Fragile, slender parsnip roots are coiled on a stone slab with small dollops of turnip-rapeseed mayonnaise to dip them in. Yes, it’s spring and things are finally beginning to grow in the fields so that Ask, the primary interpreter of New Nordic cuisine in Finland, can start working with “primeurs”. We close our eyes and enjoy the root vegetable sweetness, milder and softer than the stumps of autumn carrot with marigold mayo that also lands on the table, perhaps as a reminder of how long and harsh winter has been. In the sparsely decorated room, with benches along the walls and Ilmari Tapiovaara’s simple wooden chairs, nothing here betrays that we are about to be treated to a spectacular show in roughly fifteen acts. Chef Philip Langhoff surely learned a lot during his years in Norway and Barcelona, but back on his home turf he is engaged in poetically interpreting the harsh and characteristically acidic Finnish traditions. To go with the evening’s tasting menu (the only option), most diners wisely opt for the beverage pairings too, either with purely natural and biodynamic wines or with interesting non-alcoholic options. A buttery broth of roasted barley is paired with a beer from Stockholm Brewing Co., packed with fruity notes of apricot and mandarin to balance the cereal taste. Toasted buckwheat with a crème made of yesterday’s bread (zero waste!) and salsify follows the same idea but gets exhilarating and refreshing acidity from a vinaigrette. After by far the most delicious dish of the evening, a thick chicken broth with celeriac cream, egg yolk confit and ramsons, we get the strangest match of the evening – a rather inelegant tartare of venison with chopped hazelnuts in the company of a glass of Sancerre from Sébastien Riffault. It doesn’t exactly all come together, but we barely have time for concern before we get a waft of a brilliant chenin blanc from Domaine Huet in Vouvray and dig into more buckwheat, in the form of porridge with nettles. The flavours converge; our knowledgable waitress has guided us safely and securely. Dried salmon roe is served in a flower of onion petals, but wait, doesn’t it taste a bit like apple? Yes, there were apples involved in the braising of the onion, she smiles. A sorbet of sour milk, frozen yogurt, pickled elderberry and juniper oil indicates that the end is near. But first we must face one last seduction: mini pancakes, the size of thumbprints, with spruce shoot caramels and brown butter ice cream. It’s heartbreakingly good.
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.
The happy-go-lucky mood masks a superbly run restaurant with a tight team of pros that like to work hard and play hard. Waltzing in early at 6 pm definitely doesn’t guarantee you a table. If the place is packed, the most you’ll get is a seat at the bar – which is not a bad thing, as the staff will draw you into the hustle and bustle. Dining alone is not a problem here, especially given the heart-warming amount of attention you receive from the smiling owner (who gets his hands dirty just like the rest of the eight-person team) and even the faraway chef in the kitchen. They see, they notice, and they pay attention to every swing of your mood. It’s uncanny. The food here is created from the highest quality ingredients available. It’s hard to resist creamy burrata cheese with bright mint and basil and some really expensive olive oil. The steak tartare is also a treat you don’t want to deprive yourself of, served Italian style with Parmesan, lemon and soft morsels of the highest quality meat. Wash it down with a sparkling rosé which at first tastes like a salty farmyard; the food and wine complement each other so well we consider ordering another glass. The white asparagus is as brittle and crunchy as the homemade bread and its nutty flavour is made even more enchanting by the thick, traditional buttery hollandaise that goes with it. The wine, Revolution White Solera from Weingut Johannes Zillinger in Austria, springs forth with a rebellious blend of chardonnay, scheurebe and riesling, bringing acidity and tropical fruit flavours to this traditional German dish. The coup de grâce of roast Iberico ham with BasBas’ version of a Waldorf salad makes us feel certain we’ve died and gone to heaven. Like a good relationship, the Anjou Rouge from the Mosse winery brings out the best in the meat while the food highlights the raspberry notes in the wine. We practically swoon. Did we mention that the wines are mostly natural and, if they’re not, they’re certainly organic? The wine menu is limited to no more than ten handpicked bottles carefully tasted by the sommelier and staff to find the right match for each dish. You get the idea? Many others do too, so be sure to book in advance.
