Scandinavian Kitchen is the UK’s biggest Scandinavian cafe and grocery store with over 600 foodstuffs from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland to choose from, including a firm favourite of mine, Pågen Kanelgifflar.
The cafe has an impressive menu, packed with tempting choices such as hand peeled Scandinavian prawns with egg, mayonnaise and dill on rye bread (I’ve tried this combination and it’s divine!), crispbread with Swedish Västerbotten cheese and soft gingerbread cake with ligonberry vanilla whip. If you happen to be in London, I would make a beeline for Great Titchfield Street, and the building with the bright read front.
I had the pleasure of talking about Scandi food with founder Bronte Aurell, a Dane who founded Scandinavian Kitchen with her Swedish partner Jonas.
~ May the Norse be with you ~ Scandinavian Kitchen
Scandinavian Kitchen opened its doors back in 2007 and I’m curious to know about the developments made in the years since then. Was it the plan from the beginning to have an online shop too, and did you ever imagine you would be the inspirational success story you are today?
We always wanted to be a hub for ex pats as well as Scandphiles. Yes, it was always the idea to have a web shop but the wholesale bit grew organically. In order to grow your markets you have to look at different avenues for revenue. With a stagnant number of ex pats, you have to look to outside and see who else might be interested in Scandinavian food. We found that webshop allowed us to reach across all of the UK and the wholesales sorts the rest.
What sorts of people do you have coming through the doors? Do you have plenty of Nordic regulars? I imagine that there’s plenty of people who travel a fair distance to get their fill of Scandinavian goodies.
It’s so funny: During the week, we have about 85% non Scandies and 15% Scandies. Give or take. During weekends, it is the opposite because Scandies have time to pop by and shop and make the trip in.
In recent years, Scandinavia has seen a wave of new appreciation for its cultural and gastronomic offerings. What do you think is making people go nuts for everything Nordic?
Nordic food is basically healthy, good for you and tasty. If you eat the Nordic way, you can afford a bit of the indulgent stuff at the weekend, too. We balance out the food, I think. The Nordics eat good for you breakfasts, lunch and dinners but never pass on a piece of cake either.
Scandinavia is renowned for healthy living. What is it about the Nordic diet that ticks so many boxes?
Well, look at open sandwiches. There is nowhere to hide any excess mayo or bad stuff. It’s all on show. A slice of seeded rye bread (good for you) with seriously delicious toppings – but there is nowhere for anyone to add unnecessary fillers. It’s got less bread, higher quality meat.
I think these principles go through all our food. It’s wholesome. It isn’t fancy at all, but its wholesome and based on good produce.
When work is done, and you are cooking at home, do you find yourself veering towards Danish food, or do you try and diversify?
I’m married to a Swede. My kids are being brought up Scandinavian so yes, we cook a lot of Scandianvian food at home. Eating the food of their homeland is all part of teaching them about their culture.
But of course we also diversify, like any household would. We are big fans of East Asian cuisine and personally, I am quite into raw food at the moment.
You have over 600 products available in your online store. How do you decide what you are going to stock, and have you ever had trouble in sourcing anything? Which product do you always run out of first?
The days of running out of stuff are (happily) almost over. We have an Operations Manager called Luke who specialises in forecasting. Of course it can happen from time to time, but it is less than it’s ever been.
We can’t stock everything but we tend to look at it like this: If there is a common product available in all 3 countries, we will stock that over the specific country brand. We will stock the one that provides the cheapest option for the customer, too. Sometimes, this means we don’t stock all the brands, but we simply don’t have shelf space. We always listen to suggestions from our customers and we try to re-evaluate our selection quarterly.
Cardamon and cinnamon are buried inside many Scandinavian baked treats. Where do you stand with these popular spices, and why do you think they are both so popular in Scandinavian cooking?
Those spices are such a massive part of Scandinavian baking in general. When I got your question, I tried to find out and the only answers that kept coming up was that we used to get these spices from the spice ships way back when, I suspect via Holland (where cardamom and cinnamon are also used extensively). I love the combination. My cupboard has massive jars of both cardamom pods, cardamom seeds, ground cardamom… Cinnamon bark, finer cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon. I also have about 50 vanilla pods, I have vanilla sugar and pod extract. Those are my favourite spices by far.
What is it like being a working Scandinavian Mum in London?
It’s tough. We had our first daughter, Astrid, on the day we opened the shop back in 2007. I haven’t taken any maternity leave to speak of, which I absolutely do not advocate to anyone. But we’ve made it work and we’re managed to do it on our own terms. I can work with a baby on my arm. I haven’t missed a first step, I haven’t missed being there when they’ve had chicken pox – but it’s been really, really hard to balance it out. Now my daughters are 5 and 7 and from April this year, I’ve decided to go part time for a while so I can be home more.
On the other hand, having a business with your partner means that we’ve been able to be parents together. We’ve both been there for the girls. This is how we wanted to raise our family: Together. How very Scandinavian, huh?
Bread has a special culture of its own in Scandinavia, and it would seem you celebrate great loaves at Scandinavian Kitchen. What are your favoured breads, and what are your thoughts on Scandinavia’s love for bread that is dark and dense?
My favourite loaf? You’re asking a Dane? It has to be dark, seeded rye bread. I love it. It’s so very good for you and its one of the most delicious things to eat. It also lasts for a week or longer once you bake it.
What are your favourite things to do with reindeer meat, and what has been the reaction to you stocking it in store? Are first timers a bit anxious before they buy?
Funny you should ask. Nobody has reacted badly to reindeer meat. It is similar to venison, which is very popular here so I think people don’t feel different about it.
I prefer shredded reindeer with chanterelles mushrooms and cream.
Do you find that running Scandinavian Kitchen helps you with homesickness?
Yes. Food is a great remedy for homesickness.
I imagine that your day running Scandinavian Kitchen can be pretty long! What do you like to eat throughout the day to keep your energy levels up?
I’m an avid marathon runner so my answer is probably not typical. I eat a lot of food because I expend a lot of energy running back and forth. Porridge in the mornings, berries for snacks, rye bread for lunch with lots of good proteins and fats on top. A normal dinner. More berries for snacks. Seeds and nuts. Currently training for the Paris Marathon in April.
One of Scandinavian Kitchen’s specialities is open faced sandwiches. What, in your is your opinion, makes this meal so special, and how would you recommend packing an open faced sandwich, seen as though they’re slightly more fragile than the usual ‘slap another slice on top’ sandwich?
Do you mean packing to bring on a packed lunch? That’s tricky. Its hard to do. Firstly, they are best eaten as soon as they have been prepared, but if you are going to take it with you, then add the main topping but bring the decorations along on the side and finish them just before eating.
Scandinavians have a deep affiliation for liquorice, especially, it would seem, the salty variety. Do you sell a lot of it, and is liquorice something you personally enjoy?
We love it. It’s amazing. We have a thing for not just liquorice, but for salty flavours which comes from our food heritage of salting and curing. Yes, we sell a lot of it – so very much of it. I always choose liquorice over chocolate.
What is the basis for your book?
It’s called ScandiKitchen Cookbook. It’s a book about the food we make in the café and some easy Scandinavian recipes for you try at home for simple dinners. It is, in essence, us: Simple and no fuss!
~ ScandiKitchen Cookbook is available to buy now.
~ Visit the Scandinavian Kitchen Website