Like many other restaurants in Rotermanni, a restored industrial quarter near the Old Town, R14 plays with the factory-chic style in a graceful way; high ceilings, arched windows, exposed brick and a glassed-in wine vault create an atmosphere that brings people together. Then there’s the food: risotto with Venere Nero rice and smoked salmon; octopus with tuna chips, corn salad, crispy onions, tomato, potatoes and aioli. Although the wine selection isn’t huge, the pairings are great.
Radio looks like the inside of a Scandinavian designer log cabin, with raw wood and large, empty windows facing out towards the iconic former home of the Danish Broadcasting Company’s radio studios – thus the name. The restaurant is the epitome of modern, healthy Nordic cuisine made with the season’s simple ingredients. We begin by feasting on rustic Øland wheat bread and an irresistible butter whipped with buttermilk and browned onion. Strips of Danish octopus are served with a creamy sauce of bakskuld (salted and smoked witch flounder), apple vinegar gelée, and grated egg yolk. A burnt leek adds a tad too much bitterness to this otherwise delicious dish with a good balance of richness, sweetness and acidity. Saltwater-poached cod with raw, marinated celeriac, celeriac purée, hay-cream, apple leather and toasted buckwheat seeds actually proves somewhat bland. Meanwhile, a 2015 aligoté from Meursault, fresh and acidic with a touch of butter, goes perfectly with the dish. Although also arriving in white and light hues, the next dish has a copious and fulfilling depth of flavour: baked Jerusalem artichokes with crisp pickled onion, a foamy sauce of Jerusalem artichokes and roasted almond butter for an added umami kick. A dark yellow 2005 riesling from Joseph Schmidt in Kremstal has a good age and is sufficiently stout to withstand the smoky richness of the Jerusalem artichokes. The cuisine is veg-intensive and many dishes resemble each other, following the formula of a root vegetable, a light sauce and a little bit of protein. It’s monotonous at times, but every dish shows careful consideration of balance and texture. Our waiters share their wonderfully nerdy enthusiasm for the wines and food, so we leave Radio wiser and with a comfortable lightness of body.
You get a nice warm feeling as you stroll into smallish Ragù, which is remarkably buzzing for a Wednesday night. Large parties of guests seated at the longish tables demonstrably thrive on the free and easy vibe. We’re wondering if the table next to us is celebrating somebody’s big 6-0. Our waiter is as attentive as he is charming, despite being rushed off his feet. Although or perhaps because it’s a painfully frosty night, he reckons we need a Negroni before proceeding. Shortly after the apéritif the bread basket arrives. The bread takes a back seat to the spreads, of which there are four – humus, butter, cheesy goat’s cream and cherry compote. The lamb tartare with tarragon-infused mayo, cloudberry jam, rolled sliced carrot and a cool miniature blood pancake hits the palate in just the right way. We’re talked into a sparkling lambrusco from Emilia Romagna that works, while being largely forgettable. The boneless veal rib-eye does not blow our socks off either, but the various trimmings move the dish up to and beyond scratch. Cauliflower in different guises fights with the meat for attention, and is backed up by pak choi and béarnaise. Spicy and lively watercress stretches its long tentacles across the creation. The pinot nero from Aosta works as it should. So what’s the interior like at Ragù? Italian? But of course! With its simplistic white walls and dark floor, leather-clad benches, grey-backed chairs and double linen tablecloths, the restaurant clearly takes its cue from the country that’s given us the world’s most iconic dishes. We stay in Italy for the dessert: lemon cream with slightly blow-torched Italian meringue and basil ice cream.
