Nordic Nosh: Must-Try Scandinavian Eats and Drinks

By Mary Anne Evans  |  January 23, 2014

Meatballs, salmon, potatoes, beetroot and herrings, chased down by a mind-boggling range of drinks and liqueurs; cafes serving strong coffee and sweet buns with odd names; music clubs where the beat is as strong as the vodka. Here’s where to eat, drink and be merry Nordic-style in London.

  • Fitzrovia: Nordic Bar

    Make your way down the steps to a cosy basement where solid wooden tables and benches, leather sofas and mismatched paintings seem more suited to an eccentric Soho apartment than this long-established bar-cum-restaurant. It’s a party venue with regular, decidedly alternative events during the week (try the O’Nordic St. Patrick’s Day on March 14th), and doubles as a serious drinking bar. Finns go wild over the range of Koskenkorva (the vodka in Finland); there’s Aalborg Taffel Akvavit for the Danes, Absolut Elyx super-premium single-batch vodka for the Swedes, and Einstok craft beer for any Icelanders who happen to be in town - and the likes of Heering Coffee liqueur for the rest of us. Soak up the alcohol with hearty Nordic specials like Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) with mashed potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberry jam, and Pytt I Panna, a typical leftover invention of pan-fried potato, bacon and sausages, which is on the same lines as British bubble and squeak.

    25 Newman St., W1T 1TN; 020 7631 3174

  • Fitzrovia: Scandinavia Kitchen

    Start your day as they do up north with coffee and a kanelbullar, the famous sweet, dense bun flavored with cinnamon and cardamom. On a Sunday, try their freshly baked Danish pastries and you’ll be spoilt for life. On offer through the day but particularly popular at lunch is, of course, their daily smörgåsbord (3 items for £5.95, 5 for £8.95). Open sandwiches are freshly made; go for their Danish pork liver pate with honey pancetta on dark rye, or their wraps that range from prawns and crayfish to goat’s cheese with walnut and honey. There’s an array of tempting salads (new potatoes in dill vinaigrette, or red cabbage with lingon and pear), as well as a few hot dishes like the soup of the day and a meatball platter. It’s all served with brisk friendliness in this bright cafe/deli where homesick Swedes come to eat, chat and buy their groceries.

    61 Great Titchfield St., W1W 7PP; 020 7580 7161

  • Soho: Nordic Bakery

    Sparse industrial-style premises and iconic pieces of design from Alvar Aalto, functional furniture by Ilmari Tapiovaara and glass from Marimekko show that the Nordic Bakery means business. From their first cafe in Golden Square, they’ve branched out to New Cavendish Street and Dorset Street, all the venues serving open sandwiches like gravlax, Brie and lingonberry on dark rye, and karelian pie, which is the rice or potato pastry topped with chopped egg and butter that every Finnish household has ready for visiting friends. Coffee is strong; butterbuns and their double-cream-and-chocolate marbled cakes are irresistible; serving staff welcome ex-pats and locals alike.

    14a Golden Sq., W1F 9JG; 020 3230 1077

  • Shoreditch: Fika

    Shoreditch might be changing as fast as Usain Bolt off the starting blocks, but it’s institutions like the famous 24/7 Brick Lane Beigel Bake at 159 Brick Lane and its neighbor Fika that keep the spirit of the area alive. Fika has been quietly serving breakfast (it’s a great place at weekends after visiting Brick Lane market), lunch and dinner, with coffee and drinks in between for quite a few years now, simplifying its menu to fit into the prevailing passion for casual eating all day. Its small dining room looks out onto still-scruffy Brick Lane, though there’s a summer terrace out at the back for chilling out. Food follows a comforting pattern: the likes of gravlax with beetroot sauce and sourdough toast to start; the ubiquitous meatballs (imaginatively served here with red-wine sauce); or a great grilled salmon served Lappish-style on a wooden board. Don’t, whatever you do, miss the kladdkaka - rich, sticky chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

    161 Brick Ln., E1 6SB; 020 7613 2013

  • Credit: Ben Cole

    Hoxton: The Queen of Hoxton

    Make your way past the deafening disco on the ground floor up to the Wigwambam rooftop bar for its Eastern Lights, Nordic-themed pop-up bar and diner. Elements include: a large tepee with wood shavings on the floor, a bar at one end serving the likes of hot buttered rum or a cheeky chocolate monkey (hot cocoa with Monkey Shoulder whisky, whipped cream, sweet syrup and vanilla biscuits sprinkled on top), and an open fire for daily dishes like Norwegian lamb and potato stew, wild boar sausages (Monday) and elk meatballs with wild mushrooms and lingonberries (Tuesday). It’s here until the end of March.

    1-5 Curtain Rd., EC2A 3JX; 020 7422 0958

  • Hackney: Oslo

    Oslo - which opened on January 17, 2014, in what was once the ticket office of Hackney Central Station - is an ambitious venture. Operating from 11 AM until 2 or 3 AM, it’s designed as a meeting place during the day and a bar and restaurant, club and music venue with DJs and live acts in the evening. And being called Oslo, the menu is full of strong Norwegian flavors with a twist. Winter vegetables are marinated and char-grilled; beetroot comes in the form of a tarte tatin with smoked yoghurt; a main dish of beef comes with roasted bone marrow, potato and shallot cake, buttered kale and bone and beer sauce; poached pear replaces a genteel poaching in red wine with akvavit and partners it with fennel ice cream. It’s another Viking invasion.

    1a Amhurst Rd., E8 1LL; 020 3553 4831