April 18, 2018

Restaurant Unn

Intimate dining for 8 at Unn
Les Clefs d'Or Sweden was very grateful to be invited last night to try Restaurant Unn, the sister restaurant of Tak Stockholm... which I visited recently. You can describe Unn as being a dining experience within a restaurant, as it is located in a separate room within Tak itself. Unn is comprised of 8 seats around a chef's table (teppanyaki style) and you have one chef and a sommelier taking care of you during the evening. They serve a set, multiple course menu where all diners are served at the same time.
Tak is a fun and popular restaurant and there is a feeling of luxury being ushered into an intimate, private room, away from the hustle and bustle. Well inside, we were greeted by Chef Albin and Sommelier Mikkel as we took our seats around a teppanyaki table. As champagne was served, they explained Unn's dining concept to us. The cuisine is a fusion of Nordic and Japanese, using a lot of Nordic flavors and ingredients while employing Japanese cooking techniques.
Chef Albin and Sommelier Mikkel presenting the dessert
Albin and Mikkel guided us throughout the evening. I have been to several "chef's table" experiences and the ambiance of the evening is really dependent on the staff as it is such an intimate experience. They were great! Very sociable and informative, without being stuffy, and spoke excellent English. I am always impressed when a chef can create a complicated dish in front of you all the while holding a conversation. I get stressed just when someone asks me a question while I'm trying to boil water.
Presentation of the ingredients
The fresh ingredients for each dish come in their own individual handmade wooden box which the chef presents to the diners before preparing the dish. This is a great presentation of the ingredients and a fantastic way to introduce each course. Unn is able to accommodate some food allergies and dietary restrictions when given advance warning. However, as it is a small, intimate dining experience, they aren't able to work around every type of allergy & restriction. See the full list on their website.
The dishes were all paired with a variety of beverages, like champagne, wine and sake. The Sommelier was very knowledgeable and, as we are more familiar with wine, it was especially interesting to hear about sake, like the different varieties and how it is made. Currently you are able to order three different pairings... with alcoholic beverages, with non alcoholic beverages or a mix of the two. There may be plans in the future of having an "a la carte" beverage list as well. These guys put on quite a show as the evening progressed... ingredients were presented, poured, diced, shaved, seared and even, at times, lit on fire.
Special mention has to be made for Unn's location. As I mentioned earlier, it is located with the restaurant Tak which can be found on the top floor of a building on the square Brunkebergstorg in downtown Stockholm. Above the restaurant, on the rooftop, they have an indoor/outdoor bar and terrace with amazing views of the city. Nothing excites Swedes more than the combination of sunshine and alcohol. This was the definitely the place to be last summer on a warm, sunny evening... and it is bound to be even more popular this coming summer as they are expanding to the rooftop on the neighboring building.
You can't beat this view
The whole project is called "Stockholm Under the Stars" and you will find, besides food & drink, a sun deck, an outdoor gym and cinema and more. There will be a bridge connecting the two rooftops. During this summer's World Cup (football/soccer) they are planning on showing matches on the outdoor cinema screen. Should be a fun time! The best way to get to Tak & Unn from the Hotel Rival is subway (blue line, station Kungsträdgården, exit Regeringsgatan), a 15 minute bus ride, a 30 minute walk or else it is a 5 minute taxi ride.
Booking seats in advance at Unn is a must! They are currently only open on Wednesdays through Saturdays and have one serving an evening. This means only 8 seats an evening, four nights a week, which makes last minute reservations more difficult. You can book through their website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me for further assistance. Click here for more of my restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Sommelier / Barista
A bit of heavenly fudge to end the evening