Named after the country’s favorite musicians, Raimond Valgre, a dapper man who died too young in 1949, and who composed some of his most famous songs here in Pärnu, this place was designed to tug at the heartstrings of every Estonian. As a proud native it’s impossible to not be just a bit nostalgic when opening Raimond’s menu and reading the first lines of one of its namesake’s most adored songs; “Soon I will come back to you…” Interestingly, the food is not sentimental, rather, it’s forward-thinking, using classic Nordic ingredients in a refreshingly modern way; a beef tartar gets its saltiness from Baltic herring and its braggadocio from an accompanying bloody mary ketchup; butter fried pike perch flexes its muscles with burnt cauliflower, daikon and a mushroom-cauliflower broth; slow roasted pork belly with mustard-beet sauce is made luxe with truffle powder. But, just as Valgre himself experienced some difficult times, the restaurant’s complicated machinery doesn’t always deliver stability. On a good day, it immediately wins you over, on a bad one it makes you hope Valgres lyrics will come true; “Soon I will come back to you…” This is partly due to the daring local ingredients that Chef Marko Lumera chooses to use, some of which are seemingly better in theory than in practice, all of which are more progressive than anything you’ll find at other Pärnu eateries. Be sure to peruse and try the great selection of local drinks.
Built for life’s larger celebrations, for joyous gatherings where elegant guests enjoyed a cornucopia of exquisite food while lubricating their conversations with plentiful drink, Rannahotell was constructed to symbolize the glamour of the 1930s. Today both the hotel and its restaurant have been fully renovated twice but, most interestingly, the special spark of the past is still very much present. This atmosphere carries through the food, traditional yet prepared and served in a modern manner. Chef Herkki Ruubel creates complex dishes, though refreshingly, he leaves his ego out of them; he uses innovative techniques to bring out the distinct characteristics of the ingredients rather than to show off his skills. Ruubel is especially good with sauces, his whey dressing makes a dish of burnt onion soar, it’s a very special culinary experience. His porcini mushroom velouté gives an incredibly aromatic nuance to an expertly cooked filet of halibut. The Rannahotell and restaurant are also special for another reason, time stands still here. It always has. This, however, doesn’t mean it’s stagnant and boring, rather, it invites you to take some time off and enjoy a whiff of the olden days.
A big patio is protected from the harsh weather outside by the giant glass-paned roof. The wind and rain seem almost cosy when you’re sipping on a biodynamic crémant and enjoying small bites from Rogaland. A king snail is brought to the table grilled in its shell before being dressed in a vinegar gelée and ramson emulsion. The snail is a chewy yet pleasant surprise, and the chef says not to worry about any heavy metals as they’ve crushed the snail in its shell themselves to measure the metals and determined that they’re in the shell. A small sandwich of bøkling, a traditional Stavanger staple of salted herring, fits well with the crémant. The toast with herring roe and mascarpone is a snack we wish were handy in times of need – like on any given Friday, to accompany the marathon-viewing of the latest Nordic noir series. A razor clam shell is dressed in fermented pear and ginger juice with droplets of jalapeño oil to give it just a little bit of heat. After a chicken liver mousse on a truffle meringue we are led into the dining room. With its open kitchen and minimalistic interior, this room has no excess decoration so that your focus is on the food, the chefs and your dining companion. The crispbread comes on a small rack with butters from cow and goat that would make anyone happy, and we put uncivilized amounts on top of the thin, flat bread. The soft creamy texture of the milkfat against the crispy, sweet bread is hard to resist. An epiphany of umami starts off the round of main courses: scallops fried in a pan with jus made with smoked scallop roe, Parmesan, kombu and truffle. White asparagus, poached oysters and a parsley coulis with the acidity of sorrel is a tribute to spring. A langoustine the size of a forearm is dressed in seaweed butter, and the salty crust matches the intense sweetness of the moist and dripping meat. Next come turbot chops with a vin jaune sauce, green cabbage sprouts and guanciale. Then a real stunner enters: beets, oven-baked for hours, are served with beef marrow and caviar. The sweet, red, moist flesh balances perfectly with the marrow and with the small salty pearls of caviar. The serving seems too small! We drink up the rest of the juice from the little bowl. A small quail, bred on an island outside Stavanger, is matured for three weeks before it’s served here, with its innards on a small toast on the side, dressed in pickled onions. The sweet, rich taste of blood and offal is almost better than the bird’s meat, which is perfectly cooked, moist and salty. The quail comes in three servings, and the last one is its leg. With a sweet, sticky glaze it is to be eaten like a lollipop, or rather as meat on a bone like our ancestors ate when gathered around the bonfire. Thank goodness those ancestors eventually discovered wine though, for without it, this meal would not have been the same. The service at Sven Erik Renaa’s restaurant is pleasant, informative and at some points cheeky, in a good way – and the food stands out as a beacon of regional tradition and innovation.
