Guest Post: Blå Kongo reviewed by a Swedish Chef

Dopo il primo guest post di qualche mese fa (ricorreva il 1° compleanno di TR) siamo onorati di ospitarne uno nuovo di zecca a cura di John R.
L’incontro con John è stato per noi uno di quei casi in cui benedici twitter e chi lo ha creato. Abbiamo iniziato a conoscerlo proprio nei tweet con il nome di @caputmundicibus (tant’è la passione per Roma a dispetto delle origini svedesi). E di lì ci siamo appassionati a leggere ciò che scrive e a seguire il suo vissuto. Nonostante la giovanissima età il suo curriculum è impressionante: è stato sous chef all’Antico Arco (forse proprio nel periodo in cui questo indirizzo ha fatto il salto nella nostra toplist); è passato per le cucine dello chef #1 al mondo Rene Redzepi del Noma a Copenaghen; ed ora è approdato come sous chef da Roy Caceres, negli spazi culinari del ristorante gourmet Metamorfosi.
L’idea di questo guest post nasce per caso. Da tempo la nostra richiesta a John di un suo parere “autoctono” su Blå Kongo, di cui peraltro abbiamo recentemente scritto. Poi John va da Blå Kongo e ci racconta in uno scambio di mail lo scorrere della serata. Una storia avvincente con spunti - speriamo – interessanti  anche per i proprietari del locale. Di lì la proposta. Ed ora state a sentire direttamente da lui (rigorosamente in English)…

[Introduction – ENGLISH translation] After the first guest post a few months ago (we were celebrating the first blog birthday) we are honored to host a brand new one post written by John R.
Meeting John was for us one of those cases where we bless twitter and those who created it. We have begun to know him in tweets with the name of @caputmundicibus (so much his passion for Rome is in spite of the Swedish origin). We enjoy reading what he writes and follow his food experiences. Despite his young age, his resume is impressive: he has been Antico Arco sous chef (perhaps in the period in which this address jumped in our toplist), he frequented the kitchens of the  # 1 chef in the world Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, and currently he is the Roy Caceres sous chef, in the Metamorfosi gourmet restaurant in Rome.
The idea for this guest post came accidently. For a while we asked John a “native” opinion about Blå Kongo (here the recent post we wrote, in Italian). Then John goes to Blå Kongo and tells us via email about his evening. A compelling story with some ideas – we hope – interesting also for restaurant owners. Hence the proposal. And now please read directly from him…

So, I finally went to Blå Kongo! It wasn’t a particularly strong craving for Swedish food that drove me, but a curiosity way too powerful to postpone my visit another week. It almost felt like a shame, a Swede living in Rome for years, not having been to the only Swedish restaurant in town.

Entering the restaurant I felt instantly like home. All that wooden interior decorating, the totally laid-back atmosphere, the simplicity of the table setting. It actually resembles a lot what an average café looks like in a small Swedish town. “Very homey” as the Americans would say. Since it was my first visit, all faces were new to me, but I was slightly disappointed to learn there were no Swedish staff around.

Service was more or less correct, I guess, for a low-profile place like this. Very relaxed manners, the waiter sitting down on a chair besides you while taking the order. Things like this I see often in Scandinavia, but never here in Rome.
There were some slight confusions when waiters arrived with some of the food, mixing up orders a bit – but nothing severe, and these are things that happen in most restaurants every now and then – things easily resolved with a smile.

The food? Well, the menu had lots of Middle Eastern and Asian influences, a bit more than I expected actually. You had to search a bit through the menu to find the Swedish parts.
Upon asking, I was told that they do not refer to themselves as a “Swedish restaurant” but prefer the term “ethnic restaurant”. Might as well be – that way they free themselves of some  gastronomic responsability.

Anyway, we had the signature purple baked potato Blå Kongo with salmon and yoghurt. A plate of assorted herring with bread and butter. Smoked salmon with dill and mustard sauce. And then meatballs of course!