A high-spirited atmosphere and a cheerful chatter fill the small yet busy restaurant by the Old Church Park in central Helsinki. The lighting is dim, the ambiance cosy and the flickering candles are reflected in the copper-clad tables. A corner houses a well-stocked bar where a large number of cocktails are being shaken. The drink menu also includes an extensive list of wines and a good cellar selection. The food is influenced by Mediterranean cuisine – either in the form of a familiar dish or as a side or even just a spice. All of the dishes on the menu are served family style – a social, fun-dining concept recognisable from other restaurants by the chef duo Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg. The dinner starts with a spicy pepper gazpacho poured over a fresh shrimp cocktail with a tangy cilantro kick. It is well paired with an exotically aromatic Italian wine. The arrival of food and wine is not entirely synchronized and although the staff are professional, they seem at times stressed and at other times inattentive. A bit of DIY is needed when the shish kebab arrives on a tray with traditional sides. The skewered lamb is extremely juicy and tender and the fennel salad adds a tangy crunch. Throughout the dinner the flavours are balanced and exquisite – even though sometimes of the more subtle-tasting ingredients get a bit lost among the Mediterranean flavours.The kitchen shines when the desserts enter. A simple paper cup holds soft green tea ice cream. The round bitterness of the tea adds complexity and depth to the smooth ice cream. Simple, but oh so tasty!
The celebrity chef duo of Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg are the creators behind many of Helsinki’s beloved restaurants, and Bronda is the flagship. The restaurant is delightfully spacious and airy, with a stylish interior. A large bar welcomes diners but the real eye-catcher is the floor-to-ceiling wine cabinet that separates the bar from the dining room. Wine is also the big focus of the beverage menu and the wine pairings are competent. The selection of beer, however, is short enough for the server to recite the list out loud. The menu is a bit unfocused and mainly influenced by Italian, Spanish and French cuisine and all of the dishes are elegantly presented and served family style. In the snack section, the green-lipped mussel with shallots nicely combines ocean and herby flavours with the crunch of sweet breadcrumbs on top. The finger-licking good baby back ribs are less elegant but incredibly tender and served with flavourful sweet and sour pickled red cabbage. The meal finishes on a high note with a tiramisu topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream. The bitter flavours from the coffee and the dark chocolate ganache create a well-balanced dessert with the smooth mascarpone cream. The service is alert, warm, and professional, but at times the dishes arrive faster than we can finish them. There’s a strange lack of communication between the kitchen and the floor – especially noticeable as the entire service crew is carrying walkie-talkies.
We receive a fairly brusque welcome. “No, we don’t have your booking,” says the guy who is to be our host for the evening. As it turns out the man, a steadfast, long-standing member of Demo’s staff, gradually eases up and even begins to show signs of a sense of humour. We’re in his hands now, and those of the chef, who has secretively concocted a menu we know nothing about. While still in suspense we pore over Demo’s wine list, which is as expansive as it is expensive, offering a veritable forest of champagnes. To entertain our taste buds we receive a minuscule circular tranche of kohlrabi with dried cod roe. Yes, we are amused. The atmosphere at Demo is a bit subdued and borders on the precious; most of the diners are in their 30s and 40s and seem to know what they’re doing. Intriguingly draped lights play a major role in an interior solely dedicated to eating. Demo’s bread is inventive, featuring a streak of dried and fizzy mushroom stock in its centre. Instead of butter it comes with pork fat, lardo style, with house-cured bacon, honey and flaky sea salt. Before we even know what the first course is we receive a glass of Chablis Premier Cru that we enjoy immensely. And just when we think it’d be nice to eat a minimally cooked king crab with marinated rhubarb, it is placed in front of us. It comes with a hearty jus that jives with the rhubarb. There’s a bit of tarragon-infused mayo playing hide-and-seek in there, too. The crab fits hand in glove, so to speak, with an Alsatian white made from the unusual auxerrois grape. Then more bread, this time a beautifully rich malt variety with whipped butter. Before the third course is laid on we’re being poured a clean and subtle Châteauneuf du Pape, which is just the thing with Demo’s Iberico cheek and “pluma” from behind the neck, accompanied by diced, fermented zucchini, and grilled carrot crème. This pork dish has tremendously deep flavours. Puffed buckwheat, onion flowers, and chopped chives make a contribution, too. After a short break we’re tucking into white chocolate ganache, celeriac ice cream and caramelised bits from the same root, along with crumbled malt bread and a sauce based on whey. Wrapping up our Demo visit, the Faubel beerenauslese riesling neatly dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. Demo may be small in size, but its cuisine has immense flair.