In the doorway we are greeted by a maître d’ of the classic school – a type that is unfortunately rare these days. He has built up an inspired and thoughtful wine cellar with a predilection for France and Italy. When it comes to the food it is unclear where Chef Markus Aremo wants to steer our senses. There’s a chance we’ll see southern European classics like risotto and ratatouille, rustic elements from home and side trips to North Africa. The champion- ship winning minced pike under a tomato salad and a crispy pastry lid is a memorable signature dish. Though what hummus is doing under an almost cold poached egg and smoked shrimp we do not know. Fortunately we can wash it down with sparkling rosé from Veneto full of refreshing strawberry flavour. It is also easy to enjoy the glass art objects on the dark grey walls, the nice jazz streaming from the speakers and the comfortable chairs that encourage you to sit until late in the evening.
Christian Puglisi has perfected his simple idea, rooted in a deep commitment to sustainability and organics, by going to creatively daring new heights. Bringing his inner Italian more clearly to the fore has only resulted in even more delicious fare. The room is still minimalist but filled with a diversity of guests, creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The service is also informal but extremely correct, as we are clearly in the company of purveyors of elite Nordic gastronomy. Vegetables play the leading role here. Many of the first dishes on the experience menu exemplify Relæ’s interpretation of Mies Van der Rohe: less is more. The year’s first radishes with a cod roe cream, perfectly poached Zittauer onion in birch juice with spruce shoots and oil, and large, wonderful mussels in their own jus with ramsons. Fresh baked sourdough bread also arrives at the table, further appeasing our appetites – but this is just the beginning. The menu offers wine pairings, but with excellent guidance from the knowledgeable staff, it’s worth exploring whether bottles could be an option at the same or an even lower price. La Matta is a fresh spumante with low alcohol content and it goes brilliantly with many of the first dishes, including the memorable Limfjord oyster in yoghurt, packed in various green spring shoots and cabbage from Birkemosegård: the bitterness and cream are enhanced by a perfect edge of lemon and juniper berry. The kitchen uses as much as possible from the restaurant’s own farm or other nearby organic producers, but avoids being fanatically Nordic with its embrace of dazzling lemons and olives from warmer lands to the south, as well as an array of techniques and flavours from Italian cuisine. This approach is manifest in the next innovative and alluring dish: rehydrated potato as a kind of cacio e pepe. The potatoes are prepared like the Peruvian Chuño. This makes it possible to cook the potato al dente, and with a little sprinkling of lemon peel. It is the evening’s greatest masterpiece. We have red grapes in our glass from Selva Dolce in Bordighera, and on the recommendation of our waiter we choose to share a single glass of orange wine, “Vej 2010” vintage 2015, as a pairing with the Hindholm Farm pork. The wine has a surprising amount of body and is excellent, while the serving of slightly bland slices of pork with broccoli shoots is the evening’s only mediocre dish. But the all-out flavour returns with the desserts, where the cheese is virtually a cannoli with homemade ricotta, olive and blueberry, laying the groundwork for two inventive desserts. A base of grapefruit with frozen yoghurt ice cream on top of a lemon-mandarin-orange gratiné replicates the wonderful flavour of a classic Danish ice cream on a stick known as the Copenhagen Bar. After freshening us up with acidity, the menu goes umami with a mushroom parfait, glazed mushrooms, chanterelle powder and a caramel of mushroom soy sauce, with crunch from a crispy croissant. On departure, our palates are satiated and satisfied by Relæ’s diverse simplicity.
