The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
I’ve found the foodie paradise to rival Noma
Copenhagen’s much-lauded restaurant may be closing, but there is a new Scandi hotspot ready to take its crown, says Victoria Grier
EThe question being asked by chefs and customers worldwide is whether fine dining has had its day
arlier this year, Copenhagen’s internationally renowned fine dining restaurant Noma announced it will be serving its final guests in 2024. The news of such a landmark establishment closing sent shockwaves through the culinary world. Facing a global cost of living crisis, as well as the reaction to recent Ralph Fiennes movie The Menu, which parodies high-end restaurant experiences, the question being asked by chefs and foodies around the world is whether fine dining has had its day.
The winds of change may be howling a harsh reality in the hospitality world, but if you look hard, there are still fantastic restaurants out there that are destinations in their own right. Take Ästad Vineyard (astadvingard.se), a Swedish retreat that blends relaxation and high-end dining in its restaurant ÄNG, which has recently been awarded a Michelin star for the third year running. Largely undiscovered by anyone who doesn’t live in Sweden or neighbouring Denmark, Ästad has been generally unaffected by the blizzard blowing outside.
Just an hour’s drive south of Gothenburg and a couple of hours north of Copenhagen, it is easily accessible, yet feels sufficiently rural. From the moment you arrive at this organic vineyard in Halland, southwestern Sweden, you feel the warm embrace of a family-run establishment. The third-generation Carlssons who own and run it have a savvy approach to hospitality that shines through.
The retreat’s roots date back to the middle of the last century, when the forward-thinking Carlssons converted their farm into an organic dairy, before eventually it became a small-scale travel destination to take advantage of their incredible surroundings.
Today, Daniel Carlsson and his siblings Linda Petersson and Mattias Glamheden are realising their vision of constant improvement, while always being sympathetic to the land around them and applying their green credentials to winemaking. Ästad has planted Solaris grape vines,
which thrive well in the relatively cool Scandinavian climate and are ideal for making sparkling wine. Currently the site has close to 40,000 vines, producing around 30,000 bottles of their fizz annually.
Along with retaining its Michelin star, ÄNG has earned one of the new “green stars” in recognition of its meticulous attention to sustainability. Working closely with local producers, hunters, foragers and fishermen, executive chef Filip Gemzell and his sommelier partner Ann-Catrine Johansson transport the Scandinavian landscape onto a plate. The restaurant was previously located in a historic wooden outbuilding and last year moved to a purpose-built new home in a modernist masterpiece adjacent to the vines of Ästad.
To describe the experience in full would have to come with a spoiler alert, but as Gemzell explains: “The ÄNG experience starts in our glass house with 360-degree views of the meadow, forests and one of the neighbouring lakes. During the evening, guests continue through our wine cellar, main dining room and wine lounge, before returning to the glass house for fika [coffee and cake].”
So why go here instead of trying to get into somewhere more well known such as Noma? For starters, you will actually have a chance of making a booking here – at the time of writing, ÄNG had no waiting list at all, while some of the world’s best-known restaurants can have a wait of several years. Plus there is no dress code and absolutely no pretence. The other key element of accessibility here is the cost: when the meal is built into the price of a stay, you get better value for money. The tasting menu at ÄNG is priced at £171pp, with wine pairing an extra £129 – already around half of what you would expect to pay at Noma. And a threenight stay package includes one dinner at ÄNG, two at sister establishment Logen, and spa access for £674pp.
Logen is Ästad’s more down-to-earth restaurant, offering locally sourced, rustic food inspired by Nordic traditions and the landscape. Highlights include a buttered onion broth with glassbaked cod, and roasted venison with cognac and juniper gravy.
Ästad currently offers just 54 rooms and suites, the latter with their own private saunas and enormous, handcarved, natural stone baths. In 2023, 28 newly built rooms will open in their Sjöparken (lake park), a village of floating accommodation, each with its own bathing deck to take advantage of the natural lake.
Twelve nature reserves surround the resort, making up the Åkulla Beech Forests wildlife area. This has inspired Ästad to build Sinnenas Spa, using scents, sounds and materials from the local landscapes. The choice of saunas on offer ranges from one carved from pinewood and kept at a constant temperature of 70C, to a subterranean offering with vast glass windows that showcase the aquatic life in one of the lakes. There is even a forest sauna, set to 45C, with hammocks to relax in, all soundtracked by birdsong recorded in the nature reserves.
So no, fine dining isn’t dead – it is evolving. Establishments such as Ästad and ÄNG understand that food is a journey, not just a destination.