The IKEA cafe with pickled herring: The gammon food critic goes Scandi

Restaurant reviews by Justin Tanner, our retired food critic who thinks Boris Johnson only did what everyone was up to

THEY say the Scandinavian people are the happiest in the world, though God knows how when it’s dark and freezing and beer’s ten quid a pint. 

Maybe it’s because all the women are as blonde and gorgeous as Ulrika Johnson in her TV:AM days, though they seem to have gone downhill since and now they’re all autistic lesbians in jumpers solving murders. Or maybe it’s the food.

What little I know about Nordic grub comes from my days being dragged around Warrington IKEA. The wife used to make us drive up there to buy endless crap that’s still in flat-packs in the garage. Say what you like about being divorced but it spares you the bullshit.

But there’s a new place opened, the prices are British, the waitress are sexually liberated, and I’m assured it’s not socialist. Why not?

It starts well. I’ve barely got my coat off when I’m brought a complimentary shot of aquavit. Sounds like a teenager’s energy drink but it’s actually the same old white spirit every European country has its own name for. Still, I down it then order a beer.

They don’t have Skol, which is plain ignorant, but there’s Falcon and Gotlandsdricka. Bollocks to pronouncing the latter, I’m on the Falcon. I presume it’s like a stronger Kestrel.

They’re keen to impress, just like when they tried to be everyone’s friend during the war, and soon I’m tucking into a smorgasbord. It’s a sandwich but they’ve skimped on the top slice of bread.

The kottbulla, or meatballs, are familiar territory from the IKEA days. Not bad, but a pale imitation of the canned Campbells originals. Come with a jam made from lingonberries, which sounds like a sex act. I suppose they have to pass the long winters somehow.

There’s loads of different bread, including a toast called knackelbrod which makes me chuckle. Even if the food’s boring there’s no denying they’ve got some brilliantly funny names for it.

I pass up smoked reindeer rump because I don’t fancy chowing down on Rudolph’s arsecheeks. But the fish – fuck me, are they having a laugh? Pickled, fermented herrings? I wouldn’t feed that shit to a fucking seal. At least the gravlax is just about palatable, even if it is a poor rip-off of our own smoked salmon.

They’ve got the Northern Lights up on the walls. Not much use if it’s cloudy, I point out, going on to add it’s got nothing on our own Blackpool Illuminations. The waiter stares back blankly. Fresh off the Viking longboat, no doubt.

Attempts to waive the bill because I’m a food critic fall flat, much like the rest of the meal. I like bland, but half of this was like chewing snow.

A worthwhile experience? Yes, in the sense it only reinforced my belief that British food isn’t just best because we’re white people. Would I go again? Would I arseholes.

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Gorillaz's debut: any good, or time to admit you only ever really liked the drawings?

GORILLAZ, the cartoon vehicle for Britpop’s Damon Albarn once nobody could bear to look at him, lit up the 00s but are they good? Or was it just the cool videos? 

Clint Eastwood was a stolen preset

The first single? Their signature tune that made you like them? The melody is lifted wholesale from a Suzuki Omnichord. You could argue that all artistic greatness stands on the shoulders of giants who have gone before, but you could also argue that Damon Albarn was a lazy prick who chucked some lyrics over the top of pressing a button and made a fortune.

You weren’t listening for the thought-provoking lyrics

It’s not uncommon for bands to build a career off the back of garbled bullshit. Look at Nirvana. But at least they had the decency to pair Cobain’s mumblings with captivating chord progressions. All Gorillaz had to offer was lines such as ‘do the aqua boogie, win lots of goodies’ spoken over samples of better music.

The only good tracks were remixes

The two best songs on the album were both sped up, rapped-over versions of lesser iterations. Because Damon knew this and was ashamed, the Ed Case/Sweetie Irie Refix of Clint Eastwood was a hidden track you had to fast forward to get to, while the Soulchild remix of 19-2000 didn’t appear on every pressing.

You were a trendy, turn-of-the-millennium dickhead

You weren’t alone. Everyone in 2001 was a proto-Nathan Barley dicking about with Nokia ringtones and socially acceptable homophobia. A cartoon band that was both an ironic commentary on the shallowness of MTV while also pandering to it was bound to succeed. It was the spirit of the arsehole times.

The art was really good

Jamie Hewlett can draw. It’s why he was a huge success right out of the gate with Tank Girl, which was juvenile, funny and so winningly delineated it became a Hollywood film that sucked. He drew great album covers and fantastic videos which everybody loved while, in retrospect, merely tolerating the music.

They were a novelty band for grownups

Gorillaz were Madness for people swilling Hooch and Two Dogs. They were The Archies for the CD generation. Snobs refused to call them ‘real music’, and they’d be correct. They weren’t a virtual band, they were a novelty one, and their debut album should be consigned to the musical scrapheap with their contemporaries Aqua and Crazy Frog.