Almost two hundred years ago, the Hiiu-Kärdla Broadcloth Factory brought life to the island of Hiiumaa and its only town, Kärdla. Now it seems history is repeating itself. Until this year, Hiiumaa didn’t exist on Estonia’s dining map. Then, the factory’s former laundry, a solid two-story structure, was converted into a brewery with a modern pub above it. Wabrik pairs lovingly crafted beers with generous portions of simple food, prepared mainly with produce grown on the island. The grilled catch of the day is matched with the sour-sweet beer Keinamehe Eit, brewed with honey. The offerings are so excellent that the locals have made this their regular dining room, even women, some with children in tow, have taken to frequenting the brasserie, something that isn’t too common in Estonia. Wabrik is one of Hiiumaa’s only places open year-round, giving this island life some zest while also promoting the new local beer culture.
Fish of the handsomest kind? Certainly, but more importantly, Wedholms takes you on a magnificent journey through time, back to the mid 1980s. Remarkably little has changed at the restaurant that was Bengt Wedholm’s crowning achievement. The impressive piece of grilled turbot has almost the same girth, elasticity and juiciness, and the hollandaise that accompanies it has the same delicate acidity, curbed by the sweetness of the shallots. Was it better back then? In maritime gastronomy, yes. Nothing, nothing at all, can beat the sole meunière (SEK 495) served here, perfect in its naked caramel butteriness with only a lemon wedge and some boiled potatoes. And then again, no. Back then no one cared about the origin, the fishing methods or the vitality of stocks. In this regard, Wedholms is an anachronism. Currently zander from Lake Hjalmaren is MSC-certified, but that is probably not something the guests here are interested in. It’s enough to know that it comes poached, with the incomparable caramelly champagne sauce. This sauce alone is one of the strongest reasons to pay a visit and you can get it with almost anything. If you can’t choose, get the fricassee of lobster, sole, turbot and scallops, but be prepared to pay SEK 675 – even at lunch. But for a few hundred kronor you can get the same sauce with salmon or scallops. Many of the diners here have been in faithful attendance since it opened. They are affluent, with a touch of eccentricity that can electrify the dining room. The fantastic service staff also have this affect. Most are women of a mature age who engender a feeling of security, calm and warmth – creating an altogether unique atmosphere. Knowledge is served with a twinkle in the eye and batting of lashes, as in the reply: “This Burgundy shares a little soil with Montrachet, a damn good wine at a rock-bottom price”.
Situated in a pine thicket directly on the seashore, it’s hard to imagine finer, more lush surroundings for a restaurant. The staff at Wicca has fully understood how special the location is, everyone displays great pride in working with pure, local ingredients, and seem to find joy in coaxing maximum amounts of flavors out of them. Wicca is one of several restaurants at Laulasmaa Spa Hotel, a big operation that hosts numerous events every day and that sees throngs of people coming and going. Yet Wicca’s dining room is pleasantly private and stately. Outside, nature is a parade of colors that changes with the seasons, those shades march their way into table decorations as well as into the carefully prepared food, of course. Head Chef Angelica Udekülli, one of the country’s most creative culinary professionals, designs all dishes using only two main ingredients, efficaciously reflected in the name of each. Fish and egg is a delicate surprise; a clear fish broth with a floating, frothy egg white-cloud, a nod to classic French cuisine perhaps. Most of Chef Udekülli’s creations are awe-inspiring, leading guests to face hard choices when presented with the menu. The beverage list provides a small cross section of the most interesting local ciders and craft beers, as well as homemade aperitifs and digestifs. There are also beverage recommendations for each dish, these are not merely wine suggestions. The food of Wicca is seasonal and fresh, boosted by herbs and greens that are foraged right outside the door, in Laulasmaa’s plentiful natural pantry, taking the shortest path possible from the earth straight to the plate.
Prepare to be romanced at this tiny restaurant on Mosebacke Square. There is always a theme behind the minimal menu on the blackboard. On one of our visits the source of inspiration is the ardent U.S. food icon Julia Child, whose cooking shows are also projected on the cute, floral lace curtain. First we fall head over heels for the starter. The gin-perfumed venison tartare melts in the mouth. It’s complemented by smoked cream, crunchy pieces and brittle chips of salsify, trout roe that pops in your mouth and piquant garden cress. It is incredibly ingenious and elicits a mild euphoria, reinforced by the recommended light Burgundy. The smart wine selection draws heavily on the staff’s almost clairvoyant insights about their diners’ preferences. The vegetarian alternative is well conceived and an elaborate orgy of textural contrasts, fat, carbohydrates, and umami. It’s certainly easy to light-heartedly gobble up the food here, but it also holds up to more profound analysis. A dessert with chocolate cake and poached pears may seem pretty simple on paper, but it demonstrates refinement – in part because lavender has been smuggled into the light milk ice cream. At that point we fumble for our calendars to schedule the next visit. There are, you see, many reasons why it is crowded among the narrow long tables with slender chairs. If you want a bit more space we recommend the bar counter where you will receive lots of extra love from the charming and well-informed staff.
Wöse is the latest addition to the restaurants that are popping up around the country’s small ports and welcoming seafaring visitors with increasingly more delicious fare. Hungry travelers would do well to disembark in Kaberneeme, Dirhami or Võsu where they’ll find fine examples of what Estonia is cooking up right now. Upon taking a seat at Wöse in Võsu, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re still somewhere out on the Baltic ocean as the restaurant is surrounded by water. Mart Klaas, who made Tallinn’s Art Priori one of the country’s best restaurants, helms the kitchen, using locally sourced ingredients. He offers a simple summer menu, and amps things up in the wintertime when the restaurant is open only during weekends, making it extra worthwhile to drive here from the city. If you notice roe deer on the menu, be sure to try it. The entire animal carcass is brought to the restaurant and cooked in its entirety, from nose to tail. The fish dishes don’t disappoint either.
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.