Northern lights: Where to mark Swedish Midsummer
Celebrate this traditional festival of the solstice at one of the capital's top Scandinavian spots
Midsummer is regarded as the most important event in the Scandi calendar. Traditionally it commemorates the longest day of the year and, for many Swedes, it signals the start of their five (yes, five) week holiday. Midsummer Eve, which always takes place on a Friday in mid-June, sees thousands of people flock to the countryside with friends and family in tow, leaving the cities eerily deserted.
Like many European festivals, the roots of Midsummer lie in pagan traditions. While many of these quaint customs are still adhered to – namely crafting floral headbands, or krans, and performing whimsical dances around a maypole – the event is largely an excuse to come together to celebrate nature while consuming as much potato salad and ice-cold vodka as possible. For a country known for its conservatism, Midsummer Eve is the one night of year that guarantees revelry. And for Britain's Nordic community, and those who enjoy the Scandi lifestyle, there's plenty of opportunity to join in the summer celebrations without having to leave the country.
Midsommar at The Harcourt
This modern Scandinavian-inspired restaurant, which opened in a Grade-II listed townhouse in Marylebone Village last year, is throwing a week-long summer solstice celebration this June. Finnish head chef Kimmo Makkonen has devised a limited-edition three-course menu that showcases the best traditional Midsummer dishes such as home-cured gravadlax and Swedish meatballs made from a secret family recipe. The Harcourt is renowned for its handcrafted cocktails mixed with authentic Scandi spirits, and Midsummer is the perfect excuse to introduce some seasonal new additions along with a selection of Akvavit tailored to each dish.
The Midsommar menu will run from 19-25 June and is priced at £35 per head; theharcourt.com
Midsummer celebrations at Aquavit London
Another relative newcomer on the London-Scandi scene is Aquavit, the UK outpost of the two-Michelin-starred New York institution of the same name. This sleek, Swedish-themed restaurant is housed in the refurbished St James's Market development in central London. As well as introducing new 'Midsommar tallriken' (Midsummer dishes) to the all-day dining menu, including no less than four types of herring and a classic vasterbotten tart, Aquavit London has also devised a special Midsummer set menu available for private parties. Midsummer's Eve (Friday 23 June) will be a full-on summer celebration complete with live music, a pop-up bar and food stand and even a traditional maypole erected in the restaurant entrance.
Midsummer celebrations take place throughout June and July, the Midsummer Eve event runs from 5-10pm on 23 June; aquavitrestaurants.com/london
LondonSwedes Midsummer House 2017
For a truly authentic Midsummer experience without having to book a last minute flight, join online expat collective LondonSwedes – the largest website dedicated to Britain's Scandi community – for their popular annual Midsummer after party. On Saturday 24 June from 5:30pm until late, the Loft Studios in Kensal Green will be transformed into a Scandinavian wonderland complete with flower arches, a maypole and fairytale lighting. Entertainment comes in the form of a prosecco bar, hot dog van and late-night DJ set by Swedish DJ Sebjak – not to mention a one-hour free drinks reception at the start courtesy of main sponsor Absolut Vodka.
Tickets cost £25 per person; londonsvenskar.com