Restaurant 1877 is a traditional but modern restaurant in the heart of Bergen at “Kjøttbasaren”, the old meat market. This soulful place that has held an important position in Bergen’s trade history. The room is filled with warmth and generosity. The service is attentive and jovial, and the elegant, original interior is filled with brass, brick and wood. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the open pass station, raised and framed in a wooden bar. In from the left comes a smiling waitress. “Welcome”, she says, with a firm handshake. The staff at 1877 make a big deal out of this handshake as a symbol of the restaurant’s personal service. The chefs regularly come to the table to present the food and their stories are clearly rehearsed, without too much detail, bringing you closer to the food and to the suppliers. One of them comes to the table to explain how she prepared the chicken that lies before us. On the plate is a chicken dish in several forms, one of which is stuffed with a homemade pesto. The potatoes are roasted in chicken fat to make them rich and salty and the carrots are pickled and sieved into an intense purée. 1877 plays with traditional flavours and gives them a new twist. The cheese course is a good example of this. The traditional sour cream porridge called rømmegrøt is served in a hot stone mortar. On top is a crumbled blue cheese from Stavanger. The dish is creative, but excessively rich. The chocolate dessert with barley ice cream rounds off the meal with some of the best flavours Norwegian cuisine can offer. A visit to 1877 is a visit you will remember.
There’s a river and it flows from the springs of Lapland. It’s crystal clear and it’s called the Juutua, one of many where fly fishermen swing their lines and catch the freshest of fish. The snow is pure white and the people are, shall we say, on their guard, but friendly nonetheless. Lapland is the land of shamans and it is at the kitchen altar of Heikki Nikula that we worship tonight, at Aanaar Restaurant in the Kultahovi Hotel where Sami culture and cuisine gets a rare chance to shine. His artistry comes in a rainbow of pink, orange, green and white, with some hairy brown stuff on top that we eye with suspicion. It’s ’naava’ or hanging moss, found on nearby trees – a testament to the clean air that reindeer find irresistible. It melts in our mouths, adding texture and an earthiness to this succulent starter of lightly smoked reindeer hearts, horseradish yoghurt and sweet marinated vegetables. Johanna Fabritius is in charge of the beverages and like the chef she has her own bag of tricks, combining food with beer, cocktails and wine. The house version of Finland’s famous Napue gin comes with angelica syrup, an ingredient we will come across again on this menu. It’s made from the hardy aromatic flowering herb angelica, that grows as far north as Iceland and Greenland. The main course is pike caught by Inari fishermen and turned into the lightest of fluffy white balls flavoured with a touch of lemongrass. Though the latter is not from this region we give them a break because it adds acidic, fresh interest to a dish that might otherwise be quite bland. The fish balls are accompanied by yellowish beurre blanc and cerise beetroot mousse with a hit of vinegar. We wash all of this down with a Yealands Riesling – clean, pure and unadulterated like the river flowing by. Dessert is aptly called “Snowball”. The bowl is too small for the lingonberry-filled scoop of yoghurt ice cream with angelica syrup and crunchy sweet meringue slices on the side. As we leaf through the menu, it’s evident that people from all over the world visit this magical place and that special care is taken to accommodate frequent visitors. In the heart of Sápmi, from true Sami people, comes this warm welcome.
Bodø can be one of the most unpleasant places on earth. It’s cold, windy, rainy, and the nightlife is almost non-existent. That is, until now. Restaurant Nyt has opened in the old premises of Smak (which has moved up to Tromsø) and taken over the position as the culinary frontier in central Norway. The rain still pours down in amounts that might lead to complete shutdowns a bit further south, but here they don’t seem to mind the weather, as they cast glances at small-shoed travellers fighting the wind with oversized umbrellas. The restaurant is buzzing, and the staff treat their guests as if they are all old friends. First course is a scallop cooked in its shell, sliced thin and resting in its juice with fried scallop roe. It’s a nice presentation of time and place, this being both the prime season and location for the mollusc. A composition of butter-fried Jerusalem artichoke with morel cream and morels is too brown, too salty and too creamy. The bread serving, to our relief, is awesome. Small pan-baked loaves of whole wheat bread with fermented wheat grains added in are excellent with the homemade butter that’s salted with the local salt from Saltstraumen (which has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world). The season is also peak for Atlantic cod, which comes almost all the way into the harbour to reproduce more Atlantic cod. This white, lean meat has been cured with salt and sugar for 24 hours before it’s baked and served with Romesco sauce, celery root purée and cod roe. It’s a light, perfectly salted fish course that leaves us longing for more. For dessert, raisin compote with bread crumble, coffee ice and coffee syrup has flavours that take us happily back to vague memories of what our grandmothers served at family reunions. We leave the restaurant with a reason to travel again to Bodø. Not to mention that they also have damn good coffee. Two reasons, then.
