It happened by chance, as so many of the best things often do.
Magnus Nilsson was in Berlin on August 31, 2016, at the SoHo House to talk about his new book, and Ash and I stayed afterwards to chat with him and get a signed copy. We introduced ourselves and I quipped about how this was probably the closest we’d ever get to eating one of his meals.
That’s when he informed us that reservations for the next six months at Fäviken would open at midnight that very night.
Naturally I rushed home, and with some waiting, refreshing and cursing, managed to secure us a table for two on March 15, 2017.
Sometimes I take living in Europe and being a freelancer for granted, but this was not one of those times. I would not have been able to plan so far ahead, nor to rest assured that a flight to Sweden would cost so little, had I not been a freelancer living in Europe. A lot happened in between, but more than six months later we were on a flight to Stockholm, and days after that on a scenic, snowy train ride in a compartment packed with ski equipment up to Åre, the town closest to Fäviken.
I haven’t spoken a lot about this because I don’t feel the need to brag, but when asked, I can reply honestly that it was the experience of a lifetime. There are many “destination” restaurants you can go to, enjoy, and simply cross off your list. Fäviken was different, because even before the meal had ended we knew we would have to come back. Sure, it’s the genius of the place that it creates an entirely different world for you each season you visit, but it’s the all-encompassing, sensory experience of the visit that makes it like no other.
Everything was charming, everything was perfect, and the momentary snowstorm that greeted us upon arrival was tempered by our delight at finding coats and galoshes available for our use at the door. I thought “winter wonderland” was a Christmas cliché until I came to Fäviken.
We were welcomed upstairs to our rooms, each with a gentle, childlike animal painted on the door, and shown to the sauna and its anteroom, which of course included an ice bucket of wine, beer and prosecco, as well as a jar of pickled turnips and chewy, oily, dried sausages on a cutting board. Practically the first ones there, we relaxed before dinner, enjoying the extreme calm even as chefs dressed only in shirtsleeves rushed across the snow carrying equipment under our window.
By the time mealtime had come around, we were so blissed out they could probably have served us anything. They welcomed us into the main room of what appeared to be a log cabin, offered us a specialty cocktail with pickled forest berries, and proceeded to dance out an array of choreographed fingerfoods and snacks, each more strange and beautiful and delicious than the last. By the surroundings, the food and the roaring fireplace, I was reminded of my favorite book as a child: the richly illustrated, frightening and thrilling Vasilisa the Beautiful. We were led up to the main room, a dim, low attic space with only six tables, and seated us at the table in the very center. As luck would have it, this was the perfect vantage point from which to snap pictures of not only the food as it was carried in by an entire team of people, but also various platings and preparation methods. I couldn’t have been happier.
What followed was a meal that was simply indescribable, so much so that Ash and I would repeatedly taste the dishes that were brought to us, watch each other’s eyes grow wide and stutter, grasping at words that wouldn’t come, only to gasp out, “Whhhhhat? Hhhhooowww?” To use vague, foodie terms like “food porn” and “foodgasm” wouldn’t do it justice. We were in the presence of masters.
By the end of the evening we were being offered the holy trifecta: schnapps, cigars and snus. We retired pleasantly but not overly full, our sadness at the meal’s end tempered slightly by our anticipation of breakfast, which we’d heard from many accounts, would be dinner’s equal.
Upon checkout we were presented with a calligraphied envelope containing a menu of the past evening’s delights, and an exhortation to come back soon…perhaps at hunting season.
As we headed back into town for a day of recovery, we promised each other we would do just that.