While standing outside the white kitchen tiled entrance to Fika London waiting for my companion, I began to get curious about the name. Was it a wild Swedish animal, or perhaps the name of the woman in that really annoying song about living on the second floor? Fika is actually a concept so central to Swedish culture I felt slightly ashamed for not knowing it. In the words of the almighty Google, “Fika is such an important part of life in Sweden that it is both a verb and a noun.” It means quite simply, having a break, usually with coffee and cake. Making it essentially a more highly caffeinated and realistic version of afternoon tea.
Fika the restaurant have taken this concept a little less literally, however. It has far more than just coffee and cake and is stuffed with all things Swedish, ranging from gravadlax and Swedish meatballs to impeccable interior design. There’s something incredibly fairy tale and rustic about the downstairs, and peaceful about the astroturfed, canopied roof terrace. It’s the type of house I imagine the author of the Moomin to live in on her tiny island in the middle of a lake.
My reason for swaddling myself in Swedish culture that night was, however, yet another concept I knew nothing about, the crayfish festival. Towards the end of every summer Sweden becomes one big crayfish genocide with parties devoted to the squat little river dwellers popping up all over the place. Apparently you can measure your popularity in Sweden purely on the number of crayfish parties you get invited to each year.
Fika are putting this festival on for most of the month of August and if it is anything like my experience, go. Don’t question, go. Our tasting evening included fresh gravadlax, smooth and rich chicken pate, jars of pickled herring and literally buckets full of striking red, dill soaked crayfish hanging with their claws over the side like they’d mistaken the pot for a Jacuzzi.
Evenings like this are hard to find in the overly-stuffed food halls of Brick Lane. The food, strange mix of alcohol and cacophonous atmosphere create a genuine festival feel, all while sitting less than twenty metres away from possibly the most annoying street in London. There was certainly a disorientating discombobulation of the senses that tricked my brain into a summer’s eve country mentality. The intense, delicious smell of dill overwhelming the roof terrace. The sweet lubrication of alcohol coming in all shapes and sizes: flutes of prosecco, shots of different flavoured snaps and bottles of ‘Ctrl Alt Delete’. The initially jarring, eventually raucous fun, Swedish songs shared between the tables. But most of all the copious amounts of crayfish, accompanied by all the cracks, squirts and flying heads expected when you set a bunch of rookies loose on that many hard-shelled devils.
Everything tasted unique and unbelievably fresh, even if my love for pickled herring wavered towards the end, but more importantly the whole evening felt unique. If you are looking for an experience that doesn’t come surrounded by inverted commas this summer I would seriously recommend it. It is only on until 20th August though, so get your tickets now.
161 Brick Lane
Tel: 020 7613 2013