Among the many extraordinary adventures on offer at Sweden’s iconic ICEHOTEL, perhaps the least expected is the Chef’s Table dining experience. Introduced in late 2017 – to great fanfare – by head chef Alexander Meier, this intimate 12-course feast is designed to showcase the very best of Swedish and Lappish cuisine, offering an extravagant upgrade to any stay. David Warne, Product and Commercial Director at The Luxury Holiday Company, had the enviable task of putting it to the test.
A stay at Sweden’s legendary ICEHOTEL has long been a bucket list item for many travellers but, arguably, few will have chosen to stay primarily based on the dining experience – until now. Located on the Torne River close to the small Arctic town of Kiruna in Swedish Lapland, the hotel benefits from a largely pristine natural environment that, despite being snow-covered for around six months each year, supports a surprisingly wide range of produce. And, with Scandi cuisine popularity rising ever higher, it’s perhaps little wonder that such an iconic hotel should look to offer such a fine-dining experience.
From the outset, it is worth being clear that while most experiences at the ICEHOTEL are based around ice-carved rooms and frosty furnishings, the Chef’s Table dinner is hosted in a toasty, cosy annex called the Veranda, adjacent to the hotel’s main restaurant and just a short stroll from the rooms and cabins. What’s more, despite the menu’s fine-dining credentials, it’s a typically laid-back experience – slippers are available on arrival, and the whole evening is much like spending a few hours in a Swedish family home.
On the day of my visit, diners were invited to The Veranda for a prompt 6pm start, having been advised that this dining experience is an all-evening affair.
On arrival, we shed our warm layers and headed into the main room where a long, semi-circular counter wraps around a spacious cooking station. A maximum of 16 guests can enjoy the experience in any one evening, making this a relatively intimate experience even when fully booked.
Diners taking the option of the accompanying wine flight are welcomed with an appropriately chilled glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc and a selection of light snacks, but, of course, alcohol-free drinks are also available. Even before embarking on the listed 12 courses, we were offered a bonus amuse-bouche in the form of a tasty local sausage, pan-fried in front of us and served on a brioche-style bun with a seasoned mayonnaise.
It only got better from then, as we were treated to a genuine feast of fresh and mostly local produce, with each course individually introduced by the chefs. We started with a delicious vendace roe, a celebrated Northern European delicacy that, we were told, is becoming increasingly rare and expensive. Served with wafer-thin slices of red onion, almond potato lattice crisps and angelica – and accompanied by a glass of fine Sancerre – this sensational plate set the tone for five courses of fish and shellfish – the first half of the 10 savoury dishes on offer.
We retained the Sancerre for the second course, a lightly spiced, ceviche-style whitefish served in soft taco (we were told that the Swedes have something of an obsession for this humble Mexican staple), served with gahkku, chili and a chimichurri, which managed to be both fresh and fully-flavoured.
Next up was a classic arctic char fillet, simply pan-fried and served with caviar and kholrabi, accompanied by a glass of full-flavoured Grimmeldingen Riesling Trocken. The same wine also accompanied the next course – king crab, another arctic classic, served with pumpkin and coconut. It became clear at this point that dishes were essentially being served in pairs. Although presented separately, each pair was specifically designed to accompany one wine using differing but complementary flavours.
The final fish course was a plate of scallops, with a rich and nutty accompaniment of cauliflower, hazelnuts and truffle, paired with a most unexpected Normandy Cidre Bouché. This created a wonderfully full flavour that somehow managed not to overpower the delicate scallops. Again, we retained the cidre with the next course, a combination of shiitake mushrooms and bone marrow in a broth, served in a Swedish kasa, the traditional carved wooden cup carried by Laplanders.
From here the focus moved to showcasing the region’s meat and game, starting with a reindeer fillet tartare, accompanied by spruce shoots and quail egg yolks. This tender, delicious dish was served in glass dome filled with dry ice, introducing a bit of theatre to the presentation. To accompany the reindeer, we were served our first red wine of the evening, a suitably fruity but luxurious Brunello di Montalcino from Sesti.
From here we were treated to a melt-in-the-mouth foie gras with moss, berries and a lightly-spiced sorbet which, again, perfectly complemented the Brunello di Montalcino.
At this point we enjoyed a slightly longer – and rather welcome – pause between courses while the chefs fired up a small table-top barbecue for our next course of barbecued ptarmigan breast, a game bird endemic to the region – indeed Kiruna means ptarmigan in Lappish. Four small breasts were flame-grilled over charcoal, sliced and served with morels and pan-roasted beets, topped with a rich red wine sauce. This succulent dish was served with a glass of Domaine Newman Monthelie and was, perhaps unexpectedly, my favourite dish of the evening.
Our final savoury course was a fillet of chargrilled moose, another creature endemic to the region which is hunted [legally] by many Swedes. Appropriately, a traditional hunting knife was presented to each diner for with the cutlery for this course. The tender chunk of moose was served with a dark, chocolatey sauce with parsons and potatoes and a further glass of the Burgundy, a suitably mouth-filling flavour combination to close the savoury courses.
A deliciously light sorbet of arctic brambles was next, served appropriately on a block of Torne River Ice and, finally, a cloudberry and vanilla ice-cream, served with a not-too-sweet Vidal 2011 Icewine from Sweden’s Blaxsta winery.
The menu included several of my favourite foods so it was hardly surprising that this was one of the most enjoyable meals I have ever experienced. The real stars of the show were the native and local ingredients, which underpinned the aim of showcasing fresh, local and seasonal produce. I hesitate to say this for fear of sounding corny but it could have been my finest – and certainly most interesting – dining experience ever. Dishes were never over-fussy and never overpowering, often being simply cooked and letting the fresh flavours speak for themselves. It genuinely lived up to its aim of showcasing the very best of Swedish cuisine.
Watching the chefs – both at work and engaging with guests in between courses – was a pleasure from start to finish; there was just enough explanation and story-telling behind each of the dishes and the layout of the venue also encouraged conversion with other guests. The menu changes seasonally; in the winter months, the full 12-course affair is on offer and during the warmer months an eight-course summer version is served. Fine dining of this standard inevitably comes at a price but this most unexpected culinary adventure certainly adds a touch of refinement to any ICEHOTEL stay – my advice would be to definitely book ahead.