Bad Dining: Ikea

by The Editor

Experience a taste of Sweden!
At IKEA we can satisfy all of your culinary needs! Come and eat our Swedish specialities, such as our iconic Swedish meatballs, or choose our local dishes at our restaurant, grab a quick coffee and cake in the cafe, have a hot dog in our bistro at the exit and even take home a taste of Sweden from our Swedish Food Market.

Is there a furniture shop more divisive than Ikea?  Perhaps you think they sell mass produced furniture made by Chinese kiddies around the world in an attempt to homogenise middle class living rooms from Tokyo to Timbuktu; or maybe you consider their products are inspired design bringing Scandinavian simplicity to the world at an affordable price.  Wherever you stand on the Swedish behemoth, you probably have never debated the culinary relevance of its food.

On a wintery Sunday, The Canberran visited Ikea, not for a 5 x 5 Expedit bookcase in black/brown, but rather to take on what is perhaps one of the most frightening prospects for lunchtime dining – the Ikea restaurant.

Sound horrific?  Well, it is.  To describe the miniature food court in terms of atmospherics would demonstrate a desperate attempt to grasp at straws ($1.99 -pack of 200 in the kitchen section, next to the plastic cups). Queuing through the corrals feels as though one is in a high school cafeteria, or prison, or both (depending on which school you went to).  I collect a tray, a plate, a piece of chocolate truffle slice and a 200ml bottle of orange juice before hitting the hot food servery.  Somehow I manage to bypass the plates of crayfish on lettuce wrapped in clingfilm.  That looks like a week of food poisoning waiting to happen.

Sweet Thor of Valhalla.  This is a new low.

The Experience

Giant cardboard signs yell out the limited foods available.  Little Spoon, in the interests of journalism has gone for the meatballs.  Let’s face it; we’d have wasted a trip if we came this far and not taken on the stereotype.  I order the stuffed Atlantic salmon; pretty confident the description will match the quality.  The food is piled onto plates by two severs (one for meats, one controlling vegies).  This process adds to the feeling of internment, and I’m quietly surprised not to spot giant key rings stocked with Allen keys swinging from the servers’ belts.  We receive the plates, shuffle to the cashier and, once cash has been extracted for this culinary form of masochism, we head for a table.

Little Spoon spies an island table with a couple of stools, and we make straight for it.  In this location we can safely take photos without attracting the attention of any of the restaurant staff.  Perhaps we are assuming too much to think they actually care (the woman sitting on her own, eating a plate of meatballs and undoubtedly contemplating what form of suicide will fill her afternoon is certainly not showing much interest in our activities).

The Food.

So, what was it like?

Well, I’d have to say the Stuffed Atlantic Salmon with Dill and Chive Sauce was almost cold by the time I got half way through it.  To this day I am still not sure what it was stuffed with, but can only speculate it was some leftover from the two potato cakes located next to the limp, boiled carrot.  The sauce was a redeeming feature though, with a fresh and light tang to mask the flavourless fillet.

Little Spoon looks a little confused by her dish.  ‘Meatballs,’ you say, ‘what is so confusing about meatballs?’  Well, the meatballs were fine.   The mashed potato was acceptable without being delicious, but the confusing element to the dish was the blob of red, jam-like substance between the two.  She looks at me quizzically.  “Cranberry?” I ask, not really sure myself.

“Not unless these are turkey meatballs.”

Ah, good point.

Checking the Ikea website on return, it turns out the jam was made from lingonberry.  I myself have never heard of a lingonberry, but suspect Matt Moran is probably trying to work out if he can smear it on a plate for the next series of Masterchef (if he does, by the way, I’m out.  Forever).

Having dispatched main courses with the excitement one often equates with waiting for a carwash, it’s time to take on dessert.  I’ve got my chocolate truffle slice.  Little Spoon has grabbed herself a cup of what she hopes is some kind of lemon custard.

My slice is pretty straightforward.  I cut about a third off with my fork and munch away, shrugging my shoulders with little more enthusiasm than I had with the potato cakes. Little Spoon digs into the cup and, somewhat hesitantly, has a small taste.   Again, confusion reigns, but given its apparent bland flavour, she perseveres through the entire spoonful.

“Thoughts?” I ask.

“God, I really have none.  Mainly because this is kind of… nothing.  I can’t even imagine what it is I am actually eating.”  I have a taste myself and can’t help but agree.  To demonstrate the blandness of the dessert I provide the following.  Please feel free to vote which you think is a dessert and which you think is mashed potato.

The verdict

Finishing up, the only part of our existence that didn’t fell empty was our stomachs.  The food was uninspiring, even more so than the sneaky Macca’s we had while travelling up the Hume.  No one around seemed to be enjoying the experience either.  Customers were simply refuelling before recrossing the Styx and heading once more into the flat-packed Hell that is Ikea.  Even my wallet felt empty.  We’d spent the best part of $40.00 for two main dishes, a couple of small desserts and kiddie-sized bottles of juice.

Perhaps that is where the cream is. Maybe Ikea’s restaurant is where the company makes their cash, screwing flagging shoppers for a slab of farmed fish so they can still charge ten bucks for a chair.  All I know is I feel as satisfied as having chowed down on a scatter cushion.

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