BrewDogging #35: Gothenburg
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo]
I've been to Sweden for work several times over the last few years, largely for a major Swedish company which shall remain nameless. The size of that company meant that I didn't just visit the big cities: I also got to hang out in smaller towns, most recently Linköping just over a year ago. It was during that last trip that I noticed the culmination of something I'd watched developing over those few years - I was using credit cards a lot more, and cash a lot less. I'd brought over about 800 SEK in local currency with me, and took almost the same amount back home again.
One year later, and Sweden is hurtling ever closer to total cashlessness. Not only did I find out with just two weeks to spare that my 800 SEK of notes was on the verge of becoming worthless, but we also encountered two establishments in the country that completely refused to handle any cash at all. Quick bit of foreshadowing: one of those was ABBA The Museum in Stockholm. But can you guess the other one?
Apart from that shock when I try to pay for our first round, there aren't too many surprises regarding the bar. Once again, it's done out in the style that we could formally call Early BrewDog, with the exposed brickwork and the distressed wood and the use of the old blocky company typeface across the etched windows. There's something almost nostalgic about seeing this design scheme in use in the Scandi bars, compared with the more streamlined and tasteful approach that's been gradually rolled out across the UK. There is one utterly magnificent deviation from the norm when you get to the toilets, though. You'll find that one of the unisex cubicles is labelled as The Bacon Chamber, with a warning that you may find it disturbing. Ignore the warnings and go straight in. I'm reasonably certain you won't regret it.
Regarding the beer: after Oslo, it's nice to see a more traditional mixture of BrewDog classics and unusual guests. The Belated Birthday Girl and I go for two we haven't heard of as an opening round: she's disappointed that her Pizza Port Pauline Sabin turns out to be a brown ale from San Diego, whereas my Barlind Victor has only had to travel a couple of dozen miles down the road from Björkö. It's interesting to see that they do off-sales, but once again the rules in Sweden mean that only weak beers like To Øl Totem Pale and Mikkeller Drink'in Berliner Passionfruit can be sold for that purpose, and nothing stronger than that. Which is a shame, because for some reason or other there are some gloriously strong old classics in the fridge at Gothenburg, ones that you literally can't find in any other BrewDog bar right now. This applies to our nightcap beers for our two visits - Cocoa Psycho for our first one, and proper old-style Tokyo* for the second. For clarification, the latter isn't the new-labelled 16.5% watered-down nonsense BrewDog sell now, but the old-labelled 18.2% monster that made the Daily Mail shit its pants a few years ago. For some reason, the Gothenburg bar still has some bottles of the old version, and very nice it is too.
In terms of atmosphere, it's a mixed bag - a bit quiet on the Tuesday night, a little more expectedly busy on the Thursday as we get closer to the weekend. But this leads to one interesting observation on the music policy. On the Tuesday, when it's basically one bar guy, the two of us, and a couple more locals, the bar guy gets full run of the stereo - and we get a solid evening's worth of classic soul, which makes a refreshing change from the predictable barrage of rock and punk that most bars pump out. It turns out to be a blip - when we return on Thursday, it's back to the usual wall-to-wall transmissions from Radio Whiteboy, up to and including Stairway To Heaven (made all the more peculiar because the stereo channel with the guitar in it is located in the back room and totally inaudible). The BBG and I have been having a couple of discussions on the topic of #CraftBeerSoWhite recently, and it's surprising that we've had to come to Sweden to hear an exception proving the rule.
But let's go back on ourselves a little here. The train journey from Oslo - travelling via Norwegian railway operator NSB - is four hours long, and only really notable for the low quality of the vending machine coffee that's one of the few things available to drink. When we get into the station, a quick call into the attached newsagents allows up to pick up our Västtrafik travel passes - we've done the sums, and a three-day pass each will definitely be needed, as we'll be hitting the tram network with some regularity.
In fact, its first use is almost immediate, as we do a three-stop hop from Central Station to Grönsakstorget and our hotel for this leg, Hotel Flora. Unlike the fur-coat-and-no-knickers vibe of our previous digs in Oslo, this is a lot closer to the sort of boutique chic that we enjoy the most. Some of its studied minimalism has the possibility to grate a little - a clothes rail rather than a wardrobe, and no tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms. But to be honest, when we're changing cities every three days you tend to live directly out of the suitcase anyway: and Flora has a delightful bar that's open 24 hours a day (THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT, OSLO), which means that by the end of the stay we have been permanently identified as 'that English couple that rolls in after midnight and asks for a couple of green teas before they go to their room.' The staff are a joy to deal with throughout, so this is never seen as any sort of problem.
