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Helsinki Restaurants - Merged Topics


Kropotkin
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I've looked through the threads on here and discussion of Helsinki is usually lumped in with St. Petersburg, Talinn etc. I think the city deserves a dedicated thread (as others enjoy), so I hope no-one minds if I start it off with an account of some places we visited this summer.

We were there in high summer so the local berries, white radishes, chanterelle mushrooms and peas covered the market stalls alonside the much-prized cloudberries. This was all very encouraging! In Helsinki, the open, fish market by the sea at the Eastern end of Esplanadi had good fare on sale amidst the tourist stalls aimed at the cruise-ship day-trippers. But the restaurant staff all recommend the Hakaniemi market to the North-East of the centre for the best food. We didn't visit, regrettably, but if the much smaller Oulu covered market (in the North of Finland) was any thing to go by, the Hakaniemi must be excellent. In Oulu the markt was very impressive - much splendid fish (especially brilliantly fresh and well presented salmon), meats and other produce on sale to queue's of enthusiastic local purchasers.

In terms of Helsinki restaurants, we sought out the best we could find. The famed Chez Dominique was close for refurbishment (giving us an excuse to visit his excellent summer city again); likewise, one-star Restaurant George was on holiday for the month.

However, we went to the remaining Michelin-starred place: G. W. Sundman's. This was a very solid one-star place and the food was impressive and technically pretty much flawless (on our visit). It was classical cuisine but, as you'd hope, boasted a strong Finnish inflection - with local, seasonal poduce integral to the menu (rather than a mere gesture to the inspectors). The composition of the dishes was particularly notable given the limited range of fresh, local vegetables available at these latitudes. My reindeer with mushroom-herb coating was excellent and cooked to perfection, as was the scallops appetiser. My partner was very pleased with her cheese course while my trio of desserts came as a surprise: rather than three small tasting portions, three full desserts appeared in series. My partner's wild strawberry dish was exceptional. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves by then! Breads and other periperals were of the standard required.

Elsewhere, the crayfish dishes seemed to be something of a speciality (and a local tradition) from what we saw of a couple of surrounding tables. The place also offers some set menus that will save you some money if you go for them.

The service was formal and efficient but friendly, and the setting made for a fine sense of occassion - being upstairs in an old mansion overlooking the harbour (ask for a table next to a window). As I recall we paid circa €220 for two with aperitifs, (lower end) wine, three courses from the carte and coffee. We also got in (on a Wednesday) with three hour's notice, so don't be afraid to try on spec. The mark-ups on the winelist were fierce though, as with all Finnish restaurants. You might need to brace youself if you see a favourite bottle and can't resist!

Other fine places in our guidebooks included:

Nokka: this too had a spendid setting in a converted warehouse overlooking another harbour. The Northwards prospect also allowed diners to watch the Arctic evening fade slowly in the distance. The other prospect was of the surprisingly relaxed but nevertheless efficient kitchen - visible through a huge glass divider. The food here was also good - not Michelin star, but two+ AA rosettes (UK ratings). It is modern, clever international style but also offers a serious engagement with Finnish ingedients. I can't recall our dishes exactly, but a particularly nice touch was honey that arrived as honeycomb - break off what you need. It was pricey, but an excellent evening out.

Bellevue: this was founded by Russians fleeing the 1917 revolution, apparently, and the evocative decor plays on a nostalgia for a pre-communist time. We had a huge booth for just the two of us and enjoyed the occassion for the sheer difference of the setting. Bear is on the menu here, but it's pricey (bear-farming being a dangerous business, I imagine...). Instead, we had good soups and huge (if slightly greasy) Blini's. We both enjoyed the enormous Chicken Kiev and the Baked Alaska to conclude. Strong, black Russian tea and biscuits (with rich, fruity jam) made for a great finish. This wasn't classical haute cuisine, but it was tasty, filling and entertaining. Again, it cost plenty but was worth it - indeed, we'd probably return to his lesser but more distinctive place than the better, but more internationalised and homogenous, Nokka (above).

