We head to Stedsans in the Woods, a restaurant in the forest with cabins and a floating sauna on Lake Halla (a two hour drive from Gothenburg and a few hours drive from Copenhagen). Read our review and find out the plans to expand Stedsans In The Woods…
Stedsans In The Woods is an ongoing project from Mette Helbæk and Flemming Hansen, who recently sold their Copenhagen home and rooftop restaurant, Stedsans ØsterGRO, and moved their family just across the water to a seven-hectare plot of forest next to Lake Halla in West Sweden.
The focus of Stedsans ØsterGRO was to make guests happy through sharing food and bring them closer to nature through the use of fresh ingredients and simple cooking. The couple have taken this idea to the next level at Stedsans in the Woods, where they have succeeded in creating an idyllic, food-centred experience, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Arriving at Stedsans in the Woods, we highly recommend setting aside an hour or so to soak up the surroundings and get into the tranquil way of life before dinner. Read a book beneath the trees on the boathouse bench, take the floating sauna (lit with iconic Solstickan matches, used by the Swedes since 1936) on a little adventure to the middle of the lake, or search for the best spot in the house – a sun-soaked rock beyond the trees at the water’s edge, with a view that inspired the Stedsans in the Woods logo, a little illustration of trees reflected in the water (ask Flemming how to find it!).
The field-to-fork approach at Stedsans in the Woods
Stedsans means “a sense of location” in Danish, and here you truly get a feel for your surroundings – guests eat and sleep in tents under the stars, drift in the lake inside the floating sauna, and pluck ingredients from the wild to create daily-changing menus that cherish the best of what is available where you are at that precise moment.
Whenever they get the opportunity, Mette and Flemming utilise what nature has already provided – the forest floor is carpeted with blueberry plants, wild flowers and rock piles covered in edible moss. Ingredients are plucked from this fairytale floor hours, if not minutes, before being served in vibrant dishes. Take the forest flower salad, for example – a stunning plate of freshly picked leaves, carefully assembled by chef Caarl Kindblom’s intricately tattooed hands. Sweet broccoli-like kale flowers, nutty white rucula flowers and tiny yellow dill flowers (these have the fragrance of Szechuan peppercorns), are dressed in a subtle elderflower syrup and vinegar with crisp toasted buckwheat.
If you have time before dinner, ask Flemming if you can join him on a foraging expedition. Venturing deep into the forest, we were rewarded with gigantic ceps (and also the discovery of a secluded lake down the other side of a wooded bank). Only an hour or so later, the mushrooms were sautéed in butter with tarragon and a sprinkle of aged Parmesan and served for dinner, true field to fork style.
A small permaculture farm provides chefs with other ingredients – the fruitful garden is a patch of carefully organised chaos, with bergamot flowers growing alongside grassy goosefoot, and sorrel climbing next to medicinal plants. There’s an impressively intricate “insect hotel” (this helps to provide piney, flowery honey), and a pen that’s home to chickens and linderöds pigs, a breed that’s half wild boar, half tame and has been brought back from the verge of extinction.
Preparation of dishes at Stesans in the Woods is minimal, to let the ingredients shine. There’s no fancy equipment (not even a blender) in the “yell-free” open-to-the-wild kitchen. Instead, chefs roast meats over an open fire, crush pastes in a pestle and mortar and heat water over a stove.
Dinner at Stedsans in the Woods
The chefs’ simple cooking techniques create bright and balanced dishes which guests enjoy in an ethereal tent in the middle of the forest. The whole evening is about sharing. Guests sit round long tables on animal skins; passing plates down the table, pouring each other wine and dishing out large platters of food to neighbours.
On our visit, as well as the forest flower salad and sautéed ceps, Flemming and Caarl served a medley of garden kale and cabbage caramelised in brown butter with fresh figs and toasted hazelnuts. Dinners are mostly vegetarian, as the team want to showcase the flora of the woods and mother nature to guests, but there is always at least one meat course. This might be anything from fresh lake fish to moose (a speciality of the region). We tried veal heart, cooked pink with thyme, onions and oregano, a rich and gamey dish.
The cheese course was also kept local, with a creamy blue from 45 minutes away on the West Coast, and homemade rye bread ground on a stone in the camp. Finally, Mette and Flemming dedicated dessert to their 83-year old neighbour, who has spent every Christmas of his life in the same house. He’s so thrilled that Stedsans in the Woods has breathed life back into the little Swedish hamlet that he’s happy to regularly provide fruits from his garden. We enjoyed yellow plums on a cream, yogurt and forest honey base with broken pieces of wild cacao bean chocolate and caramelised brittle-like clusters of homemade marzipan and nuts.
Each course was thoughtfully paired with a wine (or non-alcoholic alternatives such as sage tea, elderflower cordial and woodruff syrup). We tried delicate Pouilly-Fumé, complex orange wine grown on malvasia vines in southern Italy, and a sweet wild cacao drink to complement the cheese.
After dinner, it was down to the boathouse to share stories with more free flowing wine around the campfire. With blankets and fur rugs to snuggle up in, the smell of wood burning and the stillness of the lake, this was a moment of hygge if ever we have experienced one.
Future plans for Stedsans in the Woods
At the moment guests are accommodated in bedouin tents, complete with sturdy wooden floors, cosy blankets and glowing lanterns. By May 2018, however, smart glass-fronted wooden cabins will be dotted amongst the trees and round the lake, adding to the idyllic cabin vibes that the floating sauna already provides.
The team also has exciting plans to create an innovative “third space” that will be neither outdoors or indoors. A greenhouse will be built directly onto the forest floor so as to provide a natural carpet, and trees will grow up through the atrium-like building, while natural sunlight and the stove will provide heating.
In order to ensure that guests completely relax, a wild spa will be constructed on moveable platforms beside the lake. Mette’s homemade scrubs and oils, a yoga platform and a sawdust sauna will all contribute to creating a luxurious wellbeing centre that is in harmony with its natural surroundings.
With such a tranquil, unique spot and a sincere commitment to bringing guests closer to nature, these plans only promise to make Stedsans in the Woods more magical than ever. We can’t wait to return.
For more information visit stedsans.org
Travel information: visitsweden.com
Photographs and words by Alex Crossley