In the late 1960s American cultural critic Susan Sontag noted that Stockholm provided “astonishingly few amenities for meeting in public.” But I’ll go out on a short limb and speculate that Sontag’s true beef was with a perceived lack of lighthearted social spontaneity. “Street life itself in Stockholm,” she wrote, “is based on the principle of avoidance.”
Fast-forward fifty years and much has changed in the Swedish capital. It’s now a vibrant metropolis with all manner of exciting places-to-be springing up on the regular like chanterelles in a rain-drenched forest. Yet many new dining establishments fall prey to the Swedish penchant for conformity, as well as the expectation that good food and nice décor be enjoyed in a spirit of reticence. None of these qualities, however, can be found at Vasastan’s popular new Italian eatery L’Avventura. As chef Karl Ljung put it when I had the privilege of dining with him last week: “We hear all the time that there isn’t anything quite like it in Stockholm.”
Funnily enough, I said the exact same thing when I walked into the warm and inviting space L’Avventura calls home.
I asked Ljung to elaborate on what made L’Avventura so special as we enjoyed a delicious assortment of antipasti and pasta. I myself had been drawn to aesthetics: the vaulted ceiling, dreamy Nils Asplund frescoes, olive trees, and soft ruby lighting in the restored cinema’s main dining room made me feel 1920s glamorous, informal and contemporary all at once. But Ljung credits L’Avventura’s uniqueness and popularity to the Italian-outside-of-Italy ambience at the heart of his enterprise:
“Service, lighting, music, how you sit, how the tables look…of course it’s important for the food to be good—but that’s not the most important thing. What’s most important is the feeling. That’s what makes people come back.”
By feeling, Ljung means more focus on the social and emotional connections made during a meal and less foodie-style dissection of the finer points of every dish or glass of wine. “Right now people are demanding a [meaningful] experience when they go out to eat,” Ljung said, “if they also think that piece of pork was the best they ever ate then great! But that’s not the main reason they should come here…Of course if we’re the best in town when it comes to a few dishes, then that would be cool, too.”
Ljung is aware that his restaurant is on the right track, not because he listens to his critics, but because he listens to his guests. So my verdict as a little bit of both? The food was good—memorably good and downright delicious—but the mood was better; light, free, fun and spontaneous. In 2018, L’Avventura would definitely have had Susan Sontag singing a different tune.
L’Avventura at a Glance
What to Eat: The menu boasts dishes from all over Italy, and features staples of Ljung’s kitchen such as Truffle Pappardelle (yum!). But did you know that L’Avventura is a great place to explore your ravenous inner vegetarian? This might sound like sacrilege in Stockholm (“Swedes and their Entrecote,” Ljung laughed knowingly during our conversation), but you won’t even notice the meat’s missing if you try main courses like Melanzane or Roasted Cauliflower.
What You’ll Find: A basement dining room that looks like the love child of Andy Warhol’s factory and a London mod club, two (and eventually three) well-stocked bars Ljung recommends you simply “slink into for a gin and tonic,” and a corner dining room with a promising future as a hub of merriment on Stockholm’s brightly lit summer nights.
What You Won’t Find: Pizza. L’Avventura is unapologetically pizza-free. Deal with it liksom.
Pleasant Surprises: The kind of friendly service Stockholmers aren’t always accustomed to.
Bummers: Getting a table can be a real hassle—L’Avventura’s booked far into the future. But, they always have some drop-in tables available so try to come a bit earlier (or later) and keep your fingers crossed.
For bookings and enquiries: http://lavventura.se/en/
Photo credit Karen Pérez Guzmán. Instagram: @1_way_ticket_photo_video