Sponsored by Visit Sweden
Daniel Berlin was my most anticipated restaurant visit in 2016. Praised by foodies for years, long before it got a Michelin-star, it was Starvefood who first made me aware of the place. In fact, this small-town restaurant in the Swedish countryside is where some of the Noma staff prefer to eat when they have weekends off. A proper hidden gem and one of those places that truly fits into the Michelin guide’s description of a two-star restaurant: Excellent cooking, worth a detour, or even three stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey. I expect we will see at least one more star added to the achievement list of Daniel Berlin in the years to come, although he didn’t get it this year.
Daniel Berlin’s restaurant is situated off the beaten track, in Skåne-Tranås, a village in the Österlen area of the southern Scania region in Sweden. Albeit, less in the middle of fucking nowhere than, say, Fäviken Magasinet, for most people. Six hours from either Oslo or Stockholm, but only 1,5 hours from Copenhagen and not even an hour from Malmö. I was here with Helle’s Kitchen and Gitte & Filip. We checked into Talldungen Gårdshotell, which is a great place to spend the night if you plan to visit. Prior to our arrival, we also visited the tiny chocolate factory next door, Österlen Chokladfabrik – which is something as unique as a Swedish bean to bar producer. There’s just a handful of those in the Nordics, so make sure to check it out if you’re nearby.
“I Shot This Two Years Ago Myself”
At last, I finally stood face to face with the white and yellow brick house of Daniel Berlin Krog in Skåne-Tranås. The front of house manager, Ellinor Lindblom, had spotted us and came to say hi. She greeted me with “Hello Anders,” despite that we’d never met before. Now, that’s the kind of service that makes you feel welcome! Before our dinner, Daniel Berlin took the time to sit down with us for a chat and explain his philosophy:
– We’re a vegetable-focused restaurant. You won’t be eating too much meat tonight, he told us.
We learned that there’s occasionally lamb meat on the menu, from the butcher in town, whenever Daniel finds it tasty enough, and sometimes wild birds.
– Meat is served mostly during the hunting season, Daniel explained as a plate with cured meat of wild board arrived at our garden table.
– I shot this two years ago myself, he said. Another resemblance with Magnus Nilsson at Fäviken Magasinet, I thought.
Only Seasonal Products From the Region
Eventually, we moved into the restaurant to commence our journey through the Scanian landscape. If I close my eyes I can still remember the taste of the first snacks: Frozen sorrel and knotted wrack. The latter is a seaweed also known as Norwegian kelp, but this one was definitely Swedish. Organic production is important to Berlin, we had learned, but more than anything he prefers to use local goods. Getting the best produce from other countries is not a challenge today, according to the renowned chef. Thus, Daniel has made a choice to focus only on regional ingredients: “People travel so much these days, anyway. I want our guests to experience this specific region and our seasonal products.”
“We’re a vegetable-focused restaurant. You won’t be eating too much meat tonight.” – Daniel Berlin
Daniel’s Escape to the Countryside
Daniel used to work at a big restaurant in Malmö, but he felt disconnected to the produce he was using. Fruits, meats, and vegetables just arrived at the restaurant, and he had to make do with whatever he was offered to buy. Opening Daniel Berlin was his escape to the countryside. A 14-seat-restaurant with its own garden, surrounding forests where Daniel hunts, and a small staff that has become his family. Even his mother and father work in the restaurant. His father is a sommelier, and his mother cares for the garden and waits tables some days.
Celeriac, Celeriac, Celeriac, and Celeriac
During our chat in the backyard earlier, Berlin confessed that he also loves luxury products like caviar. “Caviar is so easy to put on almost any dish and it tastes better, but caviar doesn’t challenge me as a chef of this specific area in Sweden.” Furthermore, Daniel told us how easy it would have been to just import Norwegian shellfish, which he had to admit is of far better quality than that of southern-Sweden. However, he has chosen not to go down that path. “We do have the world’s best cauliflower, though!” he asserted with great pride. “We also have a signature dish that we always serve, celeriac, which I never get tired of. The dish is 6-years-old (ed. note: the restaurant is 7-years-old), and it’s always on the menu.”
Indeed, Berlin is the king of vegetables. In upscale restaurants, the highlight of the evening is often when the meat for the main dish is cut. Here, Daniel Berlin came out to personally present a charred celeriac instead! The celeriac had been cooked for 10 hours on an open fire, before Daniel sliced it open and scooped out one big ball of the meaty inside for each guest. Served with a broth made from the leftover celeriac of the previous serving and seasoned with Västerbottten – an aged Swedish cheese. Lastly, a few drops of oil made from the celery stems. I love the flavor and texture of slow-cooked celeriac, so this was an easy pick for favorite dish of the meal on my part.
A Small Break in the Garden
Towards the second half of the meal, before the main course and desserts, all guests were invited back into the garden. Here, we stretched our legs, drank warm apple cider, and enjoyed another of one my favorite bites this evening. A buckwheat pancake with cod’s head, a cream of baby cucumbers and elderflower, and seasonal flowers from the garden. The Österlen tacos! Or the blinis of southern Sweden if you want.
Do You Remember Your First Extraordinary Meal?
This night, I got to witness the first truly extraordinary meal for both Gitte and Filip. Gitte, in particular, could not hide her excitement as we were served one snack after the other with new flavor explosions and an art-like appearance. She was like a kid in a candy store. I can relate to that feeling and I still remember my first meals at restaurants like Maaemo, Noma, and the Fat Duck. In a way, it’s sad that you eventually become more accustomed to these experiences, but Daniel Berlin was an amazing experience for me as well. Despite being the most anticipated meal all year, it delivered on both taste and presentation, not to mention the warmth and hospitality of our hosts. Daniel, Ellinor, and the rest of the Berlin family all made me want to go back to southern Sweden again, as soon as possible!
Back inside the main dining room, the scene had changed. White tablecloths had been removed to expose the black wooden tables underneath. An out-of-this-world main course of 4-months-old Suffolk lamb with caramelized fat was followed by three lovely desserts before we once again got up and out. This time, into the greenhouse for coffee and petits fours. Without any light to shoot good photos, you’ll just have to take my word that the potato ice cream with cocoa nibs was a wonderful end to a long evening. The nibs, as well as some flakes of chocolate on another plate, were both from the chocolate factory next door, of course.
Do you remember your first extraordinary meal? Please share in a comment below.
This was part of a sponsored trip with Visit Sweden. The sponsor had no influence on the content of this article. I received no monetary payment.