This is Chef Mikael Svensson’s brainchild. The restaurant balances between modern and traditional and his cooking has one foot in the classical world, and one foot in Scandinavian avant-garde cuisine. We have been following Svensson since he first opened Kontrast in the somewhat restrictive breakfast halls of a hotel on the other side of town, eager to see how his restaurants would develop and how his cooking would evolve. And, slowly, Kontrast is finding its place and growing up to be one of the finest restaurants in the country. Sitting in the beautiful but sparsely decorated dining room, which is furnished with bespoke wooden furniture and contemporary art, our meal starts off with an array of small introductions to Mikael’s playful cooking: cured quail egg yolk in a shell made of quail egg meringue; a small root vegetable and smoked juniper tartlet; a wafer made of porcini topped with foie gras mousse and hazelnut crumble; and braised oxtail with pickled cranberries in a delicate and flavorful beef stock. It’s photogenic and stylish but most importantly, it’s extremely tasty. We are presented with the option of a large or small tasting menu, with the possibility of choosing à la carte as well. It’s a brave move, as most restaurants in this league often choose to streamline the menu as much as possible. We also get to choose between a well-curated wine list, a set of wine pairings and a set of non-alcoholic pairings as well. To our surprise, the non-alcoholic pairings are our favorite: a well made and thoughtful combination of cold-brewed tea and fruit or berry juices combined with different cold extracts, vinegars and syrups. Every juice we receive surpasses the previous one. They are refreshing and complex, with layers of flavours, acidity and depth, and wonderfully matched with the dishes being served. The first course of the evening is raw shrimps with horseradish and a variation on beets, promptly followed by scallops topped with an emulsion made of scallop roe and a scallop dashi. One of the meal’s highlights is the langoustine, almost as large as a lobster and kindly served in three parts: the tail in beurre noisette; in a soup with rose hips; and with fresh, emulsified mushrooms. Unfortunately the wine pairing, a savagnin blanc from the esteemed producer Domaine du Pélican in Jura, does not have the power to match the greatness of the extraordinary langoustine, but this is just a small setback in what is overall a great set of wine pairings, elegantly presented by Marko Radicev – perhaps the nicest sommelier in the business. Kontrast’s strength is in combining great produce and excellent cooking, and one of the most memorable dishes is the potato risotto – a risotto made entirely out of the boring old potato instead of rice. Finished with lardo, cheese from Holtefjell, and black truffles, it’s guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts. And that is what Mikael’s cooking does to you. We definitely have a crush on Kontrast.
In the Muhu dialect, ‘koost’ means ‘spoon’, which is exactly what greets you as you enter the restaurant with the same name; a large wall-hanging installation of wooden spoons. The owners of Koost believe the name is a modest reflection of their low-key, down to earth cuisine. Modesty is indeed the red thread connecting everything at this eatery. The menu is short. The signature dishes are Väinamere fish soup and a smoky four-fish patty. This is classic food, served at every table, in every kitchen on the island of Muhu. Especially during lean times. Koost, with its unassuming air, is the only restaurant open year-round on this land dotted by thatched cottages, windmills and quiet fishing villages. There aren’t enough guests for other places, so clearly the power of modesty should not be underestimated. It has helped the islanders of Muhu islanders to survive since the beginning of time.
On the outskirts of the bohemian Kalamaja neighborhood, Kopli brings together food and culture in a peculiar meeting place where you can peruse vintage finds and enjoy a simple meal at the same time. The space is eclectic, with mismatched tables and chairs and an open kitchen. Service is relaxed and friendly. And just like the casual and artsy atmosphere promises, the menu offers familiar classics, with the chef’s own twist, like buffalo mozzarella with roasted tomatoes and spaghetti carbonara with chanterelles.
