Imagine a kitchen garden filled with onions, potatoes, cabbages, and colorful, edible flowers. The smell of summery herbs in the air. Chefs wandering through the green fields in the early hours of the day, scouting for plants that are blooming and picking whichever vegetables are ready. Now picture a yellow-painted, 19th century, wooden house in the middle of that yard. You have arrived at the Yellow Hen on Sweden’s largest island. Gula Hönan is the best restaurant on Gotland, and they are taking local and seasonal to a new level. Every vegetable, fruit or berry and every single herb on your plate is from the restaurant’s own supply or foraged nearby. I only had time for a short visit to this wonderfully charming eatery during my recent Gotland excursion. However, it was enough to squeeze in a few dishes both at their more casual al fresco grill bar, Picanterian, and the fine-dining establishment Matsalarna, where head chef Marc Enderborg welcomed us.
Picanterian – Casual Al Fresco Grill Bar
I love the idea of Picanterian – a casual eatery outside on the terrace of the Yellow Hen, where the food is conceptually as far away from the mothership as possible. Marc and his team have built a portable grill kitchen that can be stowed away for the winter season. During spring and summer, however, you can enjoy simple, grilled food with a sting, inspired by the chef’s many travels to Latin-America.
We got a taste of Picanterian’s garden tacos: a little gem salad filled with braised lamb from Olsvenne farm, topped with chili peppers, ramson capers, and spring onions. Mexico meets Scandinavia right there, in a spicy, sour, and juicy bite. A whole grilled sea bass was served with an excellent Argentinian chimichurri sauce. That’s basically just herbs, vinegar, and oil, but it does magic to most meat – and fish it turns out. Finally, we tasted a grilled poussin, to use the French word, meaning young chicken. It came with an equally spicy parmesan and herb dip. At this point, we needed something cooling for the tongue, and, luckily, ended with a sour cream ice cream flavored with laurels. On the side were pieces of grilled pineapples. My memory drifted for a moment to the tipsy cake dessert at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London. Look it up if you don’t know it!
Matsalarna at Gula Hönan – The Best Restaurant on Gotland
Moving inside, we got to experience the New Nordic fine dining restaurant of the Yellow Hen as well. Matsalarna, the dining rooms, at Gula Hönan date back to the early 1800s. Old wooden tables, a blue and white-patterned wallpaper, and decorative crystal vases swelling with herbs and flowers from the garden, all set the scene for an astonishing tasting menu. As a regular guest here, you can choose between the smaller menu, Lilla Hönan (SEK 895), or the one you actually want, Stora Hönan, generously priced at SEK 1295. When you’re having the full menu, the experience starts with a tour of the garden.
Head chef Enderborg served us a small teaser of the full 24-course menu he usually presents each night. Yet, it was more than enough to get a very good idea of the level at which he operates. The first snack was excellent. Dehydrated beets with crispy chicken skin and tarragon mayo on top. Immediately, I was back at Kadeau in Copenhagen, or Relæ and Amass, who use the same technique to give beets the texture of wine gums or beef jerky. You get a concentrated sweetness, which is rounded off with a soft acidity.
Four different potatoes, including real asparagus potatoes, were drained in butter and Kalix løjrom. Marc shaved confit egg yolk on top to finish it off. Salty, creamy, and delicious. Next, and my second favorite dish this day, was baked and pickled carrots with a sticky chicken glaze. The sauce was sifted through summer savory herbs and onto the plate. It was so tasty that I wanted to lick the bowl clean. Nevertheless, I would have given it all up for just one more spoon of the last dessert. Woodruff ice cream with caramelized white chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, and shavings of dried strawberries. A dish that I can already say is on my short list for the Best Dishes of 2017. In case you are curious on the level of that list, here are the 2015 and 2016 winners. The cold, mildly sweet cream had a hint of marzipan flavor, and the topping was crispy, nutty, and endlessly satisfying.
We ended our visit at Gula Hönan with a garden tour together with Marc’s mother Tine-Marie Qwiberg. She had a stern look accompanied by a gentle smile. “The chefs are not allowed to pick anything before I authorize it,” she told us. Tine-Marie knows the garden better than anyone. She has complete control of every little saltwort that grows at her organic farm. Thanks to her efforts, Marc and his team are self-sufficient with almost everything they need. “It’s a wonderful privilege as a chef,” Enderborg concluded.
What’s your favorite restaurant on Gotland? Please share in a comment below.
This visit was part of a press trip with Visit Sweden. As always in such cases, only the restaurants that I truly find satisfying are featured. Please, don’t consider this a full-scale review, but rather my recommendation.