You won’t find a family restaurant like this one anywhere else in Estonia. Run by Marju and Shuichi Shiraishi, the couple has managed to create a unique Japanese dining experience in an unassuming (perfectly Nippon:esque) home-turned-restaurant. The tiny house might sit off a busy street, but the dining room is as tranquil as a Kyoto teahouse, decorated with Japanese art and carvings, and tables set with origami crane chopstick holders that Marju folds every morning. The menu is ambitious, yet sincere. Shuichi’s experience cooking in various exotic locales can be sensed throughout the menu, and New Nordic influences are present here and there, like the beef marinated in Scandi-flavored miso sauce. The salty sweetness of a duck tataki, brightened with tangy citrus sauce, is beautifully paired with a glass of crisp, sparkling wine.
In the entrance stands a large, worn carpenter’s bench, in contrast with the otherwise modernly furnished space. To the left is a spacious bar with cosy armchairs for a layover en route to your table. Or spend the whole evening at Spritbordet (“The spirits table”), where the bartenders tailor-make sets of drinks and dishes for groups of eight. To the right is the large open kitchen with a number of bookable seats at the bar where you can watch over the hardworking kitchen crew. The snacks consist of a miniature Parisian waffle with a dollop of chicken liver mousse and onions glazed in port wine; small Hasselback potatoes with caviar and sour cream; and Japanese omelette – tamago – with a piece of skrei, Västerbotten cheese and mayo mixed with relish. In the breadbasket we find steamed hot tuttul – thin bread that originated in near Lake Siljan - baked with pressed potatoes. It comes with a mini-pot of moist country pâté with a lot of character. The pork chop is slow-braised and tender, and includes such generous amounts of equally soft onions and butter that the fatty liquid drips between our fingers as we try to eat the dish taco-style. The dish described as “Almost raw herring with aquavit, böckling, potato croutons and caviar” might sound intimidating for those afraid of excessive “fishiness”, but is in fact a well-balanced experience with mild, fresh sea flavours and a pleasant little kick from the aquavit. Thinly sliced raw beef from Lövsta Kött outside Uppsala is served successfully with Jerusalem artichokes, Gruyère and intense, roasted hazelnuts. The whipped cream dessert called Änglamat is a sure winner with acerbic lingonberries, crumbled cookies, vanilla ice cream and sticky caramel sauce. The wine list is not too long, but contains a well-chosen assortment that leans towards the natural and organic. The kitchen was recently taken over by Stefan Ekengren – formerly of Görvälns Slott – so we expect even more from Hantverket in the future.
Happolati is located in the old grounds of the former fine dining bastion of Ylajali, but it doesn’t need any of this legacy to stand firmly on its own. Since opening in 2016 it has rocketed towards stardom and is now considered one of Oslo’s – and Norway’s – most exciting restaurants. The foundation is Asian cuisine, but from there it grows out wildly in many directions. You’ll find homespun variations on street food traditions such as the Chinese bao bun, but that’s where tradition stops and inspiration takes over. Picture it filled with red king crab and then deep-fried, hitting very spicy and buttery notes simultaneously. It appears again, served on a DIY platter of desserts, caramelized and ready to be stuffed in your mouth with banana-chocolate ice cream, sorbet, popcorn, and fruity dipping sauce. Expect to use your hands quite a lot during the set menus, as this is tactile, messy food – and it’s deeply satisfying both to handle and consume. Whether you’re asked to put on blue plastic gloves to eat shellfish Neanderthal-style, assemble your own veal cheek tacos, or dip deep-fried cod’s tongue in a tart chilli sauce, dining at Happolati never gets boring, old or gimmicky. It is an effective way of engaging the customer, and this playfulness permeates the whole experience. Most important of all, though, is that everything tastes extraordinarily good, and in comparison with many of their peers, the cooks at Happolati do not hold back on the chilli. After perusing their wine selection you’ll be able to name your new favourite Greek or Hungarian varietal, and with a good sake menu to bookend the night, you’re in for a unique treat
Haapsalu town’s Dietrich Café was an institution already 100 years ago when their excellent baked goods were famed far beyond the city limits. The current Hapsal Dietrich, opened with Maie Dietrich’s blessing, descendant of the famous café’s owner, aimed to restore the place’s former grandeur and improve Haapsalu’s culinary reputation as a whole. It all went very quickly, within just a few years Dietrich 2.0 enjoyed great acclaim, which in turn encouraged other entrepreneurial Haapsalu residents to open restaurants of their own. What we love the most about Dietrich are the dishes prepared with local ingredients: the anglers’ daily catch, wild game from Linnamäe Butchery and Canning company, and cheese from Nõmmiku Farm. The dining room is adorned with photos of the original Dietrich Café, underlining the continuing tradition, and illustrating Haapsalu’s past. This makes you want to stay here longer, which in fact you can, Hapsal Dietrich’s guest accommodations are the city’s best.
