Gaijin takes Asian food to a whole new level. Only in this context could China, Japan and Korea join forces to take us on a joy ride. Ingredients are carefully picked and pickled, the fish is of the finest quality, and all kinds of ingredients, from hamachi to daikon and wakame, are combined in mind-boggling ways. The starter is simply called “Sashimi Tasting”. It comes with hamachi, and salmon so soft and tender it nearly falls off your chopsticks. The wakame seaweed is a bit tough but subtly sweet in flavour. Daikon, a winter radish, comes thinly sliced adding some bite to the creaminess of the fish. Served with Vouvray from Marc Brédif, it works well enough but lacks punch. The Veal Hot Pot is a triumph. It’s comforting and a perfect balance of spicy and sweet, umami and meaty. As we listen to the rap music, and look around the room, the crowd makes us feel our age. This is a hipster spot and all you need to fit in is a tattoo.
It’s a creative atmosphere at Gallery Restaurant, with its dark mahogany ceilings and classic interior with artwork from Hotel Holt’s unique Icelandic art collection on the walls. This mixture of classic aesthetics and bold innovation is reflected in the grandiose wine menu filled with classic as well as themed wines, which perfectly complement Chef Friðgeir Ingi Eiríksson’s successful Latin-Icelandic melting pot. With more than 4,000 bottles in the cellar, this is the place to go in Iceland if you are a lover of rare and fine wines and spirits. From the moment we enter the room, we are engulfed by the classy yet cosy atmosphere. On the impeccably set round table, the napkin holder quotes the father of modern French cuisine, Fernand Point: “Garnishes must be matched like a tie to a suit”. Then we get our first impression of the kitchen with creamy homemade butter and crisp, airy sourdough bread. The first serving is a daring and delectable langoustine soup that combines fresh langoustine with roasted white chocolate cream – a delightful signature course. It tickles our senses when perfectly paired with a 2012 Alsace Pfaffenheim pinot gris. We are intrigued when a rich 2013 Sauternes complements the exotic fruit flavours of the crisp and tender seared foie gras accompanied by almonds and apricot. As a cold appetizer, we recommend the veal tartare with sour cream, bacon and pickled mushrooms. Not a traditional minced meat serving, it is composed instead out of delightfully tasty cubes of fresh veal and decorated with brawn (aka., head cheese). The homemade tagliatelle with Italian truffles, truffle butter and Parmesan cheese is a well-composed but rather traditional main course, whereas the Icelandic reindeer with Italian truffles and braised celeriac in Madeira with white asparagus and blueberry sauce really showcases the kitchen’s creative approach to combining flavours from the Latin and Icelandic kitchens. The tender meat is garnished with a lot of decorative finesses, such as purple lichen, fresh enoki mushrooms, plenty of truffle shavings and a rich demi-glace – and it all tastes delicious together. The chocolate and tonka bean crème brûlée with characteristic smoky perfume notes from the beans, served with creamy chocolate and raspberry sorbets, completes the meal and highlights how the kitchen fully lives up to the quote on the napkin holder.
Vilnius is a large city, but foreign chefs are not very common. Supposedly because people here are not willing to embrace food cultures from elsewhere, something we find hard to believe when visiting tiny Gaspar’s. One look at its patrons makes that seem like a complete myth. In Southern Europe people drink wine with lunch, but definitely not in Vilnius. Or, if they do, they are not Lithuanians. At Gaspar’s, however there are wine glasses on every table, and we cannot hear a word of anything but the local language. It’s a neighborhood restaurant, dominated by a wooden wine rack and a dark blue ceiling. Everything else is discreet and unostentatious. Yet, many things all around are strikingly different from the rest of the city’s restaurants. To start with, the food. In most cases, the ingredients are very familiar, but each dish has an exotic component that makes the otherwise familiar food unique; dorade (gilt-head bream) with bulgur salad and shrimps with cumin, for instance. Gaspars has encouraged Lithuanians to live a more cosmopolitan life and experience new, interesting flavors. A great achievement for a small restaurant.
