Astral is housed in an old cooperage on the bank of the Akerselva River at Lilleborg, an old factory complex which used to produce vinegar, soap and wallpaper glue. Inside the building is a glorious space with high ceilings, red brick walls, big arched factory windows, and wooden design furniture. This is a large restaurant and on our visit it is only half-filled with diners ranging from couples on their second date to groups of friends starting their night out with a meal. After conferring with the waiter we go for a sparkling Austrian wine to go with the first part of the meal. His service is professional, friendly and earnest. The food is modern Nordic. Although the first snack on the table looks like pita bread with hummus, the bread is house-baked and flame-grilled, and the hummus isn’t hummus – it’s a purée of dried local green peas. A snack of lingonberries, sour cream and grated cured reindeer meat gives us a taste of the mountains, while crispy rye biscuits with a duck liver mousse are an earthy treat. A poached egg with ramson broth and pickled celeriac is nicely balanced, as is a dish of white asparagus, butter sauce, chewy dulse seaweed and toasted almonds. The meal’s only let-down is an dish of raw marinated mackerel with not enough seasoning and a skin that’s hard to chew. The disappointment is soon forgotten, however, because the desserts are stunning: first up is a combination of rhubarb and celery with dried yoghurt, a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity that's very refreshing. The second dessert is nearly as good – an earthy Jerusalem artichoke ice cream with brown cheese that leaves us feeling mellow and relaxed, satisfied but not stuffed.
Through the panoramic windows the Helsinki night passes by but at Ateljé Finne the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and filled with heart and soul. The restaurant is located in the former studio of the sculptor Gunnar Finne and the walls are covered with his artwork. There’s history in these walls, to say the least, and it adds a lot of personality to the restaurant. The menu is anchored mainly in Finnish cuisine, but the cheese pelmenis give us a taste of Russian food heritage – pasta dumplings cooked to perfection served in a rich bullion that, together with shredded beets, has a nice, earthy sweetness. A whitefish is up next, served in a generous amount of butter. The skin of the fish has a lovely crispiness and the grilled gem salad adds a nice, bitter taste. The competent and incredibly sweet service staff know their wines, so let them come with suggestions. The experience that awaits you here is in all aspects a genuine treat.
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.