Viljandi County has always been, and still is Estonia’s granary. The roads around here are choked with agricultural vehicles, the landscape is a vast canvas of gold and green fields. Though finding a good place to eat in this part of the country isn’t easy, the farmers who grow good crops can also prepare the best food, there is no real need to dine out. If you can’t get yourself invited to their dinner tables, head to Harmoonia, a very suitable place if you’re curious about local Estonian cuisine. Situated in the community center yet looking every bit like a plush establishment with warm brown interiors and starched tablecloths, it introduces the regional food culture without much fanfare or frills, just genuinely and simply, like it’s done in most Estonian homes. Golden fish soup of cod fillet, vegetables and fennel, probably the most common soup in Estonian homes, has delicate cod mixed with stronger flavors of fresh vegetables and a soupçon of saffron.
It does not get more beautiful than this in the Åland archipelago – and that is saying a lot. Furthest north, out on a peninsula among the bare cliffs and windswept pines, you will find this place which has developed over time into a full resort with a hotel, several cliff houses for more private getaways, swimming pools and a restaurant. After a stroll through the surrounding area and perhaps a dip in the wood-fired hot tub, when you finally sit down in the dining room with its stunning views over the northern Baltic, it is not without expectations. This kind of pressure could give any kitchen the jitters, but Havsvidden takes a sensible approach. The menu is short and the ingredients are carefully selected, preferably from as close by as possible. An airy green pea soup has been beefed up with pieces of mild smoked salmon, and it’s a good start with its nicely balanced sweetness and acidity. The tabbouleh lamb is a bit odd (a breath of Africa feels a bit strange here in this northern archipelago), but the kitchen is adept and when a nicely grilled perch lands on the table, order is restored. Beef tenderloin with red wine sauce is a very retro dish, especially when served with bacon-wrapped haricots verts, but we honestly enjoy every bite. The wine list is short and does not offer so much by the glass, but the charming staff are happy to open a bottle if you ask. Overnight guests will be treated to a super nice breakfast in the morning.
The first step inside the restaurant does not reveal the rurality of the place. Rather, the milieu is vintage formal. Not even the small menu betrays the distinctiveness of Hea Maa, which becomes clear only when you have a chance to talk to the chef-patron.
He can tell interesting stories about every base material used. Some are hand-grown and handpicked. But there is not much time for these talks, as the chef’s place is in the kitchen.
Hea Maa is quite a small enterprise. It manages with few employees and is in the exact same mood as the chef. Outside of summer season, the restaurant does not see many visitors, so feel free to strike up a conversation with the chef.