Extra-dry hipster champagne sets the tone with steely acidity, nuances of wet seashells, herb gardens and a tantalising aftertaste. This is to wash down the butter-brushed flatbread made from barley flour, and an ethereal pâté made from porcini and paper-thin slices of smoked celeriac. We get to fold them ourselves into soft mini tacos, like a Friday night supper for hobbits. It’s a low-key statement, an incarnation from an imaginary peasant’s kitchen in a country similar to ours, but a little prettier. A dinner at Gastrologik is a slow build-up in flavours and expressions that should be assessed as a whole once each piece of the puzzle has been laid. The base note is a little shy, like a reflection of the restaurateur duo Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr. The setting and the service staff, too, have a quiet, warm quality that shines through though on the surface they may seem austere and a bit chilly. But that could be said about Scandinavia, when it’s at its best. Here New Nordic cuisine is celebrated without it feeling like a straitjacket. The season and the ingredients are at the centre. This of course leads to rather different experiences depending on the time of year you eat here. Unforgettable from last summer: a risotto made from asparagus, in which even the grains were made out of the shoot and all those flavours were distilled into a new and higher definition of asparagus. Winter requires a few more accessories, and sometimes these take the upper hand, like when the scallop from Hitra, despite its sweetness and size, is overpowered by browned yeast, fermented garlic and drops of cider vinegar. The seafood surges onward, with monkfish liver and pickled gooseberries on crispy chicken skin. Bright green circles of Savoy kale folded into half-moons over plump cockles are so tremblingly springy that they explode in your mouth. Sea and pasture are amplified by lovage leaves, samphire, and butter made from an Icelandic algae that tastes like truffles. Honey-brushed, flaky cod with sloe berry-poached onion petals, with spruce shoots and dabs of burnt cream complete the theme. Crowd-pleasing mini tagliatelle-like spelt semolina hides a creamy quail egg “from Karolina” with Gotland truffles. It marries with a juicy pinot noir-based Rully wine. The same wine lends itself at least as well to a variation on guinea fowl with thigh, heart and liver in the company of flowering quince, apple and a rich cabbage broth that’s all thrown into the same bowl. A small jewel box with sparkling flavours contains the meal’s crescendo, a midwinter saga about summer’s slaughter and harvest. It contains all those metallic notes of cool Nordic cuisine: water lingonberry, briny elderberries and garlicky pickled ramson buds against the primal and sensual iron sweetness of a dense blood cream. In this case the non-alcoholic blueberry juice works even better than the trendy red wine from Sicilian Arianna Occhipinti. Two goat’s cheeses from Löfsta – aged, finely grated, and fresh – on a hefty pancake made out of maple peas. It’s blunt and too much of a good thing, and of course absolutely wonderful. It is with the dessert trio that Gastrologik hammers home the message that New Nordic is not passé. This year’s dessert is made of caramel from whey with celery-scented beach angelica and a coarse rhubarb mead granité. The caramel sticks to the palate and we want to keep it there. More intellectual and hard to love is the smoked ice cream with resin marmalade and a canopy of spruce shoots and lichen. The apple dessert forms a cloud of raw milk ice cream that rests on a crispy bed of roasted apple pieces and yet another caramel, from tart rowanberries. Elegant sweets made out of propolis, bee pollen, sloe berries, lovage, beets and malt, are flanked by a coffee selection and an entire archive of house-dried herbs that you blend yourself for infusion. It’s a menu that begins really well and just gets better.
“A gourmet country kitchen” reads the introduction to Søren Jakobsen and Villiam Jørgensen’s restaurant in Aarhus. The produce featured in the kitchen’s exquisitely crafted cuisine is thoroughly seasonal, including appearances by apple, beetroot, and parsley root and the evening is a parade of beautifully arranged works of art. The menu is composed as a series of snacks. Some are classics, such as a cone filled with smoked cheese and Kalix bleak roe, while the oyster is right on target with a fresh foam of citrus confit and bonito butter. The staff skilfully and precisely navigate through the vocabulary associated with the orchestrated meal, and at times they draw on help from the kitchen. Gastromé is strongest in its seafood and vegetable dishes, while their pot bread is irresistibly alluring alongside a browned butter whipped with crispy bits of chicken skin. Lobster consommé with fresh lobster-filled pasta, poached quail egg and an attractive green lace of powdered herbs is one of the evening’s highlights, served with a balanced 2014 Jura wine, L'Etoile from Domaine Montbourgeau, whose sherry-like oxidised taste is an adroit pairing with the bittersweet lobster. The precisely fried zander is nicely composed with parsley root, fennel, cress and a foam of bakskuld (salted and smoked witch flounder). But the richness, salt and smoke of this excellent local speciality from Fanø lacks acidity, a deficiency that the fresh sauvignon blanc from Philippe Gilbert fails to rectify. The meat dishes pay homage to off cuts, but the pork cheeks are a tad dry in combination with boiled barley grains, mustard and truffle, ultimately comprising too many flavours at once. The dry-aged beef with beetroot in a variety of textures suffers from the same degree of hyperbole. The desserts offer a respite with the return to lighter fare full of sweetness and acidity: passion fruit, apple, pear, lemon, yoghurt and tarragon. In total, the meal is an array of excellent servings, ambition and daring from the kitchen. Though at times the dishes collapse under the weight of myriad flavours, the aesthetic presentation is consistently exceptional.
