Extra-dry hipster champagne sets the tone with steely acidity, nuances of wet seashells, herb gardens and a tantalising aftertaste. This is to wash down the butter-brushed flatbread made from barley flour, and an ethereal pâté made from porcini and paper-thin slices of smoked celeriac. We get to fold them ourselves into soft mini tacos, like a Friday night supper for hobbits. It’s a low-key statement, an incarnation from an imaginary peasant’s kitchen in a country similar to ours, but a little prettier. A dinner at Gastrologik is a slow build-up in flavours and expressions that should be assessed as a whole once each piece of the puzzle has been laid. The base note is a little shy, like a reflection of the restaurateur duo Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr. The setting and the service staff, too, have a quiet, warm quality that shines through though on the surface they may seem austere and a bit chilly. But that could be said about Scandinavia, when it’s at its best. Here New Nordic cuisine is celebrated without it feeling like a straitjacket. The season and the ingredients are at the centre. This of course leads to rather different experiences depending on the time of year you eat here. Unforgettable from last summer: a risotto made from asparagus, in which even the grains were made out of the shoot and all those flavours were distilled into a new and higher definition of asparagus. Winter requires a few more accessories, and sometimes these take the upper hand, like when the scallop from Hitra, despite its sweetness and size, is overpowered by browned yeast, fermented garlic and drops of cider vinegar. The seafood surges onward, with monkfish liver and pickled gooseberries on crispy chicken skin. Bright green circles of Savoy kale folded into half-moons over plump cockles are so tremblingly springy that they explode in your mouth. Sea and pasture are amplified by lovage leaves, samphire, and butter made from an Icelandic algae that tastes like truffles. Honey-brushed, flaky cod with sloe berry-poached onion petals, with spruce shoots and dabs of burnt cream complete the theme. Crowd-pleasing mini tagliatelle-like spelt semolina hides a creamy quail egg “from Karolina” with Gotland truffles. It marries with a juicy pinot noir-based Rully wine. The same wine lends itself at least as well to a variation on guinea fowl with thigh, heart and liver in the company of flowering quince, apple and a rich cabbage broth that’s all thrown into the same bowl. A small jewel box with sparkling flavours contains the meal’s crescendo, a midwinter saga about summer’s slaughter and harvest. It contains all those metallic notes of cool Nordic cuisine: water lingonberry, briny elderberries and garlicky pickled ramson buds against the primal and sensual iron sweetness of a dense blood cream. In this case the non-alcoholic blueberry juice works even better than the trendy red wine from Sicilian Arianna Occhipinti. Two goat’s cheeses from Löfsta – aged, finely grated, and fresh – on a hefty pancake made out of maple peas. It’s blunt and too much of a good thing, and of course absolutely wonderful. It is with the dessert trio that Gastrologik hammers home the message that New Nordic is not passé. This year’s dessert is made of caramel from whey with celery-scented beach angelica and a coarse rhubarb mead granité. The caramel sticks to the palate and we want to keep it there. More intellectual and hard to love is the smoked ice cream with resin marmalade and a canopy of spruce shoots and lichen. The apple dessert forms a cloud of raw milk ice cream that rests on a crispy bed of roasted apple pieces and yet another caramel, from tart rowanberries. Elegant sweets made out of propolis, bee pollen, sloe berries, lovage, beets and malt, are flanked by a coffee selection and an entire archive of house-dried herbs that you blend yourself for infusion. It’s a menu that begins really well and just gets better.
