"Ezerputni", Amata, Drabešu pagasts, Amatas novads
Here’s a secret we considered keeping to ourselves, but it’s so good we can’t not share it! At the end of a road, deep in the Latvian forest lies a fantasy resort of sorts. Camouflaged by lush trees is a gorgeous wooden house with a thatched roof, it’s part of the Jonathan Spa Estate, a property consisting of one hundred (!) such houses, two of which are the quaint hotel and spa, the rest are private residences. Tastefully created artificial lakes render the environment even more picturesque; everything suggests that people here want to keep all this beauty and comfort to themselves. But we’re officially letting you in on the magic number. The restaurant’s atmosphere is sublime; the selection of European cuisine is wide, and features two or three daily specials. In these spectacular Latvian surroundings you should of course eat Latvian: the herring, a national dish, is as festive and tasty as you’d expect it to be; the parsnip-pear purée soup is a real flavor explosion, with an exceptionally light texture; everything giving nod to the local, Latvian suppliers.
Kortteli 5th floor, Urho Kekkosenkatu 1, 00100 Helsinki
At the top of a shopping center you will find Kortteli, a food court with everything from smoothies and pizza to fine dining. Little sister to the fine dining restaurant Ask, Jord is in an airy, rough-hewn space saturated in shades of blue with exposed pipes and beams. Through the giant windows diners can study the ant-sized people on Narinktorget below. Jord means “earth” or “soil” and Filip Langhoff’s food is definitely grounded, in spite of the elevated location. Every plate is a greeting from forest and field. The well-trained staff are anything but locally grown, many of whom prefer to speak English. Do not skip the starters, which offer a lesson in botany and a show of craftsmanship - like crispy-fried shiitake with mushroom mayo, lamb tartare with pickled ramson capers, or ultra-thin slices of air-dried ham served on a cutting board with preserves and pickles and a dab of golden rapeseed mayo. The main course of lamb brisket melts in the mouth. We enjoy the play of textures with popped cereals and a masterful porridge of ancient grains. Conclude with an adorable sour milk parfait resting on buttermilk caramel and strewn with crunchy honeycomb and fresh, green spruce oil. Naturally the food is more relaxed than at Ask, but perhaps it could do with some buttoning up, and it’s missing that pleasant buzz needed to drown out the background music of the neighboring restaurants.
Intimate restaurant Kaheksa jalga, or Eight Legs (there is an octopus-shaped chandelier in the ceiling alluding to its name), is located in the small Kõue Manor, exactly 50 kilometers from the center of Tallinn. A short drive for a very big culinary experience that should of course be combined with an overnight stay at this cozy manor hotel, once belonging to the explorer Otto von Kotzebue. The current owners have restored it in their own original way, it is without a doubt Estonia’s most whimsical accommodation, with the restaurant giving it added flair. Chef Ellery Powell’s menu is perhaps the country’s shortest, consisting of three appetizers, three main courses, and three desserts, from wild boar and pistachio terrine to quince, granola and goat cheese ice cream. Those change quite frequently though, so returning guests need not fear eating the same dish twice. Compared to the hotel’s idiosyncratic décor, Ellery’s cooking is more modest and restrained. It’s paired with exclusive wines that are stored in a striking cellar dating back to the 13th century. A meander through the manor ‘s gardens and its environs will give you a very good picture of where the food on your plate comes from.
The sum of this small bistro in the heart of Viljandi’s old town is a lot bigger than its parts. Its interiors are simple but the food is by far the best in town. Although its former chef, who made Fellin one of Estonia’s most interesting dining establishments, left for Tallinn, the restaurant continues to be as great and charming as before. In fact, it has set such a good example that many more eateries have popped up around the ancient city (Harmoonia is a prime example). Fellin deserves praise for using local produce; the closer the ingredients grow, the better the dishes are. Anything made with lamb is a sure bet here, the signature sandwich with roasted lamb, smoked mayo, pickles and onion is particularly good. Another great reason to visit is the excellent and affordable drinks menu; wines by the glass and by the bottle, as well as craft ciders and beers, and artisanal non-alcoholic beverages. As a café-restaurant, Fellin’s staff also understands the importance of top-notch coffee and tea. It is easy to fall in love with its clean flavors and sincere, joyful service.