Smart design is the first thing you think of when you enter Geiri Smart at the Canopy Hotel, another one of the many new establishments on the recently fancied-up Hverfisgata. The name is taken from a famous Iceland song, “Sirkus Geira Smart”. With a smile we are guided to our seats in a nice, warm room with sapphire-coloured chairs and banquettes. Though we are surrounded by lot of staff, it’s still cosy and relaxed and strangely not even noisy. Cocktails are currently in fashion, and they sure know how to make them here: “You Sexy Thing”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or maybe you would like to try “Wicked Games”? It’s a good selection. You can choose from among the set menus for the whole table or order à la carte. From the “A side” options (they like their music puns here) we choose beef tataki with soy and horseradish, and smoked cod with fermented potatoes. They are both very good. A shellfish soup with scallops and shrimps is nice and warming on a cold night. Blue ling fillet with fried broccolini is super fresh when in season, and the best of the main courses we have tried here. The beef is also tasty and the tagliatelle with Havgus cheese is elegant. We try a red wine from the Canadian grape, baco noir, for the first time ever – it’s an interesting pairing from the well-educated sommelier. Both the Madagascar chocolate with blood orange and the crème fraîche ice cream are tasty desserts. Geiri Smart is a great new choice in town.
At times we must rethink our conventional notions of what constitutes a top-class dining experience. Geist indisputably serves food at a high gastronomic level, but also challenges common doctrines. As we sit in the restaurant’s tightly-packed bar surrounding the open kitchen watching the chefs fast at work, and Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” blasts out of the speakers, the first in array of culinary jewels arrives. Chef Bo Bech’s aesthetic prowess leaves nothing to be desired, and his dishes are edgy in both appearance and taste. The signature dish of delicately stacked pieces of fully ripened avocado, brushed with almond oil and topped with caviar, looks and tastes amazing. The oil brings together the almond notes of the two other elements in pure, seductive elegance – a true masterpiece. Bech is not shy when it comes to combining textures, as evidenced by a serving of smooth, creamy potato purée and Kalix bleak roe. The two elements alone comprise the dish, which may initially seem banal but proves to be courageous and right-on, as the flavour-absorbing mashed potatoes coax forth the depth of the salty fish eggs. The kitchen also masters the art of contrasts. Once again, the eye is provoked by the poached Gillardeau oysters, resting like the Princess and the Pea atop a high bed of baby romaine leaves. Yet there are no peas between the leaves, only oyster cream with the intense flavour of the shelled crustacean, combined with the complex saltiness of the airy whey butter on top. Oysters, lettuce and whey – so simple and yet incredibly delicious. There are some miscues. A large pile of onion skins is unappetising because of the coarse texture and overt raw onion flavour that cuts through the otherwise excellent dressing of tamari, lime, and sesame seeds. On the other hand, the dessert is perfectly tuned with a chewy caramel, caramel cream and flakes of soy meringue seasoned with wasabi. The spicy root gives just the kick needed to escort the caramel instead of derailing it. Paired with a glass of oxidised dessert wine from the Jura winemaker Domaine de Cavarodes, which also plays on the caramel notes, we couldn’t possibly ask for anything more. While the wait staff are pleasant and friendly, their knowledge of the food and wine is quite limited, so oenophiles are left to their own devices. But the bartenders, sharply dressed in white tuxedo jackets, are eminently knowledgeable about their cocktails – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The mocktail with lemon and liquorice root syrup is a stroke of genius, where the liquorice adds depth without dominating the spectrum of flavours. If you enjoy dining in bustling but relaxing surroundings without compromising on culinary quality or complexity, then Geist is among Copenhagen’s best bets.