This is very much a one-man-show. Cuban Chef Arto Rastas glides in between the strict-backed chairs of black wood in this small but charming venue, while the cooks work diligently behind the door to the kitchen. The menu is playful and young couples, locals and visitors, all study its contents with a smile on their lips. The dishes make references to both film and music, like “Smoke in the consommé”, “All you need is lovage” and “Godfather’s egg”. The latter opens both the six and twelve-course menus on a strong note. A 63° egg with seaweed, caviar and Parmesan sauce has a nice saltiness, and it is well balanced by the residual sweetness in the prosecco it’s paired with. The sea theme continues with a piece of pike, served with its fried skin, resting on a slightly too icy Granny Smith apple sorbet. Chilled sake is an exciting taste combination, but hardly raises the temperature. The subsequent “Goldfish”, however, compensates for this. A piece of whitefish rests in a pool of Hollandaise, surrounded by samphire and round slices of yellow beets to complement the palette. When Arto announces “Silence of the Lambs” some of the English-speaking guests become nervous, but they calm down when it turns out to consist of two substantial pieces of lamb liver served with green beans, carrot purée and a powerful reduced sauce. The mellow chianti fits perfectly. Arto is passionate about Old World wines, primarily because of the environment. (“They have not travelled as far”.) On the other hand, the white chocolate in the dessert hasn’t exactly come from next door. It is served with lingonberry gelée and paired with a sweet French white wine to complete our visit to this little understated restaurant.
Paul Cunningham’s wizardry in the kitchen is currently celebrating exorbitant triumphs everywhere one looks. But is Henne Kirkeby’s similarly magical? We arrive at the low-ceilinged and fully booked inn at 12 noon on the dot to take in the kitchen’s exploits by the light of day. We are briskly escorted to the furthest corner of the establishment by a young crew of waiters, who immediately – in an informal but not unprofessional tone – present the day’s six-course lunch menu and the optional cheeses. The premises are characterised by an airy, minimalistic decor with mile-wide leather designer chairs, white walls with artworks in predominantly dark shades and contrasting explosions of colour from the fresh flower bouquets imported from the North Sea terrain just outside the door. It is exquisite and elegant, aided along all the more by the crisp and distinct acoustics: perfect for intimate conversations with your lunch companions. Two fresh starters arrive in the wake of a glass of apricot-aromatic and acidic albariño from the somewhat overlooked Galicia: a crispy open pie with lumpfish, lumpfish roe, chives and crème fraîche, and a small dark rye bread crisp with tartare and quail egg yolk. Unpretentious and heavenly, the kitchen delights in the quality ingredients, with variations in texture and no-nonsense presentations. The direct style insistent on fresh, top-shelf ingredients permeates the meal, including the next maritime dish: Cod, beurre blanc, pointed cabbage and a handful of Danish shrimp. Rustic and, once again, unpretentious. The citrus of the beurre blanc, the firm bite of the shrimp and the perfectly prepared cod (which falls into clear flakes) join in beautiful sensory symbiosis. The wines are kindly available in half glasses so that you can drive home, but if you aren’t getting behind the wheel and choose to drink away, your glass will be attended to expertly by your skilled waiter. Unfortunately, an oaked 2012 riesling from Trimbach in the dry Alsace style can just barely go toe to toe with a fat-intensive, rich serving of terrine of pork, foie gras, red onion compote, watercress and grilled, oil-drenched bread. Here we would like to see the wine offer a palate-cleansing balance to the heavy and somewhat oversized dish. The next dish is also rich and delicious, the pub classic fish and chips in a tear-jerking version with triple-cooked chips and all the trimmings. The acidic richness is perfectly balanced, not least thanks to a vinegary tartar sauce and a refreshingly sturdy Provencial rosé, which impresses not with its complexity, but rather its hyperbolic drinkability. The dish – and indeed the meal in its entirety – is informal and wonderful in the abode of the ever-vivacious Paul Cunningham.
Spacious and bright, with discrete and efficient service, Hõlm is Tartu’s grande dame of restaurants, an elegant classic. Once awed by the dignity of its atmosphere, you’re bound to be equally impressed by its drinks menu. A more exclusive champagne selection is hard to find. Tartu’s dining scene isn’t exactly known for offering fine wines, Hõlm is the exception. Its food menu might seem shockingly short, but it’s all about quality, not quantity here; the dishes on offer are contemporary and refined, a quarter of them are vegetarian and have become personal favorites. Don’t miss the
leek, false morel and sunflower seeds; mushroom toffee with chocolate and biscuit ice cream. You’d do well to try a glass of Ayala Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 too. The noble restaurant is modest, perfect for a quiet, elegant meal that would only be improved by spending the night at the Hotel Lydia where Hõlm is situated. Lydia and Hõlm have taken hospitality to a whole new level in Tartu.