The Koržets family is Estonia’s foremost fish-authority, famous for knowing everything about the delicacies that come out of the country’s waters, legendary for its humble but charming fish restaurant, housed in a cottage in the middle of Tallinn’s Hirve Park. The patriarch, Vladislav is a TV-host, fisherman and chef, his son Kaarel learned all the tricks of the trade from his father before he helmed the kitchen at Kalambuur where mother and daughter are also involved. Step inside and you’re immediately struck by their friendliness and the coziness of their eatery. They’re passionate about fish, in fact, their aquatic storytelling is as endlessly amusing as their cooking is mouth-watering. Complex cooking techniques don’t belong here, and the food is all the better for it. Pike, be it in the form of quenelles or patties, are the best in town. The Boyar’s blinis with caviar are worthy of their name, and the sturgeon solyanka is by now a classic. Kalambuur makes us think that preserving old knowledge and skills might be even harder than creating new ones.
One glance is all it takes to establish that Retro is worthy of its name. The furniture is mismatched, the tablecloths look like they’ve been stolen from grandma’s house, one yellow wall is dotted with vinyl records, another is equipped with a TV airing old cartoons. Behind the bar made of barrels is a shelf lined with booze bottles, the likes of which have not been in production since the last century. The menu is similarly retro-themed, boasting roasted Baltic herring and marinated Saaremaa lamb. A whole smoked perch is brought to the table with nothing but a knife, leaving you to your own devices to handle the rest. Back in the day, that was how they ate smoked fish in Saaremaa. Those who don’t know must learn. This is particularly tricky for non-local guests. Yet Retro is a magical place, with each visit it becomes more and more like home, and the local customs grow more and more interesting with each passing minute. Naturally, the beverages also have an old-timey bent, featuring Saaremaa Vodka and Saaremaa Tuulik beer.
Kol Restaurant has been one of Reykjavik’s most popular establishments since it opened in 2014. It’s in a great location in postal code 101 – in between different kinds of boutiques, and other restaurants and bars. With a touch of Nordic cuisine, and a bit of France and Asia thrown in, it is known for its hip and cool cocktails like “Donkey” – a blend of vodka, lime, ginger and grapefruit served with mint sprigs in a silver julep cup. The service is a little bit slow but friendly, and the place is hopping. As a starter the slow-cooked duck salad is colorful but the number of ingredients - cashews, pomegranate, romaine and watermelon – makes it feel a bit out of line and overly complex. The seared tuna is tender with a touch of chilli and aioli, and a rather sharp finish. We wait quite a while for the main course of charred salmon, which is good, with a bunch of granola and a green, fennel-dill Hollandaise sauce. The cod loin in red wine vinaigrette with rutabaga, however, is messy and rather flavourless, and the food is almost floating on the plate. Kol has been better than on this visit, and might be in need of a little firming up.
Don’t let the ostentatious emptiness of the two-story building at the corner of Telliskivi and Paldiski maantee mislead you, Kolm Sibulat’s cuisine is indeed a surprise. Roman Zashcherinskiy and Igor Andreev, former chefs at Ö and Tchaikovsky, really know how to cook. Their food is a perfect combination of Asian-Middle Eastern motifs and Estonian love of local products. Ceviche of slightly smoked beets with hummus and parsley aioli; king prawns in chili-flecked tomato sauce; vegetarian curry with broccoli, peas and Muscat pumpkin; there’s something for everyone here. Just do yourself a favor and don’t miss the noodle soup, prepared à la ramen, with beef, duck confit or pork. It’s no surprise that Kolm Sibulat is always packed with locals.
Near the capital’s Freedom Monument, in the middle of Bastion Hill park you’ll spot Kolonade’s huge panoramic glassed-in terrace and the columned, low-slung building that gave the restaurant its name. It’s a Riga-classic, a bit old-fashioned, yet very charming. The views from those generous windows are stunning, spreading from the leafy green park to the Latvian National Opera and the iconic Laima Clock. The atmosphere here is peaceful and the wine list goes on for days. What more could you wish for? Ostrich tartare with Dijon mustard, three kinds of onions and soft-boiled egg; smoked eel with pickled egg and beet crisp; moose carpaccio with Parmesan and truffle oil; all are toothsome starters. Follow one of those with the pike perch filet cooked in white wine, it comes with green buckwheat and vegetables. Kolonade boasts four types of meatballs as well; duck, lamb, moose and beef. There are soups and pizzas too, just in case it wasn’t hard enough to make a choice here. There’s also a special wine-tasting menu, but keep in mind that you need to book that one in advance.
