Red heat – Stockholm is the place to go to find the world’s most promising bar

Mark Sansom - 23/11/2022

Sweden’s Röda Huset was named the Campari One To Watch at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, marking the first time that the accolade has been awarded to a bar in the Nordic region. 50 Best speaks to co-owner and bartender Hampus Thunholm to discuss how the philosophies he discovered at one of the world’s most iconic restaurants are manifesting in the glass at his bar

When Hampus Thunholm’s Röda Huset was announced as Campari One To Watch at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022 awards ceremony in Barcelona, it set the tone for the night. His was the first individual award of the evening to be revealed and, as he snaked to the stage, his overwhelming joy was palpable: shaking hands, fist-bumping, eyes streaming, letting out an almighty victory cry when he received the trophy. It was a pure manifestation of what the award meant to him and, indeed, his business.

“Without a doubt, it was the coolest moment of my life,” says Thunholm. “My dream was to become the Campari One To Watch, but not this year. I said when we opened that there was a chance we could do it in year two, hopefully year three, but never in year one. If you saw me on stage, you will have seen how happy it made me.”

Some of Sweden's finest cocktail creations are to be enjoyed Röda Huset, which overlooks the Stockholm skyline

Stockholm bar Röda Huset – meaning ‘Red House’ in Swedish for the building in which it is set – is just over a year old. The backbone of the cocktails are ingredients grown across the breadth of Sweden’s fertile lands, harvested at their pomp from specific growers and distilled into the purest, tastiest version of themselves. There are always 14 drinks on the list and a snapshot of the current seasonal menu reveals cocktails such as Rowan Berries From The North, Apple and Raisin, Acidic Plums From The Persson Family, Elderberry and Beetroot, Carrot and Sweet Vernal Grass With Good Creme.

“I’ve been taught by chefs where accolades like this are the main goal,” Thunholm explains. “The list announcement or star reveal can be the best or worst day of the year and now it’s my goal to get onto the 50 Best list. Essentially, I just want as many people as possible to see what we’re doing here and being a part of the ranking is one of the best ways to achieve this. I can tell that it’s working as since October, when we received the award, people are now speaking English in the bar and not Swedish.”

 From foods to fluids

Thunholm’s background in restaurants feeds into his drinks philosophy. As part of his formative years as a bartender, he was recruited to work at Fäviken, the venue described as ‘the world’s most remote restaurant’ when it was in operation between 2008 and 2019. It peaked in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at No.14 in 2008 and its enigmatic chef Magnus Nilsson was heralded for his food ideology, which insisted that produce came from within several kilometres of the restaurant’s walls.

This was part born out of necessity. Fäviken was located in the Åre Municipality, Jämtland, 750km north of Stockholm, in harsh but beautiful wild forest terrain. The decision for the kitchen to only use produce found in the locale was followed by the bar, which found Thunholm preserving and fermenting local berries to replicate citrus, playing with fructose to create sweet flavours and fat-washing spirits that would survive the harsh winter season as guests were trucked in and out for service once a day.

Using almost exclusively Swedish ingredients, the bar team aims to mirror the country's leading gastronomic philosophies

The first Röda Huset menu was a facsimile of the cocktail list that closed Fäviken – Thunholm was keen to emphasise the connection between the plans for his new venture and his gastronomic pedigree. “The Nordic chefs like René [Redzepi, chef-owner of Noma, five times The World’s Best Restaurant] have taught us to appreciate what we have in this region. Magnus [Nilsson] is my biggest inspiration and the time I spent with him influences my work every day,” he says.

“At Fäviken, we served 24 guests a couple of drinks every night; at Red House we do 400 drinks across 54 covers on a busy shift. I think that’s what I’m most proud of: being able to deliver this level of bar programme on this kind of scale,” Thunholm postures. “We are a Scandinavian cocktail bar with great food. We apply the principles of fine dining in a disciplined bar environment and give the level of service and craft you’d expect at a seriously good restaurant.”

Flavour first

As accentuated by the names of the drinks on the Röda Huset menu, the local ingredient is put front and centre. “It took me a while to appreciate the ingredients we have on our doorstep,” says Thunholm. “There was a time when I’d be travelling in Thailand and think ‘wow! That is the most amazing-tasting mango I have ever had.’ It took me a while to get back home and think – ‘dude! Have you tried our raspberries or apples?’ They are the best in the world and, when they are on your own doorstep, it’s easy to forget that.”

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It’s also worth noting the techniques the team applies to extract flavour. “Of course, we have a centrifuge and other machines available to us at the bar, but I tend to use the old methods if they end up producing the best result,” Thunholm explains. “For our Good Creme drink, it’s quite simple. We heat it up, split it in a piping bag and then strain it over time. In my opinion, the end result has better body and flavour than any other method. I’ll only use the new kit if it actually improves the drink.

“It’s the same with fermentation. Lots of bars seem to have fermented ingredients, but are they asking themselves why they are doing it? I was in another European city the other week and I tried a clarified Margarita. Why? A simple Margarita is one of the best things in the world – a lot of this kind of thing is either following a trend or for content, in my opinion.”

The next few months will see a seasonal shift and a new menu for Röda Huset as Thunholm and his team approach 2023 with the hope of making good on the One To Watch prophesy and securing a place on The World’s 50 Best Bars list. “The theory of our current launch menu is to try and get people to understand what we are trying to do – essentially earning people’s trust,” he says. And in the future? “That’s when we can start having some real fun.”

Watch the highlights of The World's 50 Best Bars Ceremony 2022:

The list of The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, sponsored by Perrier, was announced on Tuesday, 4th October at a live awards ceremony in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. To stay up to date with all news and announcements, browse the website and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.