Forget all about foam, dust and live shrimp. Instead, lean back in the wide chairs and enjoy the classic French-Danish cuisine from the hand of the unassuming power couple, Lisbeth and Bo Jacobsen. At the helm of Restaurationen for more than 25 years, they do so much to make sure guests feel comfortable that we practically feel like we’re visiting them at home. This is the kind of true hospitality that you should find everywhere. Bo cuts thin slices of 660-day air-dried Danish ham at the table while sharing tales from far and wide. Along with the ham, we enjoy a perfectly poached egg with truffle cream, crisp croutons and freshly shaved truffles – a sexy dish and also the evening’s best. Pot pies with mushroom sauce and breaded sweetbreads are simply too much after two mouthfuls, lacking in freshness and contrasting flavours. The fish of the day is fried redfish, served on a vegetable terrine with a green parsley clam sauce. It tastes good, but looks like something a skilled home chef could easily prepare on a Saturday. A 2000 Henriot champagne at a very attractive price brings some added exuberance to the evening. The wine list as a whole is modestly priced, offering an impressive selection of vintage bottles, and we are expertly guided through it by the house sommelier. Our coffee is accompanied by Lisbeth’s fantastic selection of homemade petits fours. We leave the establishment full, satisfied and ebullient from the champagne. We don’t go here to be modern, but to enjoy expert service, drink mature wines, eat well-cooked food prepared with the finest ingredients, and simply surrender to the warm embrace of Bo and Lisbeth.
To say that Estonians have a love for Italian cuisine would be an understatement. You will encounter more Italian restaurants than ones offering Estonian cuisine in the Old Town of Tallinn. Bocca stands out among the better ones for its sleek design, but also refined interpretation of rustic Italian cuisine. The pasta dishes, for example, take something traditionally rustic and present them carefully plated, paying close attention to every detail. One can question if pasta really needs to be plated this elaborately, but the flavours are nonetheless sharp and rich. Bocca continues to feature game bird on the menu, and oven roasted wild pigeon served with salt baked carrots, onions, and dates. The underappreciated meat is paired beautifully with a glass of pinot noir, as suggested by the waiter. The small selection of fish dishes are also worth noting, like the grilled tuna fillet served with turnip fondant, Piquillo peppers and spiced red onion jam. We finish the meal with a classic tiramisu, a wonderful pick-me-up at the end.
Cru’s name is inspired by the world of wines, and lives up to expectations in various ways. We find ourselves returning here increasingly more often as it’s exciting to watch a restaurant mature the way Cru is doing, demonstrating great culinary skills and precision; nothing here is done without a reason or for the sake of vanity. Newer menus have included not just one, but several gastronomic treasures. Cru’s improvisations with the most common flavors of Estonia’s simple cuisine are especially pleasing. The so-called ice herring is a special late autumn treat, caught by the most skilled anglers in already frozen waters, and prepared with utmost care to bring out the delicate aromas of the stout fish. Ice herring season is definitely when you’ll want to visit Cru. The rest of the year, you can comfort yourself with another classic of Estonian cuisine––aspic. Estonians are so fond of aspic that every larger festivity is called an “aspic party”. The aspic at Cru, especially the one made with wild boar, is a true celebration of flavors. Living up to its name, Cru has its own wine cellar, furnished as another dining room, perfect for observing the wine maturing slowly and relishing in the peace that this process creates. Of course the beverage selection is wine-focused and Chef Dmitri Haljukov is always ready to suggest dishes to pair with specific wines, if necessary. The atmosphere is festive while also democratically tolerant and casual. It seems that the guests are maturing hand-in-hand with the restaurant, there are now fewer random passers-by and more regulars.