It takes a special disposition to continuously improve something year after year that, in eyes of most people, is already perfect. Geranium’s Chef Rasmus Kofoed is just such a person, as evidenced in the three sparkling Bocuse d’Or statues adorning the restaurant’s lounge. The menu testifies to this, too, with classics that have been further honed and new dishes that are refined to the smallest detail. Stylistically speaking, the interior of Geranium provides a comfortable setting for a meal where guests can enjoy every aspect of the dining experience, overseen by restaurant manager and all-encompassing host Søren Ledet. The thick tablecloths stretch down to the squeak-free floor, while the comfortably upholstered Danish design chairs offer views of either the open kitchen or the treetops of adjacent Fælledparken, Copenhagen’s largest city park. The service does not leave anything to chance, as waiters hover around the tables like elegant dancers to the sounds of classical music. The mere serving of a gin and tonic is a minor work of art involving an ice cube mould, Danish gin from Klelund, homemade sea buckthorn juice and a thorough explanation from the talented Norwegian sommelier. Lobster in fermented milk with carrot and sea buckthorn is a smooth and gentle start. The complexity and sheer deliciousness of tomato water with ham fat and aromatic herbs proves that simple ingredients can also push the culinary altimeter to uncharted heights. The dish called “Razor clams” is actually composed of thin wheat shells filled with lumpfish roe and sour cream; a crisp and creamy mouthful. The charred potato – served under a glass dome filled with smoke – is a fun déjà vu harking back to childhood camping trips. Trout masquerading as green “stones” covered with dill gelée rounds out the parade of signature snacks, all of which are just a touch sharper and on point than the last time we dined here. The autolytic glass of 2009 blanc de blancs champagne from Larmandier-Bernier proves a good pairing with the luscious snacks. Its biodynamic roots and clean style are emblematic of the wine menu, which features carefully crafted wines, but without the unconventional bent so common in the world of natural wines. The pairings are virtuosic, such as a 2015 alvarinho from Anselmo Mendes in Vinho Verde, whose tight acidity and fruitiness is in perfect tandem with Kofoed’s artistic mosaic of hake rolled in parsley ash. The fish is served like a jigsaw puzzle with Carelian caviar and topped with a sauce split with parsley oil. The dish caters to the eye as much as the palate. The oil is made from parsley stems and the dish has a delicious crunch from the fish’s scales. The no-waste approach recurs in subsequent dishes, including a serving of perfectly fried scallop with a silky thin tuile of roe – the rest of the roe is used in the sauce. This is just one of the many gems preceding the main course, a sweet and delicate Jerusalem artichoke with herbs and a sauce made from duck feet. It is a pleasant surprise to be served an entire menu without a meat-centric dish, yet that still has such intense flavour from beginning to end. It exudes elegance and acumen. After four deserts and a total of 15 courses we retire to the lounge for rum, petits fours and one more show in the form of hand-brewed espresso. At Geranium, Kofoed and Ledet have found an extra gear, and they continue to fine-tune microscopic imperfections that make Geranium sparkle in its richness of detail and dedication.
Gloria commands a nod in more ways than one, anyone taller than 150 cm has to bend down to walk through the low cellar door that leads to this wine lair. Nowhere within a 500 km radius is there a grander selection of libations. Of course it’s up to you to decide what you’re bowing to––the extensive wine list or that single glass of grape juice. Either way, your host, Sommelier Marko Hark is there to help you chose the right drink. And maybe something to go with it, Gloria offers a simple menu comprised of dishes are designed to not distract from the real reason you’re here: to sip a Crémant de Loire, an Alsatian Riesling or a Chablis grand cru. Or perhaps a Margaux, a pinot noir from Alto Adige or an Australia shiraz. This is one of old Tallinn’s most authentic gustatory experiences.
“Enjoy with style” is the tempting catchphrase at GMP Pühajärve Hotel and Restaurant. It‘s worth accepting the invitation as the countryside is some of Estonia’s most splendid, almost as splendid as the champagne that will be the first thing to catch your attention upon entering the restaurant. A Moët Chandon- branded terrace with umbrellas, pillows and blankets. Does this sound like just another alluring cliché? Don’t jump to conclusions, because it actually only gets better. Wait ‘til you see the bread that’s brought tableside. We’re talking about proper country bread, baked the way grandma has been doing it for decades. The two extremes, fine champagne and rustic bread, complement each other surprisingly well. The uniqueness of GMP Pühajärve Restaurant lies in combining urban style and countryside rusticity. The cooking mimics fine dining; the ingredients, however, originate from the surrounding farmhouses. Imagination runs wild at these flavor-loaded dinners, where themes range from distant past to near future, from elk with rowanberry, to duck with pumpkin; from house ciders and lemonades to rare South African wines. For the most unique experience, spend at least two evenings at Lake Pühajärv. Tammuri Farm, located just two kilometers away, offers similar food in a completely different atmosphere.
Kuldiga, in the western part of Latvia, is a small town with a long history and a beautiful old city center. A place like this should have at least one restaurant that you can safely recommend to visitors. That would be Goldingen Room, located right on the main square, it surprises everyone with its tasteful, modern interiors. It’s an Italian-style eatery, with pizzas making up half the menu, yet there are always typically Latvian dishes to be had as well. We suggest you order the mutton roll with pumpkin, prepared according local traditions. Make sure you taste the Kuldiga berry wines. Ask for the very special birch sap wine if it’s available, it’s an absolute symbol of Kuldiga town and the Goldingen Room.