Located in the rapidly developing waterfront area of Tallinn, Korsten has been fully booked since its opening earlier this year. Named after the tall smoke stack that stands beside this converted warehouse space (entrance to the restaurant is also from under the chimney), the atmosphere is lively any time of day, with friendly waiters running food from the massive kitchen. The restaurant’s most interesting feature is the semi-open kitchen from which large flames appear from time to time situated behind the pass, an extension of the bar. The menu is Italian-inspired, though you won’t find any pizza here. Appetisers feature all the basics you would expect, prosciutto e melone, caprese salad, and so on. The more elaborate appetisers are warm, like the large truffle ravioli or the fried squid in Parmesan batter. Fresh pasta is made in-house and served in generous portions. Despite the high pressure on the kitchen, service is still friendly and personal, with waiters taking the time to talk about the menu. The modest wine list offers an ample selection of wines by the glass, all available for sampling.
Sticking to its lofty traditions, this restaurant has been a popular eatery ever since it was established in 1924. It’s withstood a world war and still maintains its elegance and high standards. The Art Deco interior with wood-panelled cubicles and chandeliers speaks of a lavish era. Just walking in makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time. The same can be said of the formal staff, whose years of experience are evident in the way they go about their business. The menu, too, doesn’t change much. While Wiener Schnitzel with mashed potatoes will always be there, they do go out on a limb with seasonal ingredients. The foie gras starter melts in your mouth and the sweet flavour contrasts well with the slightly tart pickled red onion on the side, but the predictable sweet wine pairing, Braastad Pineau des Charentes, is on the verge of overpowering the delicate dish. The grilled sweetbreads are crispy around the edges and soft in the middle but the veal that comes with them is a little tough and not as warm as it should be. Year in and year out, Kosmos is still a favourite for many Finns, if for no other reason but sentimentality and a yearning for times gone by.
If you turn off at the bend in Kräklingbo, just around the corner and opposite the church you’ll find Gotland’s best restaurant. As well as Gotland’s best alcoholic beverages. Ulrika Karlsson is the sun that Krakas Krog spins around and in addition to brilliant service and a dazzling smile she offers red-hot gastronomy. After more than a decade at Krakas she seems more energised than ever. There have been a few years of slightly restrained cooking, but now Krakas is once again springing to the front and running in the same heat with the other leaders in green gastronomy. This is evident even in Ulrika’s entertaining commentaries about the dishes: Krakas is more confident, more personal, more daring than ever. The featherweight, chlorophyll flavours have a bit more complexity now, accompanied by deftly portioned amounts of proteins from the sea and pasture. A dish like baked beet with lamb liver, yarrow and blueberry butter is flat-out ingenious, yes, even sexual – a word never before associated with Krakas. When the liver, marinated in its own fat, meets the blueberries, it revives something wild from deep inside, to which the beet adds its earthy sweetness. The matching 2013 La Guindalera Viña Almate tempranillo is perfectly at home with this orgy of flavours. Ulrika is a sommelier of the highest rank and her pairings often make the already delightful dishes even more praiseworthy. The steamed beans are nice, in mint and herb salt with cream of dried peas and fresh garlic, but they take flight in the company of a carefully selected Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc from 2014. Then Ulrika gets a feeling and she pulls out a Chassange-Montrachet 2011 that does not belong to the wine pairings, just because she can’t help herself and she loves wine and loves Burgundy and because she has never been as on fire as she is now and she knows it. The delightful beverage buttresses the roasted cauliflower and the juniper-cured cod with its grated roe, its grilled butter and its pickled juniper with pride. And it’s this pride that makes Krakas by far the best choice on the island right now. With the role that wine plays at Krakas, forget about driving afterwards and instead arrange one of the few rooms upstairs. Pity those poor souls who pass by the bend in the road, and miss out on this experience.
In the second half of the 19th century, when curative sea-mud was discovered in Estonia, the country’s shores became a big resort destination for czarist Russia. So called “resort halls” (kuursaal) were built to accommodate them, replete with baths, theaters, and of course restaurants. These complexes are true gems of older Estonian architecture, and though there are many, Kuressaare Resort Hall, is indisputably the king of them all, what’s more, its seasonal restaurant, KuKuu, is a crown jewel in its own right. Saare County’s cuisine is dictated by what the fishermen bring ashore, fishing and eating fish are the region’s cultural cornerstones. KuKuu’s is where you’re going to want to taste it, their selection of local catches is unbeatable, their menu reads like a classic of Saare specialties, simple, honest, yet exquisite dishes, just as they’ve been prepared since the dawn of kuursaals. Bouillabaisse à la Saaremaa with a selection of local fish, the daily catch, supplied by local fishermen, from Baltic sprat to whitefish and eel. You’ll enjoy these in a dining room that seems suspended in a time warp, delightfully old-world, with a very special ambiance. But if you’re staying the night in Kuressaare, opt for the Ekesparre Boutique Hotel. “There is no place on Earth better than Saare County in the summer time,” as the famous song goes. The resort hall and Ekesparre verily prove it.
