Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another discovery in Stockholm

I've finally discovered a Stockholm cafe that I like in every aspect: coffee, food, the interior, and the appropriate level of business (ie. some seats available).

It was totally by chance for me to discover a cafe called Foam. The other day I was walking on Karlavägen, a pleasant boulevard in the poshest district of Stockholm known as Östermalm. I noticed a rusty blue metallic door with cute-looking tiny windows in an otherwise standard-looking building on the street corner.

It looks like an entrance to a hip bar or something. But it was in the early afternoon, and I saw some people entering and exiting from the place. Out of curiosity, I entered the place.

Inside spreads the interior rather different from what I imagined from the entrance door appearance. I immediately liked it without understanding why. Customers are all well-groomed and trendy types. I just had a cup of espresso quickly. It tasted slightly sour, but within an acceptable range (unlike coffee served by many other cafes in Stockholm).

Today, I revisited the cafe for lunch. I didn't expect much in terms of foods, honestly speaking. But my sourdough bread toast sandwich with tomato and mozzarella, when served, smelled very nice. I never had this pleasant smell when I had a toast sandwich in Stockholm. It turns out that they use tapenade (Provencal paste of olives, capers, and anchovies) to make the otherwise standard toast sandwich a bit different. (Sourdough bread is so popular in Stockholm right now). And it tasted excellent. Accompanying salad was also pleasantly fresh (which is not easy in Stockholm's winter).

And a glass of cafe latte tasted very good. It's unusual for me to get satisfied from both foods and coffee in a cafe in Stockholm (the only exception is Mellqvist Kaffebar).

Then I looked around, trying to understand why I like this cafe's interior. The cafe comprises three materials that would usually look mutually incompatible: birch wood, grey concrete, and shocking pink plastic and textile. (It may not be birch or plastic, but what's important is what they look like.) Each material dominates one of the three sections in the cafe, and what's stunning is that the diagonal boundary between these sections (also the edgy shape of the wooden counters in the concrete area) makes the transition very smooth. As a result, the cafe has an integrated atmosphere that's unique. Randomly hung hand-blown glass lamps just enhance the vibe.

Depending on your mood, you can choose which section of the cafe to sit down. If you want to relax, go to the birch section.
If you're passionate, have a seat at the shocking pink section.
If you feel inorganic and modernist, stay at the concrete area. The presence of the other two sections, however, adds the cool feeling to wherever you settle.

Once you understand this, the totally-different looking rusty-blue entrance door now makes sense. It cannot be birth, concrete or pink. It should be something totally different AND provocative enough for walkers-by to peek in (as I did). Once you open the door, you cannot help saying, "Wow."

The cafe interior was designed by Note Design Studio.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Stockholm as one of the best travel destinations

My feeling that Stockholm has been getting a lot more exciting in the past couple of years seems to be not so totally off the mark.

Worldwide travel guides such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guide pick Stockholm as one of the top 10 destinations this year. Lesser-known but more trend-conscious city guides such as Shift City Guide and Nectar & Pulse fail to miss Stockholm among their list of cities.

Perhaps I made a good decision to stay in Stockholm rather than running away after the first few years of dismal life (as you can tell if you read the previous posts on this blog). :)

And a couple of more discoveries in Stockholm: this time design shops in SoFo: Manos and Kiki. Both are on Renstiernas Gata, the street running north-to-south on the eastern part of Södermalm. I personally believe that SoFo, the bohemian district of Stockholm, is way too much overrated, but these two shops deserve such a hype.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Some of the recent discoveries in Stockholm

Living in Stockholm is getting more interesting these days, partly because more and more unique and interesting places are opening up (such as Serrano and ZeeSide). But it's also because I was simply out of luck in the past four years: I didn't have a chance to visit a decent place, and even if I had, the place was packed with people and I was forced to leave for another mediocre place.

First, those newly opened. Restaurang Volt. I took a foreign visitor to our workplace to this restaurant a few months ago. In my view, this restaurant is simply the best in Stockholm. On the menu, they only mention ingredients. How meats or vegetables are cooked is totally hidden. Once they were served, it was clear why. For example, if you order carrots as the starter, carrots are cooked in several different ways (pickled, mashed, fried, etc.), a small portion of each is served on a plate. You'll be delighted by different textures and tastes out of the same ingredient. They also serve unusual drinks such as orange wine. If you want to enjoy a bit different dinner, this is the place to go.

Another newly opened place that I discovered recently is Juiceverket. What they serve is similar to Joe & The Juice in Copenhagen or Forbidden Fruit in Tokyo: freshly squeezed mixed fruit juice, smoothies, and nutritional boosters in a shot glass. But what's unique about this place is its interior. Very much inconsistent with our image of fruit juice, the wall behind the counter and the floor is what can be called rusty chic (which is by the way VERY unusual in fastidiously-clean Stockholm). Placed on the shelf are an antique television set, old books, mid-century jewelry boxes, and the like. Fruits are tacked together on one corner, unusual for a juice stand where oranges and apples and so on tend to dominate your sight. And I really love this place. It was only opened two months ago.

Then those that have always been there since I moved to Stockholm but which I didn't have a chance to visit until recently. Haga Forum. If you want to have a relaxed and tasty weekend brunch in Stockholm, this is the place to go. A view of the lake through the floor-to-ceiling windows and a restrained appearance of tables and chairs along with decently-cooked Swedish foods on a buffet create a cosy atmosphere from which you don't wanna leave.

Another gem found in Gamla Stan (the oldest part of the city) is Chaikhana (CAUTION: the linked website of theirs starts playing atmospheric music). The last time I came here, it was a winter Saturday and the place was packed (they don't have many seats here). On a weekday afternoon I recently visited the place, there were a couple of seats available. This is a colonial British India tea house (or so I feel). They serve a wide variety of proper tea (by which I mean NOT herbal tea or flavored tea). They also serve English afternoon tea with deliciously made sandwiches and cakes (I haven't tried English scones with clotted cream, but they do serve them). When they serve tea in a pot, leaves are taken away. So your second and third cup of tea tastes the same as the first one. When I asked for milk, they asked me back, "Cold or hot?" Milk for black tea has to be cold in my view (which is also what I heard as the proper way to drink milk tea), but they allow your preference to be reflected. Very professional. And if you like the tea you had, you can buy the leaf with a 10 percent discount. This is how all tea leaf sellers should do: have a cafe space and let customers try out different kinds of tea in a way they would enjoy tea at home (instead of serving tea in a tiny cup for trial). They also sell tea leaves by Mariage Freres, my favorite French tea house. I thought their leaves can be bought only when I visit Paris or Tokyo. But I no longer need to rush to Mariage Freres shops while being on a trip. In general, Swedes do not like tea unless it's flavored or herbal. Stockholm lacks a decent tea house that properly brew tea except Chaikana, an oasis for tea lovers in the capital of Scandinavia (I apologize to those in Copenhagen).