I’ve never quite been able to get behind the lifestyle trends which have been in constant formation, over the past year or so, on the basis of the ‘discovery’ of an ‘untranslatable’ word from another language: ikigai, còsagach, hygge, lagom… Whilst I’m far from declaring myself free of the motivating jealousy of cultures which, to an outside observer, seem more balanced, productive, and generally better off (both mentally and, let’s face it, the main driving factor of these trends – economically) than our own, I’m not (yet) desperate enough for that jealousy to manifest itself in the purchase of over-priced, under-thought hardback books and a quasi-ritualistic quantity of candles.
What I can always get behind, though, is good food, especially authentically regional food. It was the promise of this which attracted me to Skogen, even if, at first sight, the pared-back, white-washed interior might look rather like a stylish Instagram post. The atmosphere in this coffee shop is decidedly minimalist, but look further and you notice details which give the place an unobtrusive personality: on a small bookcase, handwritten labels advertise for sale rye crispbreads, cloudberry jam, charmingly naff-looking chocolate and, bizarrely, salsa mix (perhaps someone with a genuine knowledge of Swedish culture will understand this better than me). In the corner is a stack of well-thumbed Swedish cookbooks; a high shelf carries bottles of aquavit; under a deli counter, near-fluorescent pickles jostle between neatly sliced bread rolls, and even the obligatory bowls of salad manage not to look too abstemious. The menu offers classic Scandinavian breakfasts, waffles, and open sandwiches. I decided to begin with a classic fika (mid-morning pastry break) combination, though: a milky coffee and one of their self-proclaimed sell-out cardamom buns. I visited early, so the counter was still piled with pastries and service was fast; within a few minutes, I was presented with a neat knot of dough, whose tight structure tore open to reveal a pale, fluffy crumb, flecked with crackling nibs of cardamom and sugar. For all that I was dismissing lagom as a trend, this bun was just enough: by no means overwhelmingly sweet, but kept interesting by the cardamom’s aromatic warmth and hint of powerful spice. My cappuccino was a very good accompaniment, mellow and pillowy-foamed, though not outstanding – this isn’t the café for exquisite latte art or the silkiest crema (The Missing Bean is, if that’s what you’re seeking). As well as the coffee is done here, the attention is undoubtedly on the food.
This was confirmed by my second visit, on which I ordered the ‘Skogen breakfast’, an assortment of cold things and condiments with sourdough toast. I was intrigued by the sound of this bright platter (being all too used to comforting stodge in the mornings), whose motley components arrived clustered around a startlingly magenta mound of creamy beetroot salad. This initially eclectic-seeming collection, though, proved both fresh and bolstering on what was an especially cold morning. The chewy bread, the velvety, earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the deeply savoury, crumbly tang of the Scandinavian hard cheese, complemented each other excellently; the sticky amber of the cloudberry jam provided a wonderful sugary tartness. I could almost taste the crisp Nordic air (or maybe that was the faint smell of fish coming from the dishes being prepared in the kitchen).
In the end, Skogen proves that well-executed, affectionately made food will connect you to another culture far more than any number of cable-knit throws or stylish chairs.