Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cafes in Stockholm

I planned to write something good about Stockholm today. Unfortunately, the Swedish capital made me unhappy again today. So I have to write something negative about Stockholm (again).

After two years and a half have passed since I moved here, I still haven't found my favorite cafe in this city. There are several that came close to the throne, but there's always something wrong with them.

Mocco in Östermalm, the poshest area of Stockholm, serves decent, if not excellent, toast called Barcelona and offers high-ceiling, minimalistic and stylish decor to a good mixture of trend-conscious people. But their coffee is absolutely disgusting, and it sometimes gets very crowded and noisy.

Caffe Nero in Vasastan serves coffee that's okay, if not excellent, and delicious panini, if a bit too oily. Tatao Ando-ish concrete-surfaced counters and relaxing black-leather chairs at the back of the cafe are nice. Their pasta is not impressive, though. And it gets packed during lunchtime.

Cafe Spoon in Hammerby sjöstad, my neighborhood, offers wooden, minimalist interior with the view of waterway from its patio. It serves okay foods with Caffe Monteriva (Swedish espresso brand)'s coffee which is too sour to me.

Kaffebar in Södermalm serves an excellent toast topped with Västerbotten cheese (a Swedish specialty). But, with only a few seats in a large space, they are aiming to be an Italian coffee bar (meaning you are supposed to gulp a shot of espresso quick while you are standing) and they also serve Caffe Monteriva (Swedish espresso brand)'s coffee which is too sour to me.

Sosta Espresso Bar, supposedly serving the best espresso in the city, does serve good coffee, but they don't have any seats. Their focaccia is not particularly fantastic.

Blå Lotus, which I visited last Saturday, is very nicely presented with three rooms in different themes: the largest green room at the entrance, the blue room with gold-rimmed mirrors on the wall, and the red room with Chinese lamps and decoration. Their signature(?) sandwich cake Shiva looks perfect with melting cheese, roasted tomatoes, garlic puree... But something is missing in its taste. (Perhaps butter?) As I sensed an inspiration from India in this place, I ordered chai rather than coffee. It was great that they didn't serve a cup of warm water with a chai teabag. But they pour foamed milk onto spice-infused black tea that's kept on a hot plate. Chai should be made by boiling milk, not water, with tea leaves and spice, shouldn't it? The mixture of spice is good, though. However, the place is very busy in the Saturday afternoon. I waited 15 minutes to place an order at the counter, and then sat on a small table for one person at the narrow corner of the blue room.

So the quest for my favorite cafe in Stockholm still continues. And today I went to Gildas rum, the best cafe in Stockholm according to Spotted by Locals. It was half past three in the Saturday afternoon. So I imagined the place wouldn't be too crowded. I was wrong. I couldn't find any chairs to sit down.

I also visited other cafes in the same area known as Sofo, the supposedly hippest area of Stockholm: Svart Kaffe, which plays dubstep (for the first time I hear that in Stockholm), and Cafe Oye, the Chilean cafe. Both places are packed with no seat left. Both of them are also tiny places. Even if I get seated, I wouldn't feel very comfortable.

The problem is not the absence of good cafes in this city, it seems. There appear to be good ones. But those good places are easily packed either because everyone follows the suit once they hear a good reputation or because there are very few good cafes in the first place. In other words, there is no hidden-gem kind of cafe in this city. Good places are known to everybody. Spacious cafes tend to serve bad foods and bad coffee for some reason. Many cafes are stylishly decorated, but the appearance does not reflect the quality of food and coffee at all in this city.

The only way to enjoy those small, (hopefully) decent cafes is to wake up early over the weekend, which I hate to do, especially during the winter when going out is such a hassle: making sure I wear clothes warm enough and struggling to walk either on the uneven surface of snow or on the slippery ice. My legs hurt after 30 minutes of walking on the snow as I'm not grown up in snowy winter. (Not many people in Europe know it rarely snows in Tokyo, my hometown, by the way. If you look at the globe, it's obvious, however. Tokyo is about as north as Athens.)

And my final complaint is there is no proper tea salon as I prefer black tea to coffee. No one in Stockholm seems to know you need absolutely boiling water to infuse black tea properly. And black tea per se is not very popular here; people drink Earl Grey or other flavored tea. Flavored tea usually uses the low quality tea leaves, and I hate it.

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