July 21, 2022
We walked up to the narrow storefront in Stockholm, Sweden, not noticing details except some bright-colored paintings. I snapped a quick photo so that I’d remember the name, date, etc. of the restaurant as I usually do when we’re traveling. We approached and saw a small handful of people casually sitting outside drinking beer and champagne. One of them, looking like he’d rolled out of bed and tossed on his swim trunks said, “Tanya?” I smiled and said yes, realizing that we must really look American. The other clue was probably that we arrived at 5:30 sharp.
“Come on in; I’ll show you your table. And who are you?” David replied with his name as we stepped into a dark, narrow, hole-like room with neon colors haphazardly splashed all over. We were led to a tiny table back in between what could (loosely) be called a kitchen and a WC that jutted out into the middle of the small room. Both were roughly sized for a RV; the kitchen had four people and one dish pit crammed into very close quarters. There were two more tiny two-tops close to us, but (of course) we were the first to arrive. Welcome to Punk Royale.
We asked a few questions of our snappily dressed guide and learned that the restaurant opened in 2014, after starting as a pop up somewhere up north. The only questions we were asked was if we had any food allergies and if we drank alcohol.
No. And, unquestionably, yes.
“OK, we’re gonna have some fun,” he said, and asked us if we wanted champagne, beer, or grog to start. Soon after, two healthy pours of champagne arrived and we settled in to look around—which may have been a mistake. The decor had a dive-bar-meets-bathroom-meets-stoner-basement vibe, with punk rock songs and other phrases scrawled in what appeared to be magic marker along the walls. From the ceiling hung a creepy collection of old dolls that looked like the dog tore them apart before being wrapped back together with neon electrical tape. The dolls were intermixed with dismembered Slinky toys.
And that was the good stuff. Higher up, an evil-looking unicorn stared me down. The less-than-ambient lighting was a combination of candlelight on tables and what appeared to be neon bug lights hung here and there. A horror-movie-ready doll was sitting at the table across from us. The water on our table was poured from an Absolut Vodka bottle. I would have taken pictures, but the first thing we had to do upon sitting was put our phones in a metal box, to be returned upon meal completion (maybe a good move on their part, given the decor).
After a few minutes of taking in the disturbing details, our cruise director came back and explained that we’d start with a few snacks before really getting into it for the next two-and-a-half hours. He told us to put our napkins on our laps and yelled “Engelska!” back to the kitchen.
The token Americans were here.
We looked at each other with the same question in our eyes. Which one of us picked this place?
The people who’d been drinking outside when we arrived then strolled headed back to the kitchen. Apparently, they were the staff. One was sporting a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey, and the rest in uniform with one thing in common: They all looked like they’d pulled themselves out of bed and picked up what was on the floor.
A few more people started to arrive, and we got our first snack from someone who appeared to a chef. It was described as “ham and cheese pie in a broccoli shell.” Two bite-size poppers, with a shell crust made of savory broccoli with just the right touch of sweet. It was incredible.
The next snack brought out was even more delicate: a beautiful, tiny fresh radish crudité with a mushroom foam and elderberry ketchup dip. Equally delicious as the first.
Next came a crispy cracker with a few sauces on it. We didn’t catch the (mostly mumbled) description from our original handler, but it was light and crispy, with a subtle hint of garlic.
Now people were really starting to roll in, the custom 15 fashionable minutes late, all speaking Swedish. No wonder they’d pinned us for Americans right away. There were a total of maybe 40 people all seated at a collection of mostly two tops. (Reservations are a must, and there are two seatings per night.)
Our handler came back one more time with what he said was our last snack of “magic mushrooms” (not so comforting), and more champagne to dump in our glasses (necessary). Mushrooms in a light, tempura-esque batter, paired with an incredible sauce. I forgot to mention: We’d been given napkins (the ones we were instructed to put on our laps), but nothing resembling flatware.
We sipped our champagne and continued to take in the drawings, names, and song titles scribbled on the wall as the rest of our fellow guests noshed on their snacks. The selection of classical music started to get louder and louder and louder.
About 10 minutes later, two large wine glasses were plunked on our table, followed by the Kobe-Bryant-jersey-bedecked woman giving us what could conservatively be referred to as a “country-club pour “of white wine (close to half a bottle). Two-and-a-half hours was starting to seem unattainable. The classical string music (Mozart) was now pumping at a nightclub volume. Our original handler was back, and I asked (hollered at) him if I could have some paper to take notes. He poured more wine and shook his head no.
Soon after, the music ended, and it became quiet as a smoke machine fired up. It kept coming until it was hard to see each other. “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones started playing, rock-concert loud.
