Press trip with Visit Sweden
Vollmers. Let’s start with how you pronounce it. It’s actually Follmers. Just pretend you’re German for a second. You’re welcome – now, I’ve just saved you an embarrassment. Despite their family name, Mats and Ebbe Vollmer are as Swedish as they come, and so is their food. In fact, it’s not just Swedish, but specifically sourced from the Scania (Skåne) region. In Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, the two brothers have achieved what few would have guessed a couple of years ago – Vollmers now has two Michelin stars in the French Bible. The first star came in 2015, and was followed up by a second one this year (2017). I did not see that coming, but then I had only tasted one single dish from Mats and Ebbe previously, and that was when they visited Oslo to attend restaurant Kontrast’s annual chef’s dinner.
Pleasant New Nordic Cuisine in a Comfortable Setting
In a Scandinavian dining scene where most restaurants are moving away from fine dining, it is delightful to sometimes enter a place like Vollmers. Where the tables still have white tablecloths, you walk on plush carpets, and sit in comfy, upholstered chairs. Yet, there’s nothing that screams formal or old school about Vollmers’ food or service. We were greeted as friends when we entered. Mats came out to explain what awaited us.
– The philosophy here at Vollmers is to have a balance in each dish and throughout the menu. French food is often thought of as pleasant, while New Nordic food is rather sharp and edgy. We want to make pleasant New Nordic food!
Two delightful young ladies were in charge of our table this evening. They wore casual white t-shirts with black jumpsuits and their cheerful attitude removed any remaining doubt that Vollmers was taking their newly-won second Michelin star too seriously. During the evening, they had to bear with us as we asked way too many questions, begged for second servings of ice cream, and tried to be funny. They were even in on the jokes (or pretended to be), but always with a professionality underneath the smile.
Malmö’s Two-Star Shines Brightly
For those interested, I’ll take you through the dinner dish by dish. The TLDR-version is that Malmö’s two stars shine brightly. Although, off to a bit of a rough start, where I found half of the snacks not so interesting – the other half was way more delicious. However, it’s the main courses, and particularly the cheese and dessert dishes, which really makes Vollmers outstanding. At least one of the sweet finales goes straight onto my shortlist for best dishes of the year.
Ravioli of red beets lay on wooden spoons filled with rygeost (Danish smoked fresh cheese) from Funen (Fyn), and pickled spruce shoots on top. The dish was beautifully presented on a plate filled with raw, unpeeled beets. Tastewise, I found it less interesting, though. Beets, when done right, is one of the best flavors you can serve me, but this one wasn’t quite up there.
A cream of Jerusalem artichoke hid a layer of pickled cubes of the same vegetable. On top, a fine dust of toasted yeast. Jerusalem artichoke is another personal favorite of mine, and, this time, Vollmers really nailed it! A salty, slightly acidic, umami-rich, creamy, and caramelized deliciousness.
Ups and Downs With the Snacks
Buttery broad beans in a croustade topped with sorrel had me disappointed again, tasting more of butter than anything else, but I forgot all about that when the wax bean came next. They were sprinkled with shavings of lamb leg, Havgus (Danish cheese) and lemon zest. So savory! A strange, yet tasty dish of smoked bacon followed. Mats explained:
– The bacon comes from a local farm. We leave it in salt for eight days, then cold-smoke it for twelve hours, and, finally, hang it for two weeks.
The bacon slices were then torched tableside, which made them shrivel into tiny little lumps, and dusted with a white powder of maltodextrin, salvia oil, and vinaigrette. Good, but weird, and not a very delicate presentation, so I actually chose to skip this photo.
Much more appealing, in both flavor and presentation, was the veal tartare. Presented as a faux bone marrow, with a chopped veal tartare inside, mixed with shredded horseradish, pickled cucumbers from 2011, and a bone marrow mayo on top. Just delectable! I could easily eat five of them.
I just wish the previous one would have been the ending, instead of a rather bland, gel-like mousse of Alexander Lucas pear, meticulously covered with perfectly aligned leaves of red oxalis on a spoon. Spectacular to look at, but it tasted very little – mostly sour. However, it was a fresh finish to the snacks before we moved onto the heavier arsenal.
Seasonal Childhood Memories
When the bread hit the table, I knew we had good times ahead. Three wonderful rolls, one brioche bread flavored with ceps mushroom, one darker malt bread, and one made with oats, came with a superb homemade butter. Our waiters promised they would refill our plates if we ate it all, and not long after they had to stand by that commitment (and even gave us more to bring home after the meal).
The first proper course was called In Season, and consisted of a quail egg, surrounded by catfish roe, and topped with cucumber marinated in tomato juice with dots of tomato gel. The disc was placed in a bowl, and our waiter poured a warm green sauce of chicken stock with butter and nettle over. The wine pairing was strangely good. A 2013 McNaught & Walker, Sauvignon Blanc, from the Awatere Valley on New Zealand, had a funky aroma of rotten pineapple, with green flavor notes and a delicate acidity. I liked it (I think).
