review: the wider, richer universe… (fäviken magasinet)

Fäviken Magasinet

~

I might die in this car.  And if I don’t, I’ll probably miss my flight. And if I miss this flight, then I’m probably going to miss my connecting flights. And that means that I won’t get to New York in time for my photoshoot tomorrow night.

Or, I might die in this car.

But hey, at least I had one hell of a breakfast.

These thoughts swirled through my head as we raced down a snow-covered road in the Swedish countryside. Consumed in conversation, we had somehow missed a crucial turn that would have set us on the highway to Trondheim.  Instead, we found ourselves furiously back-peddling to recover lost ground.

By a stroke of luck, the car rental company had upgraded us to an X5. So if, for some reason, my friend Christopher lost control (say, a moose decided to cross the road unexpectedly, as one did the day before) and we went flying into a snow bank – or worse, a row of pines – at least we’d do so in German-engineered style.

~

Frozen

~

This morbid (and probably slightly over-dramatized) reality suddenly hijacked my morning, one that had started so peacefully in a red barn some kilometers away.  I had awakened under a cozy stack of furs, and moved on to a candlelit breakfast with my friends (in this northern corner of the world, daybreak during the winter months is closer to noon).

Given that our outbound flight was so early, and the conditions of the roads were so rough, the staff at Fäviken Magasinet told us that we should allow ourselves three hours to get to Trondheim airport, from where we were departing.  They were even kind enough to move breakfast up by half an hour so that we could actually enjoy it.

Breakfast was served in the upstairs dining room, where we had dinner the night before.

The tables had been reset for their respective parties, which, like us, had stayed the night in the accommodations next door.

~

Breakfast

~

There were slices of smoked moose heart (given the size of the slices, moose hearts are a lot larger than I would have thought), cured hams, and wedges of cheese.  There was potted smoked trout capped in brown butter caramel, fowl liver mousse, cured cod roe, and cream cheese.  A selection of bread was presented with that deep, golden-yellow butter we had at dinner.  Soft-boiled eggs nested in hay.  There was fresh coffee, black currant and rhubarb juices, and milk.

As if this spread wasn’t already overwhelming, halfway through our morning feast, our server appeared at our table stirring a steaming pot of porridge of flaxseed and grains. She divided the porridge into bowls, and topped them with dollops of thick, creamy yogurt.  Served with it was a cocotte of cloudberry jam; its tartness was needed to needle through the richness of the rest.

Towards the end of breakfast, they dropped off a plate of incredibly buttery, moist cookies (I think they were made of cornmeal) topped with raspberry jam. I had two of them.

It was a lot of food.  And all of it was very, very good.

~

Fäviken Magasinet

~

When I first started blogging about restaurants a decade ago, I would research the hell out of them. What I lacked in dining experience I tried to make up for with information.  I’d canvass the internet and gather as much of it as possible. Often, I’d have the chef’s bio and menu memorized before I even made the reservation.

Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I approach restaurants from a totally different angle.  I try not to read about them – especially ones as highly hyped as Fäviken – before I visit them, and prefer to walk into a meal with as few expectations as possible.  As a result, names and faces – and especially the opinion of the increasingly worthless food media – have become less and less important to me.  Instead, I now rely on the quality of the cooking and my own senses to guide my direction and interest.

So, I had largely avoided reading or seeing anything about Magnus Nilsson, or his restaurant in print and online before I visited Fäviken.  And, although I had bought Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken cookbook a while ago, it sat, unopened, on my shelf.

~

Fäviken

~

After I returned from Sweden, I pulled the book and read it.  I thought it provided a surprisingly articulate, and rather accurate description of the world that Magnus Nilsson has created in his extreme corner of the globe.  He weaves the context of local lore and mysticism nicely into the practical realities of sourcing food and preserving it.  And it captured, with great expression, Nilsson’s personality and passion.  He’s clearly a very thoughtful and intelligent visionary, who lives in an incredible place, and who has an incredible story to tell.  Since the Fäviken cookbook does such a great job of telling that story – and since the internet is already saturated with plenty of details about the Fäviken experience – I’ll spare you a retelling of what you probably already know about this place, or, can easily find elsewhere (Nilsson was also the subject of the 2014 season of Mind of a Chef on PBS).

Instead, I’m devoting the remainder of this post to answering the question that I’ve been asked the most about Fäviken: whether the meal and overall experience of visiting Fäviken outweighed the time, trouble, and expense of getting there.

