Everything starts with and egg, and as the name of this restaurant implies, “The Egg” takes you back to the beginning, to what dining is all about: the flavours, the joy, the ingredients, and the fact that food is something social, that should be shared. Egget is hidden inside the basement of a small wooden house. It is a bit difficult to find, but just follow the delicious scent and you will soon find yourself in a rustic and pulsating cave. The restaurant is a bit rough around the edges, like an old tavern, and loud like a great party. This place has only one rule: There are no rules. It is probably one of the most informal restaurants you will ever set foot in. At Egget they strive to keep the ingredients cheap, and the experience exclusive and exciting. But nobody will bring you cutlery or fold your napkin here. And you don’t pay for that either. You pay for great food. Chef Tony Martin has experience from restaurants like Re-Naa, Tango and Bagatelle. He took over the stoves at Egget in January 2017, and with him came the possibility to book tables here. But you still won’t get a menu. The meal starts when the chef says ’Go!’, and stops when you are full and happy – and remember to let the kitchen know you’ve had enough. First out is a three-step serving of fried bread with ramson gremolata, beets with goat’s cheese and cress, and a ceviche made with cod and leche de tigre. They are all fresh, simple, and down to earth, and plated on brown paper. From the get-go, Egget fearlessly crosses national food boundaries. The menu starts off quite humbly with a halibut with celeriac purée made with cashews before building up the tension with reindeer hearts and tongue. The same glass keeps getting refilled with ecological and rebellious wines like a pét-nat from Cristoph Hock and a mature orange wine from Domaine Matassa. A visit to Egget is fun and exciting and will leave you happier than you ever imagined possible without dessert.
Nestled in the eastern hills of Oslo, the gloriously functionalist 1920s Ekebergrestauranten was brought back to life and reopened in 2005 after decades of neglect. The restaurant is a destination in itself, as much for the panoramic vista and the iconic architecture as for the food. The high ceilings and the white tablecloths make for a formal yet unstuffy atmosphere. The diners are mostly well-dressed families out for a special occasion, along with the odd group of overseas vacationers, so the choice of hit-list r&b music seems out of place. The food is not daring, but solid. Trout confit, served with crispy apple and radishes, is correctly cooked but refrigerator-cold and slightly lacking in salt. A pumpkin soup with pork belly and a grilled scallop has a slight bite of chilli. The best dish is a pan-fried piece of halibut balanced on spring cabbage, new potatoes and caramelised onions accompanied by a well-balanced butter sauce. The dessert, described as a chocolate truffle cake, is more of a cold fondant, served with a rock-hard blood orange sorbet. The service is eavesdroppingly attentive. The wine list is extensive and traditional, with the odd foray into macerated white wines. The atmosphere and the setting make Ekebergrestauranten worth a visit. Hunger is the best spice, so make sure to work one up by first going for a stroll in the nearby sculpture park.
Hay-fired, char-grilled, cabinet-smoked, flamed, blackened and baked in smouldering embers – yes, almost everything here is defined by how it met the fire. Ekstedt’s high-profile restaurant offers sparkling entertainment, especially if you sit at the communal table closest to the kitchen with its blazing hearth. There, with heat-flushed cheeks, you can watch the young head chef Rodrigo Perez use a special iron to melt a fat cap over the fire so the hot droplets fall down, kissing away all the innocence from some oysters that are served like ultra-elegant offerings in their shells. It was a dramatic step for Perez to go from Esperanto’s silk-gloved tweezer gastronomy to Ektedt’s brutal blast furnace mitts, and initially it felt a bit unsteady. But now Perez has found his groove somewhere in between and his self-assured execution is pitch-perfect. Restaurateur Ekstedt himself contributes to the strong character of the place, both through his celebrity presence in the dining room and his Jämtland roots, which come through both in the atmosphere and the cooking. The meal starts with a Norrlandic taco: finely diced venison topside browned in an red-hot cast iron bowl on the table served with pickled forest berries in a warmed flatbread. After a juicy coal-fired lobster in its broth and on a skewer, it’s time for more venison, dried and grated in an airy heap and served with birch coal cream and bleak roe from Kalix that you get to dig out of a charred leek. Blackened bits of hay-fired sweetbreads are so tender they melt in your mouth. The dish gets refreshing acidity from fresh sauerkraut, elegantly enhanced with sorrel, in great contrast to a cream of fermented garlic, the colour, texture and flavour of which is reminiscent of chocolate. The zander has been baked skin-side down on a bed of embers. The crispy skin with large burn flecks makes the dish, and the crunchy theme continues with snow peas and chanterelles. A wild duck cooked over a birch fire comes in two servings, bleeding breast in its jus with grilled heart salad and a thigh to pick up at the exposed bone and eat with your hands. Rolled in sweet crumbs of Jerusalem artichoke and elderflower, the next dish looks like a Magnum ice cream treat. The desserts are the establishment’s weak side. Quince is a vapid fruit which neither wood-oven baking, saffron ice cream nor a fierce herb granité can bring to life. The wine matches are brave, whether you order the pairings or enjoy a bottle with a few dishes. An Italian grenache, with elegant smoky notes, works as excellently as expected, with everything from pike to sweetbreads to a farm pig. Even the beer selection is faithful to the concept with full-bodied beers that support with fire and smoke.