With a sharp modern interior and airy exterior, Fabrik is a popular bistro any time of year. Located in the trendy neighbourhood of Kalamaja, the restaurant sits in a converted warehouse space, where you can come for a full meal or cup of coffee with a slice of cake from their impressive cake display. Like with many modern interiors, sometimes the chairs looks better than it feels. Choose a seat in the middle of the room, just to be safe. Each of the dishes play with contrasting flavours and textures. The veal carpaccio, for example, is served with delicate oyster milk, crunchy sea asparagus, and cured egg yolk shavings. The main course, a locally-caught zander fillet is served with spinach puree dotted on the plate, and sits in a shallow pool of green-flecked whey. A slice of green new cabbage is nicely charred and adds a lovely crunch and freshness to the dish. The main course doesn’t disappoint, but the interesting sounding desserts are not quite as impressive. Opt for a slice of cake instead. In addition to the inventive menu, the drinks list offers many wines by the glass, original cocktails and local craft beers.
The name of the restaurant stands for “The art of modern Estonian cuisine” and indeed, Chef Rene Uusmees’ craft is impeccable and contemporary. Roasted pork with lard, pepper, coriander and garlic-fries or baked lamb with soy sprouts, cherry and red onions––everything here is prepared with utmost accuracy. The restaurant’s interior is rather interesting; there’s a moss-wall with neon lighting and the ceiling boasts sleek beams, as if to say, “Look! Nature and Estonian cuisine are one.”
As the saying goes, third time’s the charm. This means that if we want to achieve some clarity, we must try a restaurant least thrice. The first time probably offers beginner’s luck, the second time is usually a failure, and the third time is often magical. Latvia is the land of small eateries, you won’t find any chain-operations here. Three Chefs (Tris Pavari) and 3 are a bit of an exception, however, as they belong to the same owners. They are without a doubt Latvia’s most creative restaurants. In order to understand the nature of 3, you need visit it at least three times. That’s exactly what we do. The first time we meet some friends and socialize. We order an appetizer; marinated beets with goat cheese and horseradish cream, and we quickly realize that this place deserves a much more thorough inspection. Success. When we return the second time, the old saying, astonishingly, doesn’t apply. Nothing about our lunch goes awry. Mushroom pie and black garlic dessert get us even more exited to try everything else. The third visit takes place in the evening. Now there’s a world of possibilities, both à la carte- and tasting menus. There are three set menus, more or less elaborate amalgams of the à la carte offerings, as well as a vegetarian option. Latvian cuisine is, as of yet, internationally unknown, there are surprises to be had here. It starts with the bread basket; white cone-shaped wheat rolls with cocoa! “No, it’s definitely not a tradition, we like experimenting,” says the waiter. Marinated herring doesn’t taste sweet like in Sweden, or spicy, as in Estonia. If anything, it’s tangy; a clever match for horseradish-marinated potatoes. Slightly hesitantly, the waiter offers an apple distillate from local brew master Abavas. The tart nuances of both food and drink make for a perfect pairing. If you can’t visit restaurant 3 more than once, go for dinner and opt for a tasting menu, it’ll give you an idea of where Latvian cuisine is going these days.
