For those of us who were raised on The Muppets, the prospect of a Swedish chef hardly bears thinking about. But Hemlagat, in the centre of the city, is an oasis of Scandinavian order and calm that is worth checking into.
Open for about a year, Hemlagat (which means “home-cooked” in Swedish) focuses on classic Northern European fare like pork, salmon and potatoes. Lots of potatoes. If you have a potato fetish, this will be your sort of Swedish porn. If you are a potater hater, well, you might want to give this place a miss.
I headed down over the weekend with some friends to review the restaurant for an upcoming issue of Groove Magazine (I’ll come back and put a link in here when it’s published). We were greeted with a complementary glass of schnapps, which gave us enough courage to attempt pronouncing the names of the dishes we were ordering. We started with a plate of appetizers mysteriously titled Avsmakningsmeny, which turned out to mean a plate of fish, prawns, eggs and some gorgeous brown bread, as well as a house salad that comes as accompaniment to all main courses.
I got the splendidly named Äpplefläsk – pork belly with caraway seeds, caramelised apples and mashed potatoes. I couldn’t help thinking that I could have made it myself at home for about quarter of the price, and the thinly-cut pork – essentially samgyeopsal meat – wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for. It was a decent plate of food, but a bit meh.
My friends had ordered more wisely (ie luckily). No Swedish meal would be complete without meatballs, and these Köttbullar (I love these names) were good examples of the type. Served with more mash and a tart lingonberry jam, it was like being in IKEA without the hordes of glum couples and endless lines. I’d definitely have these again.
Sweden not being renowned for its vineyards, the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc we ordered to wash it down was all the way from Mendoza in Argentina, but there are a number of Scandinavian beers available, such as Evil Twin and Mikkeller beers, as well as my personal favourite, Sommersby cider, which would go really well with some of these dishes – try it, if you haven’t before.
There’s also a couple of dozen kinds of schnapps which you can try as shots or in a pitcher. Service was extremely friendly and personal and the ambience inside the ground-floor restaurant space is warm and classy without being pretentious.
Hemlagat definitely veers towards the more expensive side of the ledger – mains run between 28 – 35,000 won apiece, and the total bill with appetiser and wine was fairly steep. There is a brunch menu with a good range of sandwiches and breakfasts at suitably cheaper prices, though, and an executive lunch choice for under 10,000 won.
My fellow diners and I departed full but happy, but they remarked that the food was pretty heavy with all its meat, creamy sauces and, of course, all those potatoes. As a Northern European for whom a huge plate of meat and tatties is pretty much my idea of a perfect Saturday night, I didn’t quite share their point of view, but I can see how Scandinavian dishes might be better suited to the long Korean winter rather than a balmy night in August.
With that in mind, I plan to come back for more makrilltalrik, gubbröra and Skagenröra when the mercury dips a bit, so that I can store up calories for my long hibernation and wake up in 2016 ready to hit the ground running. If you’re looking for something a bit different, then – as ABBA almost said – take a chance on Hemlagat.
- Category: Scandinavian
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Skånska Revben (slow-cooked pork chops)
- Subway: Hoehyeon (회현역) exit 1.
- Directions: Come out of exit 1 and walk down the side street past Pomato, heading directly towards the Namsan tower, which you should be able to see if you’re on the right track. After a couple of minutes you’ll come to the Lotte Castle apartment towers on your left. Keep walking round to the left. Hemlagat is on the far side, facing Namsan and the cable car station, on the ground floor near the entrance to one of the towers. Search for Hemlagat on Google Maps for a better fix on exactly where it is.
- Hours: 11:30am-2:30 and 5:30-9:30pm, every day except Monday when they’re closed. For further details, check out their website.