The 2016 edition of the London Coffee Festival was the biggest yet, packed with cafe pop-ups, two giant coffee competitions, innovative product launches, art galleries, DJs, and much more. But one of the most pleasant surprises for me was the extended House of Coffee & Company VIP suite, which this year was dedicated selected specialty cafes and a pop-up by Amsterdam-based cafe and restaurant Scandinavian Embassy.
The pop-up was a fantastic opportunity to get a taste of the Scandinavian Embassy’s much-lauded approach to food and coffee pairings in London. Head Chef Rikard Anderrson and Head Barista Nicolas Castagno were there to interact with the guests throughout the tasting, explaining the concept behind each of the dishes and the flavor notes of the coffees.
Some of that intimate atmosphere and connection between chef, barista, and customer that makes Scandinavian Embassy's De Pijp cafe so special, was lost at the festival due to the large scale of the operation (they had around 30–40 covers per sitting at peak times). However, the wonderful and clever pairings of coffee and food, that make Scandinavian Embassy unique, were all there.
The pop-up’s three-course meal featured an unlikely combination of coffee and seafood, drawing elements from dishes previously served at Scandinavian Embassy. Each dish brought out the complexities of the three coffees presented by Castagno.
The first dish was a trio of espresso-smoked oyster, mussel with coffee-infused vinegar, and clam with cascara butter. It was paired with a chilled Colombian espresso from Finca El Paraiso in El Gigange, Huila, roasted by Koppi of Helsingborg, Sweden. The oyster brought out the roasted flavors of the espresso, while the mussel highlighted the acidic tones of the coffee. The clam pairing was all about buttery mouthfeel.
The second dish was a scallop flambéed with Herno Gin (“the best gin in the world” according to Anderrson), stewed with cascara and topped with deep-fried coffee flowers. The matching coffee—a hot Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Natural Tchembe Guji, roasted by Per Nordby in Gothenberg Sweden—was served in elegant wine glasses. The gin is used to soften the harsh seafood flavors so that the scallop pairs nicely with the bright, light-bodied coffee.
The last dish was a herring and beetroot tartare served with a pour-over made from Ethiopian beans (Lomi Tasha, Yirgacheffe, also by Per Nordby). The round mouthfeel of the coffee created an interesting contrast with the smokiness of the beetroot. This coffee was served in a saucer (beautifully handmade by Scandinavian Embassy barista Daniella Nyström), a way of drinking coffee which goes back to an old Swedish tradition. The saucer lets the coffee temperature drop more quickly; it makes you process the coffee differently in your mouth as the plate lets the coffee open and invites to slurp, and the smell of the coffee is also more prominent as the nose is closer to the coffee.
The Scandinavian Embassy pop-up proved to be an interesting and popular addition to the festival’s line up of events, especially for those discerning foodies looking for something more than coffee. Picking Scandinavian Embassy up out of the comfy confines of their Amsterdam operation, and putting them in front of hundreds of London Coffee Festival VIPs for a weekend was a bold move and quite a challenge. Andersson, Castagno and the team at Scandinavian Embassy rose to the occasion, and should consider this installation a success.