After a short period of renovation the hotel has again opened its doors. This famed Viennese-style café had its glory days in the late 1800s, when it was frequented by the likes of the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Henrik Ibsen. Over a period of nearly one hundred years the awe and well-deserved cool the writer and his friends attracted was replaced by elderly ladies dressed in furs and wearing as much musk as their skin could retain. The air no longer has the residual odor of animal skins and the interior décor is fresher, albeit the walls are now darker, in the classically modern way. The food, on the other hand, is lighter and more inviting than ever with its modern take on, well, almost every cuisine possible. Describing the origins of the courses stated in the menu is easier done with a sawed-off shotgun and a world map. It’s all over the place. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the kitchen is as fine-tuned as a German-Japanese Formula One team. This fusion fare is served in small and medium-sized courses and while it’s good, every dish seems to be hiding all the same ingredients. A dry-aged entrecote is quickly seared in a pan, thinly sliced, drenched in sesame oil and then hidden under small shrapnel of spiralized daikon. It’s fresh and mouth-filling but, sadly, the taste of the aged meat is drowned by the vinaigrette and overwhelmed by the aggressive texture of the small bush of greens. A tartare of beef with cured scallops is covered in crisps, so there is texture to match the cold meat and mature-smelling scallop emulsion, but the funky smell gets lost in the sweetness of the blend of sea and land. The celebrated caviar of the north, vendace roe, is placed on top of a Belgian waffle the size of a small mattress. The fish eggs are accompanied by sour cream, dill and vast amounts of crisps. The wine list has more to offer blue-haired ladies than the absinth-drinking writer. Grand Café is a good place to go for decennial celebrations in the autumn of life, although the wine and food will resonate better with a younger crowd.
Belarus is and will most likely always be in the shadow of the great Russia. Russians, they are all the same? The ones who have visited Belarus do not think so. The people there are very warm-hearted, modest, and hard-working.
There are not many Belarusian restaurants in the world. Tallinn has been blessed, as we now have one such establishment. Very simple and homely. Slightly gauche and shy, but oh how delicious.
Just try their open pies with an abundance of filling or their grenkas (large grilled pieces of bread with different toppings). Even before leaving Grenka, you will be thinking about your next visit.
In 2001, Iceland received a sensational bronze medal in Bocuse d’Or – the unofficial World Cup for chefs. In 2017 Iceland’s time came again, with Viktor Örn Andrésson at Grillið. However, it is Atli þór Erlendsson who is the head chef here. The dining room on the 8th floor of the Saga Hotel has been carefully restored and the view over Reykjavik is magnificent. It raises one’s expectations. The meal starts deliciously with charred scallops with salted cucumber, drops of ramson oil and vendace roe accompanied by dried roe, both as grains and as an emulsion. It’s a fresh start with finely tuned sea flavours. However, the vermentino wine that is paired with the dish is far too simple. The same goes for a Chilean gewürztraminer with a pan-seared ling fish with butter-baked cabbage and chives, fermented garlic cream and sea urchin foam – they are difficult flavours in an unbalanced arrangement. We expect a lot more from a sirloin with a variation on Jerusalem artichokes and red wine sauce and oyster mushrooms – even though the garnacha wine Tres Patas adds to the flavours. The red beet trilogy on hot ceramic dishes offers delicious flavour combos, where the smoked and creamy Icelandic cumin cheese called Tindur matches the earthy red beet notes and whole grains of barley. The natural wine Sota Mon Soleu, a merlot from Ardèche in France, is right on the money with its soft fruitiness. The service is more correct than personal. The desserts are worth waiting for. A granité of rose petals with dried raspberries and meringue is elegant with a half-sweet moscato wine. The chocolate ganache with malt ice cream and native blueberries mingles well with a porter from Borg Bregghús. Grillið is a cultural treasure worthy of cherishing.
The Grillmarket has been one of the hottest places in town since it opened. The bold interior design gives this place quite a unique look and is reminiscent of an American steakhouse. The dried skin of spotted catfish is certainly something to look at on the wall. The restaurant spans two floors, the first floor and basement. On the upper floor you can watch the chefs grilling the food over an open fire. The service is very much alert and attentive. The style of cooking is rather American; though the portions are not as big as usual, which is nice. As a starter the shellfish soup is good and hot, and served with fresh dill. The grilled king crab is rather tasteless and served with seaweed from the south coast of Iceland. The main course of a hefty redfish fillet and smoked pork cheek is a nice duo served with corn and chanterelles. The skyr and liquorice with crispy meringue is really good. Overall we enjoy our visit, and the place is packed as usual on a Sunday night.