A half step below ground level on a leafy square in a restful neighbourhood lies Elite Restaurant. This is a happy place with a fantastical Art Deco interior that bathes you in flattering colours of orange, yellow and green. Just staring at the art is enough to give you a real lift. Families are welcome and even the littler guests are treated with deference. Whether the paintings were in lieu of bar bills or gifts from grateful patrons, it shows off the clientele that have been frequenting Elite since 1932. Tauno Palo, singer and actor, was one of these and his favourite steak is still served today. The Artist’s Menu looks more appetizing than a slab of meat with onion sauce (Tauno Palo’s favourite), and it begins with salmon and crayfish galantine with a slice of brittle, almost transparent rye toast. Trout as a main comes with a crispy skin and if it were not for the pimento, it would be quite bland. Pine nuts contribute some crunch. The crème brûlée is as it should be, nice and hard on top and creamy underneath. But the wine selection, alas, is too dull and lacks imagination. Elite is a classic and almost everyone in Finland knows this restaurant. It will always be here, it will always be frequented and the interior is absolutely worth the visit.
Helsinki is quite small and most eateries are reachable on foot. EMO is no exception, just a few steps off the lively Esplanadi. The place has a toned-down, Japanesy feel to it with vertical textile screens that do very little to stop your neighbours from hearing or seeing what you’re up to. Our waitress is friendly and down-to-earth as she hands us the impressive wine list. A glass of German riesling from Haus Klosterberg should work with the beetroot soup, she says. It’s fresh and clean as a whistle, and does wonders for the deeply flavoured soup. Goat’s cheese cream and chopped chives add to the experience. There’s a low-key sophistication about Gastrobar EMO that seems to appeal to businesspeople. The ground beef from Eastern Finncattle (Kyyttö) comes with quinoa, mushrooms and yoghurt souped up with saffron. It’s well-executed in EMO’s characteristically unpretentious style. A glass of Madiran courtesy of Alain Brumont helps things along. We finish with a lovely dessert: crumbled chocolate sponge cake with milk chocolate ice cream, passion fruit sorbet, passion fruit gelée and flaky meringue. Plus a macchiato, which – somewhat mysteriously – arrives before the dessert.
sexy, indie jazz version of “Light my Fire” is strangely appropriate in Farang, a restaurant just below street level in a period building which also houses an art museum. A smooth ride through the tempting flavours of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia is about to begin. As the music deteriorates into some fusion ambience, the dishes reveal one secret after another. We inhale the aroma of the mussel in turmeric curry and as soon as we’ve slurped up the creamy mix, it leaves us with an unquenchable desire for more. This is exactly what an amuse-bouche is supposed to do. We take a sip of Wittmann Silvaner's “100 Hügel” which tingles on the tongue and tastes like tropical melons with a dash of minerality. With perfect timing, the green papaya salad arrives adorned by cherry tomatoes. The acidity is nice, even necessary, but the salad is disappointing in its unrelenting sourness. However, it does clear the palate for the crispy pork ribs in a roasted coconut dressing served with jasmine rice. A dish called “Morning Glory” arrives, a chunk of tofu that’s tender as a scallop on top of pak choi. Umami, smoke and sweetness mingle on the palate, cleansing it yet again for the Phanaeng lamb curry to follow. With coconut, nuts and cucumber relish on the side, it is enough to make your head spin even without the Jaspi Negre from the distinctive Montsant terroir in Spain – although a brave match, this combo doesn’t work. The Mekong River makes its way to the table in the form of a banana cake with crunchy tamarind on top and coconut ice cream. In this case, the dessert wine is a treat from the village of Monbazillac. Take your time on this journey to exotic lands because you’ll need it, both to digest and to dream a little.
