In the doorway we are greeted by a maître d’ of the classic school – a type that is unfortunately rare these days. He has built up an inspired and thoughtful wine cellar with a predilection for France and Italy. When it comes to the food it is unclear where Chef Markus Aremo wants to steer our senses. There’s a chance we’ll see southern European classics like risotto and ratatouille, rustic elements from home and side trips to North Africa. The champion- ship winning minced pike under a tomato salad and a crispy pastry lid is a memorable signature dish. Though what hummus is doing under an almost cold poached egg and smoked shrimp we do not know. Fortunately we can wash it down with sparkling rosé from Veneto full of refreshing strawberry flavour. It is also easy to enjoy the glass art objects on the dark grey walls, the nice jazz streaming from the speakers and the comfortable chairs that encourage you to sit until late in the evening.
Hafen is a well-lit, colorful harbor restaurant. It is the newest addition to Saaremaa’s eateries and serves flavors from near and far. Spiced sprat –an iconic Estonian food - features here in a salad with roast potatoes and carrots, pickled vegetables and mustard sauce. Old hat for the locals, it is next to compulsory for visitors. The taste of sprat echoes deepin the Estonian soul. Hafen’s soft steamed buns with pulled chicken and kimchi are elsewhere called bao. While they may not quite merit a dedicated visit, they are emblematic of the way the island’s sailors have returned from their trips with new foods through centuries. The curiosity for food is handed down through generations as well. Hafen facilitates new acquaintances with Saaremaa’s local Lahhentagge craft gin. Stunning views to the sea and the ancient castle-fortress entice usto linger longer.
MEKK is the Estonian acronym for Art of Modern Estonian Cooking. This trailblazer was the first to dare to present a modern Estonian cuisine along with creatively prepared simple local peasant food. Whether by chance orby design, its anniversary falls on the same dayas the Republic of Estonia’s - 24 February. And even though many other restaurants have joined the ranks of Estonian cuisine, MEKK remains oneof the leaders ofthe art of local cooking. Head Chef Rene Uusmees has a talent for rediscovering and reinterpreting local food tradition in fresh and interesting ways. His creations have been known to surprise even Estonians, and a fair few locals have found their grandmothers’time-honoured recipes presented under a different angle. Even herring and potatoes have been turned into a highly presentable dish. The wine card surprises with a greater-than-average selection of wines in small bottles and house craft liquor.
When an ice-hockey-goalie-turned-fine-dining-chef and a restaurateur of note put their heads together, they naturally came up with a workable solution. Housed in a period building right on the Market Square, Roster has a bag of tricks that fills every seat on a Sunday afternoon. Kape Aihinen, who decided early on that a career in ice hockey wasn’t going to cut it, has earned his spot as Executive Chef of Savoy Restaurant, one of the finest dining restaurants in town. He and Paul Hickman know what it takes to build a team: careful coaching and encouragement. Roster’s staff are super knowledgeable and when they’re not, they call in sommelier Olli Kolu to save the day. The devil is in Roster’s details. The interior is brassy but not tacky, and the quirky touch of an illuminated skull, also embroidered on the staffs’ tops, befuddles us for a moment. Then we think we get it – perhaps it’s another mafia allusion like their hidden Omertà lounge. Three starters arrive, each more intriguing than the last. “Caramel Chix” are chicken legs and wings meant for dipping into that black pepper cream with your fingers. Nuggets of citrussy zander with slivers of tomatillo are a little sour and a little spicy, urging that Sumarroca cava to show more of its green apple flavours. Sweet parsnips with walnuts and a creamy, umami miso yoghurt is named “Pastinaca”, which you have to be Finnish to understand. A herby, green risotto circles the meaty stroganoff and by the time the “Cake” arrives, a heady mix of sorrel sorbet, pistachios and meringues, we’re all wondering how we’re going to manage. Roster has a winning formula. It’s casual dining but with no holds barred on quality and the wine comes in glasses and carafes, a long-awaited phenomenon in Helsinki.
Rub23 is a good place to know about if you should fine yourself in the heart of northern Iceland. The Asian-inspired concept involves them rubbing hot spices into the fish or any other dish of your choosing (there’s a vegan option). We like the idea, especially on a cold night. The list of beverages is really good, especially given the restaurant's remote location. The sushi options take up a large portion of the menu. The must-try starter is the signature dish from chef and owner Einar Geirsson: sushi pizza. It’s essentially the popular and elegant fish, fresh Arctic char, served on rice with various toppings. The starter of cod and salmon ceviche with fennel and orange is nice, but the reindeer tataki with fresh apple and a hint of lime and soy blows us away. The mixed seafood platter is also a good choice. The young staff provide cheerful and decent service. Rub23 is a gem in Akureyri, perfect for spending an evening in the far north.