All of it was fair renderings of Swedish dishes. You can’t really fail with these preparations, a lot of the things are ready-made and do not demand a lot of labor. The herrings (4) was exactly what they are in Sweden – that is – bought in a glass jar in the supermarket. I couldn’t expect anything else in Rome anyway.

The purple baked potato filled with creamy yogurt, smoked salmon and spices was good! It would benefit from another pinch of salt, but since the salt shaker was within reach, we made this a do-it-yourself task.
For the potato filling, there were a lot of different combinations to choose from, next time I’ll try some blue cheese or shrimps and yogurt.

The meatballs were tasty enough, not as good as my grandmother’s (or mine), but still not bad. They were served under a blanket of gummy sauce, with lingonberry jam, pickled cucumber and “Hasselback potatoes”. The only thing where they made a complete grand failure was the sauce for the meatballs. Flavorless and with a dry skin on top. I have no idea what they were thinking or trying – making the sauce a bit “lighter” or cheaper? Meatball sauce is: the remains from the meatball frying pan + heavy cream, a pinch of flour. Bring to a boil. Season if necessary. Stop. What they served was…something else. Not even close.

The flavorful smoked salmon was also served with “Hasselback potatoes”, a correct sweet dill and mustard sauce and some ruccola. Here a more neutral boiled potato would have been a better bet. (Although I know all about the hardship of finding a good potato in Rome).

Another disappointment was that there was no Swedish bread. We had Sardinian pane Carasau, Roman pane casereccio and some industrial white sandwich bread. Just a simple home-made rye bread would have made my day.

I did not try any of the desserts this time.

Conclusion: I think Blå Kongo seems to be a nice neighborhood-style place that tries to serve some very standard Scandinavian fare. I like the fact that they have daily specials (as our waiter carefully explained), sometimes Swedish dishes, sometimes foreign. It’s a good way for regulars to try out something new. I would definitely be interested in returning to examine those Swedish daily specials a bit closer. The restaurant might be a good place for a first sample of Swedish flavors, but please do not consider these dishes as set in stone, merely as rough guidelines.

It is pleasant to see some Nordic looking faces around the tables, although the biggest part of the clientele seems to be Romans from the neighborhood.
I’m sure a lot of people go to Blå Kongo because of their convenient prices, but above all for the cosy ambience.
The place was packed on a Sunday night, and that’s not bad! That means you have a good base clientele, with a lot of returning guests, I’m sure – guests that would, like me, surely enjoy some additional Swedish-oriented extravaganza.

According to me they should put a bit more Scandianavian flair on the menu (and the drink list)! Maybe what they need is some healthy competition from another Swedish restaurant! (No, I do NOT count IKEA as a restaurant)
It really could become a wonderful ethnic restaurant if they paid a bit more attention to details.

Blå Kongo is the kind of place and the kind of atmosphere that is super fashionable in gastronomic pressure cookers like Paris or Copenhagen right now! It would fit straight in there and be one of the hippest places in town. Rome, is not there yet.

Is it still today possible to have a restaurant without a web site? I thought that would be almost illegal by now… I especially refer to the need of communicating updated information about closing days and opening hours. While being told by our waiter that Monday was their closing day, many sites on the internet still tell you that the restaurant is open every day of the week.

Sweden, as a country with a much shorter culinary tradition than many other places – we have learned to take every new opportunity to implement foreign influences (Japanese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian and so on) and by now we serve tzatziki on every summer barbecue party and hummus on the Cristmas buffet.

Bottom line – Blå Kongo is worth a shot for a relaxed dinner with friends without spending a lot. A bit more Swedish soul wouldn’t hurt though…

John

* Images by John R. “caputmundicibus”, published under a Creative Commons License

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Blå Kongo reviewed by a Swedish Chef

  1. Grazie per questo guest post, è stato davvero interessante leggere il punto di vista di John (competente, piacevole ed ironico quanto basta) su un ristorante che frequento anch’io. Davvero tanti spunti interessanti!

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