Finnjävel is Henri Alén and Tommi Tuominen’s big restaurant dream come true. Both men have some twenty years of experience working in traditional restaurants in the French tradition. Then came the awakening, and the quest to find out what Finnish cuisine is all about. They consulted old cookbooks, delved into their own heritage and fortunately found living traditions that can still be found in different parts of Finland. It was obvious that poverty and necessity had been great sources of inspiration. Finnish cuisine also had influences from Scandinavia to the west, and Russia to the east. These Finnish (dare)devils distilled their ideas and the result has been a highly successful restaurant at a prime location beside Helsinki’s harbour. The nostalgic flavours and the smells of freshwater lakes and saunas are sure to appeal to every Finn, and are mostly familiar to fellow Scandinavians – but they also happen to appeal to the curiosity of foreign visitors. The kitchen is strict about using only traditional ingredients. Close connections with producers and foragers have been crucial. Imported items are only used if they were already being imported some hundred years ago, like herring, coffee and lemon. Today environmental regulations limit the use of some ingredients, like wild salmon, otherwise the sky is the limit. Even the choosiest international visitors have found something familiar in the menu, like meat jelly, and blood sausage. There are two menus – one with six courses and one with ten in which the different dishes are supposed to complete each other. A lot of the more familiar dishes take the form of something unrecognisable. Take the national dish of Karelian pie, presented here as a heap of rice porridge, boiled egg and rye crackers. But most of the treats are more conventional. The amuse-bouches are interesting, like buttermilk from the restaurant’s own dairy, or “From the pit”, an oven-baked onion. Part of the concept involves the design, which was created specifically for the restaurant by Atelje Sotamaa. All of the tableware and furniture are for sale. Not everybody likes the idea of inventing fork and knife again, and some of the ideas aren’t very practical, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of Finnjävel’s popularity. The food is paired with superior wines and other beverages and the enthusiasm of the staff is contagious. However, the team behind Finnjävel has only committed itself to remaining in operation for two years. On their web site the days are busily ticking off until spring of 2018. But who knows, with success like this, they might be tempted to go on with the show.
Gaijin takes Asian food to a whole new level. Only in this context could China, Japan and Korea join forces to take us on a joy ride. Ingredients are carefully picked and pickled, the fish is of the finest quality, and all kinds of ingredients, from hamachi to daikon and wakame, are combined in mind-boggling ways. The starter is simply called “Sashimi Tasting”. It comes with hamachi, and salmon so soft and tender it nearly falls off your chopsticks. The wakame seaweed is a bit tough but subtly sweet in flavour. Daikon, a winter radish, comes thinly sliced adding some bite to the creaminess of the fish. Served with Vouvray from Marc Brédif, it works well enough but lacks punch. The Veal Hot Pot is a triumph. It’s comforting and a perfect balance of spicy and sweet, umami and meaty. As we listen to the rap music, and look around the room, the crowd makes us feel our age. This is a hipster spot and all you need to fit in is a tattoo.
A large meat cabinet is the centre-piece in the light and elegant dining room. With meat as the star, the menu presents cuts of premium beef carefully cooked on a charcoal grill. But do not overlook the other sections of the menu! The Black Angus tri-tip is juicy with a seductive salty taste, charred by flames and served with tiptop sides: triple-fried French fries, a sharply acidic béarnaise sauce and roasted tomatoes. The salmon is paired with pickled red onions, fresh cilantro and herby dill pesto – a well-balanced dish, although served with a slightly dull chickpea salad. A plate of brutally black and grey colours is an explosion of flavours with a heavy liquorice taste and sour lemon curd – a dessert with attitude. The service is somewhat shaky and the sommelier shows us how matching wines can be done with almost no words at all. A fixed price margin of €20 on all wine bottles makes it possible to enjoy premium wines at fair prices.
