Swede dreams are made of this
Upper Street is notorious for the ruthless turnover of it restaurants, but foodies are falling for Skål’s Nordic dining
20 February, 2020 — By Tom Moggach
Skål’s style is inspired by traditional home-cooked Swedish food
FOOD snobs love to feel superior – like dismissing the current vogue for “Nordic dining”.
It’s a lazy catch-all phrase, they might say, which ignores key differences between the various cuisines.
You must be familiar with the Danish take on the pickled herring?
I was fondly imagining this calibre of chat over supper at Skål, a new restaurant in Upper Street in Islington, but the waitress put a swift stop to such nonsense.
“It’s all the same basically,” she joked, referring to the food across neighbouring Nordic countries.
This new opening is run by a Swedish family who have lived in Britain for many years.
Lauri Hilli is the head chef, cooking in an open-plan kitchen at the back of this minimalist, white-washed room. His wife Angelique handles front of house, while daughter Emma tends the tables.
The chef describes his style as “husmanskost” – inspired by traditional home-cooked Swedish food.
It must be a godsend for homesick Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Icelanders.
We began with bread and butter whipped with salty cod roe – giddily addictive. Next, a rainbow of house pickles: pink radish, turnip, carrot and tomato decorated with fronds of fragrant dill. This fondness for pickling pops up often, such as in a starter of Jerusalem artichokes served three ways. Chunks of the roasted root nestle on a silky purée, with ribbons of pickled raw artichoke to add a racy acidity.
Kroppkakor are potato dumplings or gnocchi, served here with sautéed mushrooms, grated Västerbotten (a hard cheese) and cloudberry vinaigrette for extra zing.
By this point, I was falling for the spirit of Skål.
Service is super friendly; dishes are a decent size and unfussy, presented with just the right twist of cheffy flair.
A side dish of Savoy cabbage was glorious. The vegetable is cut into wedges, roasted until crispy, drenched in butter then sprinkled with toasted almonds and more Västerbotten. You peel off each layer like petals of a flower.
Emma, the waitress, insisted we tried the venison meatballs and birch-smoked salmon. Other mains include cod with horseradish and a wine cream and two interesting vegetarian options – roasted kohlrabi and salt-baked celeriac. Desserts were less memorable, with a special of bilberry pavlova.
Main courses at Skål cost £15-16; starters more like £8. On Sundays, they serve a “hygge” brunch menu from midday to 4.45pm.
Upper Street is notorious for the ruthless turnover of restaurants. Blink and they’re gone – a new dream soon rising from the ashes.
The fact that Skål is family-run makes a huge difference to the atmosphere. Trade has been surprisingly brisk.
“Over anything I could have expected,” says the chef.
As he packed up to leave, I asked about the subtle nuances of Nordic cuisines.
I didn’t get much: cold winds in the far north, he says, mean their wild fruits ripen slowly and intensify in flavour. A little titbit, perhaps, when you next whip up a bilberry dessert for a dinner party.
149A Upper Street, N1