Gro has long since found its formula for success and now plays mainly safe bets. They serve two four-course menus at SEK 500, one for vegetarians and one for omnivores. Both are declarations of love to the seasons. Each plate is like a family photo album, where seasonal produce is displayed in various stages: roasted seeds, baby shoots, raw pieces, pickled paper-thin slices, poached and broken down into a smooth purée in the blender, and dried until chewy. Serving super-cute frozen baby grapes from the abbey in Vreta before dessert is a confident stroke of genius. At best it is certainly endearing to get to hang out with the different generations, but this can sometimes feel a little predictable in the vegetarian menu. Even better is when Gro abandons the formula and simplifies to really blunt minimalism, like when a hearty slow-cooked lamb neck is accompanied by both raw and baked beets. The pitch-perfect wine choices add their own distinct voice to the meal. Unlike many other restaurants, Gro’s wine pairings are very affordable and a nice introduction to the world of natural wines. When a variation on Jerusalem artichokes, both puréed and raw, with apples and dark-roasted hazelnuts meets a delightful, elegantly oxidized sauvignon blanc from Alexandre Bain, the taste buds start spinning. The crowd consists of quiet-voiced food purists. The service succeeds in creating warmth and a presence in the uningratiating and brutally stripped down tiny, white room where naked bulbs hang on wires from the ceiling. Little Gro continues to be a higher alternative for locavores.
A large meat cabinet is the centre-piece in the light and elegant dining room. With meat as the star, the menu presents cuts of premium beef carefully cooked on a charcoal grill. But do not overlook the other sections of the menu! The Black Angus tri-tip is juicy with a seductive salty taste, charred by flames and served with tiptop sides: triple-fried French fries, a sharply acidic béarnaise sauce and roasted tomatoes. The salmon is paired with pickled red onions, fresh cilantro and herby dill pesto – a well-balanced dish, although served with a slightly dull chickpea salad. A plate of brutally black and grey colours is an explosion of flavours with a heavy liquorice taste and sour lemon curd – a dessert with attitude. The service is somewhat shaky and the sommelier shows us how matching wines can be done with almost no words at all. A fixed price margin of €20 on all wine bottles makes it possible to enjoy premium wines at fair prices.
To date, Ida-Viru County remains an underrated travel destination. However, there is enough exotic, and at times also extreme entertainment to warrant a weekend visit. And, as a value added bonus, you’re guaranteed to not leave hungry. The best Georgian cuisine (which is also exotic!) in Estonia is offered at Mimino, a gastropub in the suburbs of Jõhvi, along the Tallinn-St Petersburg road, next to a gas station and a mechanic’s shop (which is also exotic!). Sure, the location might raise some doubts, but don’t be discouraged. The restaurant with a somewhat theatrical interior offers the best of Georgian cuisine, quality food, prepared with Georgian gusto, mellowed by the stability of Estonian management; there’s herb-fragrant lamb- and beef kharcho, chahohbili chicken stew with tomatoes and spices, as well as a chocolate zamtari cake, to name but a few of the Caucasus region’s gut-busting delicacies. You’d also be wise not to drive anywhere after visiting Mimino as the generous pours of remarkable quaffs are definitely worth trying; Georgian beer, wine, cognac and chacha, a high-octane grappa (which is also exotic!)
This inn could kick back in one of the armchairs in front of the crackling fire in the drawing room and step into the role of tourist trap. It could be content to rest on its laurels with nearly four centuries of history at this location by the picturesque square with old wooden houses and the mythical atmosphere that the incomparable Carl Jan Granqvist created here for decades. This, however, is not the case. The kitchen shows that it is still well worth a journey. The fancy silver cloches are still in use, but no longer lifted with the previous almost comical devoutness, which we appreciate. No, here the service is relaxed and professional, which is evident from the moment we arrive. The engaged and knowledgeable staff guide us through the meal, but above all through Bergslagen’s treasure trove, the wine cellar, and just that is worth a visit. The menu is regional and seasonal and there are two starters and two main dishes to choose from on the four-course menu. The mushroom terrine is a beautiful creation with alternating slices of king trumpet mushrooms, served with chanterelle cream, crispy mushroom flakes and a warm mushroom consommé poured over the dab of truffle butter to melt it down. It is also a courageous move to lift up the different fungal flavours instead of garnishing the plate with some more flattering detail. The spice-blackened steak from Närke is barely touched by fire, flavourful and tender, and it covers creamy, mashed almond potatoes spiked with Västerbotten cheese, salted celeriac and a crispy slice of rye bread. A very successful dish.