Fermented and organic ingredients with a focus on vegetables, natural wines, a small room with a relaxed atmosphere and a tattooed staff. Check! Grön is the kind of modern, enthusiastic and uncompromising restaurant that you find in all the world’s major cities in the year 2017. But that doesn’t mean there’s something superficially trendy about the place – no, the entire experience is seamless from the bread serving to the last sweet bite. The owners/chefs Toni Kostian and Lauri Kähkönen have a penchant for umami-rich dishes, composed with a light hand, and with a profound yumminess that makes you yearn for more. And more. A good example is the buckwheat tartlet filled with eggs, a sweet onion cream and shredded baby spinach – sprinkled with flakes of frozen onion butter. The small pastry is nicely matched by the acidity in a Vouvray from the bio-winemaker Francois Pinon – fun! Raw, dry-aged beef is an even better combination with hip German winemaker Enderle and Moll’s slightly rough-hewn pinot noir, which is able to match the fiery mustard-flavoured green cabbage that comes with the tartare. This leads us to the best dish of the evening, which is not at all green, but as meaty as can be: a hefty piece of oxtail that has been cooked sous vide for almost 24 hours. It is so tender that all you have to do is poke it and the meat falls off the tail vertebrae. It’s glazed with “pea soy” and has a herby crust. Every bit of fat and cartilage has been broken down and it’s so yummy that the accompanying soft grilled onions, mushrooms, and potatoes have difficulty holding our attention. The beets in a split sauce flavoured with dill and horseradish are a good vegetarian option, though not sensational. We conclude with wild crowberries, reminiscent of blueberries but less sweet. They are served with sorrel sorbet, a cream flavoured with meadowsweet and strewn all over with bits of meringue. One more of those, please!
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.
It would not be right to shun the sapas at Juuri, as in all truthfulness they are what’s given the restaurant its special status. Sapas are small dishes, appetisers really, based on traditional Finnish cuisine made with a modern – and it has to be said – tapas-like twist. So, Finnish tapas. The first one we try is lamb’s tongue with beetroot and crème of the same, plus yoghurt and pickles. The tongue is incredibly tender, and a great start. Clocking in as sapa number two is the equally addictive cured Baltic herring. It features yellow beets in two forms as well as crumbled flatbread. We’re instructed to pick the Toivo red ale with our sapas, and do exactly as we’re told. It happens to be spot on. All of the beer served at Juuri is Finnish, by the way. The restaurant seems to attract a youngish clientele, and an international one, too, because all of a sudden there are Americans next to us, and then two Japanese parties come through the door. Fillet of perch is our next stop on the menu, and we fancy a glass of Roero Arneis from the Piedmont to go along with it. The wine and the fish prove to be an excellent combo. Not only is the dish lovely, but the perch is also pan-fried to perfection, and made to swim attractively in a frothy cauliflower crème with florets attractively strewn about. Suddenly we find ourselves with a juniper-scented crème brûlée dotted with transparent gin jelly, crème anglaise and rosemary sorbet. How did it all go by so fast.
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.
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.
The moment you’re inside the door you realise that they know what they’re doing here. This is France, in Helsinki. La Maison is a serenely calm, comfortable and cosy restaurant that is oh-so-stylish without having to shout about it. They have only been up and running for a year and a half, but Madame knows her stuff because she ran a similar eatery before. She says she planned to retire but wasn’t able to, so she made a comeback that many have welcomed. The menu stems from the wines she favours at any particular moment. When we visit it’s all about Languedoc, and the chefs have come up with matching fare – like the pretty lamb pastrami dish with onion, shiitake, shallots and sundried tomato that works nicely with a 2014 red Saint-Chinian from Château Bousquette. We switch to a white Le Clos du Serres for the parsnip soup, which is just a tad too thick. The atmosphere is soft and laid-back. Although Helsinki is a long way from Finnish Lapland, we are treated to wild trout from right up north plonked in beurre blanc, accompanied by vegetables that are so green they look Photoshopped. We're sure the proposed 2015 Les Agrunelles from Mas Haut Buis is a match made in trout heaven. The cheeses include a heady brie from Normandy, a goat’s cheese that grows into rock-steady flavour, and a Roquefort that’s sexed-up with the wine pairing, a port-style Rivesaltes Grenat. The soundtrack of the evening is, as you would expect, French chansons, with the occasional guest appearance by Melody Gardot. Yes, La Maison is a consummate Francophile, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
A beloved Helsinki institution is back after a renovation that kept it closed for more than a year. The enormous venue called Lasipalatsi, meaning “Glass Palace” has been returned to its former 1930s glory. Many original details, like the furniture, lights, and colour scheme, are back. Lasipalatsi will be part of an entirely new and innovative art museum, Amos Rex, which has been constructed underground and is supposed to open in 2018. The menu has many familiar elements but the classics have been given new pondus. Vorschmack, which consists of minced lamb, minced herring, and tomato and is braised for hours, retains its place as a starter here together with baked potato. Zander à la Mannerheim, the war hero’s favourite dish, can be found in many restaurants in town, but some connoisseurs consider Lasipalatsi’s version of the perfectly crisp-fried fish, creamy mushrooms and horseradish braised in butter to be the best. Local wild fish has its place on the menu, now in the form of lake perch with asparagus risotto. The desserts have a new finesse. Domestic wild berries, for instance, might come in the form of a sea buckthorn sorbet with some Moscato d’Asti poured over it. Traditions are observed here and they sell thousands and thousands of pancakes during blini season. In springtime asparagus dominates the menu. Since the restaurant has only recently reopened and many of the staff are new, the service still needs some polishing. That said, their knowledge of wines is evident and there is no doubt that they want the best for their guests.
