Fine dining is dead, declared Pubologi in autumn 2016 and exchanged their fixed menus for à la carte. Otherwise things are still the same at this cosy gastropub in the Old Town: the simultaneously humorous and atmospheric interior design; the large community table down the centre with a few small deuces along the walls; the suitcases suspended from the ceiling; the cutlery in the drawer under the table; and the resplendent red book with countless wines to immerse oneself in. But just because tasting menus are a thing of the past here does not mean we shall eat conventionally. Restaurateur Daniel Crespi’s hedonistic disposition calls for extravagance: “Start with a number of snacks, continue with at least two medium-sized plates, share and sample, and feel free to order different drinks with everything, and enjoy”. And we do. A bit of suet has melted down over the Tsarskaya oysters on the grill and been rounded off by tomato vinaigrette in a delicious balancing act. Equally good and fatty are the thinly sliced scallops in a brown butter fragrant with bergamot. We fall in love with the next buttery variation, with lovage and marrow, served with a tartare of topside energised by pickled onions and crunchy pistachios. Another butter, this time smoked, comes with the raw seared lobster and silky celeriac “tagliatelle”. This is paired with an equally buttery Meursault from Burgundy, which makes us long for more acid or maybe bitterness. The latter, however, we get in excess in a cabbage jus served with small pieces pork loin and flowersprouts. With grated dried char on top and tarragon cream the dish gets lost among the flavours and the impression is incohesive. We conclude with a fun dessert with dried apple and meadowsweet sorbet with a Mazarin almond base, but have to admit that we somewhat miss the fixed menu, even if the new concept actually suits the venue better.
The Pull is a meat restaurant. (It can still feed - andno less well! - fish eaters and vegetarians, too.) The restaurant was founded by three co-owners, men who know just about anything there isto know about meat and who are considered Estonian top meat specialists: Enn Tobreluts, Hanno Kuul, and Andres Tuule. Beyond the broad selection, Pull impresses with meat cooking skills. Their most famous dish is the dirty steak: marble beef ribeye steak cooked straight on charcoal. Itis served in slices as a starter. The star ofthe meat dishes is the aged beef. Another interesting experience is the pulled elk, whose powerful gamy taste is complemented by a minimalist garnish - pickled cucumber, onion, Dijon mustard, but each strictly secondary, with the meat in the spotlight. The strong, meaty menu is corroborated by the stark interior design heavy on limestone and metal, meshing well with the industrial background of the very central Rotermann Quarter.
Yummy or strange? Whimsical or just ridiculous? This is the kind of place you either love or hate. And if you are amused by attitude, gimmicks and music, with everything from Siw Malmkvist to Eddie Meduza at top volume, then you’ll have fun with these guys, Jocke Almqvist and Kalle Nilsson. Especially if you like smoke machines and childish fancies. As the menu’s name suggests (“Total Overdrive”), the initial flurry of snacks is epic and delivered at a breakneck pace. Colourful plastic water pitchers land on the table along with ice-cold Koskenkorva vodka, and a giant dollop of caviar to lick from the back of your own hand. We have left the gate. Our favourite is the small omelet that is prepared tableside and topped with crunchy deep-fried grated potato – then suddenly a big spoon is shovelled into our mouths with fried lobster, porcini cream and shaved black truffles – followed by rolls of red beets with camembert cream, even more truffles (this time white) and a delicious pancake made from reindeer blood topped with whitefish roe. The iconic butter-fried brioche, with a smiley drawn in rosehip cream on a round of foie gras mousse, served with a plastic duck. All this happens before the first real dish – a subtle and well-executed, punk-free scallop in a kombu broth with dill oil. The tempo and the staff's attitude are a big part of the proceeds. And behind the cheap tricks lurks a solid craftsmanship – a performance with 18-20 dishes requires meticulous control. Still, they manage to convey the illusion that most of it is plunked down on the table at random. Like the slightly absurd dish that is presented as “the classic shrimp tree” where raw shrimp cling to a burned broccoli stalk. Is it good or a parody? We do not know, but right then we do not care. The evening’s high note is a raw langoustine tail topped with cabbage and Spanish almonds – closely followed by the ingenious conclusion: butter-fried brioche with cinnamon roll ice cream and iced Swedish punsch. The punk boys know the limits – and that alone is worthy of praise. Next door, at Punk Royale Café, one can drop in more spontaneously.
Purtse kindlus, Purtse küla, Lüganuse vald, Ida-Virumaa
Purtse Castle, an intriguing mix of gothic and renaissance styles built in 1533, is most definitely Estonia’s most unique architectural structure. Touring this astonishing mini-chateau is a weekend-only affair as it’s closed to the public during weekdays. A visit here should imperatively be crowned with a meal in the fortified manor’s ground floor restaurant where you’ll enjoy straight-forward, home-cooked meals in a dining room whose walls are thicker than you are tall. Everything is local, from the herring and the venison, to the foraged mushrooms and herbs. And, everything should be washed down with the castle brew, a Trappist beer with notes of honey and hops. There are now eight types of Purtse beer, each of which has a story to tell, mostly about the hard life in the surrounding industrial landscape.
Contrary to the expectations, the freshest, most intriguing seafood in Estonia is served in Pärnu. Not in Tallinn. At the Kalamajaka Café. And this is no regurgitated marketing slogan. The Kalamajaka dishes are the freshest because the restaurant is owned by a family of fishmongers. Their shop at the market right next to the restaurant offers the same fresh fish for sale. The dishes are so intriguing because they are often made of fish and seafood that others don’t offer. The most attractive feature of the simple interior are the pallet tables; the dishes are as simple as the tables they’re served on. One main ingredient with a couple of sides. Make sure to ask about the daily specials, which, more often than not, are based on seasonal seafood. Naturally, in limited quantities. But if the sea has not been kind, you might want to know that they are exceptionally good at fish&chips! The Kalamajakas is a real trailblazer for good seafood.
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.