Ordering a new dish at Salt is like jumping inat the deep end: the food is inspired bycuisines of very distant and exotic places and so itis impossible to know what their Salt interpretation tastes like or even consists of. Therefore, Salt is recommended especially for risk-takers and novelty lovers – the tastes hail from Peru, Laos, Sweden, China, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, and the list goeson.The food always surprises. Normally, the surprise ispleasant; on rare occasions, the underlying concept is taken a step too far, too. But surprises are backed upby more permanent things, such as the seasonal cep carpaccio inthe autumn and the grilled octopus with crispy potatoes and perselata that have stayed onthe menu almost from the beginning. The waiter mentions that dueto the clients’ demand, neither can be discontinued any time soon. Unlike the rollercoaster menu, the interior isminimalist - bare bonesand nothing more. Rush hours lend the space a friendly elbow feeling - literally and figuratively.
We sit on chipboard boxes with a gap between our backs and the window that makes it a tad uncomfortable to recline. The chairs are from schoolrooms, but this restaurant and its two siblings in other Helsinki neighbourhoods are a hit among the locals. Restaurateur and former New York Chef Richard McCormick hits the jackpot every time he opens a new one. Sandro’s target group is everyone and anyone who likes slightly spicy, Moroccan/Lebanese style food. English is the language of choice since most of the staff are foreigners from far-flung reaches of the globe who bring their nice flair to our interactions at the table. The menu is exotic and while you might think there’s a dearth of starters, the main course says it all. There it is, the pièce de résistance: slow-cooked lamb shank encircled by small portions of all kinds of dips and sides, including a little bit of cinnamon pumpkin, a dash of harissa pesto, a dollop of yoghurt, a spoonful of hummus, some slices of avocado, a helping of crunchy cauliflower tabbouleh and the crispiest sweet potato fries. The pulled duck “burgers” get washed down with fruity Australian pinot noir, the tajines come sizzling hot, and yellow saffron bread is served in chunks. This ain’t no fine dining joint. Take the day off, bring the kids and the grandparents, sit back and stuff yourself with delicious mouthfuls of unusual flavours.
The word on the street is unanimous: “fried Baltic herring and meatballs”. These are the signature dishes at Sea Horse and they have been on the menu since the days when it was little more than a seaside tavern. Nowadays, with its white napkins and tablecloths, it’s hard to imagine the drinking orgies that took place within these olive-coloured walls. Riimihärkää, Finland’s version of beef carpaccio, comes rather too thickly sliced on a bed of mushroom salad, but together with the capers and pickled red onion, the delicate taste of the beef holds its own. World-famous Napue gin from Kyrö Distillery in the middle of Finland goes down surprisingly well with the meat, leaving you with a rather pleasant tingling tongue. The cabbage rolls are doused in thick, dark beef gravy, topped with sweet lingonberries, but they are a little overwhelmed by the neighbouring side of vinegary beetroot, and turn out to be somewhat bland. A pick-me-up in the form of an organic syrah from Chile is a little spicy and does a balancing act with all that acidity. The joint is frequented by Asian tourists along with artists and rock musicians from a bygone era, now greying but still sipping their Koskenkorva (Finnish hooch) shots, while the Swedish-speaking group in the back room shouts “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah”! Sea Horse is, without doubt, iconic.
Have you noticed that there are very few seafood restaurantsin the Baltics? They come andgo,but few stay open. Selfish Bistro is the newest seafood bistro in Vilnius, but wewould give it very good odds. The irresistible thing about Selfish is... oysters with champagne or another sparkling wine. Is that really a novelty? We would argue so. The early evening hours from MondaytoThursday mark the happy hour with half-price oysters. But the oysters are selected anddelivered by the restaurant crew themselves. Nobody else matches their quality andfreshness at a price point that is even close. The champagne and other wines have mostly been imported by them as well (the owners of the restaurant are experienced logistics entrepreneurs). The Mediterranean quality gives rise to a Mediterranean atmosphere that is quite unusual in central Vilnius. Seeing the guests so clearly enjoy themselves entices passers-bytoenter. The mussels are equally fresh and good and so is the octopus with potatoes (nobody will believe the latter has been frozen). And from that point on, conversations dominate over food and drink. The bistro is open late on weekends because the guests would not leave. This is what you get for serving oysters and champagne so well.