Next up, a downright ugly, yet utterly enjoyable dish called Childhood memories. The Vollmer brothers used to eat traditional kålpudding, which translates to cabbage pudding, when they were kids. This dish was their luxurious version of the rustic, peasant food their grandparents made. Caramelized cabbage with a sherry vinaigrette, topped with a thin film of lardo. Fatty, salty, and sweet – paired with a Macvin du Jura. That’s a sherry-like vin de liqueur, which is actually unfermented grape must mixed with brandy to create a sweet, fortified wine. In this case, a Domaine Andre et Mireille Tissot, 100 % Pinot Noir from 2014.
A strange combination of rhubarb and mussel was dubbed Against Principles. Perhaps referring to the unusual combination, which, against all odds, tasted remarkably good. Mussels underneath strips of fermented rhubarb, topped with a juice of reduced mussel stock, lemon thyme oil, and rhubarb juice. Don’t ask how, but it just worked. A natural wine with skin contact from Domaine Rietsch paired excellently. Specifically, the 2013 Riesling, Mittelbergheim, which had an almost rosé-like color.
Langoustines that were clearly not from Norway (you can usually judge from the size), but instead caught in Skageraak, were accompanied by tomatoes from Viken in Skåne, roasted San Marzano tomatoes, an emulsion of langoustine broth, and tomato powder. To be honest, this dish was great too, I am just spoiled with the kind of langoustines you get at Maaemo in Oslo or Re-naa in Stavanger. They are closer to lobsters in size, so no wonder the other English word for this crustacean is, in fact, Norwegian lobster. That said, the flavor combinations in this dish were exquisite and the langoustine was cooked to perfection.
Not as exciting as some of the other main courses, but still a very good dish of local lamb, left in the sous vide at 54ºC and then fried in caramelized butter and lamb fat. It came with variations on spring onions, and a side of tiny, crispy potato balls. Cute.
Outstanding Desserts at Vollmers
While technically a cheese serving, the Smell of Summer could easily pass as a dessert in my book. A rich triple-crème cheese with 75 % fat, Den hvite dame from Denmark, was in good company with a sponge cake made with almond flour, lilac gel, fresh fennel pollen, and Spanish chervil. Without a doubt, one of the best cheese servings I’ve had.
Now, I have to warn you. The three sweet dishes that followed were all so exceptional, and increasingly so, that I have to restrain myself from boring you with too many adjectives, but they all show just how outstanding Vollmers are at desserts. Simpleness is what Mats and Ebbe have titled this final stage – and that’s exactly what it is. Perfected simpleness.
First out, a mousse made from the fresh cheese Loke ost, with a coating of rosehip gel, bathing in rosehip water and topped with a few rocks of fresh, bee pollen. So elegant and extremely aromatic! All the elements, both the rosehip water and the soft, creamy mousse were just ever so slightly sweet in the flavor, and the rosehip gel had a nice acidity to it as well. The technique and looks reminded me of the famous mandarin foie gras at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Simplicity became even more evident in the next dish. Is there anything more Swedish than jordgubbar – strawberries? One of the most traditional ways the Swedes, as well as us Norwegians, like to serve these summer berries is simply with heavy cream. Vollmers has got hold of a particularly tasty, low-pasteurized cream from a farmer who only makes 26 liters per week! Underneath the berries was a fudge of viola, a strawberry cream, freeze-dried strawberries, feuielletine for some crisp, and lemon verbena. Creamy heaven!
Perfection in Simplicity
And now, at last … *drum roll* Easily nominated as one of the best dishes I’ve had this year: an ice cream made from the same 40 % fat, heavy cream, as the previous dessert, paired, very plainly, with one marinated strawberry from last year. Mats had put the remaining strawberries from the previous season in a syrup with some laurels to preserve them. Then he had forgotten all about the jar – until now. This rich ice cream is one of my all-time favorites, way up there with the browned butter ice cream from Maaemo. Miraculously, it had been made without heating the cream whatsoever, which is exactly why there was such an incredible amount of flavor packed inside that fluffy ice ball. Yes, I asked for a second serving, and, yes, the very kind waiter actually brought more for us! It was one of those I can die happy now-moments.
As if the wanted to literally kill us with pleasure, Mats brought out a final, final dessert before the petits fours: Piping hot, fresh from the oven, Danish pastry with cream inside: Wienerbrød.
– I wanted to end the meal with wienerbrød, just because I love it myself.
I share his affection, and now I love Vollmers too. Although this review will always be my subjective opinion, I hope my honesty in some way will help guide the kitchen even closer towards getting the ultimate third star. I can sense that there is passion enough to make it all the way at some point.
Check out the review of Vollmers by Lars Spiser (article in Norwegian).
What’s the best ice cream you ever had? 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.