"Restorans 3, the current talk of the town in Latvian culinary circles, takesup two floors at a narrow pedestrian street in Riga Old Town. The first floor is the Heaven and the ground floor is the Earth. And sure enough, itis harder togetto Heaven than itisto stay at the Earth. Not that it's particularly hard to walk upthe stairs –it’s just that the stairs to the Heaven are rarely open.Itis used to organize dinners where food smell mingles with the smellsof nature inthe dining hall. Film projections offer beautiful natural views and sounds of nature soothe the ear. Restorans 3 has become a serious contender for the title of the best restaurant in Latvia. Keep an eye on them. The Heaven is worth a special trip to Riga. But ifitis really not accessible, then... the Earth is perfectly goodas well. The broad windows offer cinema-screen-like views to the narrow old town street. Sunlight ordarkness, fog or rain... the different moods are there, at a hand’s reach. During the day, the 3 offers an à la carte menu, where the guest can make up their mind about some of the best fine dining in Latvia based on single dishes. In the evening, the 5- and 7-course “Taste the Nature” menus are also available, and a vegetarian version isavailable of the former. Head Chef Juris Dukalskis makes sure to keep the experience atthe Earth not dissimilar to that at the Heaven. The baked quail is smoked with juniper right there on the table. The burning juniper branches are a supremely aromatic spectacle. Hedoesnot hesitate to use many different ingredients inone dish (such as oxtail, beef tongue and squid), but each complex composition forms an enjoyable, balanced whole. The wine selection leans noticeably towards natural and biodynamic tendencies."
You can still pop in and hope for a spot here, but now you can also book in advance, which pleases those of us who want to ensure a place at one of the three communal tables. While getting acquainted with our neighbours, we try to choose from among the evening’s dishes. It’s not entirely easy, but thanks to the small plates concept we can order several. Speceriet is the “bakficka” to Gastrologik, a casual dining side that shares a kitchen with the fine dining establishment, so while the dishes are less sophisticated than at the main restaurant, they are delicious and composed with playful finesse. A fluffy “blini” made from chickpea flour arrives in a small skillet topped with the finest bleak roe and delightfully smoky sour cream – a brilliant start. Our knowledgeable waiter recommends a glass of Ca ’Lojera from a magnum to go with it. Egg sandwich with truffles? Yes, thank you, and at every brunch for the rest of our lives, please. Under a sunny-side-up egg hides an umami-fueled Parmesan cream, sautéed onions, and a slice of brioche. Over all of that they’ve sliced a generous amount of Gotland truffles. The attentive staff look after us, making sure the flatware holders on the tables are full and chatting with the diners. A duck breast that’s so tender we almost get tears in our eyes is pleasantly accompanied by pickled oyster mushrooms and the smoothest pumpkin cream. Do we have the energy for one more dish? Oh, yes. And then dessert – Jerusalem artichoke ice cream in caramel sauce with a chocolate crisp from Sthlm Bean to Bar.
The Vincents has reached an iconic status in Latvia. You’d be hard pressed to find a Riga local who has never been to this 25-year-old restaurant. And even those who haven’t would hardly dare to admit it. Getting caught in a lie is easy, though, since nothing but details have changed over time. Say, the collection of pictures of famous visitors is taking ever more space on the wall. Some of the elements of the interior design get refreshers... A visitor will be quick to notice that the servers, dressed in all black, do their work on the background, nearly imperceptibly. This is done on purpose to let the star of the show - the food - shine brighter. Introducing the goods starts off low-key, too. Meat cuts and fish are rolled upon a special side table. Next up, a glass-lidded boxof truffles. The clients can personally choose their food and decide whether and how much truffle to have grated on their dishes. If the client doesn't like this old-school system, the alternative is its opposite - a degustation menu, where each new course is revealed at the moment of serving. This menu surprises with special effects, such as a dish served inside an ice ball. The ice ispartially melted with a blowtorch on the table to allow access to the food. The biggest recent change to take place at the Vincents was granting the wines equal status with the food. The manager, Raimonds Tomsons, is a winner of the European sommelier championship himself. The drinks selection for the tasting menu features only rare wines, starting from the house champagne. Other drinks donot pretend to compete with the wines. Only the acoustics leave something tobe desired and some of the interesting information and perhaps even the enjoyment can get lost in the din. But this provides a good reason tocome back to the Vincents in a while. To see what itis like to change while remaining unchanged.
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.