It's the first time in Gothenburg for both of us, and if there's one concern I have with the place it's that it doesn't seem to have any defined centre, with the possible exception of the railway station. It's a bit of a sprawl, with points of interest scattered all over, and you need to have a solid grasp of the tram map to be able to manage your way around it. Still, after a couple of days it becomes second nature. At one point, purely to avoid the rain, we get on a couple of trams to the end of the line just to see what can be found there. (Generally nothing of interest, if we're honest. But given the chance to ride a tram to a place called Angered, you'd take it, wouldn't you?) You get the impression that Gothenburg itself is aware of this, and is trying to get around the problem by marketing a couple of districts as specific destinations. In the case of Haga, it's been sort of successful, a old working-class district that's been flattened by the gentrification juggernaut into a lovely but guilt-inducing collection of cafes, restaurants and twee shops occupying exquisite buildings. It's not worked quite as well with Linné, an attempt to repackage 900m of the Linnégatan high street into something classier (though it's an area that does include the lovely Haga Bion cinema where we saw Sophelikoptern).
Still, as I said, Haga's restaurants are indeed lovely, and one of them leads off The Belated Birthday Girl's report on Gothenburg's best food and drink.
As we were arriving in Gothenburg on our anniversary, we wanted to make sure we had somewhere a bit special for our first evening’s meal. Although there are plenty of high-end restaurants in Gothenburg, several with Michelin stars, one place kept coming up in our research as being a good place for seafood, and that was Sjöbaren Haga. The Haga district of Gothenburg is a particularly atmospheric one, and a stroll through it is a pleasure. The restaurant itself is delightful, with decor evoking a ship’s dining room, complete with a diver’s helmet on the bar. We both decided to start with one of the house specialities, the fish and seafood soup, which was rich and flavoursome. For the main, Spank went for another of the classics of the house, the fish au gratin, which consisted of cod, shrimps and mushrooms in a white wine sauce topped with creamy mashed potato. I decided to try the Wallenberger of the sea, partly to find out what it was. It turns out that a traditional Wallenberger is a Swedish veal burger named after the Wallenberg financial dynasty, but Sjöbaren make one with fish instead of veal, and the texture is very light, somewhat reminiscent of a quenelle. Both dishes were tasty, and made with the freshest of seafood. We didn’t feel we had room for a dessert, but the home-made chocolate truffles made a lovely accompaniment to coffees to finish the meal. With a glass of sauvignon blanc each to wash down the meal, it came in at 950 SEK, which was pretty reasonable for the quality.
A short walk from Haga, Noba Nordic Bar / Gastro is a bar specialising in craft beer of the Nordic region, and serving modern Scandi gastro-bar grub. Spank had the house burger, which came with cheese, pickled and roasted onions, barbecue sauce and truffle mayonnaise, and was served with excellent sweet potato fries: while I went for the catch of the week, which this particular week was fried plaice, served with fried potatoes. There are a lot of planks and slabs of slate instead of plates at Noba, but the food is good, and the beer selection extensive, including the likes of Omnipollo, Mikkeller, To Øl, Lervig, and many other less well known breweries of the region. We decided to stay local, starting by sharing an Ocean IPA from the local Gothenburg brewery, and following up with beers from two other Swedish breweries: Spank choosing an Oppigards Amarillo, and me going for a Poppels brown ale. The Ocean was fine, if unremarkable and not very IPA-ish, while the Poppels brown ale tasted very brown. The Oppigards was the best of the bunch, with a decent hop flavour from the Amarillo. At 600 SEK for the lot, it was pretty good value, too. My one criticism of Noba would be that perhaps its range is a little too extensive, as none of the bottles were that fresh. But with decent food and a great selection of Nordic beers, Noba is definitely worth a visit.
Although all the best meals we had were the evening meals, I want to make brief mention of our lunch at Kajutan, mainly because of its location in the Feskekörka. If you want a Swedish seafood lunch of the likes of skagen toast, this is probably the best place to do it.
