With the cold January Swedish weather and our energetic husky wilderness adventure one can’t be blamed for spending much of their ICEHOTEL trip thinking about their stomachs! We wanted to do a quick blog about dining at the ICEHOTEL sweden restaurants, for anyone planning a trip up north.
The most basic is the lounge bar behind the main reception, serving light snacks/sandwiches, a range of hot and cold drinks including alcoholic beverages most of the day and night. We tried a few hot snacks when we popped in for something to eat during lunch and had no complaints. Great for a refuel and with comfy chairs and lounges an ideal spot to relax and meet new friends.
More interestingly is the ICEHOTEL restaurant and the Jukkasjärvi Homestead. The ICEHOTEL restaurant is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant located a few yards across the road from the hotel, it’s also the location of the buffet breakfast as well as serving lunch. Led by a Michelin-trained chef, it is the top restaurant in Kiruna (probably not hard considering it’s the northernmost town of Sweden) and one of the top three restaurants in the Swedish Lapland ‘White Guide’ 2016 & 2017. We had high hopes for our meal there and if you’re staying in the hotel we’d definitely suggest trying it, however whilst we weren’t disappointed this was probably our least enjoyable meal.
The restaurant aims to be a fine dining establishment with a dress code that suggests “casual but well dressed”, but to get to it one must first traverse the arctic tundra from their hotel room to the restaurant and for this it’s recommended to wear a snowsuit over your “well-dressed” dinner outfit. In true Elldrew style we ignored this advice, choosing style over substance and hence arrived both chilly and overdressed. We suspect most travelers don’t think to pack for fine dining so we say to ignore those “well-dressed” recommendation as the room was mostly a mix of patrons in jeans, trainers and t-shirts.
The restaurant offers an ‘Ice’ themed tasting menu which looks pretty spectacular from the websites photos, and since our return we watched an episode of the BBC “Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby” with chef Monica Galetti and food critic and journalist Giles Coren who, in episode six, Monica meets head chef Alex, who introduces her to the art of using natural ingredients found locally in the nearby forest…an interesting insight to the creative process of working with ice and local fare, and to be honest we now wish we tried the tasting menu, but as our first meal after the wilderness adventure we just wanted a tasty hot meal, so opted for à la carte. The food itself was lovely but perhaps not remarkable (well when compared to London fine dining anyway). Dishes included seared scallops, Foie Gras with brioche, with the star dish being the lamb that was perfectly cooked with the most stunning jus, but then we were served a visually exciting but very bland dessert (so uninspiring that we can’t even remember what it was). There were also a few service issues that included one couple having to move tables due to their replacement meal, carried by the chef, flipping in the air, plate smashing and landing on the table whilst a waitress unintentionally dropped a knife in their lap…well we do like to go to exciting and interesting places!
Our meal was gladly interrupted as the Maître d’ came rushing in to announce the arrival of the much-requested Northern Lights. Up we all got and dashed out of the restaurant; no time to put on snowsuits, there we were standing in -12 degrees watching a pale green spark flash across the sky. Some patrons luckily had brought their napkins (still tucked in) for warmth; others were brandishing their cutlery such was the rush with which we all left the tables. Whilst we were privileged to have seen a splash of Northern Lights, the small amount of light pollution from the hotel and road reduced them to a mere glimmer – and we now understand why an excursion to the wilderness with professional Northern Lights hunters is most likely going to give you the best way of seeing them.
The following night we chose dinner at the Homestead. A more casual dining experience and a good 15-minute walk down the road from the hotel, in the semi-dark, in your snowsuits, in a blizzard. Okay, we make it sound worse than it was and, by now, we were snow-pros, but we were very relieved when we finally got to the restaurant and disrobed from our snowsuits in front of the fire (FYI both restaurants have ample clothes hanging spaces). As fancy as the ICEHOTEL restaurant tried to be, the menu at the Homestead was the opposite – a simple hearty menu. The menu consisted of a choice of 3 starters with main course offering a selection of meat/chicken/fish or vegetables grilled on their charcoal-fired oven. The portions were huge, the flavours delicious, the steak was cooked perfectly (one of the best we have ever eaten) and the potato gratin a completely unnecessary but divine accompaniment. To be frank, we were upset we ate here on our last night and couldn’t go again as it was so delicious. The lovely staff recommended that the best way to walk off the meal would be across the frozen lake, with no streetlights, but the chances of a Northern Lights spot was better even if the risk level of the walk itself were greater. They assured us that the stars would guide us to the hotel and indeed they did, for what proved to be a rather magical but exhilarating experience.
Elldrew’s final gastro-recommendation is in Jukkasjärvi, the local town itself, where we found ourselves one frosty lunchtime. Positioned roughly half way between the ICEHOTEL and the Homestead we stumbled across a food truck with a small tepee next to it, and whilst it looked a bit like a trucker’s rest-stop, with no alternative for a late lunch apart from investigating the local supermarket, we figured we’d give it a go. WOW, we were pleased we stopped. Stejk is more than a roadside truck; the two lovely owners were super welcoming and recommended we try their BBQ Elk Sub specialty, asking us to make ourselves comfy in the tepee whilst they prepared our meal. It’s -12 degrees out; we’re in bulky snow suits, mittens, gloves under mittens, hats and balaclavas so “comfy” is a relative term, and with the teepee erected on top of the icy ground, door open with only a few chairs and a small plastic table, we thankfully didn’t have the challenge of trying to disrobe to enjoy our street food. Once the sweet-smelling subs arrived all else was forgotten. They were divine. We don’t know whether it was the cold, the exercise, or the novel environment but they had to be the best subs we’d ever eaten. Etiquette thrown to the gusting winds as we were warned a snow storm was fast approaching, we took our time and savoured every sticky messy bite of these oversized subs. Retrospectively we’ve seen them showered with praise online and we can completely understand why. Make sure you venture down the road to Stejk and have a BBQ Elk Sub. Seriously. Do it.