Verandan – the Veranda – is the new fine-dining restaurant at Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi. The food here takes you on a 12-course, exciting and flavourful trip, all overseen by the charismatic chef Alexander Meier.

Wordsworth wrote: “The child is father of the man”. Think about it next time you go for a meal: which child raised your taste buds? In my case it’s quite simple. I grew up in a large family in the middle of the Swedish forest where everything apart from flour and beer came from our own land or the forest.

My taste buds were shaped by swede and almond potato, smoked perch, meat from elk, reindeer and calves. From the end of May until October we ate fresh fish. Caught on a rod or in a net, ending up on my plate that very day, or the next. Now that I’m older and more modern, living in the city, I think that’s what I miss most of all. The clean flavours. The proper ingredients. That’s part of me when I go out for a meal. The taste of boiled, fresh grayling and fingers stained by blueberries. That’s who I am, shaped by the child I once was.

We go to Verandan at Icehotel, the new restaurant that’s just been opened by the hotel’s charismatic head chef Alexander Meier. Alexander himself comes to welcome us as we enter. He kindly asks us what size shoes we wear and as I tell him a pair of slippers appear.

“This should be like entering into a Swedish home. You know, we always take our shoes off inside a home.”

“But it’s a bit better than a Swedish home. At least you’re provided with slippers here”, says Alex with a laugh. I wait for my dinner companion and then we slip in together.

The restaurant consists of a large u-shaped bar desk around the kitchen where the chef and sommelier work. Guests are sat in comfortable chairs around the bar desk, watching the chefs work their way through the evening’s great food experience. Before Icehotel, Alexander worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants in his home country Switzerland. Something he brought to Jukkasjärvi, of course. But with Verandan he wanted to create a homely meeting place where the chefs’ workplace – the kitchen – is the heart, but where the guests’ experiences and conversations contribute to the foundation of this evening’s food experience. No wonder. The name Jukkasjärvi means “meeting place”.

Verandan invites us on a 12-course food experience, and it’s mainly a regionally produced trip through the Arctic landscape. Before it all begins we have some grilled reindeer sausage and some bubbly. Champagne and reindeer turns out to be an excellent combination. It’s a taste sensation and an excuse to toast the nearest neighbour. Bubbles break the ice, that’s a fact. Classic Kalix vendace roe is followed by a whitefish tapas with chimichurri that somehow lingers in my memory. Normally chimichurri is served dried as part of the dressing with a proper Argentinian asado. Here the South American chilli comes from Ecuador, and it’s fresh. The taste and the context gives you a feeling of spring vegetable more than barbecue spice.

Terroir, the classic word in the world of wine is true for most other things related to life and food. The earth shapes the tastes provided by the landscape. This part of the world, Swedish Lapland, the Arctic part of Sweden, was sculptured by ice and the Ice Age. Even today the ice-covered Torne River changes the landscape every time the ice breaks. The mountain range Skanderna might be old, but the landscape is brand new. There’s a thin layer of earth on top of the mountains. If you compare it to the Po Valley in Italy where the earth lies metre deep and gives its terroir, it’s more about centimetres in Swedish Lapland. Our terroir is a lot wilder. From lingonberries to reindeer meat, from almond potatoes to elk, it’s all flavoured by earth clinging to the mountain sides. A hunter knows that a grouse caught early in the season tastes completely different to one caught later in the year. A crop filled with blueberries or a crop filled with frozen birch shoots are two different worlds in your mouth.

Alexander Meier is really a rascal who grew up. His childhood shaped taste buds from the streets of Geneva. He says he was “into all kinds of stuff, you know, graffiti and such”. One day the police got involved, but being young he was sent to a restaurant to wash dishes. He fell in love with the kitchen, completely.

“They called it punishment. To me it was coming home. No punishment at all. I wanted to work all the time.”

But things were quite strict in Switzerland in those days, if you could study, you should study. Alexander had good grades. His dad, an engineer, wanted him to continue on to further education and then to university. Alexander studied, but all he dreamt of was a kitchen. So he never went on to university, or an engineering degree. Instead he went on to restaurant kitchens and the entire world. He’s lived and worked in many places worldwide. That’s why the food at Verandan is based on Arctic produce, but with a global finesse.

“I used to love travelling. Work hard, then just leave. Now I work hard, but when I have time off I spend it with my kids. You know, you grow up.”

So instead of the streets of Geneva his children’s taste buds will be shaped by Jukkasjärvi and a chef’s love of all the spice the world has to offer.

Arctic char, caviar and kohlrabi.

One dish is replaced by the next at a convenient pace. Vendace roe, followed by the whitefish I mentioned, followed by Arctic char, king crab and a scallop. The child who raised this man learnt early on that small portions are for non-active individuals. Even if I’m a lot less active than the child who once grew up in the countryside and traipsed after a grandmother to the potato field, the smokehouse and the turkeys, I still want my portions big. They are a bit small, that’s what I think about the first five dishes. Then something happens. The marrow bone with a reindeer and shiitake broth, is very filling. But it’s large as far as flavours go as well. This might be the most classic Sami dish of all – a reindeer stew – given a more nuanced touch. In a classic Sami stew you use part of the reindeer’s back and break it up a little, allowing the boiling water to access bone, marrow and fat. That’s the only spice, the meat of the reindeer with water and salt. This marrow bone comes with a refined broth made from reindeer and fresh shiitake mushrooms from the mine in Kiruna.

Ptarmigan, morels and beetroot.

Eating at Verandan?
Would you like to experience a 12-course menu at Verandan at Icehotel? For more information, or to book, see icehotel.com.

Smoke enters the kitchen and inside a glass bubble on our next plate there’s a reindeer tartare, perhaps we ought to call it sushi. My first thought is that the cooking itself steals the show from the food, but once I taste the smoky flavour of the wild reindeer I’m convinced. Then we have reindeer liver, grouse and elk before two desserts – Arctic classics, Arctic raspberry and cloudberry – finish our incomparable taste journey. The world of wine that accompanies the food also adds to the experience, of course. From the sociable bubbly of a bottle of Ruinart, blanc de blanc, to the refreshing cold of the Ice Wine from Blaxsta Vingård. I know I haven’t spent much time on it in writing and thoughts and it’s not fair, because the wine package that comes with the food is carefully chosen. Our sommelier Sofie Nordefors guides us expertly between different grapes, countries and flavours. I spend some extra time with Sesti’s Brunello di Montalcino. The flavour of red Sangiovese Grosso grapes, Brunello, from the little hill in Toscana, will never fail to engage me. In a way it reminds me of blueberries, blue fingers and perhaps my beloved grandmother’s blueberry pie. A flavour that becomes a memory.

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