Tired of pared-down Nordic design? Then make your way to Lyon. The restaurant opposite the Opera is like a time capsule: nothing has changed since it opened in 1966 – and even then the place was über French with cafe curtains on brass bars, wall-to-wall carpeting, sconces and Piaff tunes streaming from the speakers. We are met and shown to our table by the almost stern, black-uniformed waitress (who turns out to be kind, knowledgable and attentive to our needs). Then we put our evening entirely in the hands of Chef Tuomas Vierelä and his colleagues. While the decor might be perceived as dated, the kitchen delivers contemporary, technique-driven cuisine that digs deeply into the Finnish soil – but Vierelä is not afraid of carefully selected Asian elements. Soon the snacks come flying across the table: a dense, chartreuse-coloured turmeric-cucumber soup with delicious herby oregano oil; a beautiful creation consisting of chicken liver under thin slices of fermented kohlrabi on small papery meringue bottoms; pike roe and cream of roasted yeast... The flavors are intense and acid-driven with umami as the underlying mantra. Everything whirls along at a high pace and soon our waitress starts filling our glasses at the same rate. No natural wines here, but well-made French vintages – what else? With a small tartlet with pumpkin, kombu and homemade goat’s cheese we enjoy a mineral Les Perles Rares from Laurent Vogt. The same producer’s pinot gris is served later with the restaurant’s most famous dish: foie gras with red beets, raspberry and hazelnuts. The dish is stylish and well-composed, but we miss a little of the funkier notes that Vierelä lets shine through now and then. Like when he scatters the ashes of dried Japanese shiso leaves over a cream flavored with wasabi. After sweetbreads with an umami-laced chicken broth enriched with black garlic, mustard seeds and oxalis, things begin to calm down a tad with a sheer white meringue tuile, pollen and sea buckthorn. A Coteaux du Layon is paired with a construction of smoked white chocolate with rhubarb and a citrus-scented gelée cap. Can we really manage another dish – peppermint ice cream with flakes of dried milk and fir tree powder? But of course we can. Then we go dazed out into the night, along with the other, surprisingly young, hip diners.
