sea-magazine and ratatouille-the-movie

So we went to Leif Mannerström’s Sjömagasinet, Göteborg’s one-star fish and seafood place and culinary meeting point. Helped along by a very generous gift certificate, we just sat down and ordered…

The restaurant is housed in an old timber-frame building down at the river, which was built by the East India Company in 1775. It can be reached by car if one drives straight on where a right turn would have led on to the night ferry to Kiel, or by tram, after a lengthy trip out of the Göteborg centre. We had company of a jolly 77-year-old gentleman from Finland, who told us the story of his life, so the tram trip appeared somewhat shortened.

Cold and with the good-humored singsong of our company still in our ears, we entered the restaurant. The interior is sophisticated, if somewhat hand-hewn. The main theme is the building’s original timber structure. Sjömagasinet’s service is absolutely impeccable, and the tram trip was soon forgotten. There is nothing here of that uncomfortable feeling of some high-end food places, where no amount of suitable bank cards in one’s pocket can scatter one’s sensation of basic inadequacy.There are no stuffed adolescent waiters here who speak French with an Amsterdam accent half of the time, but who have not learned to avoid shaking the wine upon uncorking. Here, a personal assistant is at hand whenever needed and whenever new dishes arrive, otherwise the visit is a pleasantly private affair. The lady who took care of us was absolutely fantastic.

For me, the food we ordered on this evening falls apart in two distinct classes: preparations that I perhaps would not have conceived in exactly this fashion, but might be able to reproduce in my own kitchen, and combinations, flavors and textures where I have no idea how they were created.

Among the first was an excellent herring salad made amongst others with fresh cream and finely chopped onions. This was part of the “Delicacy plate from the garde-manger – bleak roe, carpaccio of crayfish, herring and salmon”. The secret here is the use of absolutely fresh ingredients and of fresh cream. The salmon belonging to the same presentation came as a surprise while it, too, belongs to my category of ‘understandable’ dishes. It turned out to be a cube of quickly seared gravlax with a top layer mainly consisting of sesame seeds. I had eaten cooked gravlax once before; it was a disgusting, hardened, salty disaster and at the time I believed that it simply had been a minor chef’s utter mistake. Sjömagasinet’s morsel of sesame salmon was superb, and like a hearty east-western handshake.

Two other more sophisticated items that directly made sense to me came along with the main course (“Mannerström’s inspiration” which ought to be translated into “dish of the day” or perhaps “plat du jour”). The herb-filled poached roulades of sole fillet can easily be re-created with the right equipment at hand (these shaping rings – what’s their name…) and with a bit of experience (a few seconds too long and the roll gets dry – these weren’t). The delicious yellow-white Jerusalem artichoke cream that, in this presentation, was used to stick nicely carved bits of potato and the fish rolls onto the wide rim of the plate, was clearly a result of patience (super-well cleaned and very finely mashed tender roots) and the addition of much butter.

Unattainable for me without any further information, however, were some of the following dishes, asides and (let’s honor the menu’s terminology) “inspirations.”

1) a buttery soup in the middle of my main-course-dish. Was it Cream of Butter, Butter of Cream, Foam from Heaven and/or did it also contain Jerusalem artichokes in subtle doses? I am sure that we were at some moment told what this creme contained but the particulars got lost amongst other information. Luckily there was a fair amount of Foam from Heaven, but nevertheless I couldn’t find out how it was made.

2) Robin’s main course, in theory a quite surreal combination of beef and halibut: “Confit baked halibut with oxtail jus and tomato marmalade served with a dill and pine nut flavoured risotto.” The chunk of halibut thrones on a something like a pressed slice of thin-cut oxtail-meat bits, surrounded by their sauce, and the combination is stunning. The idea seems to be that halibut has a somewhat meaty texture but lacks some flavour for making this sensation perfect. Mannerström adds beef and another completely unlikely item: tomato marmalade, which is a warm, very sweet, chunky tomato sauce. No one but the most daring would dream up such a combination. But it works.

3) Talking of marmalade, at some moment, a dollop of chanterelle marmalade came along on my side of the table. I never had the idea! (chanterelles enough in these woods…) I might be able to create my own version of a sweet-sour chanterelle jam, but I couldn’t figure out at all how this particular one was made.

4) Curious for someone whose first adventures in the kitchen had to do with the production of desserts and who has a weak spot for good chocolate, I’m not a hobby chocolatier at all. So those buttery, melting chocolate truffles, listed as “Sjömagasinets chocolate truffle trio flavoured with three kinds of tea” are not repeatable for me. First, I might have an idea about how to arrive at some creamy buttery-ness, but this level of melting achievement almost knocked me out of my chair. Second, who would think to flavor three kinds of chocolate with TEA, and who could imagine that this would, in the final result, make any specific sense at all. It does, go try.

5) I do not own an espresso maker. I pride myself on knowing quite well how, and with what, my stainless steel moka-pot needs to be loaded, and how I need to set the heat of my stove to create some pretty darn good espresso (with [some] crema) in spite of all that. I know that there are places in Göteborg that produce better espresso than mine, and when I’m in town, I pay them a visit for obvious reasons. Sjömagasinets espresso is better. It tastes like the absolute apotheosis of Italian espresso in Italy: plainly satisfactory, and the sensation lingers on for ages, past the point when many other coffees have performed their twist towards sour bitterness. Who could imitate this at home?

Two other things to be mentioned:

* They make very good bread, and are offering (and refilling) four or five kinds.

* We left the selection of the wines to our hostess and we were not disappointed. Even the unorthodox idea to present Robin with two different half-glasses of red wine to go with her meaty halibut was, in practice, a success. My two different whites for the entrée and the main course were superb.

Our choice of activity for the second half of the evening honored the spirit of the first: we watched the new movie Ratatouille, which is a fuzzy and sweet story about how-to-run-a-restaurant (i.e. if you can’t cook at all, versus: if you can cook, but are a rat), and technically absolutely breathtaking. Who would have thought that an animated movie about French cooking would ever be a success.

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