Finally, for a very traditional meal in a beautiful restaurant, I have to recommend Smaka. The menu is full of traditional Swedish dishes, from herring and bleek roe to meatballs and venison. I had a main of salt and sugar cured salmon, which came with dill creamed potatoes and mustard sauce, while Spank went for the meatballs with lingonberries, XL size. The food was tasty, and they certainly were not misrepresenting the portion size for the meatballs. There is also a long list of Swedish akvavit, but we decided to pass on that, tempting though it was, and washed down our meals with a glass each of house wine, white for me and red for Spank. We finished off with a shared strawberry compote for afters, accompanied by coffee. At 600 SEK, the meal was good value, although we did stay at the lower end of the price range of the menu. In any case, it made for a lovely final night’s meal in Gothenburg.
One big difference between Oslo and Gothenburg: after three days of perfect weather in the former, it's a hell of a shock to encounter so much rain in the latter. (Also - and as you can imagine, this will become a running theme throughout the holiday - it takes a while to get used to the idea that at 11.30pm, it will be dark.) We're tempted to hide from the rain in our nice hotel room, where at one point we develop an unhealthy obsession with a cartoon on TV that turns out to be a Swedish dub of a French musical called Le Parfum de la Carotte. Luckily, Gothenburg is ridiculously well-stuffed with galleries and museums, all waterproof, and we get to visit several of them during our three-day visit.
Let's start with one of the smallest, and one of the most awkward to get to - though in fact the Älvsnabben ferry from Lilla Bommen to Lindholmspiren will do most of the work for you, and is covered by your Västtrafik pass. Once you're off the boat, a short stroll through an industrial estate takes you to the Radiomuseet, a tiny place that's obviously a labour of love for all involved. Gothenburg's radio museum isn't much more than a couple of rooms containing several hundred examples of ancient audio equipment, but it's an utter delight if that sounds like your idea of heaven - which it obviously is for the volunteer staff, who gleefully demonstrate a couple of old wax cylinder gramaphones just before we leave. It's only open from noon on selected days of the week, but if you get the 11.30am boat you have the added bonus of catching one of my favourite rituals from my time working on Swedish industrial estates: everyone filing out of their offices at around 11.45 and heading straight for one of the three or four lunch restaurants in the complex.
Gothenburg's more traditional museums have grouped themselves together to offer a ridiculously good value deal: one single ticket gives you repeated access to all of them until the end of the year. We don't realise this until we buy our ticket for the Röhsska Museum - a perfectly fine history of Swedish design though the 19th and 20th centuries - and are told by the box office staff what else we're entitled to. The next day we use the ticket all over again at the Museum of Gothenburg, which has a large series of exhibitions relating to the city and the country. Of the permanent exhibits, Vikingr - Between Oden And Christ is a series of Viking artefacts with a nearly-as-good-as-the-one-in-Oslo recovered longboat at its centre. Of the temporary ones, (In)Human tells the queasy story of Europe's on-off relationship with the science of eugenics: while Music Scene Gothenburg is a more fun analysis of how the city's pop music has evolved between 1955 up to the scheduled exhibition closing date in 2018, with enough audio-visual samples to turn you into the sort of expert who can casually say "Håkan Hellström's a seminal figure, obviously." That one museum ticket also gets you into three other ones - the Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, and the Maritime Museum & Aquarium - so you can see what ridiculously good value it is.
And yet, there's even better museum fun to be had in the city, at the Maritiman maritime museum (not to be confused with the one in the previous paragraph). Bear in mind, at the time we visited this I was still on a bit of a high from Oslo's Fram Museum, which allows you to freely roam across all levels of a polar exploration ship. Maritiman pulls off the same trick fifteen times in a row: it's a fleet of over a dozen ships moored together in the harbour, with gangplanks linking them, and you can just wander around all of them at your leisure. The smaller vessels have their own charm, but the two highlights are the biggest - the destroyer HMS Småland, and the adjacent submarine HMS Nordkaparen. It's almost embarrassing to think that three months earlier, I was getting excited about a replica of a submarine in a German film studio. Getting to clamber around the real thing - and as The BBG noted, being at least partially under water while you're doing it - is a whole other collection of thrills altogether, and definitely worth doing if you get the chance.
By the time we're ready to leave Gothenburg, the city is dealing with a new influx of visitors - Iron Maiden are playing there that night, and it seems like every second person you encounter around the station is wearing a Maiden t-shirt. If we'd known about the gig in advance, we might have done something about that, particularly as The BBG very very very slightly knows Bruce Dickinson. But instead, we've booked ourselves on a train for the afternoon - in a journey that coincides precisely with the one Euro 2016 match that Sweden are playing while we're in the country. Come back in a few days to see how that went.
Nordic Expedition part 3: Södermalm ->