Horisont’s biggest draw? That would be the scenery. From the 30th floor of this restaurant within the Swissôtel you can spot the horizon. Most of the dining tables have window seats, affording a mesmerizing, front row-spectacle of evening lights and sweeping views of the waterfront and Toompea, Estonia’s oldest fortress. Swissôtel Tallinn was one of the first international hotel chains to open here, bringing flair and finesse to the country after it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Today it’s a dependable work horse, the food isn’t ahead of its time, but the quality is consistently great. The service is perfect and the bar mixes every tipple imaginable––you need to try at least one, as this is the place that shaped Estonia’s current cocktail culture. The kitchen is helmed by Chef Marko Sõmer, the wine selection is managed Sommelier Jüri Viital, since they were put in charge, Horisont has gained in popularity, attracting not only the hotel guests but also, most interestingly, local food enthusiasts . Sõmer’s menu is inspired by international cuisine, seafood is prominently and generously featured Cobia ceviche with fennel lime gel, grey mullet with caponata and roasted onion-orange purée taste extra special when enhanced by the ocean views far below. In addition to the à la carte options, Horisont also offers three tasting menus with drink pairings.
Much has happened in Sweden’s restaurant world since Pelle opened in the early 1990s. But while restaurant trends come and go, Pelle stands firmly in the kitchen and continues to lovingly transform high-quality local produce into tasty and stylishly plated Swedish comfort food. Whether you choose the dining room or the simpler bar, you’ll always find the place full. Even on a regular Wednesday there are diners of all ages – a young couple, a group of seniors, and a few celebratory groups of families or friends. The sparsely decorated dining room is pleasant and homey with its walls adorned with art for sale, hefty wooden tables, and candlelight. In recent years, Pelle has simplified his menu. There are few dishes to choose from and we recommend Pelle’s incredibly affordable four-course menu. We receive an excellent Swedish squid and oyster mushrooms paired with an equally excellent wine: a Faubel chardonnay. The chartreuse-coloured and wonderfully invigorating Tuscan kale soup with apple and anise caresses the taste buds. Hearty and tender veal cheek with oyster mushrooms has a hint of lovage that contrasts nicely against the sweetness of a carrot purée. It’s paired with a full-bodied and delightful Ripasso. The apple finale comes with the finest almond cream, enhanced by a sweet Monbazillac. “Like stuffing your nose in a jar of raisins”, says one guest about the French dessert wine. We are satisfied after a long evening and hope for continued artful cooking here for another quarter century.
We take the last steps down into José Cerda’s alternative universe and close the door. The city’s alarms are dampened, the sound of the trams passing the crest of the hill subside and expressive flamenco music begins on a sober, minimalist stage featuring dark woods and a gently rolling cloth ceiling in the Japanese style. A bamboo blind has been rolled up, and on the counter above the six illuminated dining stations, directly in everyone’s focal point, is the epicentre of the action – the massive cutting board. There is no doubt that the ingredients and the food play the lead roles here. With the first bite of a crisp, buttery Savoy cabbage leaf topped with soft, tangy cream, hay-smoked trout roe and lemon zest, everyday life ceases to exist. Then, when a rowdy nest of fried potatoes rustles apart in your mouth it releases yummy, intense flavours of chive emulsion, black and mighty fruity-sweet fermented garlic, air-cured luxury Spanish ham and pulverised sharp and tangy malt vinegar. Next, a beautiful forest-crazy combo of chartreuse-coloured raw mushrooms wafers that have been dipped in spinach and yuzu powder. Underneath them hides a mushroom cream, charred pine needles, Jerusalem artichoke and bleak roe from Kalix. The drama continues and José clarifies that he does not like leeks. Flames and sparks crackle in front of our eyes, and a minute later we are served a study in sweetened, mashed and steamed leeks – mastered and tamed into something familiar yet magically different. When mashed potatoes with crayfish and crayfish coral make an entrance we almost drown in a subdued flavour register of pure and deep umami. The first act is over and the silence settles, except there’s a whisper from one of the guests: What flavours! The following eight bites of sushi are just as memorable. Zander has been marinated in seven-year aged kombu kelp. The rice is handpicked from Nigata and mixed with both acclaimed Spanish sherry vinegar and Japanese sake, giving it a lovely, deep and mellow sweetness. Old mouldy wooden beams have given life to the three-year aged soy sauce and the fresh wasabi from England is grated on sharkskin. The octopus is epic, beautifully tender and buttery with a silky consistency. And a single bite of tender and meaty 30-day-old char that has been smoked with pine needles picked by picked Cerda himself is award-worthy. Finally, we glide into a sweet ending in which a brûléed pudding that tastes like tamago with caramelised sugar and scallop plays with our expectations and perceptions. The spectacle served here is an eclectic mix of Japanese, Spanish and Scandinavian – and the performance is deeply affecting.
