My brother, Andrew, recently travelled to Scandinavia with his wife to visit the double Michelin-starred Fäviken Magasinet, one of the world’s top-rated restaurants.
I asked him to write a guest post about their trip, and to go into as much detail as possible, since very few people are fortunate enough to experience Fäviken. It’s a lengthy review, but one which I hope you will enjoy...
To dine at Fäviken is to accept a challenge.
The first challenge is simply to get a reservation. There are few restaurants in the world that have garnered as much attention, and as much hype, as Fäviken. As a result, each of the restaurant’s 6 tables need to be booked months in advance.
Securing a table at the restaurant is a walk in the park compared to being able to book one of the 6 lodge rooms which, given the amount of alcohol you are likely to drink and the relative remoteness of the location, is a necessity.
Bookings go live on their website at midnight on a particular date, it's then a race to grab a reservation; an entire season will be sold-out within minutes of becoming available. Food must be prepaid at the point of reservation, and is non-refundable. Only then can accommodation and travel arrangements be booked to coincide.
Obtaining a reservation isn't for the faint hearted!
The second challenge is the travel required to get there. Often referred to as ‘the most isolated restaurant in the world’, the restaurant is situated on the Fäviken Egendom estate; a 20,000 acre hunting estate and farm located in northern Sweden (1,000 miles north east of London, England), and within relative touching distance of the arctic circle. During winter, temperatures often plummet to between -25ºC to -35ºC.
Our round-trip required four flights: Manchester to Oslo (Norway), then on to Trondheim. The return journey: Trondheim to Copenhagen (Denmark) and back to Manchester. Additional to the flights are 7 hours of car journeys, from Trondheim across the border to Järpen in Sweden. Diners often travel from as far afield as the United States, India and China.
The third challenge is to finish the sheer amount of food you are served, and the speed at which it is delivered to you. Fäviken’s sole offering is a tasting menu; 25-30 courses of double Michelin-starred Nordic food, accompanied by an optional wine pairing. There is no menu, you are served the ingredients that are most fresh on that particular night. Each of the restaurant's diners are served identical meals at exactly the same time.
Magnus Nilsson (b.1983) is the head chef of Fäviken Magasinet. After training as a chef in his native Sweden he moved to Paris and worked with Pascal Barbot of L’Astrance. In 2008 he returned home to Jämtland County and joined Fäviken as a sommelier. Within a year he had taken over the running of the restaurant.
Fäviken first came to my attention in late 2012 when I saw the above video on YouTube. Fäviken the book had just been released.
Three years later Magnus gained widespread notoriety when he and Fäviken were featured in the successful Chef's Table Netflix documentary.
The Nordic Cookbook soon followed, a weighty tome of 750 pages containing 700 Nordic region recipes. Researched and written over a 3 year period during his free time, Magnus amassed 11,000 articles and 8,000 photographs while travelling extensively throughout the Nordic countries - Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The resulting book is widely perceived to be a masterpiece of its genre.
With rain clouds passing over the mountains in the distance, and heading in our direction, we decide to head to the hotel slightly earlier than instructed. Fäviken are quite particular about the time you are to arrive (and to depart): “Check in time at the hotel is between 4pm and 5pm and check out is after breakfast.”
After more than three years of looking forward to a visit to Fäviken, our level of anticipation is already high enough. Anticipation turns to trepidation as we pull up to the entrance and notice that the road sign for the restaurant has been fired at with a shotgun. Being self-respecting millennials, we stop to pose for selfies with the heavily pitted sign.
The path is a couple of hundred metres long and fairly hilly. As we reach the crest of each hill we sneak a glimpse of Fäviken’s falu red buildings.
We arrive to a neat collection of five-or-so separate properties, and a teepee. It’s not immediately clear where we’re supposed to park, how we access the guest accommodation, or where the restaurant is located.
Other than two small fire pits of burning birch wood there’s no movement anywhere and absolute silence abounds; it’s like a ghost town.
