The men of Saaremaa hold homemade beer in high esteem and should they drink anything else, it is the harder stuff. Wine has never been very popular in Saaremaa, if only among women.
Nevertheless, Kuressaare has a wine cellar. Based on the above-mentioned, it is no wonder that it is run by a woman. Wine culture across Estonia is still rather slight, which is why people from all walks of life enjoy a good wine. Every city or settlement in the thousand kilometre radius can be proud of Prelude.
The wines here are fascinating and the accompanying dishes compete successfully with the food of all the restaurants on the island. Not many people visit Prelude when it is not summertime, as proselytising the people of Saaremaa to enjoy wine is a gradual process. Let us help Kuressaare keep its treasure by having a glass of wine at Prelude whenever we are in town.
Once you have sat down at one of the tables with red chequered tablecloths, just sit back. The kitchen is highly technically proficient, which means that the ingredients are handled perfectly. They also know a thing or two about flavour, which becomes evident the second the amuse-bouche lands: two dollops of a smooth purée of autumn apples and carrots topped with a few slices of cheese from Almnäs Bruk. These are flavours that immediately feel comfortable with each other. Several smaller producers from different parts of Sweden are represented. The cheese, for example, is from Hjo and the venison from Funäsdalen. Some of the ingredients can be bought in the shop in the same building. The menu is short and seasonal. Every evening there are also some extra dishes on the blackboard. “Menu surprise” is an affordable option with five dishes. We order it and are delighted by the variations on the vegetables served as sides, like creamed savoy cabbage, chanterelles and crispy fried potato pancake. The timing from the professionally friendly service staff is perfect. We feel neither rushed nor have to wait for long. In a nice way, we learn more about the farms that the cheeses or the meats come from. The wine list is relatively short and the staff are very helpful in selecting the appropriate option. The desserts keep to the same confident style. In fact, whoa, here come the 70s in the form of a dense and fresh raspberry mousse. Now that was a surprise! Proviant also has locations on Kungsholmen and Gärdet.
The Majorstua area of Oslo may not be the most restaurant-crowded part of town. Compared to similar neighbourhoods in Stockholm or Copenhagen, it’s more like the countryside, with lots of Range Rovers and not so many great places to dine. But you can find one or two pearls in this sea, one of them being this eminent local eatery. Opened almost a year ago, Publiko quickly gained a large following with a full house every day. Now things have settled down a bit, and we are starting to understand what the hype was all about; it’s simply great food. They describe themselves as a sustainable neighbourhood restaurant with playfulness in their cuisine, and the description is not far off. They serve good food using quality produce that doesn’t empty your bank account. The menu consists of four to five starters based on greens and seafood, and two to three main courses from the animal kingdom, all in season and in line with the current trend of serving not-too-big-dishes intended to be shared. The food is flavourful and well balanced, and not overly complicated. We try a variation on beets with Norwegian goat’s cheese, a dish more common in Norway today than shrimp cocktail was in the eighties. A dry-aged tartare with marrowbone, horseradish and tarragon makes our refined inner caveman cry from happiness, and a more modern take on the classic dish of “skreimølje” (skrei cod served with the liver and roe) is an instant classic that should replace the traditional recipe in every household. Add a small and fairly priced quality drink list with a notable focus on beer, and you’ve got yourself the neighborhood restaurant everyone dreams of having.
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.
You go to PULL for a full-on carnivore experience. Dry-aged T-bone, ribs, veal cheeks, smoked duck with mashed sweet potatoes or why not bear paws? Three owners, Andres Tuule, Enn Tobreluts and Hanno Kuul, have done an outstanding job offering not only meat but also a variety of other dishes: well-balanced ceviche with octopus, shrimps, sea bass, mango, cucumber, chili and avocado; interesting salads, even vegetarian courses.
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.
Straight out of the ocean and onto your plate, it doesn’t fresher than this. Kalamajaka café, in the Pärnu marketplace, belongs to the eponymous fishmonger whose retail operation is right there too, selling Estonia’s largest selection of local fish. The impressive variety of fish and seafood on offer is reflected on the menu; river lamprey, ruffe, tench, burbot and smelt. Always the freshest catch. Traditionally, Estonians tend to eat a lot of pork, new flavors and foreign eating habits are met with skepticism, as such, Kalamajaka is a pioneer, teaching the locals to explore a new range of tastes and textures. There are two separate dining rooms; the first, next to a semi-open kitchen, is minimalist and charmingly rough-hewn with simple chairs, the other is more cozy and restaurant-like.
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.