Lappi: this is the place in Helsinki for Arctic cuisine, we learnt. We were to discover later on in our holidays that the Arctic North wasn't really the place to visit for fine dining, so this place was probably a reasonable bet for the Reindeer, Arctic Char and the like. Yet, the log-cabin interior was a little too kitsch for my liking and the log-bench wasn't the most comfortable seat I've ever paid for. The staff (in traditional costume) were fine on the whole, but a little inattentive at the end of the evening. In terms of the food, the elk steak I ordered was cooked very well, with tasty and piquant berries to complement it. My partner enjoyed her whitefish too. However, overall the composition and blend of ingredients wasn't quite what we'd expect for the hefty bill. You pay for the setting and the reputation here; we wouldn't return, though. We'd go back to Sundman's or Nokka for Reindeer etc - more cash for sure, but a much better experience.

Saslik: we didn't visit, but it seemed very popular and was always busy.

We tried a couple of other, quick places when we weren't dining seriously for the evening. The standard was high and the prices (by contrast with the UK) not too bad at all. We were impressed by our exposure to Finnish cuisine: by the technical standards and the imaginative way it addresses a limited range of seasonal produce. If we were to relocate, I'd imagine getting more tired of the range of tastes on offer from traditional fare, but for a week we were delighted with our culinary adventure. When Silvio Berlusconi dismissed Finnish cuisine as dreadful, we should take this as yet another example of his (allegedly) demonstrable buffoonery!

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Thanks for that excellent report. I've just returned from a trip to Helsinki myself and was also impressed with the food I found there. Finally there will be some useful information about this wonderful city on EG.

My own travels were of a decidedly more frugal nature than yours. I don’t really have the funds to visit multiple restaurants, let alone those with Michelin stars. I could give a reasonable account of the grocery stores around the city center if anyone is looking for it. My one restaurant visit was to Ravintola Zetor, which one guidebook described as “fiercely agrarian,” though it should have also included “fiercely kitschy.” Tractors are the big thing here. The seating area of the restaurant includes two or three large tractors, presumably from Finnish farms, for the tourists to examine. The menu is pretty telling, it’s in Finnish, Swedish, English, French, German and Russian. Particularly humorous to my friend and I was the fact that the Finns, Swedes and English-speakers get a hard to follow menu with each dish description confusingly hidden within joke-y bits of prose, while the Continental Europeans get a more classical list-style menu. As for the food, I don’t have the most discerning palate but it was very good. There is less style than substance here as the food tends towards the hearty meat-and-potatoes dish than more elegant options. I had a green salad that was made with nice fresh vegetables but had a dressing than was nearly undetectable. We also had an appetizer of vendance (tiny white-fish) wrapped in dark rye bread. These were tasty, especially with the dill and sour cream(?) sauce/dip they were served with. For main dishes I had the reindeer steak and my friend had more fried vendance. My steak included an onion and potato gratin/hash and a dark sauce with lingonberries as a garnish. The vendance were fried and served with mashed potatoes and beets. We also had glasses of the house specialty drink, whose name escapes me, but it’s a beer-like drink that tasted like an English-style ale but kind of sweet and smoky and even less carbonation. I was too full of steak to have dessert.

The rest of my time in Helsinki I was living off of grocery-store bread and fruit and Jaffa brand drinks. Also, one curiosity-driven visit to Hesburger pretty much tasted like McDonalds.

I will also second the recommendation to visit the waterfront food stalls near where the ferry boats depart. The fish looked amazing and the produce, while there wasn’t a lot of it also looked pretty good. The covered market that’s also on the waterfront also has some amazing looking fish as well as more specialty stalls with bakery, cheese, etc.

Finally, if anyone is planning to go to Kouvola, a smallish city NE of Helsinki, don’t plan on a similar culinary adventure. I can recommend the Pizzeria Bravo for huge, decently priced pizzas but don’t expect it to rival your favorite place anywhere else. Also the Sip Sak kebab stand makes a decent kebab for not that much cash. From what I heard from people there the best restaurant in the city is the one in the Sokos hotel, though I didn’t try it. I’d try to give directions but you’ll find all of these places within a ten minute walk even if you’re not looking for them.

OK, that’s about all I have. I very much enjoyed my time in Finland so hopefully this will help some others.

Dan

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Hi Dan,

Thanks for the kind words. I'd hoped to respond to your earlier request in time for your trip, but I missed the date due to various work commitments: sorry! Hence, I started a new thread just for Helsinki.