There are few things that can beat the atmosphere of an outdoor restaurant along the docks of Copenhagen’s Nyhavn on a sunny spring day. Add to this a wonderful meal at a reasonable price, and you’ve got pure bliss. We are welcomed by a young woman who also is our server for the day. She quickly proves to be highly knowledgeable about both food and wine. The first impression to arrive from the kitchen is a crisp bread with the consistency of puff pastry, baked with buttermilk and whole sage leaves, adding a strong, herby flavour balanced by the accompanying homemade butter with salty grains. For a very reasonable price, we order a serving of 30 grams of sustainable baerii caviar served on blinis. The large, bright fish eggs reveal elegant nut and umami notes, balanced by the slightly acidic organic crème fraîche and walnut. Another sublime dish is fresh green asparagus, sweet and sour pickled white asparagus sprinkled with leek ash and an oyster emulsion that together form a symphony of sea and spring flavours, adeptly matched by a huge-bodied 2013 chardonnay from Rustenberg in South Africa that combines great thickness with elegant acidic structure. Grilled leek with whole, lightly grilled Danish squid – akin to sushi in bite and pure fish flavour – a lightly smoked bacon sauce and a black, faintly sweet cream of fermented garlic, all garnished with fresh ramson leaves, is aesthetically pleasing and a light yet generous taste experience. A crisp grilled turbot is delicate, white, firm and juicy, served with onion rings filled with foam of whipped Vesterhavsost cheese and dill oil. A half lobster with lemon, dill and mayonnaise – the eponymous restaurant’s muse (hummer is the Danish word for lobster) – is delicious but difficult to eat without making a mess. The meat is perfectly prepared, releasing fresh shellfish sweetness and mineral notes of the sea.
Many places in Scandinavia are located off the beaten track, as there’s a lot of empty space and long stretches between traces of civilization. But you don’t get more in the middle of nowhere than the old mining community of Longyearbyen, now the science and tourism capitol of the Arctic. In the wintertime the harbour is frozen over, so produce is only shipped in every fifth week. Not the easiest conditions for chefs that are used to an abundance of fresh produce being accessible every day. But somehow the restaurants up here are thriving, attracting great young chefs and service staff from all over the Nordic region. Huset, the social heart of Longyearbyen since the fifties, has been the northernmost fine-dinging restaurant since it first started serving wine in the 1990s. Even if the competition from Svalbard’s other establishments is stronger than ever, Huset is still the best place to eat north of the Arctic Circle. Current Chef Simon Idsø has added a more contemporary feel to the food served here. Inspired by the surrounding environment and the current preservation movement, his menu would hold its own in any of the major Nordic cities. Considering his whereabouts, this is a singular performance. One of the appetisers is an outstanding stew of reindeer lungs. Naturally, reindeer is served throughout the whole menu – cured and as a pâté accompanying the bread; in a sausage paired with cabbage and Västerbotten cheese; and as the evening’s main course, topside with onion and butter. We especially enjoy the raw sirloin of bearded seal, thinly sliced with rapeseed oil and sea lettuce, as well as a beautiful serving of slow-roasted celeriac topped with vendace roe butter. The wine list at Huset is legendary, boasting almost 20,000 bottles, some of which have been aging here for over twenty years. Our sommelier of the evening, Mattias Nodvall, presents both the wine list and the wine pairings with enthusiasm, and the pairings are interesting and thoughtful. It pleases us to see such a passion flourish up here in the middle of nowhere.
