Troy Hightower


A grey Monday morning we exit Copenhagen by taxi through the four kilometer underwater Drogden Tunnel and emerge to cross the eight kilometer Øresund Bridge to Malmö, Sweden, a city we’ve been interested in seeing for some while.

We pass by several lush parks on the way into the center, riotously in bloom with azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods and more. The Duxiana Hotel is our destination, right in the midst of Gamla Staden, the old city surrounded by canal. Owned by the eponymous bed company, the “DUX” has only 21 rooms, and was converted from a former apartment building. It’s a design style hotel, and of course Duxiana makes all the furnishings and bed. There are comfortable seating areas in the lobby, and a breakfast/lunch restaurant to the side.

Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden, and the commercial center for the west of the country is slit by harbors and threaded with canals. We had heard and read about Malmö as an interesting short-stay destination for a bit of sightseeing, culture and food. We set out to explore for the afternoon, heading down our street toward Lilla Torg, a picturesque square surrounded by historic 17th century Swedish buildings, mostly fronted by cafés and restaurants. 

At the bottom of the square the Form/Design Center is set in a 17th century granary store, in Herman’s courtyard.  It’s sort of an exhibition space for contemporary Swedish design, but unfortunately both exhibition floors are undergoing installations. The third floor holds an interesting shop filled with Swedish design, and sort of functions as a bit of a design museum in itself.

We wander the Gamla Staden, much of which is still cobbled, and pedestrian only. Stortorget is the main square and location of the Radhus, or city hall, and the statue of Karl X Gustav. At the corner is a beautifully preserved apothecary shop, built in 1896, conserved, but used as a modern pharmacy. From the square we head down Södergatan, the primary shopping street, past an interesting bronze street sculpture by Yngve Lundell called The Optimist Orchestra. After window shopping a while, we ease into a shop called Osthuset, where the aroma of multiple cheeses is to the nose what an orchestra tuning is to the ears. We learn a bit about Swedish cheeses, and choose a slice of Präst ost, a nutty firm cow’s milk cheese, and a loaf of dense rye and a jar of quince confiture as a lunch picnic back in the Dux. On the way back, we peek our noses into an interesting looking restaurant called the Bastard, and ask about a reservation, but they are fully booked. “But all the bar seats are first comewe’re told.

That evening, we head to Bastard — a block from the hotel, and according to the White Guide Nordic, the best restaurant in town. Lively place....big zinc bar in the center… lots of beer and cocktail action, and we’re lucky to find two bar seats from which to enjoy a fantastic meal.

There is a short but interesting craft cocktail list, from which we choose La Prima Vera—tequila, mezcal, orange, rosemary and’s tart and tasty. The Smokin’ Isle—Peaty Islay scotch, falernum, Amaro, limes and quite spicy and smoky.

The menu is eclectic—a steel pig hangs from the restaurant sign, so that says something. There are olives, sardines (served right in the tin), charcuterie and oysters to start. And out-of-the-ordinary things like grilled beef heart, pig-head cheese and rabbit rillettes. We begin with a half Bastardplanka, which is laden with prosciutto, finnochiona, chorizo and capocolla, just sliced on the Ferrari-red hand-crank Italian slicer. There is also rillettes, pig head-cheese and pate, all made in house. The overflowing board is accompanied by a basket of excellent crusty levain bread which is baked daily in the outdoor pizza oven.

Baby gem salad is spicy with Umbraico Rosso cheese (an Italian cheese which is immersed for a couple of months in red wine), garlic, walnuts, and white anchovies. Deep fried rabbit with sauce gribiche, and Rödkulla beef tartare with pistachios and green olives are both appealing, but we go simple with a wood oven pizza....delicious, but in need of a couple more minutes crisping in the oven.

I inquire about an interesting looking row of barely labeled flasks of clear spirit, and learn that they are the Empirical Spirits, made by two alumni of the famous Copenhagen restaurant NOMA.....very special stuff I’m told, and we vow to return the next day for a tasting of all.

The next morning is another foggy, breezy, gray day, as we set out for more points of interest...first stop, Sankt Petri Kirke—the oldest building in Malmö, dating to the 1300s. A grand brick exterior, and simple but imposing white interior, it’s a delightful church. We are lucky enough to happen upon a piano and string bass duo practicing a Mozart cantata.