In other words, was it worth it?

~

7th Course: Wild Duck

~

I had a relatively easy trip to Fäviken.  I was already in Bergen (Norway).  So, all I had to do was take a two-hour, nonstop flight to Trondheim (Norway), rent a car, and drive two-and-a-half hours, over the border into Sweden, to the restaurant. For most Europeans, the same journey would probably require at least one connecting flight, and for most Americans at least two (and many more hours).

But travel time is an expected part of the journey.  What many don’t consider are complications and limitations due to flight schedules. Flights to Trondheim [or Östersund (Sweden), which is closer to Fäviken] are limited.  The only viable option for us was to leave early in the morning, which, including the ground travel once we got to Trondheim, gave us an estimated arrival at Fäviken around noon.  The next flight would have gotten us to the restaurant around 18.00, which was cutting it close.  A slight delay at any point in the journey could easily have caused us to miss the 19.00 start time for dinner, which, I have heard, is strictly enforced (all of the guests are seated at the same time; latecomers are, as Nilsson describes in his book, turned away – although he makes a 30 minute allowance for guests who are considerate enough to notify the restaurant of their tardiness).

Thankfully, our trip was uneventful, and we arrived, as we estimated, around noon.

But, as we soon discovered, neither the restaurant nor the inn was open at noon.  As it was explained to us – by a cook who came out to greet us when he saw us pull up prematurely outside his kitchen window – they simply do not have the resources to attend to guests who arrive before the 16.00 check-in time.

~

Lake Kallsjön

~

Admittedly, it was my fault for not having taken the restaurant’s “welcome” email at face value, and for not doing more due diligence (this is a rare instance where doing absolutely no research worked against me).  The email said that check-in was between 16.00 and 17.00.  But I had foolishly assumed that, since Fäviken was located in wasteland, that there would be somewhere on property where we could park ourselves for a few hours before being allowed into our rooms. Surely, the restaurant was accustomed to dealing with long-distance travelers, who, like us, were forced to arrive early due to limited flight schedules.

Now, having been to Fäviken, I have learned that (a) the restaurant’s location isn’t as remote as I had thought – there’s a ski resort about twenty minutes away, and a half dozen sleepy hamlets dot the countryside within an hour’s drive; and (b) indeed, we weren’t the only travelers who have arrived early.  I have been assured many times since, by others who have been to Fäviken, that they, too, were left in limbo for a few hours in the Swedish outback.

But the staff at Fäviken was as helpful as it could be.  We were pointed in the direction of a restaurant in a nearby village, where we could get some lunch and kill some time. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that it was closed that day of the week. But, a few miles down the road, we found a bakery.  So we lingered over coffee and pastries there.

To kill more time, we found a supermarket and walked all of its aisles, stopping to admire the rainbow of tubed “meats” of which Scandinavians are so fond.

Across the parking lot was a Salvation Army. We rummaged around there for a while too.

And then we whiled away the balance of our time driving around Lake Kallsjön, near Fäviken, until, finally, the sun had set and the time had come to check in.

~

Honey Pie

~

Factoring in the amount of time I spent traveling on the homebound journey (which included the three-hour drive to Trondheim, plus three flights to get me to New York – there would have been a fourth flight had I been traveling all the way home to Kansas City that day), altogether, I spent more than twice as much time traveling to and from Fäviken as I actually spent at Fäviken.

Unlike most restaurants that might be considered “worth a special journey,” Fäviken is not near or on the way to any other likely destination.  So even if you’re piggy-backing Fäviken onto existing travel plans in the region, a trip to Fäviken still requires hours of planes, trains, and automobiles.

And that’s just the time and distance part of the equation.  Then, there’s the financial commitment.

As you know, travel isn’t cheap.  The least expensive part of the whole trip was Fäviken itself.  Dinner and a room, which included breakfast, rang in at $500 (and that’s with the U.S. Dollar trading like a champ against the Scandinavian currencies at the time), which I thought was exceptionally reasonable – especially when you consider that we were offered wine and Champagne upon arrival, and were kept well-lubricated and snacked until dinner.  (Wine at dinner was extra.)

~

1st Course: Scallop

~

I record the foregoing not as a string of complaints, but rather as a thorough accounting and consideration.

Is any meal worth such effort?   What kind of cookery could possible live up to the expectations that such time and expense create?