Dine with a view of Tallinn’s most majestic square, grab a window seat at Konrad and observe the city buzz right at the heart of it all. It’s particularly captivating in the evening, when the surrounding buildings are lit up from within. The restaurant is named after Konrad Mägi, considered to be the most talented Estonian artist of all times, a prolific man who led a turbulent life and died too young in 1925. He had a penchant for landscape painting, but was influenced by every new art movement that came around, thus creating an eclectic oeuvre that spanned many styles. This eatery’s fortune has had a similar trajectory, starting off with Estonian-Russian cuisine, then dabbling with molecular gastronomy, only to end up serving straightforward, authentic Estonian cookery; salted whitefish with dried red onion; lamb tenderloin with juniper berry sauce. Interestingly, such twists and turns have only benefitted the restaurant, located in the Hotel Palace, which is constantly voted the country’s best.
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.
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.
Laivas is the Latvian word for boat, though incongruously, the restaurant has nothing to do with boats. It’s just a very comfortable restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Liepupe River and the opposite shore. Still, it’s very easy to imagine being on a boat, and the menu offers plenty of seafood––just like the cruise ships that roam the Baltic Sea. What’s more, Laivas is located directly next to a water park, attracting families who come here for a bite before, or after their aquatic adventures in the park. In addition to the main bill of fare, Laivas always offers a short seasonal menu, focused on one specific ingredient and demonstrating its diverse possibilities and uses. The autumnal star is pumpkin, transformed into soups or simply grilled, even baked into cheesecake for a new flavor sensation. We recommend that foreign guests pay special attention to the selection of local delicacies: sprat in oil and sprat pâté are traditional Latvian dishes. If there is one single flavor that represents this country, it would certainly be the sprat.
There is always smoke hovering over the Blue Lagoon because, whatever the season, the air temperature is always colder than the 37° volcanic water. A lunch or dinner at Lava with its tall panoramic windows facing the lagoon reinforces the surrealistic experience. In the strictly elegant dining room the food is wild-caught and locally-grown. A rich langoustine soup has deep flavours with sea notes from the seaweed. Smoked haddock takes on the character of rutabaga and dill oil. On a turquoise plate, hot as lava, rests a perfectly cooked piece of cod on a bed of barley grains and sliced fennel to go with the cauliflower variation. It’s very beautiful. Do not miss the Icelandic donut called Ástarpungar. They have a good wine list and the service is particularly competent. By 2018, the competition around the lagoon will increase with restaurant Moss in the new five-star hotel.
Black and white photos enhance this dining room’s simplicity and give it a pronounced cosmopolitan feel. Le Dome, within the hotel with the same name, is quiet and neat, classic in its layout. At night the place is packed, mostly with regulars who come for the excellent seafood: smoked trout confit with horseradish emulsion, pickled beets and dill oil; butter-poached turbot with seasonal mushrooms; an alder smoked sturgeon with potato fondant, leeks and cucumber horseradish sauce, majestically presented on the coals of a mini-grill, under a dome that is ceremoniously lifted tableside. The word "fish" is right there in the restaurant’s name, but the kitchen doesn’t limit itself to the bounties of the ocean, there’s a tapas of black pudding with quail egg and lingonberry jam, roasted venison loin with parsnip purée, and veal filet with celeriac cream for the meat aficionados. The wine list leans mostly on Old World classics.
Finally beef has made into the limelight! In the otherwise pork-loving Estonia, no less than three steak restaurants opened last year. Unlike pork, there is not a lot of local beef served here, grass-fed beef farming still has a long way to go to reach the levels that pig farming is enjoying. Tartu’s Lihuniku Äri is a red meat-pioneer, the only restaurant in Estonia offering local grass-fed beef, to take home or to eat on the spot. Though beef-connoisseurs have whined that the texture of this meat is too tough and that it doesn’t melt in your mouth, Lihuniku Äri’s butchers are quickly honing their dry-ageing skills, making it harder and harder for the skeptics to complain. Case in point, there are three-, five- or seven course tasting menus, served right-smack in the middle of a rather unadorned, open kitchen, at a convivial communal table. The three-course menu includes carrot and cottage cheese, dry aged beef with kale and maple juice mousse, all meals are accompanied by wine with an excellent price to quality ratio. This bovine bonanza has only just begun.