Right next to the church and half a flight down we step into an older environment with small tables and art on the walls. The blackboard is in English, but we hear only Finnish being spoken. After we push our way onto the banquette sofa, the choice is obvious. The five-course menu kick-starts immediately with a Finnish version of ceviche made of whitefish topped with a fennel granité. So fresh! The intermediate dish of spelt porridge with porcini mushrooms is more filling than innovative, but the hay-smoked perch is one of the better fish we have eaten on the south coast – firm and nice! The friendly staff guide us safely through the wine list and the Slovenian wine served with the meal.
Chef Michael Björklund’s dream project is right next door to the tourist magnet Kastelholm Castle in the middle of the Åland outback. Smakbyn is an impressive complex comprised of a restaurant, distillery, conference facilities and a shop. Once inside the door the cathedral-like dining room almost takes our breath away, but we pull ourselves together as the extremely down-to-earth and welcoming staff show us to our table. The food is liberatingly far from the kind of dishes that gave Björklund top rankings in international competitions. It features local produce, unpretentiously cooked with love, with lots of extra yumminess on the plate. The snails are stout Ålanders, served Provencal-style with a ton of garlic butter. A browned pork consommé with pork rillettes and porcini is not for the fat-phobic, but attractively displays the pig’s delicate flavours. A pale ale from local Stallhagen works well alongside, but the apple and gooseberry pressed juice is even better, contributing much-needed acidity. Otherwise, the non-alcoholic alternatives are relatively few, which is a shame considering that most people come here by car from Mariehamn, half an hour away. Do not miss the Åland lamb if it’s on the menu! And we recommend wrapping things up with peasant-style sour cream paired with various forms of sweet and sour sea buckthorn.
Smyg used to be called Sinne and was the second location of the renowned Porvoo restaurant. Now Janne Aaltonen is running things on his own with Chef Karri Davidson. The charm of the place relies much on the back room, a three-storey-high space now decorated with greenery that they call The Garden. It’s something for other restaurants to envy. The menu relies on domestic produce, fish, game, vegetables (especially spring “primeurs”), and wild berries. The result is usually inventive and tasty. Lamb pastrami is delicious with Jerusalem artichokes prepared in two ways. But the flavour of smoke in the pheasant is a bit overpowering. The panna cotta has a hint of thyme and is accompanied by wild-tasting bilberry sorbet. In the centre of Helsinki the competition can be tough, even though at lunchtime there are enough customers to go around. In the evening Smyg has tried to attract a new clientele by dining without the lights on, as is now the trend in some cities. In the dark room guests are presented with a menu they have no say over. Pay as you like. The events have been surprisingly popular and are planned to continue come the dark season.
The best thing about Smör (meaning “butter” in Swedish) is the milieu. In this house by the riverside the cellar vaults date back to the 16th century. In April the starter was exemplary and brought the promise of spring: a crisp nettle croquette, kale pudding and deep-fried sea kale. It is easy to eat one’s greens and be happy here. The main course is fried hake, like cod from the North Sea. It is accompanied by braised pak choi, a wintery carrot, and new potatoes. Dessert is a pile of meringue and raspberry sorbet. The service on this visit is less than perfect. Our wine is brought to the table without explanation and although the restaurant is empty, we can’t seem to prevail in having them turn down the Finnish pop music playing in the background. But they must be having an off night, since Smör is beloved by the locals and tourists alike.
Snobbery is something quite new in Lithuania. Whether in architecture, interior design, clothing, or necessities, itis a fresh trend just entering the public sphere in the country; weobserve with interest how Snobas – the Snob – chooses to present the concept. Searching for snobbish people in this area in the evening is a desperation-tinged task. The restaurant is located in a tall glass bank building, with a view of a parking lot on the oneside and a gas station on the other. But if you trek up the stairs to the first floor, the interior you encounter will not disappoint. The chic, open kitchen isat the heart of the space, it’s fully exposed toone single oval table. But not so fast! The oval table seats only a lucky few and requires booking far in advance. Everybody else is seated at tightly packed regular tables. Ordering champagne orsparkling wine – which we recommend doing – offers another hint at the underlying snobbery: the graceful, fragile glasses appearto have a fairly original design. The napkins and cutlery are hidden in drawers under the table, and the guests pick out what they need.The cuisine is a simple European one that emphasises the natural flavor of the excellent ingredients. Itis surely more than a touch snobbish to serve multiple strawberry-heavy dishes in the autumn, butwe must admit that the pure, clear strawberry flavor pulls through rather well. Snobas isoneof the newest eateries in Kaunas, as well asonour list. We are confident inrecommending this earnest young snob that it will mature into an even better establishment well worthy of its name.
