Nordic cuisine finally docks in Dubai, but what is it?
Nordic cuisine may be new for Dubai, but the term was first coined in 2004 by chef Rene Redzepi (who had just opened Noma which went on to become the World’s Best Restaurant in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014), and his counterparts in other Nordic countries. Their objective? To highlight the need for purity, simplicity and freshness, by making use of seasonal ingredients that profited from the Nordic region’s climate, water and soil.
Well over a decade later, all things Nordic have finally docked in Dubai, with Swedish chef Björn Frantzén’s pop-up at Enigma in Palazzo Versace hotel, replacing Quique Dacosta – which runs until the end of June. His flagship namesake restaurant in Stockholm boasts two Michelin stars and a number 31 ranking on the #Worlds50Best list. He’s also opening an independent concept, a Nordic brasserie, Frantzén Kitchen, in Dubai’s Design District D3 in Q4 this year.
True to the ethos of Nordic cuisine, Björn’s 12-course tasting menu in Dubai brings to the fore many typically Swedish ingredients, yet produce that is unusual to see transplanted (literally) so far. Here are some of the more interesting ingredients I tried.
- Sea buckthorn – a slightly tart herb that Björn uses to make a frozen granita on an oyster.
- White moss – textural heaven when made into ‘sushi’ topped with deer and frozen bird’s liver.
- Fir tree, aka Christmas tree – the needle-like leaves are milled into a powder with a distinct forest flavour and served atop a scallop with dried roe and finger lime.
- Crispbread – a traditional Swedish ingredient dating back to 500BC. Björn serves it simply with some salty homemade butter – an alternative to a traditional bread serving.
- Vendace roe or Kalix caviar – these golden coloured pearls with a mild flavour sit in young onions on a fillet of slow-baked cod and beurre blanc with anchovy juice.
- Liquorice root – its intense, perfumed flavour garners a love-hate relationship (the latter for me). Prepared as a freeze-dried granule and whipped into a mousse for a dessert of sticky beetroot, blackberries, lingonberries and a century-old vinegar.
- Lingonberry – a red, sour berry that is both acidic and sweet. Served dried, sprinkled atop a foie gras and chervil macaroon.
- Cloudberry – this rather rare berry is sweet and full of small, edible seeds. He uses it to make a macaroon with wild berries and thyme.
Björn also pays respect to traditional preservation methods using curing, smoking and pickling, which harks back to Swedes having to store their spring and summer harvests, and hunting bounty for the long icy winters. Everything on his menu at the Enigma pop-up is imported, but I am hoping that when he opens his casual concept later this year at D3, he will look to intersperse some of these interesting ingredients with local, seasonal produce where possible. After all, the guiding principle behind Nordic cuisine is to support sustainability. His cooking style takes slight influence from the Far-East, and whilst innovative, is refined and well-mastered, with a playful presentation style. You know exactly what’s on your plate. No guess work required – in stark contrast to Quique Dacosta’s pop-up.
This second chapter of Enigma is much more cohesive, from the moment you walk into the dining room with the simple yet quirky table settings, to the chefs, Björn included, explaining the dishes (as does the booklet guests are presented with). Björn won’t be in-house for the whole duration, so check in advance if you want to meet him. Unlike Quique though, for most of the evening Björn was front-of-house mingling, whilst his team of chefs did the leg-work.
When I dined at Enigma, I took a Swedish foodie friend as my guest and here’s how she described Nordic cuisine:
“For me, Nordic cuisine means fresh and simple ingredients, full of different flavours. It isn’t spicy though, as we Swedes (and Scandinavians in general) are not fond of spices. The cuisine is not heavy and traditional recipes are honoured. Even though there are many new and modern approaches to Nordic cuisine, every dish still stays true to its roots and its flavours. You can expect a lot of seafood, especially in the coastal cities. We also love lingonberries, so be prepared to eat these with anything, from lingonberry jam, to an accompaniment to meatballs! Crispbread is also something you will find alongside any meal and can top it with anything from butter to caviar,” explains Lejla Charif, managing partner, Look Who’s Talking PR.
Thankfully, Ikea-like meatballs are not on the Enigma menu 😉
Swede sabrage champion Mathias Kahn, who is establishing the distribution for Champagne HATT et SÖNER in the UAE, explains that the focus is very much on bringing out the flavours of key ingredients native to the Nordic region:
“The Nordic region is home to flavourful sea food, wild game and root vegetables. New modern Nordic cuisine is a testament to the raw produce locally available to us, be it char, black salsify or the famous bleak roe. Flavours are kept independent, whilst perfecting the preparation using unconventional methods.”
The menu in Dubai is incredibly well priced in comparison to Frantzen in Stockholm (SEK23,000/ AED1,041). Prices start at AED550 for eight courses, and AED750 for the full 12 courses on week nights (with complimentary car pick-up and drop-off thrown in). Add on AED100 for weekends.
Dubai may be more than a decade late in transplanting the Nordic trend, but like with the rather saturated Peruvian craze in our emirate right now, perhaps we will see more Nordic concepts follow. I certainly wouldn’t mind another one or two.
What’s your perception of Nordic cuisine? Have you experienced any memorable Nordic meals?
Disclosure – I was a guest at the Enigma media preview, and therefore this story is written as a feature and not a restaurant review.
— FooDiva (@FooDivaWorld) May 4, 2016