Richard H Turner's column: seeking out scallops in Sweden
Never one to miss out on a food-driven adventure, the meat expert hops on a flight to Östersund, Sweden to seek out a scallop with a serious reputation
I've always believed the finest scallop dish known to man is Mitch Tonks' roast scallops with white port and garlic, but it turns out there's another contender; Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken has a scallop dish renowned throughout the world, and I've a long-held ambition to taste it.
The only problem is this: Fäviken is located on the 19th-century Fäviken Egendom Estate, 20,000 acres of farmland located around 500 miles north of Stockholm in the remote Åre Municipality of Sweden. It's an absolute bugger to get to.
So when a wealthy mate casually dropped his intention to charter a private jet to Östersund so he could dine at Fäviken – and then mentioned he had a couple of seats spare – obviously I leapt at the chance.
The restaurant has 16 seats, and dinner is served to those who stay overnight in one of their rooms. There are four chefs, including Magnus and one of my ex Pitt Cue lads, Tom Swanny, and a total of eight staff on the estate, including a gardener. Fäviken is regularly in The World's 50 Best restaurants lists, and Nilsson's appearances on Netflix documentaries Mind of a Chef and Chef's Table have brought him and the exacting process he employs a deal of attention.
Apart from sugar, salt, vinegar and one or two other ingredients, the food served at Fäviken is localised to the estate and its surrounding environs. The chefs fish in a local lake, with the dishes changing dependent on the catch, and unconventional cooking techniques are used, like smoking vegetables using leaves that have been decomposing for a year. Because little can grow here in the winter, vegetables in particular are stored for months at a time in a root store – a kind of underground larder – which Swanny shows us around before we eat.
Dinner at Fäviken is interesting; we share some similar beliefs in animal husbandry, including the impact an animal's age has on flavour, and Nilsson's dedication to 'locavorism' and cooking with primal simplicity leads to utterly remarkable dishes.
Chefs fish in a local lake, with the day's dishes dependent on the catch
We start in the downstairs bar with linseed and vinegar crisps and a mussel dip; something called a mycelium broth; wholegrain wheat cracker with swede salad; wild trout roe in a pig's blood crust; pig's head coated in sourdough and deep fried; bird's liver custard; and slices of something called spickeskinka, which appears to be a cured ham. Seven tiny courses in all.
Things get serious when we move upstairs to begin our meal proper, starting with the dish that had drawn me here in the first place: scallop i skalet ur elden. A single large scallop cooked and served on burning juniper branches, it's clean, briny and tastes of, well, scallop. It's a truly great dish, but stark in the extreme, and Tonks' still edges it for me.
The star of the show is what follows – a king crab leg with almost-burnt cream. This may be the single best sea creature I've ever put in my mouth; it's sweet, soft and tender, and I can only guess at the technique that went into such a deceptively simple dish.
I've counted 30 courses on the menu, and by this point I'm suffering from menu fatigue and in need of fortification. Luckily for me the bar has every year of super-rare Pappy van Winkle, my favourite bourbon whiskey, which girds my loins as we forge on through mahogany clams with frozen lingonberries; ash-coated eggs; white asparagus poached in fermented pear juice; and roast quails served with what Nilsson calls 'Tasty Paste'.
After a few more courses downstairs, including little reindeer and birch pies, and a wooden box filled with tar pastilles, meadowsweet candy, dried rowanberries, smoked caramel, sunflower nougat and dried blackcurrants, we are offered snus – chewing tobacco – fermented in a used bitters barrel.
I don't remember much after this point, but judging by the next morning's hangover I continued to have a bloody good evening.
After a life-saving breakfast of Fäviken's famous porridge with cloudberry jam and a spot of hangover-busting cryotherapy in the nearby lake, we get our car back to Östersund to catch the 'PJ'. Yep, for 24 hours, at least, I've become one of those people.
The overriding thought of Fäviken as I leave is that it epitomises restaurant ethics in its purest and most passionate form. That unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, most of the rest of us are just paying the concept lip service. And no, the irony of our mode of transport isn't lost on me. But sometimes a man just really, really needs a scallop, and only the (second) best will do.