The crispy piece of bread is cut so finely it’s more like a chip. The plain tomato spread is anything but plain and the patatas bravas are cooked to perfection. This tiny restaurant may be laid-back but their intentions are clear: outstanding quality and superlative service. Owner and Chef Matti Romppanen moved from his Nordic restaurant in Barcelona back to Helsinki and decided from the word go that only the best would do. The space on Fredrikinkatu specialises in tapas and while the menu stays the same, daily blackboard specials provide some variation. The tartare on the regular list is fresh and lightly stuffed with chives, parsley and thyme. Iberico de Bellota ham and the aged Manchego cheeses, which come with quince jelly, are all carefully chosen. The wine selection is small but well curated from the slopes of Mount Etna to the plains of Spain – wines that add plenty of backbone to the food they accompany. If you think the next course is taking too long, read the newspaper the last one came on and remember that everything here is made with heart. Before you know it the waitress will arrive, smile broadly and describe in detail what simple delights your palate is about to experience.
We couldn’t help but notice the new wine restaurant Somm. This is a place where wine turns guests from strangers into locals. As time goes by, Somm, just like good wine, stands out more and more in its segment. We are hard pressed to think of other restaurants where the discussions between clients and servers last as long asat Somm’s. Neither the server nor the guest is short on time, because Somm turns customs upside down. The drinks are primary, and the whole selection, updated once a month, is always ready at just the right temperature. The food list, more ofan afterthought, is brief and the dishes are simple. They are not even designed to complement the drinks, but rather cater to the sudden hunger. But these few dishes are expertly prepared and make the mouth water like nobody’s business. We leave this charming contrarian enriched by long discussions, having sampled a fair few different wines and eaten a few bites. But our stomachs are full and spirits uplifted. Nomatter that food was notin the center of attention.
The one-man restaurant Tammuri is slowly but surely changing the notions and behaviour of Estonians. About two or three years ago, many chose not to visit the farm because it was unheard of for a farm restaurant not to patiently wait for its patrons all day long with a pot of porridge ready on the fire.
People were cautious of the fact that one man prepares all the dishes primarily from what he grows or picks from the forest himself. But Erki did it. There are no more random visitors in Tammuri.
Tammuri is a place for the most interesting culinary tales in Estonia, as the chef is intimately familiar with every crumb, flake, and sprout on the plate. Even the drinks to accompany the food are chosen or made by Erki himself.
“Homemade, well made,” says an old Estonian proverb. Nowadays, it is not always the case, but when it comes to food, it definitely is.
The atmosphere is fun, the crowd is cheerful and the oysters are fresh. The interior is playful yet stylish with plenty of amusing details. Popular restaurants have been located at this address for over 50 years and restaurateurs Ville Relander and Richard McCormick have been running the business since 2015. The menu contains worldwide influences and its fair share of crowd-pleasers. Beef tartare is served with egg yolk and frisée salad, and seasoned with dried horseradish – a simple presentation with rich flavours. A classic, perfectly cooked steak-frites needs some more seasoning, but it is accompanied by a delicious béarnaise sauce with fresh acidity and coarsely chopped tarragon. Innovative and classic cocktails are available at the bar along with a focused selection of wines. The tasty food is on an even keel, but the main attraction is the ambiance and the restaurant’s distinctive personality.
The Nautilus is a seafood restaurant offering four different milieus to enjoy your food. The open raw bar showcases the fresh food laid out on ice. Itisour favorite among their dining halls. The broad windows offer a panoramic view to the Pikk Street of Tallinn Old Town. Inthe summer, when it’s warm, these windows are thrown wide open, and it feels like eating on a terrace. A separate, small room, outfitted in dark colors, lets you watch the hot dishes being prepared in the kitchen. Those looking to enjoy their company in privacy are shown to a separated part of the room on the other side of the kitchen. And wine lovers can discuss grapes and much more in the wine bar, which has a separate entrance on another street. And thus, The Nautilus offers four different reasons to come; yet the first and the foremost attraction is their seafood, the best and freshest seafood in all of Tallinn.
