The road to Spiken takes us through countryside dotted with pretty villages of red houses and thick birch forests. Perched on the edge of Lake Vänern, Spiken is perhaps best known for the production of vendace roe, eggs harvested from a small whitefish known as siklöja in Swedish. We sample the so-called “red gold” atop a cheese tart at Restaurang Sjöboden, a fine-dining establishment owned by Petter Nordgren, a pioneer (even by Nordic standards) of local, sustainable eating. The roe lives up to its reputation—salty and a bit smoky, each orb bursting with a satisfying pop when I bite down.
From Spiken, it’s just a few kilometers around the lake to Läckö Slott, a baroque castle whose foundations were laid in 1298. But while the stronghold’s snow-white turrets and towers are impressive enough, it is the gardens we’ve come to see. Overseen for the past 27 years by British-born horticulturalist Simon Irvine, they are both ornamental and edible, with multiple plots given over to manicured rows of heirloom lettuces, beetroots, and herbs that are put to good use at Hvita Hjorten (“White Hart”), the restaurant at the nearby Naturum Vänerskärgården hotel and visitors’ center.
Irvine has also been working with local craft brewery Qvänum Mat & Malt on an angelica beer, a refreshingly tart but seriously astringent brew that he deems “the best beer in the world.” We sample it before dinner that night at Hvita Hjorten. A storm is brewing over the lake, which suits the menu perfectly: Irvine’s sunchokes and sweet tender spears of asparagus from a nearby farm with roasted pork belly, thick crunchy crackling, and a rich red-wine gravy.
Only one meal beats our road-trip eats, and that’s back in Gothenburg at Bifångst, a tiny (there are only two seats) restaurant-within-a-restaurant inside an already compact Japanese omakase joint called Hoze. The menu at Bifångst is distinctly Nordic, and owners Pia Holmberg and José Cerdá follow a zero-waste philosophy, using vegetable and meat offcuts rather than cherry-picking prime pieces.
Holmberg, a former chemical engineer, takes the kitchen stage, turning out two dozen morsels from a marble-topped bench facing the dining table. They include sweet, earthy, and tender torched baby leek covered in leek char; and smoky dried and fried sourdough bread with leek puree and ham from a native Linderöd pig, a breed that dates back to the Stone Age. In one standout dish, a potato is diced to the size of rice grains, cooked in white wine, and matched with green asparagus and blackcurrant leaves.
Not everything works; a dish of mackerel with pine shoots lacks seasoning, while the hand-carved birchwood cutlery is clunky and impractical. Yet there’s an ambience of elegance and warmth that simply cannot be manufactured. It’s like a snapshot of West Sweden’s culinary offerings: wholesome, original, and entirely authentic.
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest city, with a well-connected airport to match. From Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, Finnair provides the fastest routes, via Helsinki.
Where to Eat and Stay
Gothenburg; reservations by email only.
Gothenburg; 46-31/802-521; doubles from US$122.
Väderöarna; 46-525/ 32001; doubles from US$250, including meals and ferry.
Grebbestad; 46-525/ 14242; doubles from US$176.
Läckö Slott, Lidköping; 46-510/484-660; doubles from US$200.
Visit the West Sweden Tourism Board website for a listing of hotels and tour operators in the region.
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Western Promise”).