By now, we and all our fellow guests were just deep enough in to start dancing and singing the music. I asked/yelled to David asking him if he had a piece of paper so I could take notes, and he fished an old scrap paper with a doctor’s phone number on it out of his wallet. It was the best we could do before the rapid-fire meal began.
The rest of the details are murky (I was taking clandestine notes under the table for fear that my pen would be snatched away), but was comprised of something like this.
From the Stones, the playlist skipped from the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” to Green Day, to old punk songs and the 1960’s hit “Runaround Sue.” To keep us on our toes, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” blared (it was July). The Ramones screamed “I Don’t Care;” Joan Jett was asking to put another dime in the jukebox, baby (this would be the time that the strobe lights in the ceiling revealed themselves). Cher sang about believing in life after love, The Red Hot Chili Peppers stopped by with “Californication,” and even Springsteen made a special guest appearance. Then came an old Swedish school song out of nowhere that everyone else started singing—and they were happy to teach us. It’s amazing how much fun you can have when everyone isn’t staring at their phones, and drinking everything set in front of them.
Funny you should ask, since it was the now-expected blur. This is what we could piece together… And again, note, no utensils.
- We slurped deliciously fresh oysters with some granita concoction.
- A beautiful plate of I-have-no-idea-what came, and we had so many glasses scattered across the table, they put the plate on top of them and said enjoy.
- Our handler slung two long-neck beers on our table. We tried to hand him the original champagne glasses, but he shook his head no, pointing to the two fingers left in each glass. We chugged it, and he took the glasses.
- A wonderfully tasty foie gras was delivered a small round crispy brioche, along with a syringe filled with wine. The instructions: Foie first, then use the syringe to pour wine in our mouths.
- More wine and glasses came, constantly refilled. More dancing, louder music, continued smoke.
- One of the chef-types came out with something on a stick. The only explanation was to be careful of the bone in the middle. It was a tender piece of flaky white fish; we determined maybe yellowtail. Or cod?
- Next, Kobe Bryant (the jersey, not the guy) came around and put two shot glasses on the table, followed by a big black plastic petrol can used to overfill them, splashing vodka on the table. Our handler came next, commanding us to put up our hands. A generous spoonful of caviar was set on the back of our hand. Eat it, he said, then take the shot.
- By the time the nightclub hit “Dancing on my Own” came on, the entire room was singing along.
- Then our handler came out with two pretty little bites and simply said, “Made with reindeer blood. Because why not?”
- How do you top that? Next came they came around with giant spoons filled with something and instructed us to open our mouths. In came something delicious and lobster-y.
About two-thirds of the way through, our original handler asked me if I was getting all my notes. I told him I had this little tiny piece of paper, and it was so hard. He came back a few minutes later with some blank POS tape for me, which seemed pretty on-brand at this point.
Then we got a glove and were told to put it on. They let us sit with that for a few minutes in anticipation before a savory, sweet, and messy dish came our way. No utensils, hence the surgical glove. We all obeyed, stuck our gloved hand in, and slurped it down.
I used the POS paper to write “Thank you very much” in Swedish (Tack sa mycket) and held it up as our handler walked by. He almost smiled, and told me I misspelled it. (I messed up the dot on top, our table neighbors informed me.)
So this is how time flies, apparently.
Finally, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” started blaring, and we got two final dessert courses. By now, everyone was butt dancing in their chairs and singing at the top of their lungs with hands in the air. (It’s a requirement to put your hands in the air whenever listening to Def Leppard.)
Whew. Lights (or those that existed) were turned on enough for us to see the smoke begin to clear. We got our check and our metal boxes back. Everyone eagerly grabbed for their phone to snap whatever photos they could of the wreckage. I got one of the aftermath of the table, which looked like a crime scene. I asked our handler his name: Nils.
There was no menu given at the end (typical practice for most 20-course tasting menus); we all just stumbled out into the harsh daylight (it is Stockholm in the summer, and please remember that it was still only 8:30) with huge smiles on our faces, saying goodbye to our new friends, clutching my crumbled piece of paper filled with scrawled notes. Fun is definitely not overrated.
In case I didn’t mention it, the food was all incredible, flavorful, multi-layered, complex, and utterly delicious, even without a five-minute fine-dining preamble to each dish. No offense to all the incredible tasting menus we’ve had and have yet to try, this was completely different. It was definitely the most distinctive dining experience. Ever.
In the few days that followed our dinner here, if we told people we ate at Punk Royale, it was met with a knowing smile and one of several questions: Were the chefs naked with just aprons on? Did you get the cigarette-ash dish? Did the chefs throw anything at you?
Frankly, those questions just made us want to go back to Stockholm to eat there again. My notes? Not terribly helpful, but tack for the paper, Nils.