Hygge (noun) - a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being; regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture. (Oxford Dictionary)
Scandinavian concepts of coziness (lagom, koselig) have made a big splash on the international scene in recent years. The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ (pronounced HOO-gah) has become the biggest by far, especially in the UK. English books about “hygge” have nearly created their own genre; Meik Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge is a New York Times bestseller.
On one early morning in London this past winter, I stumbled upon Snaps + Rye, a contemporary Danish restaurant in the heart of Notting Hill. For many of us, our ideas of Danish gastronomy orbit around René Redzepi’s Noma, the restaurant that changed the culinary world (twice). But on the daily, Danish cuisine is made up of a more generic Scandi roster of smørrebrød (open sandwiches), kjøttboller (meatballs), and akvavit (aquavit), the Scandinavian liquor also growing in international popularity.
Despite a recent uptick in interest, London is not yet awash with Scandinavian locales. But this cozy-chic Danish restaurant has made Nordic waves in London with its trendily frugal design, but still achingly cool atmosphere. It even won the No. 20 spot on Time Out’s list of London’s Top 100 Restaurants. The shopfront used to house a hairdresser’s salon, but now offers a calming mix of sleek Scandinavian furniture, muted minimalist art, and warm and friendly people.
Breezy Danish pop music bounces in the background. The space is divided into two sections by a huge oak counter displaying artfully constructed open sandwiches and pastries. Shelves run floor-to-ceiling along the back wall, filled with a curated selection of Danish books, homeware, ceramics, licorice, and other Nordic foodstuffs. The clean, sparsely decorated spot is completed by a delicious menu of a variety of smørrebrød, quality coffees, yogurt, and oatmeals.
If there is such a thing as a northern European food craving, it’s this: an open-faced sandwich topped with herring or salmon, or, in a pinch, a cold cut or cheese. No surprise then that I ordered the house-cured salmon, scrambled eggs and homemade rye bread. The eggs were creamy and smooth, while the seedy and sour rye bread was moist and dense with cinnamon undertones. The salmon was also gently smoked and buttery smooth. A classic smørrebrød, but done very well.
I also ordered the buttermilk oat porridge with berry compote, toasted hazelnuts and sunflower seeds; an easy, creamy winner for a porridge addict. To drink, I tested out the liquorice latte. If you didn’t know, Scandinavians tend to love liquorice about as much as Americans tend to hate it. For Norwegians coming from one of the most coffee-consuming countries in the world, we’re known to be a bit picky about our hot bean water. Often I’m not very impressed by the coffee in London because of the high amounts of calcium in the water, but this latte was the best yet.
My morning at Snaps + Rye was calm, cozy, and filled with good friends and great food. As I’m appreciating the fact that I have found my beloved Nordic breakfast in the middle of London, I feel a wave of warmth; the not-quite translatable, but ever-relatable, “hygge”.