Ten year old Ribe isn’t trying to pursue fashionable trends, it doesn’t need to. This stylish restaurant isn’t afraid of appearing quaint; the kitchen crew’s names are written on a chalkboard, wine glasses are stored in boxes under the stairs––all that is part of Ribe’s charms. The spacious dining rooms (on two floors) are flooded with light and teeter between old-timey and contemporary. This place will make you feel at home, whether you’re a local stopping by for some mushroom ravioli or a tourist who just wants to relax with a glass of Chateau Nenin 1999 after a long walk around the Old Town. Estonian restaurants usually prefer to hire local chefs, Ribe is an exception; Rado Mitro, who has built his career in London, is Slovakian. His interpretation of Estonian gastronomy is elegant and skillful: stewed cod cheeks with lemon mayo, served with buckwheat pancakes, Saaremaa beef tartar with onion-caper cream, pumpkin seeds and pickles, everything will make your taste buds tingle. The chef is betting on local products, yet doesn’t shy away from featuring imported delicacies such as Scottish salmon, prepared with leeks, langoustine bisque and almost flawless gnocchi. Some desserts are true culinary masterpieces. Don’t miss Ribe’s rhubarb-specialty, served with milk ice cream and dill oil. In order to fully experience Mitro’s local gastronomy, you’d do well to order the set menu of three- to six course. The service you wonder? It’s excellent: fast, accurate and very informative, a pleasant bonus.
With an open kitchen that is a true spectacle and a menu to suit even subdued Nordic palate, Riis––or rice––is packed with regulars, both during lunch and dinner. It’s just the kind of casual and informal joint every neighborhood needs. While such an intricately balanced cuisine is difficult to master, the chefs at Riis do it well, preparing delicately cooked curries and crunchy fresh salads to awaken the palate. We’ll let you in on a secret: there’s a rather extensive menu of daily lunch specials. So stop by for a midday meal and you’ll come across as a native, non-tourist.
It’s all there in the name: Riits is Latvian for morning. Of course you’re going to get a great, organic breakfast here. The omelets are legendary, and most conveniently, served until late afternoon, if you’re the type who likes to sleep in. But what about lunch and dinner? We wanted to know. For the longest time, Latvia’s finest dining establishments were reserved for festive events. Riits is, in essence, the complete opposite. It’s an affordable place that welcomes everyone and, it so turns out, it features quail soup and pork ribs as signature dishes. The former is a very simple, homemade grandma:esque soup with a clear stock, vegetables, and, of course, quail meat. The latter is a hearty portion of slow-roasted spareribs with barley porridge. The ambiance is impressive in its laid-back ease. The local flavors linger even longer on your palate if you finish dinner with a shot of spiced Stone Braker, distilled in an Old Town cellar. Supper here feels like being invited to a proper Latvian home.
It’s big and boisterous, and perfectly Mediterranean, transporting you directly to the crowded streets of Nice. The décor is typically bistro-chic. There’s jazz and blues oozing out the loudspeakers To get into the mood as fast as possible, start with the classic combo of oysters and champagne. There are eight varieties, from sweet, French Pèrle Blanche 2, to rich Umami 3s from the coast of Ireland. Continue with the time-honored theme: flawless beef carpaccio–– sliced thin, with a decadent helping of fois gras, plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano, truffle oil and capers––this is a prime example of a well-balanced dish. Elegant, albeit less than bright citrus notes dress up an array of ceviches, from tuna, pike perch and shrimp, to salmon and squid. The bouillabaisse is good enough to be served in the harbor of Marseilles. Fast and very responsive service, easy to like-dishes––this is what makes Riviera so successful. Keep in mind: the portions are relatively large, so don’t be greedy and over-order.
Architects Sandell and Bohlin’s interpretation of a modern, socially focused restaurant is unique: a beautiful combination of harsh concrete, intimate floor plan and warm hues. Here you sit around the bar and the open kitchen or along the wall, shoulder to shoulder with other diners, many of whom have been hanging out at “Roffes” for many years. They often have creative but commercial jobs, which characterises the mood. Many of the dishes on the menu are classics. The perfectly fibrous braised ox cheek with smooth pressed potatoes is one such example. The always-crispy potato pancake with caviar is another. Johan Jureskog has run the restaurant for a while and has the sense to protect their signature dishes. Sometimes more elaborate compositions feel a bit uneven. But the kitchen does have a way with pig. The Iberico shoulder has a nice texture and fat, nougaty flavours. The pork belly confit with cabbage and beer-poached onions is also outstanding. The Lobster Thermidor has been under the broiler a little too long but is still really yummy, filled as it is with sweetbreads and foie gras. You would be wise to begin all this with snacks: a few slices of pata negra, some oysters and perhaps a handful of snails with lardo. Yes, the style is robustly masculine. The wine list is impressive both in breadth and depth, and the staff know how to match drinks and food, but sometimes this gets rushed over. Likely because of the awaiting diners who stand stomping in the undersized entrance. That Roffes is as crowded as an Indian train compartment and as loud as a college frat party is, however, part of the charm.
