The Nordic countries have some of the best restaurants in the world. The global restaurant scene has come a long way from being all about how many cheeses make up your cheeseboard, the number of ways you can reconceptualise the humble green olive, or the benefits of cooking asparagus in a plastic bag. Nowadays restaurant goers are more concerned about quality of produce, freshness of flavour and chefs who are innovating by looking to the past.
Nordic cuisine is unique in its commitment to working with hyper-local produce. Chefs from Iceland to Norway to Finland are trying to yield as much as they possibly can from that produce, in terms of flavour and texture, by taking a look back at their ancestors’ attitudes and ideas.
Whilst you may find plenty of restaurants across the world that clearly demonstrate the massive influence Nordic cuisine has had on the fine dining world and beyond, only by heading for the northward sample the latest innovation in Nordic cooking. Here are some of the highlights you should look out for when planning your next food odyssey beyond the North sea…
Top Danish Restaurants
With almost half the population of its larger neighbour to the East, you may expect Denmark to lag behind when it comes to restaurant excellence. Armed with its capital city, Copenhagen, which is now undoubtedly recognised as an elite food destination, up there with the likes of Paris, New York and Tokyo, Denmark is the country that really stands out as the Executive head chef in the Nordic kitchen brigade.
With 35 Michelin stars shared between 26 restaurants across the country, the restaurant scene here is seriously strong. Fans of gastronomy will of course be aware of the influence Noma has had upon the world of food. Rene Redzepi, Noma’s enigmatic chef-founder, has nurtured an entire generation of chefs who are bringing Noma’s Nordic principles to kitchens across the globe.
Whilst the restaurant still continues to inspire diners and chefs alike, Copenhagen’s restaurant scene is sparkling with Noma alumni. Geranium, whose co-owner Søren Ledet was formerly Sous Chef at Noma, now boasts 3 Michelin stars – one more than its famous counterpart.
Top Restaurants In Sweden
Sweden may not have as many Michelin stars as Denmark, but it has over the past decade been home to some of the most exciting and innovative restaurants in Europe.
Nordic cuisine was epitomised by the imaginative and ethical approach taken by chef Magnus Nilsson at his acclaimed restaurant Faviken. With an obsessive commitment to using hyper-local foraged or farm-grown produce, including fish caught by the chef himself from the restaurant’s nearby pond, Faviken’s approach was as much anthropological as it was gastronomic. Applying ancient preservation techniques to maintain the restaurant’s fruit and vegetable stocks throughout the cold winter months, Nilsson discovered new flavours and textures that most chefs would never have had the processes to find.
Faviken shut its doors for the final time in 2019, much to the disappointment of globetrotting foodies who would’ve given anything to journey most of the way up Sweden’s forested landscape to eat dishes like beef heart tartare and local potatoes cooked in decomposed leaves.
Nowadays, a reasonably priced SAS flight and an Uber will suffice to get you to arguably Sweden’s latest gastronomic market leader. Frantzen in central Stockholm was Sweden’s first restaurant to be awarded with 3 Michelin stars. It’s an example of Nordic cuisine becoming such a foundational and rounded style of cooking, that chefs are now beginning to intersect those principles with other cuisines. Asian influences tinge the menu here, resulting in combinations such as Swedish wild strawberries with Szechuan glaze, paired with sea buckthorn juice. It’s east meets west, Nordic style.
Top Norwegian Restaurants
Whilst Norway might not take up quite as many pages in the famous Michelin guide book compared to that of Denmark, it definitely rivals Sweden as the next-best Nordic foodie hub.
Oslo is home to Maaemo, which as one of the few Nordic restaurants to have held three Michelin stars is considered one of the best examples of high-end gastronomy in the region. The name, derived from the old Norse word for ‘Mother Earth’, gives you a clue as to what ethos the fantastically-named head chef Esben Holmboe Bang adopts.
Norway’s coastline twists along 63,000 miles of fjords and islets, making it by far the longest of the Nordic countries and one of the longest coastlines in the world. Seafood understandably features heavily in Norway’s version of Nordic cuisine, and nowhere is this more evident than when voyaging through the tasting menu of Under; a restaurant partially submerged 5 meters below the Norwegian sea. Here you can experience eating a masterfully crafted dish featuring Norway’s famous ‘Skrei’ cod, and if you’re lucky, a live one might swim by.
Top Restaurants In Finland
If Denmark, Norway and Sweden are the luxurious shellfish in a Nordic seafood pie, then Finland is perhaps the mash and butter. Not quite as exuberant, but delicious in its own way.
Finland, like its Nordic neighbours, produces some amazing meat and shellfish, and the same self-sustaining approach is used when it comes to sourcing produce and treating it with respect.
Indeed the top restaurants in Helsinki, such as Ravintola Olo, are typical new-nordic foodie experiences complete with miniature courses served in succession such as Finnish elk tartar and oxtail broth with foraged nettles and ramson flowers. However many of Finland’s top restaurants seem to break the mould when it comes to typical ‘new-Nordic’ flavours, by introducing other international flavours, perhaps owing to its land border with Russia.
Best Restaurants In Iceland
Iceland differs from the other Nordic countries in that its climate makes it extremely challenging to produce fruit and vegetables with the same abundance as the others. But this means the traditional techniques that Icelandic chefs are able to draw upon are even more extreme, when it comes to preserving food.
For instance, trendy Reykjavik venue Dill, the country’s first and only Michelin starred restaurant has popularised the technique of smoking river fish in dried sheep dung. Not the most pleasant sounding idea, but when you think of the range of mountain herbs enjoyed by the generous creatures supplying the smoking fodder, then you can understand why chefs might see this as a way to provide a unique taste of the region’s terroir. The preference for sheep grazing over forest development and therefore a lack of firewood meant that Icelanders wishing to preserve their summer catch had to switch fuel supply.
Smoking poo aside, Iceland has become a bucket list destination for many over the past 20 years. An eruption in tourism always helps develop a country’s hospitality scene, and Reykjavik is now bubbling with swanky hotels housing superbly refined restaurants. Vox, situated within the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica hotel is a great example of upmarket Icelandic fare. Here wealthy visitors who may have completed a day of slightly more regimented coach-bound sightseeing can wind down to an elegant Nordic tasting menu, rather than hitting the hipster heights of the city’s more eclectic restaurants.