A half step below ground level on a leafy square in a restful neighbourhood lies Elite Restaurant. This is a happy place with a fantastical Art Deco interior that bathes you in flattering colours of orange, yellow and green. Just staring at the art is enough to give you a real lift. Families are welcome and even the littler guests are treated with deference. Whether the paintings were in lieu of bar bills or gifts from grateful patrons, it shows off the clientele that have been frequenting Elite since 1932. Tauno Palo, singer and actor, was one of these and his favourite steak is still served today. The Artist’s Menu looks more appetizing than a slab of meat with onion sauce (Tauno Palo’s favourite), and it begins with salmon and crayfish galantine with a slice of brittle, almost transparent rye toast. Trout as a main comes with a crispy skin and if it were not for the pimento, it would be quite bland. Pine nuts contribute some crunch. The crème brûlée is as it should be, nice and hard on top and creamy underneath. But the wine selection, alas, is too dull and lacks imagination. Elite is a classic and almost everyone in Finland knows this restaurant. It will always be here, it will always be frequented and the interior is absolutely worth the visit.
Outside there’s a discreet sign and a golden doorbell. Igi Vidal, who also runs Bloom in the Park, has decorated the old house with wall panels and antique, carved furniture. It feels stately and private, the service is omnipresent and the atmosphere low-key. There’s no music, because here it’s all about the conversation, the drinks, and the food. The tables are few, there is a bar area where the house serves gin with homemade tonic and upstairs you can choose a wine that you fetch yourself and pay for when you go. The tasting menu is eaten (unless otherwise agreed) at a community table together with other guests. But first champagne, served on sofas in the salon with dainty hors d’oeuvres like oysters with tonic tapioca and neat, grassy flavours. The charismatic and talkative restaurateur makes sure the guests all introduce themselves to each other, getting the evening’s discussion underway. Here Chef Julia Hansson, who for years trained under Titti Qvarnström's wing, has started on her own journey and takes us through the land of Sagrantinia with a little beef tartare, pickled mustard seeds and quail egg, served under the lid of a jewellery box, and wild boar (which she might have hunted herself but which comes from a local hunter). The dishes are aesthetically delicate, like cottage cheese ice cream and fennel on a mirror of divine caramel sauce, which immediately affixes to our collective food memory. Each dish is also well matched by Vladan Jakesevic, who picks his own favourites from the wine cellar. On some evenings the restaurant is open until two in the morning, in which case the conversation continues into the wee hours in the salon beside the beautiful digestif cabinet.
Helsinki is quite small and most eateries are reachable on foot. EMO is no exception, just a few steps off the lively Esplanadi. The place has a toned-down, Japanesy feel to it with vertical textile screens that do very little to stop your neighbours from hearing or seeing what you’re up to. Our waitress is friendly and down-to-earth as she hands us the impressive wine list. A glass of German riesling from Haus Klosterberg should work with the beetroot soup, she says. It’s fresh and clean as a whistle, and does wonders for the deeply flavoured soup. Goat’s cheese cream and chopped chives add to the experience. There’s a low-key sophistication about Gastrobar EMO that seems to appeal to businesspeople. The ground beef from Eastern Finncattle (Kyyttö) comes with quinoa, mushrooms and yoghurt souped up with saffron. It’s well-executed in EMO’s characteristically unpretentious style. A glass of Madiran courtesy of Alain Brumont helps things along. We finish with a lovely dessert: crumbled chocolate sponge cake with milk chocolate ice cream, passion fruit sorbet, passion fruit gelée and flaky meringue. Plus a macchiato, which – somewhat mysteriously – arrives before the dessert.
