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Think Swedish food = Daim bars and Ikea meatballs? Keep reading. On a recent research trip to Sweden’s rugged West Coast and Gothenburg (where we found a new addition to our family of Swedish hotels; watch this space), we also found time to eat our way around the region. Here’s what to eat – and where to do it.

Best herring in Sweden at Salt & Sill restaurant

Sillplankan at Salt & Sill; image by Lisa Nestorsson

Pickled herring: Salt & Sill, Tjörn Island
Swedes have been pickling fish since the Middle Ages, so they’ve had some time to get it right. Tjörn Island is home to Salt & Sill, a floating hotel whose nautical, sea-spying restaurant serves a dinky dish of sour herring (‘surströmming’) dressed alternately with juniper berries, bacon, potato salad, cream, onions, cheese, mustard and more. (Sounds bonkers; tastes delicious.) The hotel also has a little sauna: hop from sauna to sea and marvel at your glowing complexion afterwards. Alternatively, swim up an appetite for (more) pickled herring. If you’re wondering what else to do while you’re on scenic Tjörn Island, pay a trip to the nearby Nordic Watercolor Museum, which recently hosted Disney’s Art of Storytelling exhibition. The museum also has an excellent restaurant, with dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows designed for maximum sea-spying.

Best cocktails in Sweden at Hotel Pigalle

Hotel Pigalle

Sherbet cocktails: Hotel Pigalle, Gothenburg
Gothenburg is the hippest city you’ve never considered visiting (but you should). Get a taste of its nocturnal scene at city-central Hotel Pigalle, dressed with Parisian flamboyance: ruby-red walls, black-and-white photographs of vaudeville femme fatales, leather-bound books, and vintage knick-knacks, including a magnificent gramophone and a covetable drinks trolley. There’s a handsome lobby bar, but discerning types hop in the tiny lift – don’t be startled if it talks to you – to top-floor Atelier restaurant and bar, which is something of a revelation. The dimly lit, surprisingly cavernous space is decorated with flickering candles, madcap lampshades, the occasional mounted stag head and Gothenburg’s cool crowd. Expect adventurous facial hair, tattoos, braces and waistcoats worn with irony (and that’s just the bartenders). We tried delicious lemon-sherbet and gin cocktails, but the wine list is equally impressive. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat before or after said libations, try Atelier or the equally smart Brasserie Lipp, a 10-minute walk away.

Bryggan Fjällbacka, Fjällbacka in Sweden has the best Fika

Bryggan Fjällbacka

Fika: Bryggan Fjällbacka, Fjällbacka
Ingrid Bergman had her holiday home in the Fjällbacka archipelago; see why with a trip to Fjällbacka for fika (coffee+cake; we’re big fans). If you want to get the most out of your fika, hike up a very small mountain first: Vetteberget, which surveys Fjällbacka, will do nicely. Post-climb, reward your labour with a pit-stop at Bryggan Fjällbacka. If you’re in it to win it, visit Bryggan Fjällbacka twice: once before your hike, for your first fika (we tried a delicious chocolate-and-buttercream creation), then again, post-hike, for lunch. Don’t miss the pavement-slab-sized sandwiches – try the crayfish and mayo number – with a glass of crisp, cool white wine. End with some chokladbollar (chocolate cookie balls) and a latte (fika#2), if you’ve room.

Oysters in Sweden

Everts Sjöbod

Just-shucked oysters: Everts Sjöbod, Grebbestad
If heaven isn’t standing in dappled sunlight by the sea watching a young Swedish angel fish you fresh oysters from the water, to be enjoyed with ice-cold oyster stout (or champagne), then we don’t know what is. Stay at Everts Sjöbod, a traditional boathouse with rooms, run by two bivalve-mollusc-loving brothers, and you can go on oyster safaris or just do a lot of oyster-munching. (Grebbestad is the country’s oyster capital, so you’re in safe hands.) The handy brothers will also deliver DIY dinners to your room, in the form of cold seafood platters. Just crack open those crustaceans, add buttered bread and cold white wine (the brothers will sort you out) and you’ve got yourself a grand night in, West Coast style.

Parsnip beer at Hvita Hjorten in Lidköping in Sweden

Parsnip beer at Hvita Hjorten

Parsnips and parsnip beer: Hvita Hjorten, Lidköping
You’ve probably never sipped parsnip beer whilst eating a simple-but-sensational roasted parsnip dressed with a scattering of grated local cheese – just one of several seasonal dishes on award-winning Hvita Hjorten’s tasting menu. The acclaimed restaurant, whose (very) near neighbour is Läckö Castle, relies on the local area for its ingredients: herbs and some produce come from the castle’s gardens; local fisherman and farmers help fill in any gaps. The restaurant surveys Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern: any fishy highlights on the menu can be credited to those waters. Nose around Läckö Castle before your meal; if you’ve overindulged, stroll around the grounds post-fika (you know the drill).

Visit westsweden.com or gothenburg.com for more info. Featured image of Salt & Sill by Lisa Nestorson .

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