Open your mouth! Chef Kalle Nilsson demands before he shoves a spoon in my face. I obey. At first, I’ve no clue what I’m eating, but it tastes damn good. I recognize lobster and truffle, at least. He disappears into the kitchen, briefly, before he returns with a box of caviar and a spoon.
– Hold out your hands.
Again, we follow his orders. A waitress appears with a big, black petrol can, and pours a transparent liquid into four shot glasses. Kalle places a big chunk of caviar on the back of our hands.
– Vodka & caviar. Lick it off your hands and wash it down.
The First Rule of Punk Royale – No Cameras Allowed
This happened yesterday, and I have to write everything down while it’s still fresh in my mind. Punk Royale has no written menu, and I don’t think they would bother to send me one if I asked. Upon arrival, they took our cell phones, locked them up in an old metal box and stored it away – high up on a shelf by the kitchen. Great, there goes my visual and written memory, damn it. Not that I would have been able to document most of the evening anyway, given the intensely fast pace of the kitchen, and the fact that most dishes have to be eaten the second they are served.
Welcome to Stockholm’s Bizarro World of Luxurious Dining
Punk Royale – what does that even mean? Anti-establishment meets luxury? The rebel with a fine taste in foie gras? Punk Royale is a hipster’s wet dream – simply too unique to be put in any category. A restaurant and a theater, but certainly not your usual dinner and a show. Words like surreal, playful, crazy and surprising come to mind. When you book a table (and booking is an absolute must) a twenty-course menu packed with luxurious ingredients will be your only option. Do not, for a second, think it has anything to do with fine dining, though. Casual isn’t the right word either. Relaxed, sure, but in a very stressful way. It’s Marie Antoinette on drugs, proclaiming: «Let them eat lobster, caviar, and truffle,» in a dirty, speakeasy bar in Eastern Europe. All this to the soundtrack of early 90’s Absolute Music.
Tables Covered in Lego Pieces
We arrive at 8 PM sharp. The windows are shielded by heavy, black curtains. A power plug adapter is sticking out from underneath the thick fabric. Somebody call the fire inspectors! We hear sounds from inside, but dare we go in? Would anyone ever bother to check if we are waiting outside? Eventually, we enter the dark, narrow dining room. It’s packed with guests, most of them well into their meals. I notice all the tables are covered in lego pieces.
A waitress shows us to our table, all the way in, right next to the kitchen. We sit down and get stripped from our mobile phones. She serves water from a kid’s plastic watering can into our Angry Birds glasses.
– The menu is set. You choose alcoholic drink pairings or non-alcoholic, she informs us.
We make our choices, and, almost immediately, we each get a bottle of beer. Punk Royale American Pale Ale.
Smoke Machine, Loud Music & Flashing Lights
Everything at Punk Royale is seemingly made to be as random as possible, deliberately sloppy, and unpolished in a constructed way. There’s an extendable bathroom mirror on the wall above our table, from which hangs a man’s tie. A smoke machine ensures that the room stays hazy and dimly lit most of the evening. Whenever it gets too quiet or the ambiance seems too normal, the volume of the music is pumped up, and, suddenly, the lights start flashing. As if someone demands us to get back to the bizarro world!
Chef Nilsson cracks an egg open over a burning hot cast-iron pan. He prepares the omelet tableside, and finishes with hot smoked salmon, a hearty amount of lumpfish roe, and shaved crispy potatoes. We scoop up every bit of the delicious dish, but have barely finished when he’s back with a set of four plastic syringes. The next dish, a spicy palate cleanser, is shot directly into our mouths. It burns in the throat. Way too spicy for some, guaranteed, but I like it.
Compared to What
I could pretend to compare Punk Royale to other restaurants, but I wouldn’t fool anyone. In Stockholm, the closest comparison is possibly Lilla Ego, with their pickle shots and marker pen-written menus on big flipboard sheets taped to the wall. Still, that’s way too established and miles away from Punk Royale’s I-don’t-give-a-f*ck-attiude.
In Oslo, I would point at Pjoltergeist because of the ambiance – but compared to Punk Royal you’d probably view the tempo as relaxed, the service as exceptional, and the food as refined. The Alchemist is the only comparison I can make in Copenhagen, but only because of its uniqueness and chef Rasmus Munk’s ability to shock his audience with bizarre dishes. While the Alchemist could actually get a star some day, Punk Royale will never have a Michelin inspector set his foot inside.
Gossip, Rumors & Lies
Prior to our visit, we had heard all sorts of rumors about Punk Royale. Chef duo Joakim Almqvist and Kalle Nilsson had apparently been evicted in 2014 from their original location, Kåken, inside restaurant Niklas. The reason? They served chocolate balls on a statuette of a black woman. According to a Swedish newspaper, they even used the name negerbollar (negro’s buns). The chefs denied those specific charges, but chef Niklas Ekstedt decided to fire them to avoid further controversy. Less than a year later they opened their own restaurant, Punk Royale, at Södermalm.
Then there were stories of butt naked chefs wearing only aprons. Apparently, that’s how the cell phone ban came into place. We were told about a dish you would get served in your hand while wearing gloves, finished with a light dusting of cigarette ash. We didn’t get that, nor did we get the horse tartar on top of a horse betting slip served by a waiter in a horse mask.
– Last time I was here, I dropped a piece of banana with caramel sauce on the floor, and the chef just threw another one at me from the kitchen, said our table companion, Henke, who dined here for the second time.
It’s a Love-Hate Relationship
You either love it or hate it, there’s nothing in between when it comes to Punk Royale. I know my friend André Blomberg-Nygård would absolutely despise it. Personally, I think the food was great, and I was prepared for the madness. One of my favorite dishes was their signature brioche with duck liver and rose hip gel. Another was the truffle toast, and yet one more the langoustine and cabbage roll. Finally, the bullfika – a sweet cake topped with cinnamon ice cream that Kalle scooped out in a big chunk and smashed on top of the plate. F*ck those perfect egg-shaped scoops you get everywhere else. At Punken it looks ugly.
SEK 1500 was the damage for total overkörning – totally overrun. That’s roughly twenty courses, a shot of vodka and port wine, a bottle of beer, one glass of white wine with a refill, one glass of red wine with a refill, and an ice cold punch. The price is reduced to SEK 1250 if you go with the non-alcoholic menu. Next time, I’ll have to check out Punk Royale Café – the sister restaurant next door. I’m not sure you can say that it’s more casual, as you can hardly get more casual than Punk Royale. Even there, they serve a set menu, but with fewer courses at an even lower price. Most of the seats are drop-in
PS: Photo cameras aren’t confiscated, but they are not allowed either. The only reason this post has pictures is that I had applied for an exception to that rule through my friend and fellow foodie Tove Henckel, aka OnMyTable.se, who is one of the regular guests at Punk Royale – or Punken as the locals refer to it. Apparently, Tove is such a guest of honor here that they have her signed photo on the wall with a little heart drawing on it. Cute.
Did this recommendation make you wanna go to or avoid Punk Royale? Please let me know in the comments.