Owner, sommelier and chef Damiano Alberti hails from Piedmont and makes simple Northern Italian food at Enomania, which since our last visit has doubled in size to also include a wine shop. The menu changes on a daily basis and you can order the full menu or à la carte in large or small portions. This is a flexible establishment with a keen understanding of guests’ individual needs. We start with grissini and luscious focaccia served with a grassy olive oil and assorted Italian charcuterie. Our friendly waiter pours hay-yellow greco di tufo from Campania to accompany the risotto with white asparagus and a cut of steamed cod. The risotto is simply perfect in its creaminess - neither too thick nor too thin. The grains of rice are al dente and there’s a ton of asparagus flavour – it doesn’t seem heavy in the slightest. In fact, this light starter only piques our appetite for more. We practically lick our plates clean. Homemade filled pasta – cappelletti – with cockerel mince and purée and crisps of Jerusalem artichoke is a pleasure to eat. The pasta has a good bite and the light mince benefits from the staunch smoked umami of the Jerusalem artichokes and the dark chicken broth in the bottom of the bowl. New peas add a fresh touch and we drink a sublime 2012 Barolo from Burlotto Cannubi. Tonight's wine pairings are well composed and a good value, but you can also choose to run amok in Enomania’s renowned wine cellar, which sports superb wines – especially from the Piedmont, Tuscany and Burgundy – featuring top winemakers such as Méo-Camuzet, Armand Rousseau and Gaja, in addition to other well-chosen and more affordable wines. If life on Earth were coming to an end, we would spend our last days in Enomania’s wine cellar.
It could well be that there are too many Italian restaurants in Tallinn. Their numbers, however, don’t necessarily mean quality. Thankfully Enoteca Lucca offers the finest of just that, without making much noise or trying to attract too much attention. The chic wine shop and eatery is nestled on the ground floor of a contemporary, multi-story building, you have to know it to find it. All wines sold here are offered in the restaurant, they’re hand picked, personally imported and not available anywhere else. Best of all, you don’t have to commit to a whole bottle as a large number of them are offered by the glass, opened and preserved with a Coravin device. The predominantly Italian wine selection pairs very well with the classic, Mediterranean-tinted fare, Don’t miss the vittello tonnato if it’s on the menu, nowhere in Tallinn will you find such gastronomic stand-out of such excellent quality. If you forgot how exquisitely tasty a schnitzel can be, Enoteca Lucca’s version, fried crispy in butter, will remind you immediately. By all means, do trust the astute wine suggestions that come with each dish, though if you enjoy surprises and rarities, be sure to ask the sommelier for alternative recommendations. Enoteca Lucca is a little Italian gem that grows on you; it’s very easy to spend more time here than you originally thought you would.
Rapidly evolving gastronomy is most often characterized by turbulence. There are no guarantees that you’ll get the same menu and a similar experience next time you return to that new favorite place. That’s why we like Entresol, it’s impressively dependable and solid. They’re probably not trying to be the country’s best restaurant, but they’ve definitely contributed to the development of the new Latvian cuisine and helped shine a light on it. Knapas, or Latvian-style tapas, don’t exist anywhere else. And we’re not talking about things that come out of tin cans and jars, served straight up with bread; these are amuse-sized little bites such as smoked duck with pumpkin purée, octopus with potato or rabbit pâté with lingonberry jelly. The kitchen recommends fashioning your own appetizer by choosing three from the vast variety featured on the menu, more than half of them have local accents, all boast the unmistakable aromas of truly fresh ingredients. If you happen to visit on the early side of lunch, you’ll spot local farmers personally delivering newly plucked produce to the restaurant’s doorstep. The ostrich filet main course is a truly Latvian creation. Unbelievably, the giant birds are farmed all over the Baltics these days. This one is served grilled with potato foam, marinated mushrooms, reduction sauce and the value-added bonus of grilled ostrich heart. The waiters in Latvian restaurants don’t usually entertain their guests with too much information, Entresol is a pleasant exception. Here they always point out specials and explain everything in detail. There’s something to be said for quality and consistency, not everything needs to inventive and new.
