Many restaurants, and even newspapers and credit card companies, host and sponsor guest chefs, perhaps as part of a series of events or one off evenings. But Carousel was set up with the intention to be a permanent restaurant with constantly rotating guest chefs. With chefs often doing a single week’s residency it attracts chefs from across the globe.
Many of the chefs you will not have heard of, but they are at the top of their game where they are from and in the style of cuisine they cook. One week may see a true master of sushi preparing his wares in the small open front kitchen next to the bar in the ground floor dining room, serving them up to the guests at the two long tables diners communally sit at. The next might see a master of bare flame and log fire cooking, as it was when I ate there last year.
To coincide with the launch of his book Food from the Fire, Niklas Ekstedt was over from his native Sweden and I was lucky enough to be there as a guest of the publishers, Pavilion. That invitation is one that no-one could turn down; I have wanted to try the food of EKSTDET and its founder ever since I spent a spell working on the restaurant’s UK PR account. Travelling to Stockholm to try this unique style of cooking is not, of course, overly convenient, so this opportunity was a blessing.
His Michelin-starred restaurant EKSTEDT in Stockholm uses only Scandinavian wood as the heat source to cook with, in order to give the food a unique character. This means a more elemental style of cooking – open flames, smoke, wood-heated stoves, and a Flambadou iron, a cone-shaped cooking tool for searing meat and fish with flaming fat, and my favourite component of the kitchen – unfortunately Niklas tells me it wouldn’t be effective as a tool for cooking a steak, despite my hopes.
Carousel, and indeed anywhere really, has a very different kitchen to that of EKSTEDT. It is gas powered. This, of course, means that the ability to cook exactly as is done at EKSTEDT isn’t possible; there isn’t even a garden to build a fire in. As a result, Ekstedt was limited to providing, in his own words, “a taste” of what they do in Stockholm. Carousel is not that expensive; it has one sitting and charges typically £30 – £40 per person at each residency, so is well within reach of the average diner in London. The menu tends to be four courses with an optional extra, in this case a scallop course and the option of matching wines.
Reindeed Heart and More
To start we were served reindeer heart tartare with lingonberries, chanterelles and mini flatbread. The heart was finely diced and seared by Ekstedt in a hot frying pan at the table for four to share and use to build their own flatbreads. The heart was not as gamey as one would have expected and perfectly tender. The combination was actually quite sweet and I would have loved more; it was only really two mouthfuls, making it more of an amuse-bouche or canapé than a starter.
Lightly cooked monkfish with kohlrabi, walnut and a smoked tomato was next and made for a sublime dish. Served cold, the only hot ingredient was the tomato, which added a concentrated flavour and rich smokiness to the otherwise light combination of thinly sliced monkfish and noodles of kohlrabi. The additional scallop dish was next and magnificent in its purity. The scallop was smoked with hay, bringing out its natural flavours, and served with an intensely buttery and velvety mousse of its own coral. A dish comprising only two elements, made using just one ingredient, cooked only to allow the natural flavours to shine – can one ask for more? Well, perhaps the other half of the scallop followed by seconds and then thirds, but that’s it.
The main offered up to us was wood pigeon, cabbage and truffle. The pigeon was crusted with nuts, which, together with the cabbage and truffles, made for a dish that was rooted in the landscape the bird came from. The dessert of hazelnut cake, cloudberry, brown butter and birch infused ice cream rounded off the meal perfectly. What looked to be a dense dessert was in fact beautifully light, the cloudberries adding a slight acidity that cut through the sugar holding the nuts together, while the ice cream completed the dish perfectly. I can safely say that the ice cream is one of the best I’ve ever had.
It was a superb meal and faultless, even down to the bread and butter; the butter was produced by a Swedish couple on the Isle of Wight. The downside, of course, was that it wasn’t the true food of EKSTEDT, because of the kitchen. It certainly whetted my appetite further for the true EKSTEDT experience, though, and showed just how good the set up and atmosphere are at Carousel.
London Lamppost Score – on this occasion 4/5
Perfect For – A fun night out