Then we see the kitchen. Around ten chefs in their whites are all heads-down busily at work in what is a relatively confined space. A large fluorescent red countdown timer blinks above their heads. One chef stands out from the rest by way of not wearing a chef’s hat, the other chefs aware of his every move.
A door opens and a young lady comes to greet us at our car. She leads us to our room. We’re shown the guest sauna, the communal shower and toilet facilities and the location of the complimentary drinks; herbal tea, coffee and fruit drinks.
“Dinner is at 7pm, but you may come down at 6:30pm.”
The bedrooms are compact and simply decorated. Other than a washbasin and a carafe of water there are few luxuries. Ours, the Fox room, is situated directly above the kitchen and overlooks the front of the restaurant, to what looks like a horse pen.
There is very little to do. Guests have two options; take a sauna, or walk down to Lake Kallsjön. The remote location means that we're free of the usual distractions (phone calls, internet connections). Happily, we have little choice but to relax.
After our epic journey, and having been sat in a car for nearly 3 hours, we elect to go for a walk. Along the way we spot Fäviken’s famous Root Cellar. A young chef, Neil, kindly offers to show us around. It transpires he is a fellow Brit who has also been lured by Fäviken and will be training here for the next year or so.
Neil is, like every member of Fäviken staff we encounter, friendly, knowledgeable and more than happy to answer any questions we have.
The cellar is more compact than I expected. Chock full of food and drink, it appears that anything that can be pickled, preserved or fermented will be. Apples, cabbage, carrots, fireweed, marigolds, rhubarb, all stored in glass jars filled with liquids from vodka to white alcohol vinegar. Some jars date back to beyond 2014.
Neil also takes us to see the spotlessly clean abattoir and curing room. Me being a vegetarian, I am not overly keen to spend much time here.
There's a certain theatre to a meal at Fäviken. Dinner begins at 7pm prompt. Guests who have arrived late are said to have been locked out of the restaurant.
We arrive at the restaurant at around 6:45pm and are greeted at the door by Magnus and Jesper Karlsson, Fäviken’s Executive Chef.
Magnus has a warmth and a shyness to his character that I don’t believe the Netflix documentary conveys. Jesper is quieter, more reserved. Both have a quiet confidence about them.
We have chosen to dine at The Gateleg Table; a ‘communal dining experience’ on a table for eight people. In retrospect this was both an excellent decision, and a questionable decision.
Our fellow diners at the table, Swede’s Gordan and Pernilla, Norwegian’s Frikk and Iris and American’s Bill and Julie (who are part-way through cycling The Saint Olaf Pilgrimage) are all fantastic company.
During the meal we discuss topics from as wide a subject range as American dairy farming, strange Nordic cuisine traditions, how Russian King Crabs have obliterated the sea life around the Norwegian and Swedish coasts, Donald Trump's hair and, of course, the distance we've each travelled to dine here - even the Scandinavian's amongst our group have had to drive for 2 days to arrive.
Unable to secure one of the lodge rooms, Gordan and Pernilla are staying at a hotel in Åre, while Frikk and Iris - admirably - have elected to camp out down by the lake.
Our fellow diners are each and all very nice people; you could happily spend many an hour in their company.
So why was it a questionable decision to sit at The Gateleg Table?
“Hello, my name is Karin Hillström, I am your sommelier this evening. Would you like to take part in the wine pairing?”
One by one each person sat at our table confirms that they do wish to take part. Had we not been sat at the Gateleg Table we most probably would have ordered just a single bottle of wine, as neither my wife nor I are big drinkers. Yet here we find ourselves nodding while uttering the words, “yes, that would be great!”.
< CLAP, CLAP >
Magnus wants our attention. He is stood at the centre of the room and declares that the meal is about to begin. He informs us that the first few courses will be served in very quick succession - with little more than a couple of minutes between each course being served.
In other words: don’t just sit there admiring the food, eat it (a lot more is to follow!).
While I am vegetarian, my wife is not. Below I will present each course, with my wife’s meal first followed by mine (denoted with a v).