“Good evening, signori,” says our waiter, and thus begins our evening. Era Ora is the consummate fine Italian restaurant and the service is sublime: attentive, discreet and confident. Since the turn of the millennium, Chef Antonio di Criscio has carried the torch for Denmark’s most iconic Italian food. Being an Italian gourmet chef is an often thankless task, as the simple fare is difficult to improve upon. Accordingly, a number of dishes on the menu tend towards innovations that work better in theory than in practice. Why, for example, should we eat faux olives when their
Texturas-produced skins turn to crunchy sand in our mouths? The experience is equally off-putting when sturgeon fillet is served on such a hot stone that the fish becomes overcooked before the waiter finishes explaining the dish. However, when the kitchen embraces the characteristically Italian fanatic devotion to high quality ingredients, the results are outstanding. Raw Sicilian shrimp melt like butter on the palate, evoking a sweet nuttiness that perfectly accompanies the flavours of artichoke and mandarin, and droplets of shrimp bisque and parsley-coriander oil. The firm and creamy tartare of Fassone veal and hazelnuts – both from Piedmont – and a tart serving of dried tomato and pickled daikon further exemplify how the kitchen brings ingredients to the forefront with good balance and a delicate, clean taste. Era Ora won last year’s White Guide award for Wine Experience of the Year, and the wine here is still exceptional. This is largely due to the unconventional cellar and the serving method where all glasses are primed with wine to get rid of any off aromas before they are used. Our sommelier has a flair for pairing food and wine in combinations that accentuate both elements. The wine menu is largely composed of glasses from small producers outside of the usual appellations, making a visit to Era Ora an education in Italian wines. For example, the tartare is served with a 2010 Balconi Rossi from the small producer, Le Vigne di San Pietro. The wine has a refreshing acidity, delicate tannins and a cherry fruitiness, dispelling any notion that the only thing to come out of Veneto is pompous amarone. And, of course, the wine goes perfectly with the elegant dish. The service, wine handling and decor at Era Ora are top-class. The food largely keeps pace, but a little too often we find ourselves longing for greater focus on the ingredients and less show.
At a safe distance above the locks, building excavators and bulldozers currently hacking up Slussen, Gondolen remains impervious. The restaurant, which has over 80 years of history, was reborn by Erik Lallerstedt in 1994 and still caters to a motley crew of families celebrating birthdays, curious tourists and couples in love. It is dressy, popular and booked solid. The flow of guests and different seatings is as smooth as it is well organized. Gondolen is a factory, where the large kitchen produces a democratic restaurant experience practically on an assembly line. The efficiency is impressive. Anyone who harbors a fascination for industrial processes should sit in the tiled kitchen area where the industriousness at the stoves and ovens serves as entertainment. It’s a bit more official and ceremonial in the dining room overlooking the Old Town and Skeppsholmen. Butter and cream are the lubricant in Gondolen’s culinary machinery and, consequently, it runs thick and heavy on the plates. The kitchen handles most things with flying colours, but we do not come here to be confronted with new flavours or techniques. The lobster soup with seared scallop and artichoke is a smooth and piquant introduction. The tartare of blackened veal with cabbage and thyme cream is a heavy foreshadowing of what is to come. Main dishes like baked rainbow trout with pork belly, apple and lobster mayonnaise and whole-roasted veal tenderloin with port wine sauce and lingonberries reinforce Gondolen’s status as one of the city’s heavy- weights.