Fermented and organic ingredients with a focus on vegetables, natural wines, a small room with a relaxed atmosphere and a tattooed staff. Check! Grön is the kind of modern, enthusiastic and uncompromising restaurant that you find in all the world’s major cities in the year 2017. But that doesn’t mean there’s something superficially trendy about the place – no, the entire experience is seamless from the bread serving to the last sweet bite. The owners/chefs Toni Kostian and Lauri Kähkönen have a penchant for umami-rich dishes, composed with a light hand, and with a profound yumminess that makes you yearn for more. And more. A good example is the buckwheat tartlet filled with eggs, a sweet onion cream and shredded baby spinach – sprinkled with flakes of frozen onion butter. The small pastry is nicely matched by the acidity in a Vouvray from the bio-winemaker Francois Pinon – fun! Raw, dry-aged beef is an even better combination with hip German winemaker Enderle and Moll’s slightly rough-hewn pinot noir, which is able to match the fiery mustard-flavoured green cabbage that comes with the tartare. This leads us to the best dish of the evening, which is not at all green, but as meaty as can be: a hefty piece of oxtail that has been cooked sous vide for almost 24 hours. It is so tender that all you have to do is poke it and the meat falls off the tail vertebrae. It’s glazed with “pea soy” and has a herby crust. Every bit of fat and cartilage has been broken down and it’s so yummy that the accompanying soft grilled onions, mushrooms, and potatoes have difficulty holding our attention. The beets in a split sauce flavoured with dill and horseradish are a good vegetarian option, though not sensational. We conclude with wild crowberries, reminiscent of blueberries but less sweet. They are served with sorrel sorbet, a cream flavoured with meadowsweet and strewn all over with bits of meringue. One more of those, please!
There is a criterion in the White Guide called “It’s in the walls". Rarely is this as apropos as at Gula Hönan (“The Yellow Hen”). Here the variegated wallpaper converses with the floorboards creating a narrative that sets the imagination reeling. At the beginning of the last century the stately guesthouse was owned by Annie Beutelrock-Krokstedt (what a name!). Annie, strong-minded and modern for her time, was not only one of the first women on the island to get a driver’s license – she was also sheriff in Ronehamn. Even today Annie’s strong spirit floats through these halls. And her reincarnation is very much alive in the garden plot. Surely the colourful Gotländic Anne-Marie Qwiberg is a soul sister with her almost-namesake. Passionate in her task, together with her family, to create a genuine gastronomic experience, she runs the motor at Gula Hönan – the garden. For should we seek the roots of these fairy-tale flavours we must first dig into the plots that surround the house. Anne-Marie’s son and head chef Marc Enderborg’s greatness lies his ability to deftly refine what is grown around the corner. It is also in the soil that our stay begins. The large menu opens with a tour of the kitchen garden. Anne-Marie nips buds, unearths roots and lets us taste shoots that will later become melodies in the symphonies Marc composes in the kitchen. In six years, the symbiosis between mother and son, soil and table, has become praiseworthy. The menu is congenially abrupt. First course: “Skin". A baked zander skin. Concentrated fishy saltiness. The taste buds stand at attention. Via a flavour bomb of potatoes with smoke and lumpfish roe, we are back at skin. “Milk skin. Turbot". On rocks from the beach a few delicious bites of turbot have been plated, wrapped in brittle leeks, dotted with anchovies, smeared with crown dill butter, and topped with fatty milk skin. In our glasses we receive an unexpected New Zealand sauvignon blanc from Momo, proudly served by the winemaker himself. What? Yes, it turns out that our waiter has actually just come from the other side of the earth where he helped create the wine. These things happen at Hönan. “Gotlandic beef. Star-tipped reindeer lichen”. A tartare of beef reverently rests in a little bed of lichen. Then comes a purifying garden salad, pretty as a midsummer bouquet. Dry-aged lamb from Stora Karlsö, Tuscan kale and kelp comes in a rich gravy. After that, a rabbit that has just been friskily munching clover on a neighbouring farm is now a little calmer on its root vegetable bed, and flanked by an unusually deep beaujolais. The Hen has rarely sung so tunefully.
