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Trip Report: Reykjavik, Helsinki, Stockholm

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Restaurants & Bars

Trip Report: Reykjavik, Helsinki, Stockholm

eiko | Aug 18, 2003 04:06 PM

Just came back from 9 days in Reykjavik, Helsinki and Stockholm, and had some great meals, thanks to the recommendations on this board. It's true, I think, based on my experience, that Iceland, Finland and Sweden aren't exactly hotbeds of culinary excellence or experimentation, but we did have some great food and great experiences.

In Reykjavik, we spent our first night at the Gallery in the Hotel Holt. By far the best dining experience of our trip, and we hit it right off the bat! The atmosphere is old world elegance. The bar is down the hall from the dining area, and they encourage you to wander back and forth, having a drink at the bar before dinner, then dinner, then dessert, drinks, coffee, or whatever back at the bar. The hotel is small, quiet and intimate, and it feels like you're wandering back and forth in someone's private townhouse. The seafood and lamb were excellent, service was impeccable.

Our second night was Siggi Hall's place in the Hotel Odinsve. Also a fun experience, though very different. Atmosphere was much more modern, California contemporary, and the food had a much more modern spin on it. Hall came out as soon as our drink order was taken, and we chatted about the menu with him, and got some great recommendations. Funnily enough, we ordered a scallops appetizer, and the scallops were so good, we asked him if we could get another order of scallops, done however he wanted. He had fun filling the request, and the second order of scallops was as good as the first. Again, fantastic seafood, impeccable service, and an all-around FUN dining experience.

For breakfasts and lunches in Iceland, the lamb hotdogs are fun, and very good. We stayed at 101 Hotel (we highly recommend, both for atmosphere and PERFECT location), which had a nice, expanded continental breakfast in the mornings, again quite good. You also really can't go wrong with a quick seafood lunch at any of the cafes in the city center.

In Helsinki, we spent one night at Alexander Nevski. My recommendation would be to skip it. Helsinki supposedly has wonderful Russian restaurants, and this one is reported to be quite fine, but we were unimpressed with the food. The atmosphere was decent, the service excellent, but there were better places to spend an evening, I think, whether you're enamored of Russian food or not.

Our experience at Nokka was much better-- contemporary Finnish cuisine, excellent light, fresh seafood and lamb dishes, and once again, impeccable service.

We stayed at the Hotel Kamp, which we highly recommend, for service, atmosphere and location. Room service at the hotel was lightning fast with surprisingly good food, as were the two hotel cafes.

Down the Esplanade right by the harbor is a cafe called Aino. Bit of a tourist trap, but excellent for a glass of wine, people watching, and once again, the seafood.

We took the overnight Silja ferry to Stockholm. The food ranged from forgettable to bad, though interestingly enough, we had probably one of the best cheese plates we've ever had at the Bon Vivant restaurant on board.

In Stockholm, we stayed at the Grand Hotel. We had a late lunch at Ulla Windbladh cafe (thanks to whoever made the recommendation) and had an excellent meal outside on a beautiful day. Location halfway between the side entrance to Skansen and the Vasa Museum was unbeatable, as were the meatballs...

We had the buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel one afternoon-- the salmon, herring and cold salads were excellent, but the meatballs and other hot dishes were forgettable. We also stumbled on a small cafe in Gamla Stan on our way to Pontus in the Greenhouse (which was closed for renovations) and had an excellent dinner there (though I can't remember the name).

We had a fantastic open face ham sandwich at Cafe Austria (Strandvagen 1) on the way to Skansen one morning, and great gravlax at a waterside cafe on Fjaderholmarna.

If I had to make some dangerously broad generalizations about our dining in Scandinavia, I'd have to say that we didn't have a single bad seafood dish anywhere and everywhere we ate, and I'd put the quality of the fish and ingredients up against any restaurant, anywhere-- it was absolutely fantastic, from the fine restaurants to the sidewalk cafes. The service was also uniformly impeccable-- efficient but not the least intrusive. The pace of the meals seemed slower than we tend to be used to in the States, but that was one of the things we most enjoyed about our meals.

The downsides, I'd have to say, is that the cuisine was much more hit or miss when it wasn't a seafood dish, and it was heartstoppingly expensive. Oddly enough, I didn't find the prices in the more upscale restaurants to be too far out of line with those I've experienced elsewhere, but we did find our budget took a hit for breakfasts and lunches. The more casual cafes were far pricier than stateside counterparts. I don't think we spent less than $35 for a breakfast or lunch for two.

All in all, a fantastic trip! Hope these recommendations are useful for those traveling in the future.

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