In my opinion, none, really.  That’s why it’s called “destination dining.”  Hopefully, the implied journey helps make up for what the meal, alone, could not possibly deliver.  Eating expeditions, like this one to Fäviken, are about managing expectations, keeping eyes wide-open to the realities of all that they require, and, if done correctly, they’re about the things and places you experience along the way, and the people with whom you share those moments.  Although these are very important aspects of destination dining, they’re rarely mentioned or discussed.  As much as I love to eat, and, although eating is the main focus of my travels, it’s only part of the story.  It has to be.  Otherwise, depressingly few (none?) faraway meals in my life have been truly “worth it.”

Although this blog has always been about my relationship with food, hopefully, you’ll see that my thoughts about it have always been framed within the context of the wider, richer universe in which the starlets and darlings of the restaurant industry play but a bit part.

~

Up the stairs.

~

Was I disappointed that Fäviken wasn’t more prepared to receive us upon our early arrival?  Yes.

After surveying the situation, could I understand why they weren’t able to be more accommodating?  Sure, of course.

Was my dinner at Fäviken one of the best meals I’ve had in 2015?  Without a doubt, it was.  Stripping away all else, the quality of the ingredients and the level of cooking, by themselves, were extremely impressive.

Was it one of the most memorable meals of my life?  Maybe. It certainly sits, with few peers, atop my list of Scandinavian dining experiences.  And, as I alluded at the top of this post, it provoked enough thought and discussion afterwards that my friends and I were distracted from realizing that we were completely off-course, sending us into our tailspin of recovery.

~

Stain.

~

Would I go again?  As much as I would love to experience Fäviken again (perhaps in a different season – the prospect of sitting in the midnight sun after dinner is alluring), the honest answer is: unless a compelling opportunity presents itself – one that makes it convenient for me to do so – probably not.

But to answer the question that I first asked above: Am I glad I went?  Was Fäviken worth it?

Absolutely.

However, I’ll remember this trip as much for the dinner and breakfast, as I will for the friends with whom I shared it, and the many, colorful memories that we collected along the way: the magical, frosted forests of northern Sweden, where all sound is deadened against the sheer footage of snow; the gentle tap, tap, tap of the fat hitting the floor boards in the dining room at Fäviken as it dripped from the ham, strung up to cure; the joy and surprise of unexpectedly finding Swedish kroners in my camera bag (leftover from my previous trip to Sweden last November), when we realized the bakery we found was cash-only; the lynx painted on the door of my room at Fäviken (instead of numbers or letters, the rooms are assigned animals); belting out cheesy Eighties songs with my friends while fishtailing around the deserted curves of snowy Lake Kallsjön; sharing Champagne and charcuterie with a Swedish woman in the communal bathroom at Fäviken, with silhouettes of a Spanish couple blurred in the steamy glass door to the sauna (it was way more innocent than it sounds); the reindeer pizzas at the airport in Trondheim; the glow and flicker of fire against the snow in the inky night as I stepped out for a draw of fresh air after dinner…

And, I’ll especially remember the notification I got, as we swerved onto the highway to Trondheim, having finally gotten back on the right track after a few tense moments of driving, that my flight had been delayed.  We all breathed a sigh of relief, and went back to torching ourselves with our favorite, sappy, Eighties anthems.

You’ll find all the information you need about my dinner and breakfast at Fäviken in late January of 2015 in the captions of this photo album.

~

Two fires. Snow.

~

Photos: the red, barn-like structure, dating to the 1700s, that houses both the restaurant and inn at Fäviken Magasinet; an icy lake in the stillness of the Jamtland of Sweden; candlelit breakfast at Fäviken; Magnus Nilsson’s fur coat; the fireplace at Fäviken; Lake Kallsjön; Magnus Nilsson cutting honey pie; scallops; Magnus Nilsson carrying trays of food up to the dining room during service – how all food is brought into the dining room; ham curing in the dining room at Fäviken; fire in the night outside Fäviken.

~ by ulterior epicure on July 8, 2015.

3 Responses to “review: the wider, richer universe… (fäviken magasinet)”

  1. <3 Lots of love in that trip. Very memorable, for sure.

  2. Reblogged this on Empires, Cannibals, and Magic Fish Bones and commented:
    I recommend reading Magnus Nilsson’s book Fäviken, through Phaidon Press. Fascinating study of cooking and landscape.

  3. Nice post. Would love to go one day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: