A Once-Dead Stockholm Enclave Gets a Shot of Youthful Energy

A chef emerged from the kitchen carrying a tin of caviar and dolloped a heaping spoonful onto the back of my hand. “Then the vodka,” he said, nodding at a chilled glass on the table, as clouds of smoke billowed from behind the bar. Dinner at Stockholm’s Punk Royale Café had begun.

The energy swirling through the restaurant stood in stark contrast to its location: a forlorn block on the eastern edge of Sodermalm, an island that has been caricatured as alternately sinister (in best-selling Swedish crime novels) or trendsetting (see its No. 3 spot on Vogue’s “15 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World” list).

Quiet and mostly residential, eastern Sodermalm is not noir, nor is it considered cool. At least not in comparison to nearby Nytorget, a square ringed with trendy restaurants and cafes in the heart of SoFo, as the neighborhood south of Folkungagatan is called. Instead, eastern Sodermalm is one of the island’s last undeveloped pockets, a Wild West (or, rather, East) where imaginative young locals are now building a drinking and dining scene that diverges from the capital’s buttoned-up style. All it needs is a nickname: Given its location north of the park Vita Bergen, NoVi seems inevitable.

“Living here, I could never go down to SoFo or Nytorget and find a seat to sit,” said Anna Axelsson, a longtime resident of eastern Sodermalm. “On maternity leave in Sweden, you’re away from work for at least a year, and when I walked out with the stroller, I couldn’t find a single place to have a coffee, a sandwich, a salad or some breakfast in my neighborhood.”

So in 2013, Ms. Axelsson, who had briefly lived in Australia, opened the cafePom & Flora with her husband, Rasmus, serving Aussie-inspired breakfasts that proved Swedes needn’t choose between healthful and delicious: lingonberry-lassi smoothies, beetroot-hummus toasts, chia puddings with rhubarb compote. The Instagram-friendly cafe, with sunlight streaming through large windows and menus handwritten on a roll of butcher paper, now attracts Stockholmers (and in-the-know tourists) from across the city.Continue reading the main story

In contrast, it was a trip to Japan — and a newfound obsession with ramen — that inspired the creation of the noodle shop Ai Ramen, said Erik Rehnby, a co-owner. The casual spot opened in October 2015 with house-made noodles in the tonkotsu ramen, pendant lamps illuminating communal tables and a logo designed by the Swedish street artist Disey; three months later, it won the annual “Best Restaurant: Budget” award chosen by Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s largest newspaper.

“It’s one of the best prizes that you can win, because of the impact that it has,” said Mr. Rehnby, before rattling off a list of other new spots in the neighborhood.

Last summer, Stockholm’s Modernist Brewery relocated its craft brewery to a nearby garage shared with a new small-batch gin distillery calledStockholms Branneri, while in October the restaurant Café Nizza opened down the street with a surprise set menu and resident-friendly drop-in seating. Nearby Nook recently won a Michelin Bib for its creative Scandi-Asian cuisine.

And in January, Jonas Sandberg, a former sommelier at Sweden’s two-Michelin-starred Faviken, plans to open a wine bar, Folii, with his fellow sommelier Beatrice Becher.

“For us, being a bit away from the beaten path is very important,” said Mr. Sandberg. “You have the hub of Nytorget very close by, but that particular area is completely saturated with restaurants and cafes and shops. In my mind it’s already peaked.”

Or in the words of Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Where trailblazers do go, at least on a recent Sunday evening, is Punk Royale Café.

After a slew of guest stints and pop-ups, the chefs Joakim Almqvist and Kalle Nilsson opened their first restaurant, Punk Royale, here in 2015 amid a tornado of praise and provocation. The decadent, playful tasting menus cost a fraction of what you’d expect in pricey Stockholm, and forget elegant Scandinavian décor.

“We’re going to take all the money that we’ve got and put it on the plate,” Mr. Almqvist said, which means immodest shavings of truffles and tender lobster spoon-fed to diners by the chef himself.

“Going to a good restaurant should be a party,” he added. And here, it is.

This August, Punk Royale Café opened next door with a bar area and drop-in seats so that friends and neighbors could get in the door. During my dinner, the flurry of courses was free of pretension (and for that matter, silverware). There was birthday singing, after-service body shots off a cook in a rubber horse mask, cups of traditional punsch liqueur — “Careful, this will mess you up,” warned a server — and warm embraces from familiar faces in the crowd.

“Have you found your way here too?” asked Julia Lundstrom, whom I knew from Vina, the adorable wine bar near Nytorget that she opened with her sister. It was nearly midnight, the streets outside deserted, but this party — like NoVi itself — was just getting started.