The fascination with Swedish culture in the UK seemingly extends beyond its cars, clothes, and nifty furniture designs, to one of the things you’d least expect – its cuisine.
Standing alongside some of London’s best Indian restaurants, you wouldn’t expect to find a restaurant serving reindeer sausage and kladdkaka. But if it’s a hit of Swedish culture you’re after, you’ll find it among the throngs of shoppers and East London hipsters at Fika Bar & Grille in trendy Brick Lane.
Stockholm native Sadaf Malik opened Fika in 2008, and it has overwhelmingly been a hit with Swedish expats and Brits alike, if online reviews are anything to go by:
“Definitely recommend this place if you want a lovely atmosphere and reasonably-priced food on Brick Lane but can't bear another curry - have herring instead!” writes a reviewer called Harry.
“It is more a restaurant than a cafe but works both ways. Beautiful but plain design, and relaxing music. The menu is, surprisingly, very much about Sweden. Meatballs or salmon served with potatoes…they have only one vegetarian option in the mains,” says another reviewer, Katri S.
Of course, Swedish food has never had many foreigners dribbling in anticipation, and others haven’t been as impressed with the food or the Swedish prices. But in this bustling city, it’s the fika concept that seems to have struck a chord.
“We’re a more relaxed place, where people can come and have a coffee late,” says Malik.
“There’s not many places that actually do that, where you can talk with your friends or just have a casual chat with someone, and that’s what I felt was missing.”
Aside from the style of food and the concept, the other thing that sets Fika apart from its neighbours is its uniquely Swedish appearance.
While most of Brick Lane is a combination of dilapidated looking vintage stores and garish Indian eateries, from the outside, Fika is made up of Ikea-style wood panels.
Inside, the dark colours, stone floors and minimalist decor as well as a giant picture of some reindeer covering one wall try to create a feeling of being in a cabin in the forest.
“That’s pretty much it: get away from the busy lifestyle you lead, get away from the really busy Brick Lane and create noises of calm,” Malik explains.
“The first impression is that it’s really, really cozy, and that’s the effect that we wanted – it’s like a home from home. “
Staffed by the obligatory foppish, skinny jeans-wearing Swedes, you’re likely to hear both Swedish and English conversations drifting around the restaurant. It’s definitely more of a shabby, relaxed Södermalm style that fits in with London’s alternative culture.
“So many people come in and they want to know some Swedish if they’re not from Sweden and I find it bizarre, because it’s not a language you can really use everyday,” says Malik.
“There is a fascination about the Swedish culture, definitely.”
Malik said that she plans to open more Fika restaurants in the UK. And while it’s very unlikely that meatballs and lingonberry will replace curry and chow mein in the nation’s affections, another little bit of Sweden seems set to make its mark over here.