Located in a former monastery next to the Church of St. Catherine, this trinity preaches a new religion - the cult of food and drink. It consists of a restaurant and two bars, andwewould warn you against limiting yourself to just oneor two of them. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. The aperitif bar is impressive. Tall vaulted ceilings, dramatic black furniture, many lush green houseplants and flowers. The same repeats through the restaurant and digestif bar. The Primitivo G&T, with its touch of Primitivo wine accentuating the gin and the tonic, is a good choice for the aperitif. The red wine billows slowly downwards and complements the striking space in look and in taste. After a cocktail or two, you ascend the stairs to the restaurant. Take some care. Werecommend ordering one course at a time, because a starter along with a main might bemore than you can handle. The beef tongue entrée, two silky-soft pieces of tongue the size of regular hamburgers, is served with seasonal vegetables. The bartenders are clearly experts in their field and will gladly rise to the challenge of crafting cocktails that fit each course even better than wine. Virtual angel wings wave welcome and goodbye alike on the wall of the digestif bar. The relatively young, pleasure-seeking crowd has gathered to honor the cult of good food and drink.
This is a nice place to visit throughout the year. The restaurant opened a couple of years ago in this old but renovated and colorful house located in the farm town of Selfoss, which has a long and remarkable history. It is nice to sit down beside the salmon-filled Ölfusá River after an hour’s drive from the capital. You relax right away. The service is friendly and you feel right at home. The langoustine bisque is a typical dish for this area, even though it is not close to the sea. It’s served neatly on a vintage-looking plate, and it’s hot and nice. The slow-cooked pork with pear and crispy prosciutto is a well-balanced dish. The main dishes, a vegetable dish with cabbage and carrots and slow-cooked wild salmon from the river nearby, are nice and natural. Tryggvaskáli is a good choice to stop for lunch, dinner or even just a cup of coffee or a beer on the terrace, which is open in the summer. It’s also a perfect place for large groups of people as they also have several different dining rooms.
Rannakohviku, Liimala küla, Lüganuse vald, Ida-Virumaa
The village of Liimala is a quiet, pleasant place, unremarkable except for its recently finished small boat harbor and the brand-new beach restaurant right next to it. But back in the days of prohibition, life was much more active here, especially under the cover of darkness, with bootleggers hard at work. Inspired by their story, the Tulivee Restaurant recreates the setting in a modern key. The restaurant has its very own (Jamaican-mixed) rum and (local) craft beer. They are served with simple everyday seaside village food. Baltic herring, fried with egg, doused in a vinegar marinade. A familiar dish in every Estonian home. Borsch – a Slavic classic. The Russian language and customs that dominate most of the Ida-Virumaa region go comfortably hand in hand with Estonian tastes and habits at Tulivee. The eye-catching modern wooden building at the picturesque beach brings the two cultures together in a still-unfolding tale of a seaside village.
A private house with a large garden near the city centre. Isn’t it nice? Like living in the town andin the country at once! No matter how big or small the city, such treasures are few andfar between. The Umami occupies one such house in Tallinn. In the summer, unless perhaps it rains, everybody eats outside among the apple trees. The children can play in the sandbox in the corner of the garden. In the winter, the two-story wooden house is warm and cosy, and children have a big playroom where parents can sup with their children asif they were at home. Umami is an exceptionally family-friendly restaurant. The menu lists safe and familiar local ingredients that are given entirely new flavors through their exotic accompaniments. Trout, baked in the restaurant’s smoker, is served with a Guasacaca sauce of avocado, parsley, and coriander. The chef seems to have a fondness for trout. In the short menu, we encounter it among starters (sashimi) andin the fish pond soup. Raised in Saaremaa spring water, the trout with its clean flavor deserves its position ofhonor. The drinks list features an exceptionally broad selection ofnon-alcoholic drinks. This small garden house is indeed rich in flavors.
Estonian folk wisdom has it that weeds cannot be destroyed. Restaurant lovers will behappytohear that, far from destruction, Restaurant Umb Roht (loosely translated: weeds) only keeps getting better, year after year. This unpretentious-looking little eatery delivers an original cuisine with a character. The young head chef Arvo Sulu rejects boundaries on principle; the menu ranges from octopus to birch sap curdle. The sweet-sour aroma of the latter makes for a particularly fond memory. The chickpea meringue contributes the sweetness and the crunch, with anadditional sour hint from marinated gooseberries and currants. Every dish on the menu is paired with a wine recommendation, but matching cocktails andmocktails can be requested just as well. Itis hard to decide whether the food or the drink isthe bigger attraction. The Umb Roht isoneof the few places where you are sorry to leave and start plotting your next visit upon walking outof the door.
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.