Lunch at K-Märkt:
Sometimes referred to as Stockholm’s ugliest building, yet equally often talked about as a prime example of the architectural and structuralist urban planning movement, Garnisonen in Östermalm is the subject of a love-hate relationship for many Stockholmers. Taking up a whole block, the building was built in several phases – the most talked-about section being the 300-meter long 1972 concrete façade facing Karlavägen, designed by architect Tage Hertzell. As of earlier this year, it is also the atypical stomping ground for acclaimed culinary trio of chef Johan Gottberg, wine connoisseur Jens Dolk and pastry cook Daniel Roos.
For a first-time visitor like me, entering Garnisonen at noon is like stepping into a train station at rush hour. Information boards with the names of the 250 companies that do business in the building line the wide lobby, which, with it’s reception area, restaurants, office supply depot and convenience store, feels like a self-contained business universe. The congestion in the office building and the nearby subway station was, even back in 1972, so severe that it was the reason for flexitime being introduced in Sweden for the very first time.
With no clear indication of where K-Märkt, the restaurant with a name that can be translated as ‘listed’ (as in ‘listed building’), is located, I follow the crowd. A string of people with blood sugar blues follow the colour-coded passages down past a glassed-in fridge with large beef carcasses on hooks and a bakery where bakers are dividing dough into equal chunks. In a gigantic, 1,800 square metre large canteen that opens up to the building’s courtyard, a substantial queue has already started to form at a 100 meter long marble buffet counter.
I’ll happily admit it right away – I am not a fan of buffets and I usually avoid canteens like the plague. There is just too much of a school, hospital or public institution-vibe over the idea of sharing a tray-meal with several hundred unfamiliar people. Or perhaps I’ve just seen a bit too much of the antics that go on in the prison canteen on Orange Is the New Black. But where food is concerned, I’ll try anything once.
Some 15 dishes are set out for the choosing and a large number of staff behind the counter sees to it that plates never empty out and that the guest’s dietary queries are met. The emphasis clearly lies on vegetables, as the chicken – slightly dry – the fish – slightly uninspired – and the meatloaf – a very pleasant surprise, are the last three dishes of the lot. Where the protein on the whole lacks lustre, the many creative salads, vegetable dishes and sides make up for it, as they truly shine. Roasted round carrots, roasted purple cabbage with port wine raisins, emmer wheat with cauliflower and almonds and a truffle pasta are examples of dishes that are sure to bring K-Märkt’s buffet far from the regular scoop-and-serve cafeteria. Dishes are seasonal and the menu changes on a day-to-day basis. At a second station, the food is weighed and paid for by the hectogram (25 kronor per hectogram). A nice addition to my Friday lunch visit is the possibility of ordering a glass of house red, white or rosé (50 kronor) to kick of the weekend.
K-Märkt balances on a fine line between being a glorified canteen and a lunch restaurant worth the trip. On the one hand, they’ve got some tasty dishes prepared using amazing produce. On the other hand, the place has to fight the mundane feeling of being a tray lunch among the masses. Call it agoraphobia, but it is not until the initial rush clears and a sense of post-lunch calm sets in over the large dining room that I start feeling at ease.
As I pick up my organic coffee, which is included in the price of the buffet and served in specially-designed K-Märkt cups, I can’t resist taking a peek in pastry chef Roos’ corner. After six years as head pastry chef at Operakällaren as well as the My Table project, where six guests are invited to his home for a dessert tasting menu, he calls himself a pastry designer. By the look of the small sugary pieces of art inside the display case, there is clearly no need to question this claim. An oblong raspberry cheesecake (35 kronor), a hazelnut and chocolate pastry (35 kronor), a chocolate mousse and crème brûlée flan (35 kronor), a milk chocolate and caramel tartlet (20 kronor) and K-Märkt’s signature bonbons (20 kronor each) – in the colours red, green, blue and yellow, as an homage to artist Gösta Wallmark’s colour-coding of Garnisonen – just happen to land on a second tray. It is quickly transported back to my table, where I set up a mini dessert testing of my own. And that is not something you’ll ever be able to do in a regular staff canteen.
Garnisonen, Karlavägen 100
08 466 88 90