Here to brighten the scene: Viru Lyon, in Tallinn’s Viru Keskus mall. It labels itself as a café, serving coffee and excellent pastries in the morning, then cranks things up for lunch and dinner, featuring a long, French-tinted à la carte menu and an impressive range of tipples usually only found in more ambitious restaurants. When Viru Lyon opened with two locations, three years ago, nobody predicted that they would enjoy any greater success. By now, there are three branches, each with its own characteristic features. How Chef Jürgen Lip manages to prepare such excellent food in a shopping center setting is an enigma, everything is leagues above what we expect from an eatery that rubs elbows with 109 shops competing for your hard-earned cash. And if you don’t spend it at Zara, River Island or Armani Exchange you deserve a glass of champagne or apple wine.
Liepaja’s restaurants were never famed for their gastronomy, but that all changed overnight when Chef Jolanta Bula and Mixologist Juris Budnikov moved into town and brought along their expertise from high-end Riga restaurants. M’O, located in an imposing, red brick building, was made for them, it’s the perfect place for the duo to display their prowess. The bar is the first thing every visitor encounters upon entering, and the dining room has a good view of the action in the half-opened kitchen that cranks out Italian-, Spanish-, and French dishes made with Latvian accents. A tuna tataki-tapas is so large it almost creeps off the plate, in any other Latvian eatery this would be considered a small-ish main course. Every mouthful of it is a joy, the tuna perfectly prepared, hiding under a pile of juicy cherry tomatoes and leafy greens. The duck entrée is served Latvian style, in an oxtail stock. Most ingredients are ubiquitous restaurant-favorites, starting with the salmon and ending with the beef, but M’O tweaks things in a rare way that makes each dish an immediate standout. The wine list is interesting, and the wait staff excels at suggesting pairings. You’d be missing out though, if you didn’t taste the house cocktails before calling it a night.
Yep, you guessed it, Mami means Mommy, and locals have crowned her the best-loved restaurant in Turku many times. Mami has a lovely location in the heart of Old Turku across the river from the cathedral. Saturday afternoons at Mami embody the spirit of the place with their special menu for shoppers on their way back from the market. Today it is comprised of a hearty soup, fried farmed rainbow trout and a sorbet. We choose the à la carte and eat instead a starter of pressed veal held together with strips of bacon and served with Cumberland sauce, and crème fraîche with mustard. It’s good, hearty and well balanced. For the main course we order cod from the North Sea. It has a nice exterior and consistency, and comes with salsify and mashed potatoes. A glass of German sauvignon blanc is a good match. The sorbet from the shoppers’ menu completes the meal. It is made of raspberries and topped with pears. The service is so amiable that it is easy to agree with local opinion.
Mat Bar is a new restaurant on what is now one of the chicest streets in the center of Reykjavík. Knowing that Chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson is also the owner of Slippurinn and the former owner of Matur og Drykkur tells you that at the very least this place is worth a visit. All of the dishes at Mat Bar are built on the idea of sharing for two or more and you write down your order on a piece of paper. There’s a 5-course menu with wine pairings, or you can choose to order à la carte from the selection of house tapas, vegetables, proteins and more. The place is rather small but smartly designed. The service is warm and professional. We start by sharing beef tartare on bruschetta with truffle mayo, and scallop ceviche with oranges and fresh coriander. Both are good. Next we try the glazed beets with smoked buttermilk flavoured with tangy liquorice, wow! Salt cod with smoked tomatoes and onion is a typical Spanish dish, and good enough, but the veal is even better, bolstered by baked fennel with chilli and grilled polenta with cheese. The dessert of white chocolate “skyr” is smooth though a bit underwhelming. Overall, we enjoy our visit to Mat Bar and look forward to coming again.
Like many cities with growing pains, Tallinn’s citizens are spilling into the ‘burbs, and where do these suburban dwellers go when they want a good steak? They go to Meat Resto & Butchery. The craftsmanship is impressive: dry aged local beef––until recently a relatively new concept, especially in this pork-obsessed country––hangs proudly in the drying chamber for 28 days until ready to be seared to your liking. Enjoy it with a glass of Primitivo. Aside from steak, Meat’s house-made beef dumplings in mushroom broth are the ultimate comfort food on a rainy day. A slice of chocolate cheesecake is the perfect sweet ending.
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.