At this point the pace slows a little.
The food we have so far eaten has been delicious. Small appetisers, each with a predominant single overriding taste. My wife struggled slightly with the wild trout roe and for me the jerusalem artichoke was not overly memorable, but all other courses have been very nice.
Fäviken's signature dish: Scallop "i skalet ur elden". Diners are asked to “eat it from your hands in one bite, and then drink the juice”.
The scallop is sourced from Hitra, near Trondheim in Norway. Briefly cooked over a fire of juniper branches and birch charcoal it is served straight from the kitchen.
For many this is the highlight of the meal. Frikk sums it up nicely: "what a combination of presentation, quality and taste!"
The king crab and zucchini in 'almost burnt cream' dishes are astoundingly good. I also very much enjoyed the pointed cabbage but, mental note to self: nettles will sting your tongue if you eat them, it should not be a surprise. Sticking your tongue out in the middle of a restaurant while guzzling water will not help. Neither is it a good look...
Chef Oskar Samuelsson introduces this dish as “a quails egg rolled in ash made of sheep shit”.
Like clockwork our meal ends 4 hours after it started. During one sitting I've drank the equivalent amount of alcohol to what I would usually drink in a whole year, and am full almost to bursting point with some of the finest food I've ever eaten.
We step outside to daylight, at this time of year the sun seldom sleeps. Some guests head to the teepee, but with a long day of travel tomorrow we head back to our room.
The kitchen is still a hive of activity. Clean down is in full swing.
We wake the following morning at 8am. The guests cars have been moved to the front of the lodge, ready to be driven away after breakfast.
Breakfast is a simpler affair than last nights meal. It includes some of the finest sourdough bread and butter I've ever tasted.
With the bill paid we drive away from Fäviken reflecting on what has been a remarkable couple of days.
Fäviken is all about the ingredients. The majority of those served in the restaurant have been grown, foraged or hunted in the surrounding environment on the Fäviken estate.
Fine-dining restaurants will often leave no stone unturned to source their chosen ingredients. Such ingredients are then flown in from every corner of the globe. Yet, here at Fäviken it is we, the customers, who travel to the ingredients. It is a restaurant in reverse.
Our visit is in mid-June. The mild temperatures and endless green forests belie that for a large part of the year this is an unforgiving and inhospitable location. It is to Magnus’ credit that he has used this to his advantage; the isolation of Fäviken is a large part of its seduction.
Prior to visiting Fäviken you wonder how a fine-dining restaurant even exists in such a location. On visiting you discover that Fäviken not only exists here, but that it is flourishing. It is clear that it flourishes because of its location, not despite of it.
Magnus and his team evidently have a deep understanding of food, and the environment it comes from, but they also clearly understand our relationship with food. How else can you explain why so many people go to such great lengths - both distance and cost - simply for a meal?
And this brings to the fore the final challenge: the price.
To eat at Fäviken is not cheap. At the time of writing the menu at Fäviken costs SEK 3,000 per person, with the optional wine pairing an additional SEK 1,750. The accommodation, for two people, costs SEK 2,500 per night, inclusive of breakfast. Total: approximately £1,050 GBP for two people. Once added together with flights, car rental and other incidentals, the total price will be closer to double the above figure.
Can any dining experience truly be worth the amounts stated? No, I don't think so. Yet not for a single moment do I regret spending that money - I would happily do it all over again, preferably when the snow is at its deepest and when the northern lights are visible in the night sky.
The food is exceptional, but it is only part of the story; Fäviken is about so much more. It is a unique experience, one which we're likely to remember for the rest of our lives. It may be clichéd, but you can't put a price on that.
Magnus set out to make Fäviken Magasinet into one of the world’s great restaurants. I’ve not yet visited enough of the true ‘greats’ to be able to pass judgement on whether or not he has achieved that ambitious goal, but I can confirm that he has created a truly magical dining experience.
I didn't know it at the time, but my journey to Fäviken had already begun when I spotted the eponymous blue book in 2012.
Maybe your journey has begun too...