Heading for an early bath
We’d been exploring the rocky archipelago for the best part of half an hour, the small boat raced between the marked buoys bobbing in the clear blue sea in the unseasonably glorious weather more akin to the Caribbean than the West Coast of Sweden. The two cages (or creels) we’d dragged up so far yielded none of the ‘black gold’ as our hosts liked to refer to the sea bed dwelling crustaceans we were trying to snare so I decided it was time for me to step up to the plate and show how it should be done.
This is early October and the start of the lobster season and I’m on a ‘safari’ organised by Handelsman Flink, a hotel and restaurant on Flatön, a tiny island just over an hour’s drive and a short ferry crossing North of Gothenburg. I’d spent the previous evening in one of Gothenburg’s four Michelin star rated restaurants – Basement - where amongst one of the six beautifully created courses was the finest lobster I’d ever tasted.
As Handelsman Flink owner Stefan Hjelmér was to tell me later:
“The lobsters we catch are around four years old and because the water is so cold here it slows down their growth which makes them the best tasting lobster in the world.”
I was even more eager than ever to find out how that lobster had come to arrive on my plate.
Ahoy ye scurvy seadogs!
The boat bounced towards the next buoy as I leaned over the side – perhaps too far by the concerned look on our skipper Niclas Krafft’s face – ready to hook the rope attached to the buoy that led some 30 metres down to the seabed where the creel lay baited with fish and hopefully containing our first lobster of the day. After a couple of attempts I had the rope hooked and was hauling the creel to the surface, a process that looked a great deal easier when watching someone else do it and with every meter of slippery fish stinking rope that I dragged up I became increasingly conscious about never questioning the price of lobster in a restaurant again.
Finally the cage bobbed to the surface and alas it appeared empty, but then I was looking for the bright red lobster I’d had on my plate in Basement the previous night and not the shiny jet black creature with an orange halo that I could now see looking at me with his beady black pearl eyes disguised in the corner of the creel as I exhaustedly dropped it onto the deck of the boat. Little did it know that in a couple of hours back at Handelsman Flink I would be plunging it into a large pot of boiling water and then eating it with a mesclun salad, toasted dill focaccia and buerre blanc.
We were to catch an even better specimen, an absolutely huge female, but Niclas had some bad news for us when he turned the lobster over to reveal it was laden with eggs.
“The caviar on this female would be worth more than Beluga” he said wistfully, “but if we took this back, and the coastguard found us with it then I’d probably go to prison.”
He went on to tell us that any female carrying eggs had to be returned to keep up the population. What we were allowed to do though is return her in the creel to the sea bed and use her as bait for a male.
Once ashore, the afternoon’s bounty was emptied onto the decking overlooking the bay. It was a crustacean death row of two crabs, a big pile of langoustines and half a dozen lobsters all waiting for their boiling bath whilst some of my companions from the boat showed a kind of ironic solidarity with the catch by relaxing in the nearby Jacuzzi.
As I sat on the decking, the pot boiling away in the background, a fresh chill now in the salty air, looking out into the fading light reflecting on the water where only a few hours previous the still hot from the pot langoustine I was sucking the tail meat out of had been swimming I found myself contemplating the age old fisherman tale of ‘the one that got away’ the huge female spared from the pot that was somewhere out there, on the sea bed, waiting. Waiting for the next lobster safari to come and haul her back out of the depths.
Feeling the pinch
The lobster safari at Handelsman Fink costs £235 per person based on two people sharing (www.handelsmanflink.se, tel: +46 (0)304 550 51). Flights from Stansted Airport with Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com, tel: 0871 246 0000) to Gothenburg City Airport start at £25 including taxes. In Gothenburg I stayed at the Avalon Hotel (www.avalonhotel.se, tel: +46 (0)31 751 02 00) where double rooms start from £100. For more information on West Sweden see www.west-sweden.com.