restaurants in summer sweden I, bollebygd

Anyone traveling in Sweden knows that highway restaurants, relatively scarce as they anyway are, are called things like McDonalds, Shell or Korvkiosk (sausage hut). Names like “Route 66” or “Smakfullt” (the latter meaning both “full of flavor” and “tasteful”) do occur, too, but are the exception. Anyway, it is good to know about a few alternatives. This series of reviews will guide the innocent traveler towards some decent meals. I’ll tag these posts in Swedish – let’s see what happens.

It will, for example, be helpful to know that four minutes away from “Smakfullt”, which lies on the R 40 half an hour east of Göteborg, a bunch of enthusiastic people is trying to make a “Family restaurant” go round, with occasionally quite nice results. They need a real audience, however, and a critical one, too.

I am talking of La Familia Macsad which is situated in the in the southwest corner of the tallest building of the pulsating center of Bollebygd, aptly called Centrumhuset, (just beside the Trend-Makery, a boutique which has housed a stable collection of household Non-Necessaries for about a decade). Other highlights of Bollebygd’s center are a wine and beer store, a medical center and a parking lot with too narrow spaces.

La Familia has inherited the espresso machine of the previous owner who didn’t succeed in spite of his good coffee – that’s why we started going there. They have a fixed lunch menu which seems okay, and on some evenings they are open and offer dinner à la carte. The menu is vaguely but sympathetically Mediterranean with a South American touch and a slight Swedish accent. Some of the food is really good. It is clear that the Chef is not only a kind man but also a good cook.

In April, a Parmesan soup, for example (which isn’t on the menu at this very moment) was creamy and rich and served in a fancy modern bowl that amused me and heightened my expectations. Robin’s tortellini were well-cooked and presented in an attractive fashion. My beef on a plank combined the best bit of beef I had in a restarurant for a long time and a fancy pile of decorated and playfully singed mashed potatoes and some excellent, possibly even home-made sauce bearnaise. The one-matron-service is excellent: personal and quick.

When my kids were here to visit in July, we went again. In terms of service, we must have hit a bad day. Things moved slowly, orders weren’t understood properly and we sensed some unwillingness to clear the table and serve the next course. This was likely a seasonal issue: in mid-July almost nothing functions properly in Sweden.

But even the food was not quite such a success as on the previous visit, although the same chef was cooking. True, my Entrada with chili-garlic tiger shrimp was absolutely impeccably prepared, the shrimp juicy but not too raw and the dressing spicy but well-balanced. But Jessica’s mixed salad (not on the menu any more), although clean and fresh, had no element of fantasy or refinement in it. Robin’s Lasagna was only marginally less mushy than the microwaved lunch varieties served all over the country, and thus a disappointment. There is no other way to make successful Lasagna than to bake them in the oven: once. Re-heating doesn’t work with this dish.  It is a matter of fairness not to pretend that you offer “Lasagna”, when you really are planning to serve Piping hot Pulp to your guests.

The Plato Mexicano that Lukas and I tried, finally, was a joke. The menu presents it as a “mixed plate with various ingredients such as guacamole, corn, onion, tomato, sour cream, a sauce of ground veal and tomato salsa, served with cheese-filled fresh tortilla and nacho chips”. This description is accurate as far as it goes: the meat sauce was a standard spaghetti sauce, not bad, but not exceptional at all. Give me the hour it took our chef on that day to prepare our food, and I’ll make you something more “Mexican” with stuff out of my freezer. The guacamole was fine, but there was only a tablespoon of it. The salsa didn’t come out of a jar, which is good. But apparently our Chef’s spice cabinet was empty after preparing the shrimp, so essentially it was chopped canned tomatoes with a hint of onion.  Just for taking care of my pile of nacho chips, I’d have loved getting five minutes in that kitchen with a bunch of tomatoes, cilantro, cumin, lime juice, a bowl and a knife, but that’s not how restaurant kitchens work in these parts, letting the guests chop their own food. Between the heap of chips from the bag and another one of thawed corn, both further camouflaged  by anonymous strips and chunks of greenery, the featured cheese-filled tortilla looked sad and forlorn, and that’s how it tasted, too.

So what we learned that day is that La Familia’s menu needs a guest with a good intuition in order to avoid unnecessary disappointments. This is not quite what one expects from a restaurant that, like La Familia, offers food at the price level of a modern town restaurant. In exchange, there should at least be three things present: a quick and personal service (this was no problem on our first visit), a relaxed atmosphere (how about special tablecloths at dinnertime and a few homely accents, to make clear to everyone that there are actually people trying to enjoy their food while others perhaps only drink a beer or two at the bar?) and, finally, bigger portions without any cheaty fill-up ingredients such as piles of chips and corn with almost no sauce. This is the only true criticism I have about the general policy of La Familia in Bollebygd: the size of the portions does not always match the ambitious price. The steak costs 169 Swedish crowns or almost 24 dollars; it is good, as I wrote, but tiny. The Tortellini come in at 105 crowns ($14.70), for which one might at least expect a plate full. The shrimp entry, finally, fetches a feisty 89 crowns ($12.50), which is unreasonable for four tiger shrimp, no matter how nicely prepared.

And oh yes: apparently, someone at some Swedish restaurant school introduced the concept of decorative doodles of red balsamico vinaigrette around any sort of food arrangement. You find these all over Sweden, in almost any modern restaurant. This newbie-chef mass movement is disgusting: what has Lasagna, even mushy Lasagna, to do with red vinaigrette? What does a delicious Parmesan soup benefit from random red squiggles around the edges of the bowl? If I enter a restaurant, I want to eat, and not be forced to dig around the edges of some decoration that could ruin the taste of an otherwise good meal. My recommendations to the chef in Bollebygd: build on to your strengths, which are plentiful, and on your kindness, but please do occasionally open a cookbook to learn something new, and above all: eliminate the shortcuts and spare us the thawed corn. You’ll be fine. Bollebygd is growing rapidly.

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