Lifestyle

The restaurant with no menu

By making a pledge to use only locally-sourced food, Stockholm’s award-winning Gastrologik has been able to dispense with a menu. We visit a restaurant that balances sustainability with exciting flavours and technical skill

TXT: MATT RIGBY & DAN STEVENS | PHO: SAM CHRISTMAS

No lemons. No olive oil. No vanilla. No chocolate. No avocados. No menu. Chefs Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr believe that cooking techniques can travel all over the world, but that produce should come from where you are. That’s why at Gastrologik – their Michelin-starred restaurant in Stockholm – locally sourced, sustainable ingredients take centre stage.

The Gastrologik founders have a genuinely close relationship with their produce. Every Monday they head off to a farm just north of their restaurant, from where they source all their honey, eggs, game and poultry. It’s also the location of their winter cellar, for those months of the year where fresh produce is harder to come by. And their dairy producer is just five minutes down the road, too.

So what do they actually cook with? Some of Gastrologik’s dishes involve ingredients that might sound like they’re more suited to a pet shop or a garden centre than a restaurant: lichen, sea urchins, baby crows, whey, spruce cream. So why use such eccentric-sounding ingredients? Partly, it’s because you can’t grow lemons in Sweden. In an era where using sustainable produce is becoming more and more important, Jacob and Anton have developed an ethos that is uncompromisingly genuine. Take the problem of not being able to use lemons, for instance.

“It’s challenging, but we never use citrus,” says Jacob. “Instead we have to find fresh acidity to add to courses and we do that by making meads from unripe berries that we then turn into vinegars. And we’ve done experiments with fermenting whey, turning it into a very acidic vinegar. This sounds weird to people when you tell them that they are going to have a bowl of fermented whey with their food. But it fulfils the same function as lemon juice.”

This sounds radical, especially in the context of modern food production, where cost and the consistency of supply tend to trump factors like flavour and nutrition. But it’s not a new idea. Before refrigeration and industrial-scale food imports were commonplace, Swedes did not have access to citrus fruit during winter. Instead they turned to pickling, fermenting and preserving food, as well as using whatever was available at a particular season. This created a food culture of necessity and survival, but one that was also highly creative.

Continuing this tradition of creativity has helped Gastrologik win a Michelin star for its cooking. Instead of doing things the easy way (like using a lemon when you want some acidity), Jacob and Anton set themselves strict parameters, which has helped shape their creativity. Deciding what to cook could be harder than doing the cooking.

“At restaurants around the world, you set a menu and then look for ingredients. But we wanted to do it the other way around – starting with the ingredients”

“We were working in different restaurants around the world, where you set a menu and then you look for ingredients. But we wanted to do it the other way around, starting with the ingredients,” says Anton. “One of the first things we did when we opened the restaurant was to get rid of the menus. We did that because we can’t tell what ingredients we’re going to use from one day to the next and we don’t want to be tied down to anything. No one who comes here knows what they’re having until the food is in front of them and that means we can cook what we want, when we want, with whatever the producers supply us with.”

Initially, says Anton, such a dramatic approach made life difficult. But now that he and Jacob have grown used to it they see no alternative, as the result is total freedom. “We think about the food first, and the menus second. We can cook different food for different tables on the same night,” he explains. “We do this because a supplier might have, for example, one capercaillie, which is enough for 10 guests. Other guests will get something similar – a mallard or grouse or something.

“That means the table who gets the capercaillie will get a superb bird, because it’s the best available. Another table will get an equally superb grouse and a better experience than if they’d had a second capercaillie that was sourced to fulfil what’s on the menu rather than purely because of its taste and flavour.”

This food first approach is what makes the Gastrologik project such a sustainable proposition. The food miles of its dishes (the distance the food travels from farm to restaurant) are tiny compared with other restaurants at a similar level.

“It isn’t just a business to us,” says Anton. “It’s a passion, a way of life. We are living our dream – cooking the way we want and serving people what we believe in. It is a difficult way of working, for sure, with constant changes to what we cook and the need to adapt to nature and the seasons. But that’s the beauty of it as well.”