We make for the shoreline of the Baltic in Stockholm, where Tommy Myllymäki opened Aira earlier this year. In a berth in a boathouse-style structure, this restaurant serves haute cuisine without starchy service or New Nordic strictures. This isn’t a spot for a forgettable lunch; it’s a fresh take on destination dining.
A journey by car from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to Aira, a new restaurant on the island of Djurgården, takes about 40 minutes but it feels like a trip back in time. The modern airport gives way to smooth highway that passes an industrial estate and a ferry terminal. A few turns and you see the Kaknästornet TV tower built in 1967 by Bengt Lindroos – we’re getting close. From here the city peters out and we’re among green fields, the odd deer and the palaces and stately homes of this leafy former royal hunting ground. Then, at last, we spot a hint of modernity at the end of a winding path.
We arrive at a small clearing lapped by the Baltic that has views out to the Swedish archipelago. As monocle pulls up, there are a handful of builders milling around, applying the final touches to the wooden veranda of a striking steel-and-concrete structure. The weather is fresh but the atmosphere within is now beginning to simmer ahead of chef Tommy Myllymäki’s first lunch service.
The southern entrance leads to a double- height anteroom with a wood-panelled ceiling, illuminated by a vast skylight and two custom-made chandeliers that look as much like squiggles in a notebook as lamps. A beautiful brass, marble and cherry-wood service station splits the main space into two 24-cover dining rooms; one facing the sea and the other a copse of trees. The room branches out into an open kitchen where what seem to be battalions of chefs are chopping, plating and styling the small dishes dreamt up by Myllymäki. A large, well-drilled service team overseen by general manager Cathrine Everts presents the results to expectant diners.
The room branches out into an open kitchen where what seems to be battalions of chefs are chopping, plating and styling the small plates dreamt up by Myllymäki
As head creative director at the Svenska Brasserier group (with several appearances and plaudits in the Bocuse d’Or cooking competition), Myllymäki’s reputation is great and growing – and he knows how to run a kitchen as well as plate a dish. Today’s diners include fellow chefs from the city’s top tables and its starriest restaurants – all apparently genial and supportive, despite the new competition in town – and Myllymäki’s demeanour is as carefully measured as the dishes the kitchen is turning out.
Unlike many successful Nordic chefs, Myllymäki draws on international influences, techniques and produce, not to mention being open to suggestions from his team. Picking out high points on the menu is tough but the charcoal-grilled king-crab leg, herbs (cooked on an open fire) and crispy chicken skin show the young chef’s dexterousness with ingredients as well as the ambition of his plates. The same can be said of the oysters and mussels with citrus and spring herbs. Then there’s the halibut with kohlrabi, cured in the Peruvian style with acidic fruit juice – here Swedish gooseberries take the place of limes.
Just like the food, the setting creates a sense of place and occasion without a feeling of the point being laboured –but maybe don’t come for a quick, informal nibble
Architect Jonas Bohlin’s modern riff on a boathouse is designed to pique the interest of diners and stimulate their senses as much as the multi-course tasting menu. The more time that you spend in Aira (a Swedish name), the more you realise how little has been left to chance here. There’s the theatre of the open flames and precise cooking in the Myllymäki-designed kitchen; the private dining space overlooking the restaurant floor; even the way that the gauzy curtains by the southern entrance hint at the look of trawlers’ nets or tangled seaweed. Then there’s the subtle soundtrack: a bespoke experimental composition by Swedish producer Rudolf “Mr Tophat” Nordström.
Just like the food, the setting creates a sense of place and occasion without a feeling of the point being laboured – but maybe don’t come here for a quick, informal nibble. More impressive still, the whole space and hubbub create an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality rather than grandiosity and stiffness. Although claiming that Myllymäki enjoyed the restaurant’s first lunch service would be stretching the truth, saying that his guests had enjoyed it would be an understatement.
Biskopsvägen 9, 115 21 Stockholm
Images: Felix Odell