April 14, 2018

Sightseeing in Stockholm with Strömma 2018

This past Monday, I was invited (along with other Stockholm hotel staff) to the annual presentation of the year's sightseeing options by the Strömma company ahead of the busy summer season. Strömma is the largest sightseeing operator in the Nordic countries, running tours in Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki and... Stockholm! Here in Stockholm, there are other smaller sightseeing companies, but Strömma's portfolio of tours cannot be beat. They offer everything from day excursions, Hop On/Off tours, sightseeing by boat and bus, walking tours to dining cruises and much more.
S/S Stockholm, photo by Gustav Kaiser.
The summer is the high season for tourism in Stockholm (with a mini high season in December as well) and it is short and intensive! There are, of course, sightseeing options year-round but most tours are only available during the high season. However, starting already in April, some tours start for the season... albeit with fewer departure times/days than the high season. There was a slight delay for a few of the boat tours as winter stayed late this year and some canals only became ice free last week! Some notable tours that have started are the Royal Canal boat tour, In a Nutshell bus/boat combination tour and Under the Bridges boat tour (only Fri-Sun so far, starting daily on April 27th).
Under the Bridges boat tour
The Hop On/Off busses run year round (with a higher frequency of departures in the summer months), however the Hop On/Off boats start their season on April 28th. Combination bus/boat tickets available then as well. Other year-round tours of note are the Panorama bus tour and the Little Archipelago boat tour. Strömma has some great full and half day excursions as well (palaces, castles, Viking villages, art museums, archipelago and more). Boat trips to Drottningholm have started already (weekends only now, daily from April 27th), with other excursions starting their seasons in May and June. Check the options here. One fun thing to do during the warmer months is to explore the archipelago on your own using the Cinderella boats (with start April 27th). Finally, Strömma has a wide variety of dining cruises (lunch, brunch, afternoon tea and dinner) available as well.
Exploring the archipelago with Cinderella
These tours are all bookable via their website (linked throughout this article) or can be purchased at tourist information centers or Strömma's ticket offices at StrömkajenGustaf Adolfs TorgStadshusbron and Nybroplan. Some tickets to tours can be purchased at the bus/boat when space is available (in case you want to keep your options open). Or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can book directly with me at the hotel. One good option is to purchase the Stockholm Pass, which not only includes entrance to almost all of Stockholm's main attractions but also gives you access to most of Strömma's sightseeing tours. We will be selling the 1, 2 and 3 day passes for adults to our hotel guests starting on May 1st. All pictures in this article are press images provided by Strömma.
Bus/boat combination tours.

April 10, 2018

Åhléns City Department Store

Press image from Åhlens.
I was visiting the Åhléns City department store the other day and it struck me that I have never written an article about this popular Stockholm shopping landmark. These days Åhléns is actually a chain of department stores around Sweden with 30+ stores in the country with 13 in the greater Stockholm area alone. But Åhléns City, located in the downtown area, is the large flagship store of the chain and definitely worth a visit when in Stockholm.
Main entrance.
Åhléns started as a post order company in 1899 and the Åhléns City store was first opened in 1964. When I was a youngster back in the 1980's, Åhléns City was looked upon by locals as being less glamorous than the nearby NK department store. While NK had designer labels, Åhléns had its own clothing label. These days, however, Åhléns City has upped its game and transformed itself into a department store of note. While their own fashion label does still exist in a limited version, they have expanded and brought in many other labels... especially local ones like Filippa K, J. Lindeberg, Acne, Nudie Jeans and more.
Filippa K
The department store takes up an entire city block and has several floors, both above and below ground. You can find almost everything you want to shop for at Åhléns City. Besides Swedish and international fashion, they have textiles, interior design, cosmetics, Swedish crystal, luggage, accessories, souvenirs and they even have a large grocery store on the lower level in case you wish to purchase some Swedish delicacies to take home with you. Speaking of food, they have a few dining options in the store... like a juice bar, café and even an Italian restaurant on the top floor called Pane Fresco (with outdoor terrace).
Tourist information
Another point of interest for visitors within Åhlens City is a tourist information center where you can get help with tours, restaurants, advice, tickets and shopping. If you are a non European Union resident, you can also purchase items tax-free at Åhlens through Global Blue. Just make sure you follow the rules in order to receive your tax refund upon departing the EU.
Nudie Jeans
Åhlens City is very centrally located, right on the pedestrian street Drottninggatan and adjacent to the Sergels torg square. There is quite a lot of construction ongoing on the street in front of the store as well as around the square. This is due to the fact the city is extending the popular Djurgård tram line past Åhlens to Kungsholmen. The easiest way to get to Åhlens City from the Hotel Rival is by subway. The main entrance to the store is actually located right at an entrance to the main subway station called T-Centralen (all subway lines).
Orrefors Crystal
Items for the kitchen 
J. Lindeberg

