Rebecca Fortey works her way around chef Niklas Ekstedt’s seasonal menu, embracing hay-smoked flavours, encountering envy but avoiding death
Midsummer, when Swedes flee town for the islands of the archipelago, to paddle and picnic in the endless sunlight. You’ve got to admire Nicklas Ekstedt’s chutzpah, then, laying on a midsummer tasting menu in the basement of London’s Scotland Yard Hotel: a handsome but solid red brick townhouse where a sunbeam wouldn’t show its face for fear of getting itself arrested. Yet more chutzpah points for doing this when your ‘New Nordic’ chef is celebrated for cooking on open fire. Luring people to dine next to a range of furnaces at the hottest time of the year is no mean feat.
Scotland Yard Hotel: a handsome but solid red brick townhouse where a sunbeam wouldn’t show its face for fear of getting itself arrested
In fact, The Yard restaurant, festooned with dried herbs to remind people that the great outdoors does still exist, is very pleasant, and notwithstanding an occasional smell-burst from the sizzling cheese-and-herring speciality called SMOR, I was looking forward to six-courses of summer treats. Unfortunately, it transpired that the message about my potentially fatal dairy allergy hadn’t reached the kitchen, and that menu would not, after all, be available. The good news was that they were able to adapt, relying more heavily on a la carte and vegan options. My companion would fill me in on all things Midsummer.
Of the starter snacks, the glossy herring and mackerel and the smoked mussel were all good, but it was a little pickled mushroom with lively horseradish and the Jerusalem artichoke three ways that stood out: the sheer extent of the transformation from lumpy root veg to delicate tuille was particularly pleasing. Surprising, too, was the delicacy of the celebrated oyster flambadou, given its baptism in beef and fire.
A fresh green-vegetable taco, cooked on a little sizzling dish at the table, was followed by a return appearance from the Jerusalem artichoke, proving it’s got what it takes for a starring role: it turns out that there is nothing better to melt into an unctuous heap with Ekstedt’s magical smokey green oil. Seb, with his on-menu and more conventional hay-smoked beef tartar, eyed my plate enviously.
After a hunk of warm, fluffy bread with more of that oil (I could eat this all day) out came a tender hay-smoked rib-eye for me, and the smoked trout for Seb – who said this dish was most like something he’d knock up at home – perhaps a little less of the Michelin-starred alchemy there.
Each course was accompanied by excellent, varied and un-snobby wines that worked for the lighter summer feel, from a Portuguese Alvarinho through Hungarian Furmint to a German Spätburgunder, all recommended.
We had two pudding courses to end, and I would have been satisfied to have left on the first: though dubbed a “palette cleanser” the sorrel sorbet with woodruff mousse had a zingy lightness that perfectly captured the brightness of big-sky countryside.
But there was more! After meringue and a wild blueberry tart came coffee with handmade treats – truffles, candied parsnip, etc. – served up in a secret bar behind a heavy escape-proof-style door emblazoned with Her Majesty’s coat of arms, lending a kind of luxury incarceration vibe. Very full, and with a whiskey cocktail in hand, we toasted vaguely “to Midsummer”, wondering if when we emerged, it might be autumn after all. C
Ekstedt at The Yard, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, SW1A 2HN
0207-925 4749; ekstedtattheyard.com