If you continue along the quay, so far that the indistinct signage makes you think you made a wrong turn, you will soon find yourself at the epicentre of Finland’s wild flavours. It’s a rather unexpected location for such an extraordinary restaurant experience, a stone’s throw from the moored cruise liners with their giant smorgasbords. At Nokka they make it clear early on that the kitchen adheres exactly to seasonal variations and is dependent on what they receive from small-scale suppliers, both in terms of animals and vegetables. This sets the tone for the two set menus, one of which is vegan. The first courses look confusingly similar. The omnivore’s dish, smoked pike with its roe, has a strangely delicious saltiness under pickled radishes, brightened up by a bowl of tarragon-laced cucumber salad as ice cold as the ocean outside. On the vegan dish the fish has been replaced by pieces of porcini. The pairing of a six-year-old, oak-barrel-aged, cognac-scented and white grenache from Montsant is more interesting than good. But the non-alcoholic pairing is perfectly on point: a lightly spiced sparkling beverage made of black currant leaves meets a small caramelized onion with browned butter and crispy “muesli”. At Nokka they are proud to have their own fisherman, who has provided the pike for the main course, which has been pan-fried with honour and comes with vegetable “cannelloni” and a potato croquette to suck up the creamy and tart sauce. The passion-fruit-flavoured sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is a fresh exception to the wine list that is primarily dominated by the Old World. Though the food is finely nuanced it’s never pretentious in this former warehouse on the harbour. It’s warm and inviting here, between the brick walls, with a full view of the kitchen where the happy cooks have eschewed knitted hats in favour of baseball caps. The staff are in a really good mood when the dining room is filled with tourists from far away, often from Japan and the United States, sitting side by side with jubilant large family gatherings. Over elderflower granite served in the restaurant’s obligatory carved wooden box we discuss how rare it is at a restaurant of this calibre to find the kind of generosity they exhibit in switching out dishes on the fixed menus. The food odyssey is rounded off with riches from “the land of a thousand lakes” in the form of a milk chocolate with gooseberries.
If you continue along the quay, so far that the indistinct signage makes you think you made a wrong turn, you will soon find yourself at the epicentre of Finland’s wild flavours. It’s a rather unexpected location for such an extraordinary restaurant experience, a stone’s throw from the moored cruise liners with their giant smorgasbords. At Nokka they make it clear early on that the kitchen adheres exactly to seasonal variations and is dependent on what they receive from small-scale suppliers, both in terms of animals and vegetables. This sets the tone for the two set menus, one of which is vegan. The first courses look confusingly similar. The omnivore’s dish, smoked pike with its roe, has a strangely delicious saltiness under pickled radishes, brightened up by a bowl of tarragon-laced cucumber salad as ice cold as the ocean outside. On the vegan dish the fish has been replaced by pieces of porcini. The pairing of a six-year-old, oak-barrel-aged, cognac-scented and white grenache from Montsant is more interesting than good. But the non-alcoholic pairing is perfectly on point: a lightly spiced sparkling beverage made of black currant leaves meets a small caramelized onion with browned butter and crispy “muesli”. At Nokka they are proud to have their own fisherman, who has provided the pike for the main course, which has been pan-fried with honour and comes with vegetable “cannelloni” and a potato croquette to suck up the creamy and tart sauce. The passion-fruit-flavoured sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is a fresh exception to the wine list that is primarily dominated by the Old World. Though the food is finely nuanced it’s never pretentious in this former warehouse on the harbour. It’s warm and inviting here, between the brick walls, with a full view of the kitchen where the happy cooks have eschewed knitted hats in favour of baseball caps. The staff are in a really good mood when the dining room is filled with tourists from far away, often from Japan and the United States, sitting side by side with jubilant large family gatherings. Over elderflower granite served in the restaurant’s obligatory carved wooden box we discuss how rare it is at a restaurant of this calibre to find the kind of generosity they exhibit in switching out dishes on the fixed menus. The food odyssey is rounded off with riches from “the land of a thousand lakes” in the form of a milk chocolate with gooseberres.