April 1, 2018

Gamla Stan (the old town)

The German Church in the evening.
While writing an article about the restaurant Fem Små Hus recently, I noticed that it has been awhile since I wrote an overview/guide about Gamla Stan and it would probably be good with an update now that the summer tourist season is around the corner. Gamla Stan (Swedish for "old town") is an island and the heart and center of Stockholm, literally and figuratively. It is the geographic center of the city and where Stockholm was founded back in the 1200's (the city was first mentioned in texts in 1252). It is both the bridge between the northern and southern parts of Stockholm as well as where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea.
So, if you are visiting Stockholm, you will more than likely visit this part of the city at some time... whether passing through, wandering around to soak up the history or visiting an attraction, bar or restaurant. Gamla Stan is by no means large and you can easily walk the circumference in about an hour or so. Yes, during the busy summer season it can get quite crowded with tourists... but don't let that discourage you from visiting! There is plenty to see & do and you can avoid much of the crowds by getting off the main thoroughfares.
The Royal Palace.
Attractions. I would say that the main attraction here is the Royal Palace. It is an actual working palace and the Swedish royal family have their offices there. You can visit the apartments or one of the several museums within the palace, like the Royal Treasury, Tre Kronor (ruins of the former palace which burned down) and Royal Armory. Watching the changing of the guards is a popular thing to do and it happens daily in the courtyard of the palace at 12:15pm (1:15pm on Sundays and holidays).
Inside Storkyrkan Cathedral
Adjacent to the palace is the main cathedral in Stockholm (Storkyrkan), though there are a few other churches as well in the area, like the Riddarholm Church and German Church (Tyska kyrkan). The main square (Stortorget) in the center of Gamla Stan shouldn't be missed and is, in fact, one of the most photographed places in Stockholm. In the square you will also find the Nobel Museum, dedicated to Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes. The narrow alley Mårten Trotzig Gränd has become an attraction as well. You can also just stroll around the island and enjoy the great architecture... many of the buildings date back to the Middle Ages.
Stortorget Square
Restaurants & bars. Visitors sometimes decide to avoid eating dinner in Gamla Stan, fearing that all of the restaurants are "too touristy" but this is actually not the case. There are many high quality restaurants in this area. Sure, there are a few basic tourist eateries... but there are also some great restaurants as well. I also try and explain to guests that there is a big difference between a restaurant being "touristy" and being populated with tourists. In the summer months most restaurants in the city are filled with tourists but that doesn't make them touristy.
Swedish meatballs at Den Gyldene Freden
Some Gamla Stan restaurants that I would definitely recommend include Den Gyldene Freden, Fem Små Hus, Kryp In, Pastis, Mr French, Tradition, Cultur, Pubologi/Flickan/Djuret, The Flying Elk, Le Rouge, Österlånggatan 17, Kagges and The Hairy Pig among others. You also have a couple of historically themed restaurants, Aifur (Viking) and Sjätte Tunnan (medieval), for a more historical experience. If you are more interested in having a cocktail, then there are quite a few good bars and pubs in Gamla Stan.
Gamla Stan from the water.
Sightseeing. There are many sightseeing tours that either concentrate on Gamla Stan or include the area as part of a larger tour of the city. The main bus tour passes through and several boat tours skirt the island. The Hop On/Off busses and boats make, of course, several stops in Gamla Stan. But the best way to see Gamla Stan is on foot. OurWay Tours offer walking tours as does Strömma (summer months only). Free Tour Stockholm offers walking tours year-round. Or why not take a more unusual sightseeing tour... like a Ghost Walk, Roof Top Tour, Craft Beer Tour or 100 Point Challenge?
A rooftop tour
If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, we are just a 10 minute walk from Gamla Stan. Otherwise there are several busses that cross over the island and you also have the subway which has its own Gamla Stan station (red and green lines). If you have your own car with you, I would avoid driving in this part of the city as many areas are car-free and parking is at a minimum.
Stortorget at night. 