I'm glad you enjoyed Finland - we were very impressed, particularly by its civilised lifestyle and the civility of the locals. You're right that food in the provinces is more of a lottery than in Helsinki, but a little research should help to locate reasonable places. And then Helsinki offers a few special treats...

Edited by Kropotkin (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Helsinki is the only place I've been, where restaurants offer bear. It was extremely expensive, though, and our sales manager was too sober to to allow anyone order it. If egullet had existed at the time, and I'd known about such culinary oddities, I'd make sure the bastard had a few more Koskenkorvas before we headed out, and I could now have boasted of having eaten Yogi.

Um. Okay, that didn't sound right at all.

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  • 1 month later...
What bakeries would you suggest for excellent rye bread? Are there any local young artisan bakers of interest, or older established bakers that are still good?

Dan

My favorite two bakeries were in the old covered market and in the Hakaniemi market, but unfortunately I don't remember the names. (There is only one at the old market, and the one in Hakaniemi is on a little raised platform. The rye breads are suspended on a wooden rod throught their central holes like tires.) There is also a sweet, dense, moist loaf that is excellent with sweet butter and chopped dill with a slice of gravlax from the old market. The best gravlax comes from the stand at the far end on the left hand side--ask for the supplier of the Kamp Hotel. The producer next to them has more variety, including salmon cured for different lengths of time.

My favorite restaurants were Demo (French-Mediterranean) and Farouge (Lebanese). Chez Dominique is correct but the service is ice cold. George is not worth the rating or the price. Nokka was really terrific for modern Finnish but they have changed chefs, so the jury is out. I hear the chef is starting a new place. Mecca is a fun place for drinks and fashionable cuisine. The new, more casual Havis Amanda is probably the best seafood and they have a nice courtyard in summer. Raku used to be quite good Japanese in a stylish waterfront restaurant, but they have recently changed chefs so the jury is out again. I hear the Kamp Hotel has also opened a Japanese place, but I have not yet been. I like Sundman's casual downstairs pub better than the one-star upstairs.

Savoy is a classic in an Alvar Aalto designed 1930s restaurant. The food is really old school Mannerheim, but the sommelier Noora Vuorimaa is the best in town. Very expensive.

NJK was my favorite place for our annual crayfish blowout. Great views from the patios.

Sea Horse is my favorite Leningrad Cowboyish pub, and Cafe Eepos 1 block from the Rock Church was my favorite cafe. They bake their own cakes there in a very homey kitchen.

Kaakugalerie (sp?) near Boulevardi was my favorite patisserie. Some of their cakes are sold at Stockmann's which has a very good selection of everything.

Products to try: viili, a weird stretchy yogurt, bread cheese (leipajuusto) a grilled fresh Lappish cheese that squeaks between the teeth, air-dried reindeer, snow grouse, fresh cloudberries, Finnish crayfish in season (must order in advance in most places, costs about 6-8 euros each), Arctic char, glow-fried fish, and of course gravlax. Bear is overrated-very tough and fatty, and super expensive. Black licorice ice cream is interesting.

Finns love those night stands with sausages, but I think you have to grow up with them.

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  • 3 months later...
  • 2 months later...

You've got to visit Fazer on the Kluuvikatu for the most fabulous pastries and chocolate - and some of the best people watching in the city.

Also the daily luncheon buffet in the American bar at the Hotel Kamp is great value for money for a truly luxury establishment.

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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Chez Dominique is superb. The new restaurant is, IMO, as good as any restaurant in London right now. Their 2* rating is bang on - and a fantastic mix between traditional and modern techniques with more than a nod to the local environment. I agree that service is a little stiff but i think that its more the clientele that make it so. In London you can go to Pied a terre, Square, Claridges, Foliage (similar standards) and still see people casually dressed, relaxed, enjoying themselves. Helsinki as much as i love it simply isnt used to this style and standard of dining so whenever ive ben to Chez Dominique everyone is scared stiff of putting a foot wrong or doing something that isnt 'decorum'. last time we were there a table next to us had a son about 16 yrs old. The dad kept gritting his teeth and chastising his son with 'dont do that', 'stop doing it that way' etc etc the poor lad looked a nervous wreck!

