Featured Restaurant of the Month: Den Gyldene Freden
It’s 5 am and the sun’s so bright I’m wide-awake writing, still thinking about Den Glydene Freden. Last night Cooper and I celebrated our 18-year Anniversary there. It’s fitting, I think, after all these years we chose the oldest restaurant in the world to dine at…yes the world! It’s been in business since 1722 serving up Swedish fare like Fried Lemon Sole with Brown Butter and Roasted Lamb neck with Beets, Artichoke and Garlic Sauce. The restaurant is situated on the island of Gamla Stan—one of 13 islands that comprise the city of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is the oldest part of the city, a footbridge walk south from the city center or if you want to test your mental acuity you can drive.
Cooper and I drove (a true testament to the strength of our marriage) using the help of an antiquated GPS and a street map. I assure you it was the craziest path you can imagine, circling around city blocks on one-way streets then on cobblestone walk ways that looked like pedestrian paths (maybe they were) until we crossed a bridge and found parking in narrow alleyway.
We walked the equivalent of a few city blocks up twisting paths on the worst cobblestones I’ve ever encountered. I had worn sensible shoes, but even that didn’t help. The spaces between the rectangular stones were so deep I kept catching my toes and plenty of other people were too, even wearing hiking boots. For safety’s sake, I kept my eyes glued to the ground, but I had to keep stopping to look up at the amazing shops we were passing: art galleries, clog shops (adorable), clothing stores (Swedes have a thing for stripes), bookstores, including an English bookstore (what a find!)
Eventually we made it to Den Glydene Freden. The outdoor seating was lovely, including thick wool blankets laid over the backs of chairs for use by the outdoor patrons. However, we booked our table in the basement—the most famous part of the restaurant. The maitre d’ took us down two sets of medieval looking stone staircases that spiraled into what appeared to be a cave painted with white plaster. The tables, as in any European restaurant, were situated close together. We could hear different languages being spoken, mostly English (aren’t we the loudest?) There were candles on the table and great care was taken to assure we had a full glass of water or in the case of the Russian couple sitting next to us, Vodka.
The waiter explained that the cellar room we were in hadn’t been discovered until 1920 when a man named Zorn bought the dying establishment and began renovating. The cellar, come to discover, had been a storage facility for sailors who went to sea to leave their goods; over the course of 200 years it had been forgotten. But with the added space, Zorn was able to achieve his dream of creating a Swedish icon, an establishment that would forever remain a cherished “haunt” for his patrons. Unfortunately he died before he saw the work completely finished, but the décor is his vision, as are the classic Swedish dishes he insisted remain on the menu.
We had the set menu, in Swedish I have no idea what it said, but what I ate was a green salad with delicious creamy herb dressing followed by something that tasted like the best Sunday pot roast you’ve ever had with steamed carrots the size of gumballs and for dessert Rhubarb pie with a dollop of vanilla cream that can only be described as fluffy white heaven. We toasted to 18 great years with a bottle of Pepsi Max and felt like we’d never had it so good. Afterward I thought while holding hands walking back to our car, how nice it was to be in a place so old, so enduring as to stand the test of time, to know that with a little renovation now and again, new things can be discovered, even a cellar full of treasure you didn’t know was there.