March 27, 2018

Restaurant Fem Små Hus

I had dinner with a Concierge colleague last week at the restaurant Fem Små Hus in the old town (Gamla Stan). I have been to this restaurant many times over the past twenty years and have, of course, written a blog article about it. However, as that article was written almost 7 years ago, it is time for an update!
Fem Små Hus is one of those restaurants that is very easy to recommend to visitors. Not only do they serve great quality, delicious Swedish cuisine (with a French twist) but they also have a beautiful, historic atmosphere. The name Fem Små Hus means "five small houses" and comes from the fact that the restaurant's seven vaulted cellars stretch out under five houses. The restaurant, as I mentioned, is located in Gamla Stan and restaurants have been found at this location since back in the 1600's when there was a restaurant run by a woman named Anna Lindberg (more about her later).
It is actually a relatively large restaurant though you would never know this as it is divided up between 7 vaulted cellar rooms connected by stairs and small hallways, giving diners an intimate feeling. This also makes Fem Små Hus a good restaurant if you are a smaller group as you can dine in your own room, making it a private dining experience. They have a nice bar as well on the street level with a great outdoor terrace during the warmer months.
The cuisine is Swedish with a touch of French and they have some favorite Swedish dishes like assorted herring, Toast Skagen, fillet of reindeer and moose carpaccio. We opted for one of their set three course menus called "Anna Lindberg", named after the entrepreneurial Swedish woman who had a restaurant here around 400 years ago. This menu consists of cured salmon (gravad lax) with a mustard sauce, followed by fillet of veal with a morel sauce and finally a terrine of chocolate with orange curd. It was all very delicious and paired with some great wines.
While Fem Små Hus is a large restaurant, I do recommend booking a table in advance... especially if you wish to dine there on a weekend. You can do this on their website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for help. It is only a 20 minute walk there from the hotel, otherwise you have a couple of busses you can take or else it is a 5 minute taxi ride. The closest subway station is Gamla Stan (red and green lines). Click here for more restaurant reviews and click here for restaurants that serve Swedish cuisine.

March 24, 2018

Spring Art Exhibitions 2018

Mayo, Coups de Bâtons, 1937 © Mayo Bildupphovsrätt
From "Art et Liberté" at Moderna.
We have had a few sunny days now and the snow is starting to melt. Finally, and just in time for Easter! But keep in mind that Swedish spring is very fickle... rain, sun and snow all on the same day. It might be good to have some indoor activities planned just in case... like maybe visiting an art exhibit or two? Here are the major art exhibitions going on this season in Stockholm. Keep in mind that there are many smaller art galleries and museums not listed here. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me for information about these and more.

"Train in Heaven" by Peter Dahl at Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum
Photo: Lars Engelhardt, Waldemarsudde
If art isn't your cup of tea, Stockholm has many other museums covering all types of subjects like history, music, sports, military, natural history, technology and much more. Click here to find out more! 

