I know someone who makes a special journey across East London to Ikea every month to spend £1 on Swedish coffee. He being a coffee enthusiast and self-styled barista, the coffee must be worth the trip. But is the food?
Why anyone would want to hang out in this Scandinavian shrine to the flat-pack, let alone make a special trip for the food, eludes me.
Unfortunately, we were stupid enough to a) choose a rare bright sunny day to head there, and b) arrive with empty stomachs. With heavy hearts, we joined the cafeteria queue. For a fleeting moment, a decent lunch looked hopeful: Rachel's organic yogurt, gravadlax, Belvoir drinks... But provenance and quality took a severe bashing when we reached the hot stuff. We both choose the ubiquitous Swedish meatballs and chips. The sniff of 1980's school canteen pervades each dish as it's passed over the counter. Not a good omen. And the salad bar: a sorrier sight than Pizza Hut's (glimpsed only through the window on the Strand, I promise).
What you see pictured above was an abomination, even though I hadn't expected much, just a taste of seasoned meat, and crisp hot chips. The lukewarm grey gravy swamped the plate, and was strangely reminiscent of canned cream of mushroom soup. From what it was reconstituted, I dread to think. The "meatballs" tasted of nothing, save an odd metallic tang. The chips were soggy and the worst I can remember ever eating.
After a few hesitant forkfuls, I was done. Jon, needless to say, was so hungry he ate the lot with barely a grimace. I'm not sure whether to admire his steel gut, or worry about the state of his tastebuds.
Needless to say, I've come to the conclusion that Ikea gives Scandinavian food a bad name. For a real taste of Scandinavia, acquire a copy of Trina Hahnemann's Scandinavian Cookbook (often cited as Denmark's Delia), or head to the deli at Scandinavian Kitchen.
Next time you find yourself at Ikea, get what you need, and get out, quick!