Ikea's Restaurant Just Isn't As Good As It Used To Be

As far as I'm concerned, Ikea is pretty much a furniture-themed restaurant. Yes, you have to walk through a maze that probably comprises acres and acres of home furnishings, and yes, I generally do pick up a doodad or two while I'm wandering, but any time I make the drive down to the south end of town to visit my favorite Swedish big-box store, it's with only one reason in mind: I want a nice sit-down meal in the restaurant.

My fondness for Ikeas's eatery dates back more years than I care to say, but I started visiting it out of nostalgia for an undergraduate study year spent studying in Norway. (I have zero Scandinavian ancestry, but this meant I was seen as exciting and different and I got to be on TV and meet the king ... not to wander too far off-topic, but this does explain my fondness for a good smørbrød). Scandinavian restaurants aren't common here in the U.S. and what few there are often tend to be upscale and expensive, but Ikea's offerings are pretty reasonably priced. Stopping by the store restaurant for an open-faced sandwich, followed by a slice of cake and a cup of really good coffee in an actual china cup, soon became one of my favorite indulgences. These days, though, when I visit the Ikea restaurant, it's always with a certain sense of disappointment. While I still love the place, it's not quite as good as it once was.

The restaurant has yet to return to its pre-pandemic glory

I'm discussing Ikea restaurants in general terms here, but I must admit that I don't actually travel the country eating at all of them. (Oh, if only I could! Ikea, if you could use a roaming restaurant critic, hit me up.) My earliest Ikea restaurant experiences were at locations in Virginia and Maryland, but my first few years in Milwaukee, where I now live, were sadly Ikea-free. As soon as the Oak Creek Ikea opened up in 2018, though, I was a regular visitor to the restaurant and found it to be every bit as good as I remembered the east coast ones to be.

All this came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. Ikea did open its doors again by summer, but I waited to visit until the restaurant re-opened in October. The day it did, I stood in a long line to get entry tickets and was glad to get in, even though the menu offered little more than meatballs and Daim cake. While I've been hoping ever since that Ikea's Oak Creek restaurant would return to pre-pandemic levels, so far it's yet to get there. Yes, there are more choices now than in 2020, but the cake, salad, and sandwich selection is still looking skimpy. I'm not too thrilled by many hot menu offerings, either, since Ikeas all over seem to be leaning more towards vegan entrees (which is fine, but not really my thing).

Ikea broke my heart by discontinuing the prinsesstårta

The cruelest blow that Ikea dealt me was when they quietly dropped my all-time favorite dessert, the prinsesstårta (princess cake). These dome-shaped pastries were covered with pink or green marzipan (I love this stuff) and filled with sponge cake, cream, and raspberry jam. Not only did Ikea carry them in the restaurant, it also offered frozen ones in the Swedish food market for take-home use and I'd always pick up a package or two (or maybe three).

The last time I saw Ikea's prinsesstårta, which must have been in 2019, I wish I'd bought a truckload of them, since as it turns out, that truly would be the last time I ever enjoyed this treat. All through 2021 and 2022, I'd look for these cakes on every visit, but it wasn't until just a few months ago that I finally turned to Google to find out what happened to them. While I don't believe the retailer ever made an announcement about dropping prinsesstårta from the menu, the internet has confirmed my direst suspicions. Even the Ikea website no longer makes any mention of this cake, while a Reddit thread seemingly confirmed that they've vanished from menus not only in the U.S. but also in Canada and Austria. One person said the cakes were dropped as of October 2021, but I never saw them back at the Oak Creek Ikea after the 2020 store closure. 

You no longer get a free birthday meal, either

Back in Ikea's heyday, the store offered a sweet birthday perk for Ikea Family rewards members. You not only got a $15 gift certificate to spend as you chose, no minimum purchase required but also a meatball meal complete with a choice of almond or Daim cake for dessert. Last year, though, the only food freebie I got was frozen yogurt. The gift certificate, too, was down to $10, although admittedly that is still quite generous. As it happens, I finished my food market shopping (where else was I going to spend it?) half an hour before Ikea's bistro opened, so I didn't bother sticking around for another 30 minutes. I'd have stayed if free ice cream were on offer, but I've always found froyo to be nothing more than an odd-tasting and very disappointing substitute.

This year, the free item was cake, which is nice, but for the first time it came with strings attached (other than being an Ikea Family member): You only got a free slice with the purchase of a full adult entree. This was kind of a bummer for me since I generally prefer the a la carte items like sandwiches and salads, but I dutifully ordered and paid for a meal in order to get my free cake. I got the chocolate layer cake as it offered the best bang for my buck, but it couldn't hold a birthday candle to the sorely-missed prinsesstårta.

Things are starting to look up, though

Even if my visits to the Ikea restaurant over the course of the past few years have been a string of disappointments, I still persist in visiting at least a few times a year and I will admit that things seem to be improving to an extent. For one thing, IKEA's holiday smorgasbords seem to be back. I've yet to attend one, but I did go to a free Midsommar event last June that involved some very tasty mocktails and appetizers (and showed my appreciation for these no-cost nibbles by subsequently spending about $50 in the food market).

On my latest visit to Ikea to score my birthday freebies, I was pleased to see the Skagen shrimp salad croissant back on the menu. While I was unable to order my old favorite at the time since it didn't satisfy the free cake conditions, it's now featured on Ikea's website so I'm hoping the sandwich will still be available next time I'm there. Instead, I tried out a non-Scandinavian entree: a very tasty Cuban chicken dish with plantains and black beans. While I'll forever mourn the loss of my beloved prinsesstårta and may remain a bit huffy over the no more free birthday meatballs thing for a year or two, I'm not giving up on Ikea's restaurant. In fact, I may go back pretty soon for that shrimp croissant, plus there was a rather intriguing-looking mascarpone cheesecake in the dessert case ...