Having a meal at Daniel Berlin is like going to visit an old friend in a remote place. You have to drive through the picturesque landscape of Österlen, famous for its sandy hills until you reach a village called Skåne Tranås. After taking a turn and following a tiny road that winds itself between a set of small houses, you’ll eventually come across a yellow skanelänga – the traditional housing style typical in this part of Sweden. Park the car and walk the last few meters of the gravel walkway towards the red door. Just before you reach the end of the path the door will open and reveal a kind looking face. “You must be Per. Welcome!” the man behind the face will exclaim (insert your own name). This first encounter with chef, Daniel Berlin, is the very same one every person has had since the restaurant opened – a personal and utterly disarming greeting at the front door. It’s a ritual that says everything about this man and a restaurant which has grown from a countryside tavern catering mostly to locals, to a two-star destination restaurant, which attracts guests from all over the world. Success, however, was always just around corner from potential failure for Berlin.
It’s a summer afternoon in July. Daniel and I are sitting in the garden behind the restaurant, drinking coffee and talking about the years that have passed. I had dinner at the restaurant the night before, a summer tradition my wife and I have cherished ever since our first meal here in 2014. “Your restaurant is one the places I like to return to most often, few fine-dining restaurants comfort me more.” I tell him as we watch one of the gardeners walk by, wheelbarrowing some plants. “Well, we’re lucky it’s still here. There’ve been several occasions in the last years when we came very close to shutting down” he tells me with a stern look in his eyes.
“The first year was crazy, my parents took out a mortgage on their house to provide the money for the restaurant”
Daniel is a unicorn amongst the upper echelons of Scandinavian restaurants, operating in a space where most other members enjoy the protective umbrella of economic beneficiaries. Daniel doesn’t. “I started out and still operate this restaurant entirely out of my own pocket,” he tells me. “The first year was crazy, my parents took out a mortgage on their house to provide the money for the restaurant and in order to make ends meet I had to work lunch service at a restaurant in Malmö before driving 70 minutes to cook dinner service here every night. It was madness.”
Daniel’s parents have always been an integral part of the restaurant. On our first visit in 2014, Daniel’s mother was still a full-fledged member of the service team while his father managed the role of sommelier. Four years, and two Michelin stars, later, they’ve retreated into to shadows of the operation as his mother helps to run the restaurant’s garden and his father acts as the caretaker for the entire estate. “Once in a while they’ll still help out with service though” Daniel points out with a smile, “just to make sure that one thing remains very clear: Daniel Berlin is a family business.”
“…just to make sure that one thing remains very clear: Daniel Berlin is a family business”
This unique setup creates a vibe that money can’t buy, a level of sincerity that’s reflected in every aspect of the experience. A meal at Daniel Berlin is a beautifully orchestrated journey around the restaurant property, which differs according to the season and weather. During the summer, after the personal welcome, you’ll start with a few snacks and an aperitif in the garden located behind the house. Signature snacks will most likely include (but definitely not be limited to) the outstanding cream of rooster liver served on a roasted anise cracker, as well as a fantastic yeast pancake topped with thick pieces of bacon – both dishes are riffs off classic farmer’s dishes within the Österlen region, presented here as bite-sized tasters. The night before, we were served a bowl of wild forest strawberries that had been picked from the garden just minutes before serving. It was an intense taste experience served out of a bowl of ice, and one that took me back to childhood Swedish summers. “I remember picking these as a kid and threading them on a wheat straw”, I told Daniel. “Me too” he smiled back.
Daniel’s food is, in every capacity, a reflection of the southern Swedish terroir he lives and operates in. It’s a relationship the avid hunter and forager has nurtured since day one. “Throughout the years we’ve developed symbiotic partnerships with our incredible suppliers and partners that have enabled us to grow with them. We’ve also expanded our garden bit-by-bit so that our dedicated team can now grow outstanding produce” he explains. Then we talk about Daniel’s cooking.
“both dishes are riffs off classic farmer’s dishes within the Österlen region”
“When I think about dishes, I think about contrasts. I love to combine elements that have contradictory textures and temperatures.” Daniel describes. His love for serving food that’s inherently simple but surprisingly full of experienced layers is at the core of his cooking and a signature style which has become stronger in recent years. Signature dishes that have been on the menu for years such as Berlin’s iconic root celeriac, point to this most straightforward cooking. Whole celeriac is slowly grilled on beech tree coals for seven hours and then dramatically plated by Daniel in the dining room where he scoops out the buttery, soft innards from the pitch black, charcoaled root into a bowl of fresh celeriac cream that’s then drizzled with green celery oil. Likewise, Daniel’s by now famous (and frequently copied) “mother of pearl” cod dish features thick slices of cod fillet that are cooked at high heat using only the visual of a pearl-like effect to determine when it’s ready to serve. Usually served simply as the table centrepiece, during our last visit the dish was taken to a new level with buttered cod head trimmings hidden underneath the perfectly cooked fillet. The trimmings then dissolved into a magical sauce once a hot broth was poured on the plate.
“…dramatically plated by chef Berlin himself in the dining room “
“In 2017 we added a new production kitchen to one of the barns and that was truly game-changer for our creativity”, Daniel emphasizes. The newer dishes I had eaten the night before were certainly testament to that. Sublimely sweet, raw Atlantic shrimps were marvellously complemented with rose oil and cherries. Likewise, slices of grilled red beetroot served on bone marrow and blackcurrant cream in a hollowed beetroot. Magnificent creations such as these tell the story of this kitchen’s deep understanding of its produce.
For our dinner’s final act, guests were taken outside and led to the ancient, cast-iron greenhouse at the back of the garden. Here, alongside coffee and digestif, we were all served what could be described as the most iconic Daniel Berlin creation; Goat yoghurt ice cream with salty meringue and a rosemary caramel sauce. An unbelievable experiment between salty and sweet and a true contender for pastry perfection. Taking spoonfuls of this marvellous desert under the flickering light of oil lamps, it was hard to envision the concept of comfort better expressed in a fine-dining context.
“…an unbelievable play between sweet and salty and a true contender for pastry perfection.”
The next day, after our garden talk, I say my goodbyes to Daniel and got on my way just before the next lunch guests arrived. Closing the red door behind me and walking down the gravel path, I started counting the days until next summer’s vacation and sent a prayer to the food gods that Daniel Berlin’s restaurant will still be around when it comes.