I'll meet you at Fika
Head down the laneway, around the corner and past the gallery. Further down the road, past two old ladies lunching, you will see it bathed in the afternoon sunlight; the place where the love of a four-letter Swedish word is felt in every nook and cranny. Welcome, to Fika Swedish Kitchen.
Fika Swedish Kitchen is part of the burgeoning cafe culture of Sydney's inner-suburbs. Located in the beachside suburb of Manly, owned and operated by three Swedish natives, the café is famed for its modern take on traditional cuisine.
Café owners Linda, Sophie and Diana have their roots in Sweden, and have all lived in Australia for over five years. They share a collective homesickness, a longing that can never be cured with a visit to Ikea. Their longing drove them to search for a way to bring a slice of Sweden to their new home in Manly, and so the seed for Fika was planted. Within months they had a business plan, a space, and a truckload of the necessary passion for the project – but not without some early setbacks.
“We had the great ideas and the willpower, but the funding was a disaster. In Manly rent is not great, and being three young girls trying to be taken seriously by estate agents and lawyers actually took a fair bit of effort. We were treated like three blond girls wanting to play café, and we were basically told we weren’t going to make it."
Despite the hurdles, the girls were determined. They eventually got a space: an out-of-service German restaurant, with outdated and dingy interiors. Over two weeks the girls worked hard to renovate the entire space, making use of the design skills of Sophie and Diana, and becoming recognised customers at the local hardware store.
"We are not the Swedish embassy and we don’t want to appear that way. It’s a balance: pleasing the Scandinavian customers without scaring off the Australians. We don’t want to exclude anyone."
Since its humble beginnings, Fika has flourished, with a growing reputation for fine Scandinavian food with an Australian twist. “Something that turned out to be very popular was the cinnamon bread and butter pudding. It was like a mix of two worlds. The Aussies were like, ‘I understand bread and butter pudding’ and the Swedes would say, ‘Cinnamon, sure!’"
This approach has served the girls at Fika well, creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness that brings in customers of all cultures and backgrounds. “We are definitely embracing Swedish traditions, but I guess in a little more modern way. We don’t have a flag up, or a map of the country. Some people have said we should wear the Swedish folk costume at work. We are not the Swedish embassy and we don’t want to appear that way. It’s a balance: pleasing the Scandinavian customers without scaring off the Australians. We don’t want to exclude anyone.”
The menu at Fika is aptly informed by the culinary traditions of the motherland – eggs are served with extra thin, extra crispy bacon, just like in Sweden. "Little things like that make a difference, we use a lot of parsley, lots of dill, and our salmon dish comes on dark rye bred. And of course we welcome dishes from our Nordic neighbours. We are very happy to have a Danish bread come into the mix, or a Norwegian dessert."
The most delightful dishes are perhaps the kladdkaka and the cinnamon buns – each served on a tiny plate that seems to burst with happiness. If you’re feeling in the mood for something more Wolf recommends relaxing with a chilled Rekordelig cider.
Now an established part of the Manly streetscape, the girls at Fika Swedish Kitchen can sit back and reflect on how much their business has grown. “In Manly, like anywhere, it’s about getting to know the local community. Now more and more people are finding their way to us everyday. We have regulars now. It’s nice; the growing process.”
It’s a well-known fact that all the best places are hidden, and you might have to look a little hard to spot Fika in a crowd, but Wolf guarantees it is worth the hunt. Perhaps you will find your way down this little laneway because someone told you about “that Swedish place”, or perhaps you will be drawn in by the awesome smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns. Either way, if you visit Fika once, you will undoubtedly be coming back soon. With the promise of a coffee delivered with a smile, this is definitely a spot to add to your café bucket list.
Fika Swedish Kitchen
5B Market Lane
Manly NSW 2095
Words & Photography: Camilla Johansson-Merrick