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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 22nd July 2005


I feel a bit sorry for Andy Curtis and David Bittiner. As the co-owners of Nordic, one of only a handful of Scandinavian restaurants in London, they were plagued with calls from journalists after Jacques Chirac's now famous remark about Finland being the only country in the world who's food was even worse than Britain's. Having never been visited by a restaurant critic before, Nordic was suddenly deluged with tabloid hacks, all demanding to sample their Finnish delicacies.

Alas, by the time I arrived the owners had taken the precaution of removing all the Finnish dishes from the menu. "A lot of their food is designed to protect you from the cold weather and they tend to have long winters over there," confessed Bittiner. "Even so, I think Jacques Chirac was a little unfair."

Funnily enough, I had quite high expectations when I sat down to eat at Nordic. After all, given how completely wrong Chirac was about British food--Gourmet magazine recently declared London "the best place to eat on the planet"--he was almost certainly wrong about Scandinavian food as well. Indeed, some of the most enjoyable meals I've ever had have been in Denmark. The taste of freshly cured salmon, bought from the smoke house that morning, is hard to beat, and Danish ice cream is second to none.

Nordic is located in a basement just off Oxford Street and, until it enjoyed it's 15 minutes earlier this month, it's main claim to fame was having once been declared the best singles bar in London. According to Crushguide--an A-Z of London's bars for those looking for more than just a good head on their beer--you don't have to be an oarsman on a Viking longboat in order to pull at Nordic. It begins to fill up at the end of the working day and, by dinnertime, it's usually heaving with hormonally charged singletons. "We get a lot of young men coming in because they think they're going to meet beautiful Scandinavian girls," laughs Curtis.

The décor is so cheap and cheerful that a trip to IKEA might be in order, particularly as Nordic is planning to re-launch itself in the next couple of weeks. A few items of modular furniture wouldn't go amis and they'd be in keeping with the Scandinavian theme that dominates the interior, from an old Max von Sydow poster to a moth-eaten reindeer head. Just above my table there was even a small, black-and-white television set playing The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece. This must be the only bar in London in which the phrase "Death on the beach" refers to an image on the in-house entertainment system rather than a cocktail.

Instead of ordering individual items from the a la carte menu, I told the chef to whip up a traditional Scandinavian feast with all the trimmings. Within 10 minutes, the food began flooding out of the kitchen and it didn't let up for over an hour-and-a-half. The dishes included all the mainstays, such as gravadlax, meatballs and deep fried Jarlsberg, as well as some I'd never tried before, such as Pyt y Panna, a Swedish all day breakfast dominated by a couple of fried eggs. The highlight was the pudding, an enormous waffle accompanied by two scoops of vanilla ice cream and liberally sprinkled with Dime Bar shavings. Nothing that was put in front of me was particularly fancy, but it all went down pretty smoothly. If I had to sum it up I'd describe it as "hangover food", which is ironic considering each course was accompanied by a glass of schnapps.

Nordic certainly isn't the smartest Scandinavian restaurant in London. That honour probably belongs to Glas, a Swedish establishment in Borough Market. Nor is it the cheapest--that would be Danks Taste in Croydon. But if you fancy a one-stop shop where you can recover from last night's hangover, get drunk and pull a bird all at the same time, it's highly recommended.

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