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Blåbär, London SW15: ‘Damn these Nordic types with their delightful, dignified living’ – restaurant review


Blåbär’s chocolate mud cake screams ‘put me on social media’, as you abandon all dignity and squash it into your mouth

Nordic living has become synonymous in the UK with elegance, style and good manners, somewhat despite the odds. My ancestors in Northumbria, circa AD800, did not spy Vikings clomping hairily into Lindisfarne and think: “These guys look like people we can buy a wind chime from. I hope they’ve brought Brunsviger cake.” Yet here I am, centuries later, at Blåbär in south-west London, perusing the menu of Västerbotten cheese toasties and slices of kladdkaka mud cake, wondering why shelves of Meraki handcreams, Happysweeds umbrellas and Broste Copenhagen twisted walnut candles are so wholly irresistible. Blåbär – Swedish for blueberry – is a little slice of sedate, small-batch, Scandi-sourced loveliness, just around the back of a Waitrose in Putney.

It was my second Scandi stop-off that day: I began Saturday breakfasting at Hjem, a suitably pared-back Danish-inspired cafe in the heart of genteel Kensington. Here, trailing geranium windowboxes on pristine white townhouses give way to a tiny cluster of cafes and shops, including Hjem, which is little more than a couple of shabby-chic rooms plus a small terrace out back. It serves Kiss the Hippo coffee and loads paper bags to take away from a window full of loaves, swirls and buns, including large, fat, damp, slices of drømmekage (Danish dream cake), which consists of little more than vanilla-flavoured sponge topped heavily with thick brown, buttery desiccated coconut. It may sound unremarkable and won’t win any beauty contests, but it is a delightfully moist ribsticker.

Hjem’s version is particularly good. I took two pieces home, plus one of their large, ornate cardamom buns – intensely flavoured with a crunchy, sugary topping. Cardamom buns are an acquired taste: numerous pods are cracked open, steamed in milk and butter, and the resulting liquid is then used in a bread mix to create something that’s neither sweet nor savoury, but assertively perfumed. Do I like them, or are they an endurance test? Hjem’s is the hinterland between barmcake and potpourri.

Hjem’s version is particularly good. I took two pieces home, plus one of their large, ornate cardamom buns – intensely flavoured with a crunchy, sugary topping. Cardamom buns are an acquired taste: numerous pods are cracked open, steamed in milk and butter, and the resulting liquid is then used in a bread mix to create something that’s neither sweet nor savoury, but assertively perfumed. Do I like them, or are they an endurance test? Hjem’s is the hinterland between barmcake and potpourri.

So, weighed down with cakes, buns and tubs of Lakrids by Bülow passion-fruit liquorice and Karamel Kompagniet bars, I made my way over to Putney for lunch. Blåbär packs an awful lot into its tiny, two-floored space. Glancing at the website – proffering soft furnishings, children’s games, jewellery, cakes and meatballs – you’d be forgiven for imagining you’re visiting a cooler, pricier, independent Ikea. No, this is a small shop, scented with pine candles and cinnamon buns, crammed with Klippan gooseye eco lamb’s-wool blankets, Martin Schwartz jigsaws and By May Stockholm teapots. There’s a cluster of tables to enjoy a Swedish handpeeled prawn salad with housemade aïoli, lemon and dill, or sip a turmeric latte. Here, the avocado toast – which all brunch spots must serve by law – is scattered with lingonberries and toasted seeds. Blåbär’s menu errs on the side of vegan, although that is never underlined.

On a Saturday, the place is hectic, so eating here might not be relaxing, as shoppers mill about buying diffusers and artworks while diners eat coconut porridge with chia or gravadlax on rye. Still, I’m glad I found my second wind for lunch, because the vegan meatballs were really very good, and served on sourdough with a sweet, creamy beetroot slaw and lots of fresh sliced cucumber. Ikea cafe this certainly was not – although, if I’d wanted my fix, Blåbär does sell Daim bars, too.

There are, of course, fika-friendly pastries, cakes and buns, cinnamon swirls and those amazing punsch-rolls of marzipan dipped in chocolate that look like bright green bumblebees. However, I went for a timeless classic: the chocolate mud cake. Blåbär’s is heart-shaped, and it screams, “Put me on social media!”, as you attempt to eat it with a fork, before abandoning dignity and squashing it into your mouth.

Damn these Nordic types with their delightful, dignified living. They may have pillaged my ancestors’ farms, but now I have all their scatter cushions, domino sets and dream cake. Peace tastes completely delicious.

Source: The Guardian

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