredibly satisfying – it’s the ultimate comfort food.

But forget IKEA’s in house restaurants (“restaurants” being a strong word, really). There is no better place to try the real thing than Stockholm. Of course the city – indeed the vast land mass of Sweden – is full of restaurants selling them, with each place putting their own twist on the classic template. To compile some kind of exhaustive guide would be a herculean task, but certain places stand out. Out of the ones Palate tried and tested first hand, here are our top three in the capital:



Jakobs torg 12, 111 52, Stockholm

Located next door to Stockholm’s opera house, ‘Operakallaren’ houses a fine dining restaurant, a bar and Bakfickan, its casual dining offering which is well-known for its democratic counter bar and, of course, its meatballs. You can’t reserve here – you just turn up and wait for a seat to free up.

However, don’t expect many ‘locals’ to be amongst your dining companions – perhaps due to its very central and attractive location, it’s a little bit of a tourist trap. Service can be on the slow and functional side, as if they’re going through the motions of serving balls all day long to tourists, and bread only comes if you ask for it. But don’t let that put you off entirely, because its counter bar is a great way to experience meatballs whilst having a chat with fellow travellers (if you’re so inclined), or simply have a natter with the staff who speak perfect English.

As for the dish itself, the lingonberries are rather sweet whilst the meatballs are small but still flavoursome. The standard issue potato puree could be creamier, but all in all it ticks the boxes.

Balls and a glass of bog standard red came to around £35, all in.





Mäster Samuelsgatan 4, Stockholm

This Stockholm institution has been around since 1897. Located just across the road from Café Riche (where the local youngsters and hipsters go to be seen), Prinsen is a welcome sanctuary from this glitzy part of town. Step inside and it feels like another world: with its light wood panelling, mirrors, tiled floor and white tablecloths, and the staff attired in white jackets with epaulettes, it is reminiscent of the grand cafes of Mitteleurope. You could almost be in Vienna, Budapest or Berlin, supping with Bohemians.

The bar is set high here (not literally as the bar is actually in the basement).  A decent stack of bread is served (despite the impending carb overload) and the ‘God’ lager, a delicious beer from the Nils Oscar microbrewery, goes well with the meatballs. Here, the portion of meatballs is more than fair and will certainly stave off hunger for several hours, if not days. The lingonberries and cucumber are nice and zingy, and the balls coated generously in that magnificent peppery sauce. The service is warm and professional.

Balls and the God lager came to around £30, all in.





Blekingegatan 40, Stockholm

I think this is my favourite of the three for its honesty, comfort and value. Pelikan is in Södermalm, the middle island of this archipelagic city. The restaurant has a lovely ambience: all candlelit, flattering soft lighting and the relaxing, unpretentious feel of a decent gastropub. Rocking up without a reservation presented no issues – tables were available on a mid-week evening but the atmosphere wasn’t dead either.

The balls don’t take prisoners at Pelikan: they’re big and full of meatbally goodness. You almost need to carve in to the little fellas. The lingonberries are more acidic and bitter, as if marinated in Campari, and cut through the pepper cream sauce. One slight variation on the theme here is that they complete the classic dish with a gherkin rather than pickled cucumber. For afters there are French-style classic desserts such as crème brûlée or chocolate mousse, but frankly the balls are sufficient!

The service is friendly, and it’s also good value (for Stockholm), with balls and a glass of wine coming closer to the £25 mark.

And finally an honourable mention to Meatballs for the People, one of the newer places on the scene which is a restaurant, shop and take-away serving an array of balls made from different meats, from bear to boar. Perfect for meatballs on the move!

So there you have it.  IKEA eat your (reindeer) heart out!


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