Daniel Berlin, Tranås 2015
"Welcome, I'm Daniel". We're greeted by Daniel Berlin himself as we get out of the car at his self-named restaurant in Tranås, Skåne. The restaurant and chef has climbed prestigious ladders ever since opening in 2010; racking up awards both nationally as internationally, and today it's almost impossible to get a reservation here, even though it's located far away from busy city-streets, in a community with around 300 residents in the region of Österlen (South East of Sweden).
The personal greeting is all part of the story here; we're already feeling like we're being welcomed into someones home — and in a sense we are; next up we're talking to Daniels father Per-Anders, which works as the sommelier, while his mother Iréne is part of the front-of-house service. It's intimate, but grand at the same time. The dining room is stylish, with luxurious linnen covering the tables and flowers picked from the adjacent garden. The tables, chairs and other furniture has been beautifully crafted by Swedish Designer Anton Björsing, the tasteful china is created by Lena Willhammar and art on the wall by AnnaSofia Mååg. It's evident that the restaurant puts an emphasis on beautiful contemporary art and craft. We're in the Swedish countryside and we know we're in for a dining experience we've been looking forward to for a long time.
But let's start from the beginning. As the restaurant is located where it is, it's almost inevitable to not combine a dining experience at Daniel Berlin with at leat one nights stay at an accompanied Bed & Breakfast. The restaurant obviously knows this and offers a few packaged deals where the full experience is included (including transport to and from the restaurant, where often Daniel himself will drive the guests). We chose to stay at the charming Logi Gamlegård which has served as companion overnight stay to the restaurant since its inception. Our driver jokingly tells us during the short drive to the restaurant that "these days, the car almost drives itself to the restaurant".
This time around, we had the pleasure of enjoying the dining-experience with some great friends, another couple-, and like-minded foodies; and we utilised the time at Gamlegården to talk about the upcoming visit which got us hungrier and hungrier. As Daniel Berlin is what's called a "destination restaurant", having a place like Logi Gamlegården be the start and end to the experience only heightened the enjoyment of the trip for us, truly recommended.
When we're greeted by Daniel at the restaurant, we're shown to our table and the service quickly starts with a broth made from shells of leguminous and basil. The broth isn't served with a spoon, but instead we drink it straight from the bowl — hinting towards asian eating traditions. The meal we've been anticipating for so long has finally started and we're ready for the ride.
We're given a choice of champagne from Per-Anders which guides us through the wine-pairings during the evening. The focus is on bio-dynamic and natural, clean, light and fresh wines from France — clearly in tune with the style of dishes Daniel and his team serves up in the small adjacent kitchen.
After this, the initial "finger-food" starts coming in a quick pace. Perfectly thin vessels and fantastic produce. The dish of garden-plants served on a big block of ice clearly tells the story of seasonality, picking vegetables from the restaurant backyard-gardens. Another favourite is "cream" with quails egg on top of carrot and sorrel. The "cream" is buttery and deliciously smooth, revealing gems of produce as you get further down the bowl.
We're treated to a fermented pancake topped with pig cooked in vinegar which is heightened by an ice cold top, creating a sensational hot & cold mouth-bite. A small let-down however is the bite of baby goat, chervil and rhubarb. The goat is tender, but doesn't taste much, leaving a rather "bland" bite.
Most of the bites are served "family-style" in the middle of the table. An exception is however the cod with kohlrabi and algae. Presented as three "dumplings" with a fresh juice poured individually to each diner at the table, which heightens the anticipation of the dish. The cod is served together with its roe and each bite is very well rounded together with the juice.
The service from front-of-house staff is extremely friendly and "welcoming". Daniels parents seems to be enjoying their new profession with a passion, which translates very well. Service at fine-dining restaurants can sometimes be a bit "cold" and "stiff", but we're feeling "warmth" and "passion". We're dining where everyone is proud of what they do and what they've achieved.
The bread-serving is truly delicious with locally baked bread with both goat and cow butter. We know we shouldn't fill our stomachs with bread when such good dishes are up ahead, but the amount here is really minuscule, leaving us longing for a just a little more (maybe that's the point though).
The next dish is a real highlight of the night. Hot and cold mackerel. First of all, the dish is really pretty in its simplicity, telling a lot about the light hand Daniel has for his dishes, truly highlighting the fantastic produce and letting it shine. The cold mackerel is presented with yellow beats and lemon verbena. Both on its own and combined, a delicious treat.
The dish of peas, leaves and unripe berries once again brings the outside garden into the restaurant. We're clearly eating something grown and cared for very close by. The same is true for the top-roasted cauliflower with its own juice and two creams from cabbage, and the plants accompanying the cod-dish. Fresh and light — just like all the dishes so far.