Sayan Isaksson and his kitchen staff continue to hone their finely tuned poetic gastronomy, which so credibly blends the best of the Nordics and Japan in a generous yet restrained performance that engages all the senses. On a staggeringly high technical level Isaksson is the master of small expressions, which is evident in the initial parade of nine amuse-bouches. A quail egg in an eggcup made of salt is marbled in black vinegar, and the umami volume increases a half-notch when you dip it into a speckled mushroom mayonnaise (see cover photo). In this era of umami shock it is gratifying to find an example of the fifth taste sensation’s entire lovely register. Nowhere else can you eat with your eyes like this. Brittle tubes of dried black garlic on a bed of charred garlic peel are mesmerizing and, with a hidden filling of freshly picked greens, it is as much an exercise in texture as taste, where soft and chewy meet fresh and crunchy. This clear focus on textures is the big revelatory experience of the year. A little taco boat of cod skin contains a raw shrimp with an almost sticky-sweet creaminess on a bed of airy shrimp mousse with a bite of acidity. The first bread presentation is a crispy branch of seaweed with small paper-thin leaves and house-made nori – a calligraphic sculpture. That Isaksson recreates his entire menu (the six-course is a compressed version of the ten-course) between seasons is impressive. A few signature elements naturally stay on, like the origami flower of dried milk skin, now with crab inside, which is presented tableside in a small smoke-filled cloche. Most dishes include a small flourish at the table, and the whole dining show has found a new confidence that balances deftly between the formal and the informal, underscored by the fact that the sommeliers now glide around in long-sleeved, black cotton sweaters. A semi-transparent screen partitions off the Imouto sushi enclave in the far corner, and the slightly subdued hustle from there no longer collides as it did initially with the dining room, which develops its own light and murmur with a little help from what head sommelier Sören Polonius pours in our glasses. Polonius has now managed to build up the cellar with proper top picks, often six unique bottles from one legend and a unique case from another, and the wine menu refuses to take a supporting role in the big picture – for better or worse. This applies in particular to the “Coravin” section, three glasses of unique old-timers that you can get as part of your wine pairings “at the daily price”. The risk is of course that a wine with over 50 years behind it, like the red ’67 from the Cotes du Jura, does not have enough fruit to cope, in this case with one of the winter menu’s highlights – a shiny disc of beef marrow doused in a high-octane bouillon of oxtail and roasted cauliflower and topped with a spoonful of fresh Carelian caviar. Here Isaksson shows that he has also mastered the flavours in the heavier register without losing his unique musicality. He hits every note with the Linderöd pig, whose seared loin is hiding, along with a clam cream, under a slim circle of crème fraîche strewn with hazelnuts and delicate pieces of puffed pork rind. Never before has pig been served with such finesse. A quail from Norrby Säteri shows that the house takes advantage of the bird from beak to tail. The breast is served with “a study in white onion”, an artistic arrangement where a jus, cut with the fat from the quail and scented with poppy and mustard seeds, is poured over the heart and liver from the bird. On the side, the thigh to gnaw upon. For dessert, delights from the vegetable kingdom are a surprise: it is not every day one gets a fresh beetroot caramel and brown bean tartlet.
“This aligoté is only available here and at Septime in Paris”, says Niklas Ödman, the house sommelier, as he pours the 2014 Alexandra Couvreur to accompany the Icelandic langoustine, seared rare with a liaison sauce and pickled Muscat pumpkin. With these words he has aptly positioned Ett Hem as elitist; the exclusive micro-hotel has indeed achieved the status of international icon. The dinner service is primarily for the guests staying in their 12 rooms, but if they have extra seats they open them up to non-residents. All tables are communal – in the kitchen, library or orangery – which enables the city’s most interesting mix of diners with unique possibilities to establish contacts in a relaxed, familial setting. On an informal bench in the kitchen you can study the chef’s feats at the Molteni stove. Up to forty guests can order the same menu, which can make things a bit hectic for their three chefs, Martin Brag, Johan Sundén and Leo Frodell. This is evident in the somewhat rough, almost messy presentations, though they reflect Ett Hem’s philosophy of presenting a lot of big flavours and textures in richly assembled compositions. Under a frothy almond milk hides a tartare of seared halibut with Kalix bleak roe, lovage, toasted almonds, and a nutty foam made from Rossa, a washed rind cheese from Oviken. Add to that both fried and raw, planed Jerusalem artichokes and generous amounts of grated winter truffles. Yum. Crispy fried breast of Swedish duck is served with a cinnamon-cured thigh, semi-dried beets, toasted hazelnuts and watercress – powerful flavours that require a mature Barolo in the glass.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.