Then down Södergatan again, into the state liquor store to try and find a special bottle of eau de vie for a friend, and thence into Per Weijersgaten where we stumble upon Jonah P.—which we’ve read is the best seafood restaurant in town. There’s a table available...lunch is decided. White interiors, bentwood furniture, white tile floors, a huge fresh fish case....the place feels very turn of a distant century. There are several daily hot specials scrawled on the hanging chalkboard—grilled turbot, pan-fried sole, casserole of mussels and whole lobster. In addition, there are close to a dozen always-available cold dishes. Troy elects, naturally, a half lobster with mayonnaise. I vacilate back and forth between gravad lax and fjord shrimp, and ultimately choose a half-order of each. The salt/sugar/dill cured salmon is among the best I’ve ever eaten, and the fjord shrimp incredibly fresh, in a creamy dill sauce atop mixed greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. Perrier Jouet champagne and Picpul de Penedes pair the meal perfectly, and Malmö-produced Akvit rounds it out.

After some discussion in the Duxiana showroom about needed upgrades for our ten-year old Dux bed, we head to Malmöhus Slott, as the castle sited upon an island in the middle of town is known. As we turn into the castle grounds, we have a fleeting glimpse of the unusual twisting office tower designed by Santiago Calatrava, known as the Turning Torso, disappearing into the fog to the north. Crossing the wooden bridge over the moat leading to the entrance, we look down to see a mating pair of swans and their seven gray, yellow beaked cygnets placidly feeding in the water. Malmöhus Slott is a combination historic castle originally dating to the 1400s, reconstructed to a Renaissance Palace in the 16th century, and Malmö’s city art museum. The king’s chambers on the top floor give a view into royal life at the time. Behind the castle and the moat lies the Slottsträdgården, which contains a kitchen garden and orchard, rose garden and perennial gardens and a Japanese garden. Malmö is really a very floristic town.



For dinner we decide to see if we can get lucky at the Bastard again...and we do. Two bar seats, within a couple of minutes....the staff seems surprised—and happy to see us again. We tell Sean the bartender that the reason is primarily to do the Empirical Spirits comparison.....and oh by the way, to have some delicious food. So he lines them up, 2cl of each spirit in small chimney tasting glasses—he doesn’t deem there to be necessarily a proper order—and we proceed through a fascinating tasting.

Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen started the distillery in a former shipyard in Copenhagen. These are the guys who were in charge of fermentation and foraging at NOMA, and when the restaurant was temporarily shut down to relocate, they struck out on their own. They created a low-temperature, high-pressure vacuum still, which allows the alcohol to evaporate at cooler temperatures, enabling the retention of subtle flavors and aromas that would otherwise be heated away in a normal higher-heat distillation.

We elect to taste these "blind"-- providing our own impressions before reading the lables. Left-most in the lineup is called Fallen Pony—completely clear...nose of...cherry, maybe?  A bit of spice? Cherry or some sort of fruit carries through into the taste, as well as a bit of something herbal. Incredibly smooth, round, no heat at all. It's actually a double-fermented quince-tea spirit according to the label. Sure ‘an I’d buy this stuff! Apparently each new release sells out almost instantaneously. 

Next is the one we sampled last night, which gave us such laughs. It’s their newest offering titled “Fuck Trump and his Stupid Fucking Wall.” It’s based on Habanero pepper, and you can smell it as soon as the bottle is uncorked. Not hot in the mouth at all, no kick but a bit acid, which becomes clear from the distiller’s description:  a refreshingly smooth, warm  tasting habanero spirit made from a base of naked and pearled barley, saison yeast, and koji. A habanero vinegar  is added that brings it down to 27% alchohol that imparts a fruity habanero profile without any of the heat.

Third in line is Helena, again a crystal clear spirit. No fruit or botanicals in the nose, but just a warm, smooth, round, unctuous, long lasting sensation in the mouth. The closest thing I could compare it to is an ultra premium grappa. The official line: a double fermented clear spirit with subtle nutty aromas and a delicate  sweet, umami and floral note.

The only colored spirit, a slight chestnut hue, is called Charlene McGee. Definitely a smoky nose, but not in the sense of peat-smoked’s an herbal smoke, with a bit of spice, and I know there must be juniper in it. It’s delightful, and would be enjoyed by anyone that likes a peaty scotch. The label description includes: a  spirit  in which juniper berries are smoked with their own wood, lightly crushed, macerated, and gently distilled at low temperatures to preserve the fruity, vibrant integrity of the botanical and the smoky flavor profile. The final blend is matured in Oloroso casks to impart a faintly sweet hint of woodiness. 

What an experience. And we didn't do badly in our "blind" descriptions. Our dread-locked Jamaican waiter friend from the night before is off duty tonight but having a glass at the end of the bar, and gives us thumbs up when he sees what we are up to. When we’ve sipped each once, he announces his favorites—Fallen Pony and Helena, for sure!

Food? Oh yeah we need to get some dinner. Another half bastardplanka, with that great crusty bread, the asparagus with duck egg and cured Mangalica ham and a couple of glasses of Provence rose. What a great way to end a quick exploration of an interesting Swedish seaside town.