I love fish restaurants that have been around a long time and that show no sign of disappearing: New York's Grand Central Oyster Bar is a good example (it opened in 1913). Unfortunately, as iconic as it may be, a lot of what it serves isn't as impressive as its vaulted Guastavino-tiled ceiling. By contrast, on a recent trip to Scandinavia Jackie and I had dinner at Sturehof, a fish house that has been in the same location on a Stockholm square since 1897 and has been under the present ownership since 1976. Like any venerable fish restaurant worth its sea salt, it has tiled walls, is highly efficient and is wildly busy indoors and out (the weather was gorgeous and there's lots of seating on the square and in the bar, where reservations aren't needed if you're willing to wait for a table). Even in newcomers like us, it triggers nostalgia though there's nothing dustily old-fashioned about it apart from its long history.
And the food on the daily-changing seasonal menu (promptly posted online) is very good. To start, there's a great choice of oysters and a full complement of other raw and cold seafood - including crayfish when in season. But what we homed in on was the selection of herrings, of which there were no less than seven kinds the evening we were there. By themselves or combined with other cold appetizers, you can pick an "assiette" of three or five, to be served with impeccable buttered new potatoes and, for some traditional reason, a couple of slices of cheese. A quintuple assiette could just about make a very light meal for one person (you can always get something more: they don't mind piecemeal ordering), but we shared one as a starter. We rarely eat herring at home in New York, so we ordered a five-herring plate: with mustard; with sour cream flavored with ramps; fried pickled herring; matjes herring and the gin-and-juniper house herring. Every one was a treat, the salted fish perfectly soaked and properly, mildly soused. Sometimes, these things can be distressingly texture-less, but Sturehof leaves you with something to chew and lots to taste.
It's hard to predict what you'll find among the full-blown starters and main courses (which do include meat). In addition to shellfish, you can probably expect cod, salmon and flatfish such as the noble turbot. There could be some freshwater fish too, and I had butter-fried fillets of perch, strikingly fresh and perfectly cooked, with good Swedish green asparagus, so young and fresh that it barely needed to be cooked. Jackie had asparagus too, but on its own: a plate of equally fresh white asparagus (a novelty for Americans) served with a tangy, buttery but light beurre blanc and a few irrelevant croutons.
For dessert, we had a nice, tart rhubarb compote with subtly fragrant cardamom ice cream and a few little doughnuts, which added nothing to the rhubarb and ice cream, which would have been just grand on their own.
The second-to-last entry on the dessert menu reads "Plopp, 10 [kroner]" and of course we needed to investigate. It turns out to be an ordinary commercial candy bar: milk chocolate filled with soft caramel. Kind of irresistible in an after-school-snack way, and elegantly presented with the end of the wrapper neatly cut off. I'm certain that regular customers would start a petition if they ever tried to axe it from the menu. I'd sign for sure.
Sturehof. Stureplan 2, Stockholm 114 46, Sweden; +46 8-440 57 30; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.sturehof.com/en-us/home/. Open daily from lunchtime till 2 a.m. Our dinner for two cost about $150, with wine by the glass (the house white Côtes du Rhône is very good).