Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Speedboat Saunas and Cured Fish at Salt & Sill
What better way to spend a gloriously sunny Sunday with Cowie than to drive for an hour or so up the idyllic West Coast from Gothenburg and enjoy a smorgasbord of pickled fish and a sauna in Sweden's only floating hotel?
Salt & Sill means “salt and herring” in Swedish which is rather appropriate given that Klädesholmen, where the hotel is based, is also known as “herring island”. They've been catching and preserving herring here since the fifteenth century. In fact half of Sweden's pickled herring comes from this island. So if you're going to gorge on pickled herring it makes sense to do it here.
On Sunday they serve a smörgåsbord from lunch time to early evening with an emphasis on the fishy end of the spectrum. Feeling exhausted after an early morning 10km run through a frosty forest, we found ourselves making an indecent number of return visits to the buffet table which saw me eating 12 types of expertly cured fish!
Whilst the hot smoked salmon with a pepper crust and the cold smoked roasted salmon were excellent, it was the mackerel that stole the show. The hot smoked mackerel put the stuff you get in a vacuum pack for a quid to shame. This was robust, flaky, moist and meaty. It was so good in fact that it made three appearances on my plate! The lemon pickled mackerel (far left) with a crumbed coating was very unusual, but delicious. It was like eating honey lemon chicken from a Chinese take away. Except a lot better! The prawns were very good too but let's ignore the dried out mussels that probably aren't the wisest of choices for a buffet lunch.
The cold smoked salmon and gravid lax were both good without being thrilling. But it was the strömming and quenelles of herring, potato, crème fraiche and dill that were the stars of this particular plate. The strömming (Swedish name for pickled herring from the East Coast) had been pickled in lemon and garlic and had a very meaty texture and pleasantly metallic taste. The quenelles were soft, and moreish - like the sort of potato salad that continental Europeans would love and children would gag on at a picnic.
We couldn't have left with our heads held high without trying their award winning pickled herring. I know the thought of pickled herring makes a lot of people feel a bit queasy, but if they just tried these beauties they may well change their minds. Until I moved to Sweden I had no idea that there were so many flavours of pickled herring other than vinegar and dill. We went for the full range from traditional at the top, lemon and garlic at 1 o'clock, roe at 3 o'clock, mustard and whisky at the bottom, lobster at 8ish and blackcurrant at 10 o'clock.
The caviar and crème fraiche cure was deliciously creamy with little bubbles of roe that popped yet more fishiness into your mouth.
The lemon and garlic cure was the most herring-y of the lot and none the worse for it. But any more than two small pieces and you'd start to feel like a seal.
The blackcurrant cure tasted like cassis making it a bit like having a fishy glass of Kir Royale! But our favourite was the mustard and whisky variety which recently won Sweden's best pickled herring award!
Feeling like engorged whales we waddled out to the jetty for some fresh air and a James Bond-esque stint on their sauna boat. Sadly it was moored so we didn't get a chance for a 15 knot sauna and a drink at the bar… but a 20 minute blast at 85'c followed by an icy shower was a fine alternative that left us feeling purged and blissfully relaxed.
As we walked back to the lounge we admired the stylish floating hotel which is the only one of its type in Sweden. Apparently they've built a lobster reef with the rubble generated from the construction and are installing a mussel filtration until underneath the pontoon. It's just another example of how they've managed to balance luxury, their environmental principles and a commitment to the wonderful fruits of this very special stretch of coastline.
We couldn't have had a more quintessentially Swedish experience. 12 types of cured fish, a floating sauna and enough Sven look-a-likes to manage all of England's deluded and cash rich non-Premier league football clubs. If you are keen to visit, then take a look at the special deal that starts in January where you can enjoy a lazy Sunday like we did and stay in the floating hotel (like we didn't) for a reduced rate.
Or if you visit in the summer then we've heard it's fun to cycle around the island on the hotel's complementary bikes. Or better still, pay the Astol Rokeri (smokery) a visit on the island of Astol which can you reach from Ronnang harbour. They have a reputation for serving the finest smoked fish on the West Coast and for looking after their guests like long lost friends. I'm looking forward to it already.
Many thanks to the West Coast of Sweden Tourist Board for laying on this excellent experience.