March 21, 2018

Storage Lockers at the Central Train Station

Taking a little break from restaurants, stores and museums to pass on some more practical information. From time to time, I have been asked if there are storage facilities at the main train station, usually by hotel guests who might have an evening flight and want to spend the day in the downtown area after checking out, shopping before heading to the airport. In some cases, they would rather take their luggage with them and not have to go back to the hotel first before going to the airport. From the Central Train Station you can get to Arlanda airport with taxisArlanda Express, the commuter train or the airport bus.
Main and lower levels
So, the answer to the question is... yes, there are facilities at the train station where you can store luggage. I was invited to an event a few evenings ago and had been shopping in the city. I didn't have time to go home in between and decided that the best thing would be to store my loot in one of the luggage lockers at the station... and I thought that it would make a good "how to" blog article.
Machine where you pay for your locker
The Central Train Station is located in the downtown area, not far from the City Hall (Stadshuset). Not only is it the hub for all train traffic, you also have the main subway station (T-Centralen) underneath as well as the new commuter train station under the subway station. Adjacent to the train station you have the main bus station (Cityterminalen) where you have more long distance busses, including the ones to the different airports servicing Stockholm.
Larger lockers and...
They actually have storage lockers at several different points in the train and bus stations. but I used the ones on the floor under the main level of the train station, close to the subway station entrance. The storage lockers come in two different sizes: small (36cm x 44cm x 60cm) and large (46cm x 60cm x 85cm). According to the website, they do have even larger lockers at the bus station for items like "skis and golf bags". Besides the lockers, they also have luggage check for larger bags and personals ervice. This is located on the lower level, near the lockers I used. The manual luggage check is open each day between 9am and 6:30pm while you can access the lockers as long as the train station is open. Different parts of the station have different opening hours but, for example, the lower level is only closed from around 2am to 4am.
...smaller lockers
For the lockers, you can either choose to store them for max 4 hours (small- 60 SEK, large- 80 SEK) or 24 hours (small- 70 SEK, large- 90 SEK). For the manual bag check the cost is 120 SEK for 24 hours, max 7 days. There are machines at the lockers where you pay with either coins or credit card and they have instructions in several languages. After you pay, you receive a receipt with a code on it. Don't lose the receipt as you need the code to open your locker.
Or check in larger bags maunually.

March 16, 2018

Swedish Crystal from Målerås

Swedish crystal and glass is world famous and visitors to Stockholm often purchase some crystal (candleholders, vases, tableware, glasses, art peieces, etc.) to take home with them, whether for themselves or as presents for loved ones. There are several large crystal manufacturers/glassworks in Sweden, with MåleråsKosta Boda and Orrefors being some of the larger and more well known. The Målerås Flagship Store opened recently in Stockholm and I had the opportunity to visit it a few days ago.
Like most of the Swedish crystal manufacturers, Målerås was founded, and is still based, in southern Sweden. In fact, that area of Sweden is called Glasriket ("Kingdom of Glass") because of the high concentration of glassworks located there. Målerås was founded in 1890 and first made everyday items like window panes and medicine bottles before moving to more decorative and creative items. All of Målerås' crystal and glass is handmade in Sweden using different techniques, like casting and blowing.
As Målerås currently has 8 different designers, their crystal and glassware can vary somewhat in aesthetic and design... meaning that they have something for most tastes and sensibilities! Some of their more popular items are cast and painted glass with floral and fauna motifs. I particularly liked their series with a Swedish birch forest motif and I am sure their pieces with the iconic Swedish Dala Horse are very popular. Another series I enjoyed were the "Masq" decanter and champagne flutes.
Dala horses...
The reason I was invited to the store was that they were unveiling their latest designer Anna Kraitz and her "Padam" series. I quite liked the series of vases and candleholders in interesting colors... like moss green, bright yellow, white and sand. The artist was there and explained that this was her first time working with glass as a medium. Hopefully she will expand her series with even more items.
Padam candle holder
On the high end of the scale, they have larger pieces of crystal fused with metal. Many of these peices have mythological themes and are quite striking. The store even has a downstairs gallery, which you can visit, and see most of these larger pieces. A good thing to know is that, if you are a non European Union resident, you can purchase your items here tax free (you get the sales tax refunded when you leave the EU). The store also offers to ship items home for you in case you are travelling on from Stockholm and don't want to carry the items with you on your trip.
"Nordman"- iron & crystal
The Målerås Flagship Store is located on the pedestrian street Drottninggatan in the downtown area, close to where the street crosses over into Gamla Stan (the old town). The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by subway to T-Centralen (3 stops on the red line) and then exit to Segels Torg. Or else it is a 30 minute walk through Gamla Stan or a 5-6 minute taxi ride. They do also have the Målerås Crystal Gallery and Mats Jonasson Concept Store in Gamla Stan and you can find Målerås crystal in most fine crystal stores in the city. And if you are thinking that it would be fun to try your hand at glass blowing, you can do that at Skansen! Click here for more information about this fun activity and to read about my visit there.
Downstairs gallery

Masq series