The humble vaults in which Gustav Wasa is located are a living reminder of the fire that destroyed the old city of Vaasa and out of which the new Vaasa emerged. The black walls have been cleaned up, soft lighting has been installed and white tablecloths shine in the red brick surroundings. The staff are young and their sense of teamwork is evidenced by the laughter that rings out amongst them and echoes in this historically preserved building. By the end of the evening you’re calling them by name and asking after the due date of owners’ Tina and Kim Hellman’s baby. The mood may be laid-back but these guys run a tight ship. GW7 is the name of the tasting menu that changes almost daily and always promises to be full of surprises. The sourdough bread is nicely salted, the amuse-bouche gets our taste buds going with potted shrimp, a hit of dill and a smooth aioli. Pears, apples and fizz play on the tongue with each sip of the prosecco. The smoked, pale pink trout has a perfect firm texture and is surrounded by sweetly marinated cucumber. Horse fillet, a rather lean cut, can be fairly tough if it’s not handled with care, but these pros know what they’re doing. The smoky-flavoured meat is rare and tender and served with crunchy beluga lentils and beans. A pinot noir from Chile with its sweet, leathery qualities is an ideal match with this hearty dish. Arriving with precision timing, each dish is arranged by the artists in the kitchen and has the right amount of crispiness, crunchiness, creaminess, sweet, sour and smoke to keep you intrigued about what’s up next. That said, the line-up seems to lack cohesion. On the other hand, local, fresh and just plain damn good food could be what they’re aiming for and it’s hard to argue with that.
Isn't that the poet Kristina Lugn? Oh yes, it’s Thursday, when the Swedish Academy has its dinner meeting upstairs. But this is no longer the only tradition celebrated at the cosy restaurant from the 1700s. There is also a huge legacy to uphold here. If you have been serving comfort food to Sweden’s cultural elite for almost 300 years, one should be wary of any overly daring creativity at the stoves. Serious traditionalists can be happy that Zorn’s meatballs are always on the menu – and always just as fantastic with smooth mashed potatoes and classic accompaniments. Freden’s plate of “house-hung” charcuterie is becoming almost as classic, and rightly so – they know how to stuff sausages here! The more elaborate dishes also keep to the classic, even though the accompaniments are occasionally less so. A really nice steak tartare comes with pumpkin, smoked mayonnaise and hazelnuts, while venison, in the form of both rib-eye and sausage, comes with baked carrot with a lot of root vegetable sweetness and a tart blackcurrant sauce. Well executed and finely balanced. The potato dumplings stuffed with mushrooms are rather tired, even though the lingonberries do their best to liven things up. But the atmosphere is great, and the small wooden tables at street level are practically made for intimate conversations – or lofty carousing about life and art. The professionally friendly and caring service staff performs their part well. Freden also gets a gold star for daily offering a special dinner before 6 o’clock, which includes a glass of wine, beer or non-alcoholic beverage for just SEK 215. Stuff like that delights not only poor artists’ souls.
The crispy-fried Hasselback potatoes with bleak roe and crème fraîche are seemingly simple, but seductively yummy. A mini waffle with chicken liver mousse and port wine-braised onions fills the mouth with distinct liver flavours and sweet scents. A glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne raises the luxury level. Yes, Galleriet at Görväln Slott is a place for decadence. The castle itself, just half an hour from Stockholm, is a different world in a bay of Lake Malaren. We proceed uphill and into the salons and lower our voices in reverence for the ancestors that have slept in this house since the 1600s. The menu with ten dishes is an entertaining read. Behind the unassuming title, “Potatoes – anchovies, bleak roe and sour cream”, hides one of the year’s most spectacular dishes. At the bottom of a heavy mortar we find potato cream and anchovy fillets hidden by a crispy rye bread cap, along with quark, bleak roe and fresh herbs. With the help of the pestle we crush the cap and mix up the dish. It’s fun and yummy. The kitchen here has a big imagination, evidenced by a red-green-white apparition in which turbot and clam-filled ravioli meet artichoke and diced tomato. The wine list is impressive and the selection is entertaining. A mineral Portuguese wine with Arinto grapes generates a lemony affection toward the octopus with radish and oysters. A deep, fruity white Burgundy punches up a festive seafood dish: lobster pieces, omelette cubes and gelée under a blanket of thin slices of raw mushrooms and Gruyère. A nice, tart Barolo makes itself at home with a charming dish of comfort food: lamb isterband sausage with beetroot pillows stuffed with pork and minced lamb. The beef tartare on a black ceramic plate with smoked salmon roe and Valencia almonds is topped by stylish pumpkin triangles filled with cloudberry cream. It’s eye candy on the plate with flavours that sing in your mouth. The wait staff, in grey T-shirts, sneak silently and smoothly around, exchanging dishes and filling our glasses with noble elegance.
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.