I am convinced that the people of Malmö are some of the friendliest in the world. I formed this hypothesis during a day trip to the city, where interactions with the locals were improbably pleasant, even for Sweden. The bright-eyed girl serving pastries at Ambrosia Cafe & Konditori chatted happily for ten minutes about life, marriage, and the unique challenges of working at a bakery in a tourist city. (One of these was having to switch between speaking Swedish, English and French, which she did with admirable ease.) When Scott and I went to get SIM cards, the smiling lady who sold them was so intent on providing the best phone plan that she sent us down the street to another store. There, we met yet another amiable woman who waxed lyrical about the joys of spring and recommended we visit a cemetery where we would find snowdrops and crocuses by the thousands.
With so much good will floating around, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the warm reception we got at SMAK, the excellent restaurant housed in Malmo Konsthall art museum. I’d sent an email late the night before, hoping to secure a last-minute reservation, but I hadn’t had a chance to check my inbox that morning for a reply. As soon as we walked into the busy space, the beaming (and possibly clairvoyant) greeter called out “Ah, Sarah!”, and ushered us to a table marked by a lovely hand-written card. After settling in for a moment to take in the shining surfaces and merry daytime candlelight, we stood to begin our meal.
Back in Canada, there aren’t many enjoyable dining experiences that involve carrying around one’s own tray. (Vancouver’s wonderful Art Gallery Cafe is a notable exception.) In Sweden, it’s pretty much the norm. Most lunch places offer a choice between three or four main courses with self-serve salad bar, bread station, coffee, and sometimes even cookies to end the meal. So after a quick trip to the counter to grab trays, pick up cutlery and order our mains, we moved on to what might just be the best salad spread I’ve ever tasted.
The dishes were deceptively simple. A carrot salad flavored with ginger, orange, dijon might not seem like anything to write home about, but the precise balance of flavors was like nothing I’d tasted before. Another salad featured large, chewy durum wheat grains called Ebly (which were a joy to discover), and was likewise skillfully seasoned with paprika, garlic and coriander. Even the green salad, a fresh, peppery mix of arugula, thinly sliced radish and citrus vinaigrette, was exceptional. The bread station was piled high with rustic loaves that bore the scorch marks of an artisanal oven, and the thick crusts gave way to rich softness inside.
The relaxed, friendly service was perfectly on point, leaving just enough time to enjoy the salads at our leisure before the main courses arrived. Scott’s dish was a gorgeous beet terrine topped with walnuts, goat cheese, mizuna, pear and red onion. I wish I’d gotten a better picture of this plate, because it was as beautiful as it was delicious.
My main course was baked cod with carrots, pickled mustard seeds, beetroot sprouts and a creamy, mussel-infused sauce. While I could go on at length about the sweet, flaky fish or the luscious sauce, the real show-stoppers were the pickled mustard seeds. They brought all the richness of dijon without any of the sharpness, and combined it with an almost caviar-like texture.
The overall experience was so impressive. I suspect the chef moonlights as a classical composer, because the menu was put together with all the skill and artistry of a piano sonata. The distinct flavors of the ingredients came together in perfect harmony, and themes introduced early in the meal reappeared as variations later on. Despite the unique character of each dish, there was a discernible tone to the whole meal that spoke of restrained and rigorous attention to seasonal ingredients.
At the end of this outstanding meal, I was almost relieved to find that SMAK’s coffee station didn’t include any sweet treats. (Almost.) A hot drink was the perfect end to our lunch, and Scott liked the coffee so much he had two cups. The restaurant is situated directly beside the main exhibit space, so we were treated to an after-lunch stroll among a selection of featured paintings, photographs and sculptures from the City of Malmö’s art collection.
There were a couple of great pieces on display, including Andres Serrano’s stunning Black Supper. I was also happy to see this jolly little guy:
And just when I thought the fun was over, right outside the front door of the museum was a playground with stylish steel monkey bars in a variety of artsy shapes, squiggles, and curlicues.
I didn’t actually climb the monkey bars, though I was sorely tempted. Instead I made the grown-up choice and took Scott’s arm to walk back towards the rusty-red roofs of the old town.
If you are in Malmö, SMAK is an absolute must. I can’t think of a better way to spend a lunch hour.
SMAK Malmö Konsthall
S:t Johannesgatan 7, Malmö
Tel: 040-50 50 35