The arches with their flaking paint give the place a medieval feel, as do the simple wooden chairs. But don’t be deceived by appearances – they serve really good food here! If you enjoy being on stage, choose one of the tables on the raised platforms in front of the big windows facing the street. Then sit back and enjoy the show – a three-course menu, with a few different choices along the way. The starter might be a suckling pig that has been poached and roasted to a delicious crispy consistency. The radicchio leaves filled with fermented garlic and shallots are a nice combination of tastes. The main course is an exceedingly large portion of fish swimming in a lovely lobster sauce. The butter-basted fennel does not make matters worse. Artichoke ice cream is yummier than it sounds, although the cranberries in the bottom are a little bit too acidic. The wine list is serious, especially the champagne section.
Seared foie gras on brioche with truffle, scampi with fried tortillas... A meal in the hotel complex Kvarter 5 kickstarts appropriately with a bunch of small plates. Chef Dennis Lindqvist recommends ordering two or three each. We do so happily, beginning with pork “pluma” served pintxo-style on grilled bread, and langoustine with perch roe and pickled onion... Perch roe! Maybe we could order four – or even five more? We’re lucky that there are several of us around the table so we can sample the many treasures on the menu and on the blackboard over the entrance to the kitchen. The deliciousness continues with main courses like flavourful lamb brisket so tender it’s falling apart after cooking for ten hours. It’s served with mashed potatoes, jus, charred baked cabbage, salsify and green chilli butter. The arctic char with mashed potatoes is a stately piece of fish with garlic-spiked potato purée. These are hearty, lumberjack-sized portions – perhaps for someone who has not just eaten a dozen, albeit small, starters.
Kärme Küülik’s name––rapid rabbit––is misleading. This is not a place for a quick lunch or dinner. One glance at the ever-expanding menu and you’ll understand why. It starts with a grand selection of “delicacies from the larder” that you might not get past on a first visit. Rabbit liver, pumpkin jam, roasted beet, apple tree-smoked shrimps, grilled duck hearts. Inquire about what else is on offer, and you’ll probably be conned into ordering a special that isn’t even on the menu yet. Dishes are served family-style, on large platters, if you’re dining alone, you get a choice of seasonal goodies. Whatever you do, don’t travel here by car; the drinks list is as large as the bill of fare, and both are reasonably priced. Unlike the stressed Alice in Wonderland-rabbit, you’ll check haste and quickness at the door when you set foot in this bunny’s lair. The best time to come is off-season, when Kärme Küülik is even more relaxed.
Köksbaren once again occupies a position on the forefront of Umeå’s restaurant scene. Year after year they continue tirelessly to perform at the highest level. Their success is a result of genuine and generous hospitality, timing from arrival to finish, and of course, excellent food. The kitchen aims for constant innovation and an appreciative clientele eagerly encourages the chefs. They take every opportunity to serve locally produced greens and exclusive fish – even if the deliveries are so small that they only last the weekend. If a complete three-course meal feels like a lot, why not share a plate of Spanish ham cured 18 months that melts in your mouth? Tonight’s “variation on pig” consists of a perfectly combined trio of slow-baked neck, sirloin and sausage. A potato and goat's cheese tartlet is served with an IPA from nearby Beer Studio. Caboom! Thanks to the creamed roasted corn with brown butter, sweet music emerges from the vegetarian dish of grilled pointed cabbage. A sweet Brännland’s ice cider fits perfectly as a conclusion, that is, if you opt to bypass the lemon and liquorice crème brûlée. The staff make sure that you get exactly what you want and without delay.
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.