Rondeel is located in the fortified tower of Narva Castle. Russia is within easy reach, right across the river, Tallinn, the country’s capital is far away, on the other side of the country. This location is symbolic; the very first cultural encounters between tiny Estonia and great big Russia took place here. It was not only a gathering of two nations, it was also a culinary convergence. Hence the menu that offers dishes rarely seen in the rest of Estonia; goat cheese salad with sunflower seeds and sauerkraut soup with salmon, to name just two. Since Narva is the country’s lamprey capital, it’s almost mandatory to order this eel-like, primitive fish here. Rondeel is a time warp, offering an older generation of local guests a taste of bygone times.
In true southern Jutland fashion, we are welcomed warmly at the door, our coats are taken and we are escorted to a table with a view over bumpy cobblestone streets in the heart of Tønder. Despite the restaurant being fully booked, the talented chefs and owners, Marcel Rodrigues and Steffen Snitgaard, elegantly create a relaxed atmosphere for a culinary journey through interpretations of local ingredients and traditional regional dishes, while also finding time to chat with guests, answer questions and take part in serving dishes from the open kitchen in the barely 98-square-metre restaurant. They have returned to their hometown to create a locally-rooted gastronomic bastion with affordable prices. Given the sublime five-course menu for DKK 398, their mission has undeniably been successful. Both the cutlery and art were made especially for the restaurant by local artists, and the juice menu is predominantly sourced from local farmers. The wine list comprises a limited but well-curated selection of French, German and Italian bottles with the most popular classic grapes. We are served a welcome snack of light veal terrine and a mushroom mayo that gives the delicate cold meat nice acidity and notes of porcini, as well as homemade chips, homemade olives, salted almonds, malt buns, and oats and butter whipped with locally sourced ramsons. Sauce nage, a delicate balancing act between sour and sweet, is strongly dependent on the quality of the wine. In this serving, it goes perfectly with fresh wolffish, whose white meat and mildly sweet flavour reveal a diet primarily composed of lobster. Carrot purée, dill oil and fresh dill add freshness and colour to the beautiful dish. Effervescent redcurrant juice from the local cider mill, Vibegaard, is a well-chosen sweet and sour match. Open meat pie – a classic local dish – is at its best with the rich but light and crispy puff pastry, filled with a vegetable ragout of creamy Jerusalem artichokes, sharp horseradish and spring onions, topped with paper-thin slices of radish, cress and crisp chicken skin with a flavour that cuts through the dish. Small chunky slices of veal round, slow roasted at 56 degrees Celsius, are completely pink and juicy with excellent structure, accompanied by grilled spring onion, celeriac purée and pommes anna – an often heavy side which in this version offers a light, fresh onion flavour. The round red wine glaze with light tannins once again shows that the kitchen does not cut corners with the quality of its cooking wine. The cheese board features Havgus, Rød Løber and the local Sønderjyske Blå, accompanied by a sweet and sour apple compote, delicious toasted dark rye bread and a well-executed lightly salted crisp bread. The strong cheeses are matched by “Æbleau”, a voluminous, acidic and sweet fortified cider made with Danish apples from Skærsøgaard and featuring vanilla notes from oak barrel aging. The dessert is a crisp almond crumble topped with rhubarb compote and fresh rhubarb pastry, whose acidity is balanced by sweet caramel ice cream.
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.