September 1, 2007
Tables for Two
Ilse Crawford creates both an upscale and a casual dining room for a new restaurant in Stockholm.
When star chef Mathias Dahlgren—renowned for his distinctively Swedish cooking—set out to create a restaurant for Stockholm’s world-famous Grand Hôtel, balancing global and local perspectives formed the heart of the challenge. “The hotel has a lot of international visitors, but it’s important to tell your own story,” says Dahlgren, seated in Matsalen (“The Dining Room”), one of the two complementary environments that comprise his eponymous restaurant (Matbaren, “The Food Bar,” is more casual), which opened in May. “When I travel, I want to find the identity of the place I’m visiting—the differences are more interesting than the similarities.”
From a gastronomic standpoint, this involved crafting a broadly appealing cuisine but, Dahlgren says, “with a strong identity from this region, with high-quality ingredients from our backyard.” To convert the restaurant’s theme into design, the chef turned to London-based Ilse Crawford. “I was drawn to the idea of a new Swedish kitchen that would be global and local without being, you know, fusion,” she recalls. “I’m not a historicist. But I like the idea of DNA, and what was interesting was to find the Swedish roots, things that are incredibly evocative of the context, and take them forward.”
In Matbaren, where the food, Dahlgren says, “is basic, classic cooking—there’s no hocus-pocus,” the decor is robust. “We used solid public space–feeling materials—zinc, oak paneling that gives you the feeling of a Stockholm bar, a tile floor adapted from the stairwell floors in the building [actually an adjacent 1878 residence annexed by the hotel],” Crawford says. “But there’s also a mix of Swedish and global,” she adds, citing the juxtaposition of rough eighteenth-century tables with Jørn Utzon’s Tivoli pendant lights and red cane-bottomed chairs by Vico Magistretti. Dahlgren claims the design is reminiscent of a typical Swedish farmhouse kitchen.
If Matbaren offers traditional fare in a modern environment, the 37-seat Matsalen reverses the formula by serving adventurous dishes in an Old World–flavored space conducive to, Crawford says, “a slow, almost eroticized experience.” Dahlgren calls the design “super-Swedish,” referencing a wood-handled steak knife: “Ninety percent of people here have this Mora knife when they are children—it’s the same but made more elegant for the restaurant. The glassware, the tablecloths, and the linen—we use elements that are very common in our culture and bring them into the light.” Matsalen includes a historical infusion as well, incorporating reupholstered vintage Grand Hôtel chairs. “The table we’re sitting at was designed by Carl Malmsten, one of the most famous furniture makers in Sweden,” Dahlgren adds. “He was brought up in this house and made this for his family in 1926—this table has never left the building.”
As a stage for these details, Crawford created a gray-oak herringbone floor and tables with curvaceous iron bases, adding velvet-covered Chesterfield sofas as banquettes. Clustered pendant fixtures by lighting designer Michael Anastassiades add sparkle. There’s also a prep and presentation table to unstarch the room’s formality and infuse it with the pleasurable olfactory immediacy of a kitchen. As Crawford puts it, “I think food should be tasted and smelled, not rarefied and at a distance—that’s the point.”
The entry, between Matbaren and Matsalen, proved tricky. “It’s historically listed, so we weren’t allowed to do anything,” Crawford says. “But it seemed important to give Mathias a firm identity.” The solution was a gilded-wood screen behind the reception desk, created by Antwerp’s Studio Job, that abstracts culinary objects, Viking imagery, and machine parts (a reference to Jean Bolinder, the industrial magnate who built the building) into a witty, surprisingly personal narrative. “It tells the story of Mathias,” Crawford says, “who absolutely is a Viking—in his kitchen.”