You can hardly get more local than this. Restaurateur Stefan Söderholm presents the menu in a way that only a restaurateur who knows all his suppliers can. With arms waving right, left, up and down and, in the same breath, he presents the beer, the meat and where the milk comes from, and adds, “You should go there, it’s only a X kilometres in that direction”. Of course the closest source is their own vegetable plot, which also happens to be one of Sweden’s most beautiful castle gardens. Several times during our visit we see the head gardener Simon Irving in complete head gardener-castle-regalia chugging past on his green scooter equipped with a loading platform. It is amazing here all year round – but in summer it’s enchanting. The view from beneath the cherry trees is unbeatable, of beautiful, white Läckö Castle surrounded by rocky cliffs, and the boats out on Lake Vänern. The menu is not very long and it used to change more frequently, but it is carefully conceived and mostly dominated by vegetables. The salad soup crackled with cream and topped with Väner bleak roe is a classic, as is the beef tartare whose toppings vary with the seasons. Today’s version is gold-coloured, and comes with planed and summery, sweet-sour golden beets and dried, torn sections of chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. The dishes are large, so you have to be careful with the generous basket of fried new potatoes that’s served with every main course – for you must save room for dessert, especially during berry season. Organic strawberries, and white and red wild strawberries, do not get any better than here.
An inviting atmosphere reigns at Hærværk (Danish for “vandalism”), where the smiling waiters provide impeccable hospitality from the start. There is always time for an informed talk about food and wine, presented without a hitch. And speaking of wine: Hærværk is renowned as a standard-bearer for natural wines, though the establishment has loosened up a bit and toned down the fundamentalism with a list that now features other interesting and less acidic combinations. This evolution has only raised the bar for the restaurant and its cuisine. We start with a round of snacks: exquisitely delicate profiteroles with pickled asparagus, celeriac ravioli and fried horseradish, superbly paired with a wonderfully complex Danish cider from Kvist og Vitus. Next up on the bill is cured halibut on white cabbage marinated in bladderwrack with black sesame and a Belgian waffle with a generous heap of dill. Perfect in technique and taste, the crisp and soft textures go beautifully hand in hand with the fresh flavours and the rich waffle. Unfortunately, the somewhat bland colombard grape behind Andiran's Vain de Rû from Gascony can't live up to the dish. The highlight of the evening, in all its simplicity, is a piece of fried celeriac in breadcrumbs with a sauce of buttermilk whey and sheep’s cheese. It’s unsurprisingly delectable, as celeriac and buttermilk are a perfect match. Next is a heavenly combination of fried pasta, cabbage and shredded beef heart with a sauce blanquette, which impresses and seduces, although the appurtenant wine is on the fresh and overly sweet side for the dish. The intense main course is a well-prepared cut from a leg of venison with dukkah, sweet Jerusalem artichokes and a garlic confit sauce, perfectly paired with the alluring succulence of grenache, syrah and merlot in a 2015 Les Grelots from Sylvain Bock. The fact that this excellent but rather ordinary dish could be considered the evening’s weakest serving says a lot about the veritable showcase of culinary aptitude we are treated to this evening. The cheese plate once again sweeps us off our feet as we are served a sweet slice of butter-fried beetroot bread and 24-month Comté with crème fraîche. It’s nothing short of brilliant with a robust Jura wine that turns velvety smooth with the cheese. We round off the evening nicely with crepes with cardamom ice cream, pickled cherries and salted caramel sauce: a delicious composition. At Hærværk, the perfect craftsmanship of the innovative and playful kitchen is followed every step of the way by attentiveness and professionalism on the floor. It’s a consummate experience that offers genuine surprises and suspenseful curiosity about each subsequent dish.
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.