We are going to Demo tonight which still proves to be a popular Helsinki restaurant after 4 years and has been recognised by getting their 1st michelin star

Mecca is good (and used to be co-owned by Hans Valimaki of Chez Dominique) and is pushing the avant-garde in Helsinki as is de rigeur of any European capial right now

:biggrin:

<a href='http://www.bacchus-restaurant.co.uk' target='_blank'>www.bacchus-restaurant.co.uk</a>

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Quick update to say that Demo was superb and very much a solid 1* restaurant.

Asparagus flan (like a custard) with roast quail to start followed by Knuckle of pork flavoured with foie gras . Dessert of rhubarb with chocolate pot and an financier

Small place, nothing fancy and i think thats what makes you all the more surprised that the cooking is as accomplished as it is

Recommended!

<a href='http://www.bacchus-restaurant.co.uk' target='_blank'>www.bacchus-restaurant.co.uk</a>

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  • 4 months later...

Going back to Helsinki next month for our honeymoon. Staying at the Kamp, got reservations at Chez Dom and Saslik, will report back !

Any tips for things to do and see in October ? Last time I went was February so it was winter.

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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Hi

I am going to Helsinki fore a week and need some help, so I dont miss any places.

Plees skip the turist traps.

I have a reservation for Chez Dominique for saterday dinner.

The reeson I am going to Helsinki is that I am going to work in the kitchen at ravintola Olo. So I know wath I am looking for.

But for the extra days friday, saterday and sunday I need lunch and dinner.

Hope ther is som help to get.

Thanks for in adwans :rolleyes:

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Ilmatar restaurant at the Klaus K hotel is excellent. The chef there is called Markus Maulavirta and he has written a cookery book. He sources all his ingredients in Finland and I had some of the most delicious food there I have ever eaten.

Not sure if it is too late for the crayfish season but the Swedish Yacht Club (which is on an island) is great.

Sundmans is also good but not as contemporary as the Klaus K restaurant.

Have fun, it is a lovely city and the markets are just amazing!

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  • 2 months later...

So, we are back after a delicious 4 days of feasting. The first night was spent at Chez Dominique.

The ambience of the restaurant is modern, clean and professional. The tables are sparsely appointed with red rose, main course cutlery and a glass. No extraneous paraphenalia here. There is lots of glass and modern sculpture decorating the restaurant. We elected to have the 6 course tasting menu wtih their accompanying wines. The meal ranged from finnish/french to totally finnish dishes. Wines were mainly European. Food is very modern, with foams, gels, contrasting textures and ethereal flavours featuring heavily.

I will update the menu when I get home and find the scrap of paper hastily scrawled in my drunken state on our return to the hotel ! It was a fabulous meal, easily the best I have taken fork to.

The second night was spent in Saslik, the well known Russian restaurant. We requested the "Diamant" room for two, and I was really chuffed to get it. It was pretty busy in the restaurant for a Sunday night. We had originally booked for their buffet lunch but they stopped doing the lunch so offered us their Zakuska starters at half price to make up for it when letting me know. To my surprise tha waitress who gave us the menus knew about our special starter - finnish efficiency at work - and charged us correctly at the end of the meal. We elected to have elk and reindeer for our main courses. The portions at Saslik are massive and seem to have been designed with a hard day's reindeer-driving in mind, so make sure you are hungry ! The food was very nice, although not up to CD standard ! We could not manage a dessert, just coffee. We would not return to the restaurant, simply because it was an "experience" place rather than a place to go for great dining - but for what it was, it was excellent. They have live troubadour music - I was glad we were in the little cosy alcove room and were able to enjoy it peering out from our heavily fringed curtain ! Main courses are priced at an average of 25e

We mainly ate from cafes in the daytimes, and bought picnic food from the covered market. The first stall in, the bakery, sells good bread. We also had very nice open sandwiches in a russian stall in the market.

Breakfast at the Fransmanni Restaurant in the Sokos Kluuvikatu was as good as I remember, and really good value for money. It was 12e and literally all you can eat - porridge, fruit soup, cookies, breads, cheeses, meats, herrings 3 ways, salads, bacon, eggs, cereals, joghurt, fruits, a parade of food ! It saw us through till dinner time.

our third dinner was in a burger bar near the station square. we were so exhausted after 8 days of cuisine that we just wanted chips.

Cakes from Fazer were as good as I remember, as was their open gravlax sandiwches. Woefully expensive though.

I do NOT recommend the winter restaurant on Suomenlinna - it was awful. Take a picnic with you and huddle up in some shelter.

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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