The cod however deserves to be highlighted. Meat is sometimes describes as "melting in the mouth", but this is exactly how we would describe the cooking of the cod. The most perfect "shiny" texture that simply desolves in the mouth. A fish couldn't be more perfectly cooked than this, amazing! The "off-cuts" of the fish however has more bite, but also more taste.
At this stage Daniel enters the dining room and brings the attention to the restaurants signature dish; charcoal-grilled and blackened celeriac. The scent of smoke that fills the dining room is very pleasant when he starts carving the celeriac and places it in in bowls together with bread-crumbs and a sauce made with Swedish "prästost".
It's easy to understand why this is a signature-dish that has been with the restaurant since its inception. We've had celeriac dishes before, but nothing like this, it simply tastes amazing; meaty, smoky and is very well rounded with the sauce. The "podium" in the middle of the room is also cleverly used to create a bit of "theatre" around the dish.
One of the great strengths of having a restaurant located away from the city-center is the ability to utilise more than the inside. After the celeriac-dish we're asked to go outside the house for "refreshments" and to enjoy the garden (where many of the ingredients we've eaten has been grown from). Per-Åke serves up tasty cider and we get a great "break" which opens up for conversations among the guests and it's refreshing to walk around outside to get the digestive process going after as many dishes.
As we're asked back into the dining room, the tablecloths have now been taken of the tables, revealing a black wooden surface — it's time for the next act in the dining experience.
We're served a tasty broth that we once again eat by sipping it straight from the bowl. The next dishes has the flavours "pushed up a notch", if yet a subtle notch. We also appreciate the refined and delicate presentations of everything.
We're asked if we're interested in a cheese-serving, and at this point we would say yes to whatever we were asked, if only to get an ounce more of this experience. Four hard-cheeses (three made from goats-milk) are presented with raspberry jam, pear-compote and bread.
The deserts are few, initiated by a dish with a small pancake on top of ice-cream and strawberries. Next up is an amazing dish with dried sheets of salted egg whites and buttermilk with a toffee-sauce. Texture, creaminess and salt — lots of salt! Being the salt-junkies we are, this is a desert made in heaven, wow!
After as many dishes as this, it feels a little bit strange to only get two deserts. But since we generally don't enjoy deserts and one of the two dishes were a real knockout, we have no problem with this.
We're once again asked to head outside, this time to the greenhouse in the backyard to enjoy some after-dinner snacks and coffee/tea. Before this, we're specifically taken a bit side-tracked by our charming server Ellinor to inspect the storage-rooms and wine-cellar (a particular interest of ours of course :) We see a myriad of different pickles and preservation methods for many different ingredients. We're told that the chefs come up with new and interesting flavour-combinations which is tried out (and also used in seasons where it's harder to get the vegetables straight from the ground, as Sweden is a very seasonally driven country). Ellinor tells us later jokingly that she'll get into a bit of "trouble" for showing us around when we were supposed to go to the green-house. The staff here surely have their eyes peeled on us as guests and makes sure that we're enjoying our time here. We're very thankful for the tour!
The vibe in the green-house is great, some relaxing music and a fantastic way to end the entire meal. This is a very relaxed and "cozy" way to end a beautiful evening. Per-Anders serves up a few different tastes of coffee and we feel like we could sit here for a long time to round up the night.
There are many ways to summarise the dining experience at Daniel Berlin. When we leave the restaurant we feel we've experienced an evening that'll stay with us for a long time. The focus here isn't simply on the food, but to make sure the guests are having "a good time". It's the interplay of flawless food, fit for its setting, together with a focus on the customer that takes this charming and intimate restaurant to its acclaimed heights. We're dining in someones home (where they also serve fantastic food). The fact that it's a bit hard to close the bathroom-door, since it uses an old style shutter (typical for these types of houses) only adds to the charm.
After dinner, we can't get enough of our experience and we find ourselves conversing with Daniel; and even though the clock is well after midnight, he's happy to take the time for us — again, instilling the sense of customer happiness that's evident throughout our visit. We also get a chance to express our appreciation for the effort that was put into handling the dietary requirements of the night (which is why you sometimes can see one out of the four bites look a bit different in the pictures).
When we think back on the food, the only thing we might lack was thee feeling of at least one or two more "substantial" dishes, something we thought would be coming in "part two" of the serving, but instead it felt a little like a "reboot" of "part one". But it's no question that Daniel and his team know what they're doing. We usually have a hard time truly appreciating Swedish local food, as it's something we know, and we're more interested in getting "new tastes". But Daniel Berlin surely got our interest and showed us that with a skilful hand it's possible to create exciting taste-sensations that highlights the produce available — that surely is worth traveling for!