Not much has changed at Chef Jari Vesivalo’s little gourmet temple near the harbour, minimalistically decorated in sober shades. As on previous visits, the bread is placed on the table to rise while the initial imaginative snacks appear at a rapid pace: small crackers hidden in pine boughs, a lettuce leaf from Lindroth Nursery with a razor shell clam, and a small roll of finely sliced potatoes hiding under a piece of herring. But not until we get to the brilliant chicken trilogy does the kitchen really start to show off. A hard ball conceals almost-liquid chicken liver ingeniously flavoured with sweet-sour blueberries, served with a heart-warming umami-tinged broth made from the bones and sheer chips of chicken skin. So beautiful! Soon it’s time for the sweet porridge of emmer, which has become something of a signature dish at Olo. “This is a memory from my childhood in north-eastern Finland,” says Vesivalo, presenting it himself at the table. The little plate of creamy porridge floats on a mild mushroom broth and is topped with flakes of dried venison heart and malt crisp. It’s a perfect composition and in some ways the culmination of the tasting menu – the only option here – even though we are far from halfway through it yet. After a fun serving of the bread that has been baked in the kitchen, with a big pat of country butter that we almost lick off the paper, and a rustic stewed lamb with celeriac foam to dip it into on the side, it’s as if the kitchen changes its stripes. We get a young fresh riesling from Fritz Haag with a mosaic of zander blanketed in gelée and resting on horseradish cream; it’s a dish that in spite of the fried fish scales feels fastidious and more like classic fine dining. The king crab with Carelian caviar and fennel is along the same lines, as is a tender lamb tartare adorned with rose petals. Everything is skilfully prepared and on the mark, but we lack some of the cocky self-assurance that characterized the initial dishes. The cod in a smooth sauce characterized by brown butter notes even comes with such classic eye candy as a nest of fried potatoes. A recommended glass of wine made from the odd pelaverga grape from Burlotto feels a bit too rustic in this context. But perhaps we only have ourselves to blame for not choosing the much more expensive pairings of prestigious wines. But enough with the whining, because when our lively waitress starts bringing in the sweets, it immediately puts us in a good mood again. A mouth-watering sorrel sorbet with apple, vinegar and white chocolate is followed by a sweet-sour combo of lemon verbena, apple and small bits of salt liquorice. We can only surrender, and leave with the lovely memory of the porridge preserved deep in our hearts.
The name could mean several things – that the meat here is top notch or that they go about their business with passion. It could also apply to the fact that they don’t seem to waste a thing. All the fat from the meat is drained off and bottled and all the bones and onion skins are used in stock. Sit at the counter – it’s the best place to be. You can watch the boss Janne Ahola and his team at work in the open kitchen and pick up a tip or two. They’re not averse to answering some questions even though the heat is on, literally and figuratively. The fennel bread is made on the premises and comes as your own darling little loaf with brown butter and fennel dust. Why didn’t we think of smoked asparagus? It’s raw and crunchy with a lovely crisp, fresh taste and the added dimension of smokiness. It’s served with creamy avocado foam, and each ingredient brings out the flavours of the other. The 100% xarello wine from Spain is fruity and peppery and actually has hints of asparagus. Australian beef is up next, perfectly rare, retaining its juices without any blood spreading across the plate into the green spring onion purée that keeps this dish light and balanced. With fried and dried onions on top and buttery onions underneath, it's deliciously oniony. A big, bold and acidic Nero di Troia from Apulia steps right up to this meaty plate. The menu is made up of dishes from all over the globe: “Boquerones” herring, parsnips “baharat”, and “maminha” beef. It lacks cohesion. On the other hand, these guys are cooking stuff that they like, that they’ve discovered on their travels, and they do it with heart.
This continental-style brasserie attracts an international audience. On some days you can hear American, British, Korean and Swedish being spoken amongst the diners. The staff handle everything correctly and in perfect English so there are no misunderstandings. The entrance is in the middle of the restaurant, so it can be a bit draughty if you get a table by the door – especially in winter. But the friendly staff warm you up, and so do some of the dishes. Normally, you can choose between three or five courses. The latter is preferable, but when the amuse-bouche enters you will think it’s the starter, given the size. It is pig’s cheek, paired with egg yolk, red beet cream and yellow beets. When the real starter lands on the table it takes the form of salmon, including its roe, potato cubes and crumbs of dark bread. It’s very good, even if it lacks a bit of saltiness. The house version of onion soup contains pieces of wheat bread that almost taste like sweetbreads! All this is swept up by the restaurant’s own unfiltered APA, whose bitterness matches the sweetness of the dish. The rest of the courses are paired with wine, preferably from the Piedmont. With the black sea bream we drink Arneis from Langhe that’s powerful enough to handle both the snails and pickled red onions included in the dish. Unfortunately, there are six or seven additional ingredients, making the preparation feel a tad overloaded. The lamb racks are presented as Baby Lamb, accompanied by a hefty piece of porcini mushroom, and parsnip purée. We receive a palette cleanser before the dessert – sea buckthorn sorbet with liquorice cream and subtle fennel strips. It’s complex and delicious enough to work as a stand-alone dish.
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.