OlutExpo 2017 does it right

From the time you pick up the lanyard with credit card attached to the time you drop it off and get reimbursed for the balance left on it, you know these guys have done it right. It’s pro, it’s efficient, the queues are shorter at the entrance and you leave knowing that nobody’s tried to rip you off, you got what you paid for. If you so wish, you could muster up an even warmer fuzzier sense of goodness when you leave the balance to one of the charities they support.

Fat Lizard Brewery from Finland

A whole string of local micro breweries have come up with selections of beer that speak of real craftsmanship, each one with its own specific punch line and story. Fat Lizard has a sense of humour as in their ‘No crap on tap’ slogan. Topi Kairenius, brewmaster, explains their take on what makes them stand out,“We like American style APAs and IPAs and use mostly American hops. Except for Rib Tickler which contains New Zeland hops.”Their products come in funky cans and are all of a lighter, drinkable style, a hint of their own laid-back approach to life.

The intrepid couple from Pien

 Pien meaning ‘small’ deserves a mention. This couple are bold if nothing else. They have two small shops: one behind Ateneum Art Museum on Ateneumkuja and another one in Iso Omena Shopping Centre. Their products are hand-and heart-selected and they’re selling some unique beers and other goodies from their stores. Because of the monopoly Alko, they have to stick to anything under 4.7% alcohol but whatever they have to sacrifice is made up for by big flavours and choice ingredients. They’re the exclusive importer of Brewski, an outfit in Helsingborg, Sweden, that bottle in small sizes using labels designed by a kick-ass artist. The contents are pretty good too.

Pekka Montin, importer and veteran of the beer scene

From Estonia comes Tanker Brewery. Everything’s unfiltered and only American hops is used since 50% of the business belongs to Graham Suske, American himself and the other half by Jaanis Tammela. The Ketser will creep into the corners of your gob and squinch up your cheeks with the sourness it brings with it while Pretty Hard has a touch of raspberry to soften the blow. The latter’s label is pink with a speech bubble for the lady, ‘ It’s so hard to be pretty’. At 7% you’re likely to forget the make-up and get the party started.

Cider has its place at this festival and it’s the elegance of the logo of Kuura Cider that catches my eye. They’re from the little town of Fiskars, about a 60 minute drive from Helsinki. With a still and a sparkling product, their focus is on ripe, local, cooking apples rather than cider ones. Minimum intervention leaves it unfiltered but with an elegance and complexity that put it in a class of its own.

Also from the famous artist/artisan town of Fiskars is Ägräs Distillery. Infused with nettles and fennel is their greenish coloured Long Drink, the freshest hit of herbal delight you can possibly imagine with no hint of sugar but pleasantly accessible. Their Akvavit is also made from foraged nettles and wild herbs and is aged in American oak, a smooth, golden-coloured, velvety drink that caresses your tongue as it slides around the furthest recesses of your mouth.

Food is the focus at Malmgård Brewery where they use their own spelt, wheat, grains to make their products including bread. They’re located in the countryside near Loviisa at a manor house owned by a count.

From the far-flung island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides, the whisky that comes from there is user-friendly. No heavy peat, no heavy smoke just something easy to drink, terribly enjoyable and made for the market. Their 16 year-old Jura Diurachs’ Own is the whisky of choice for the islanders and you know why when your taste buds get a hint of apricot, marmalade and toffee, a mouthful of rounded goodness.

End your taste tour at Helsinki Distilling Company where their brand new rye whiskey comes with a kick but no aggression. Applejack can only be described as light Calvados, a pleasant apéritif or a less powerful digestif.

In the spite of the archaic alcohol laws in Finland, OlutExpo has managed to put together a thought-through, well organised event, represented by both local and international brands without a single moment of unruly behaviour and plenty of class and luxury in which to spoil yourself.

Hieta Restaurant – history in the making

If you want to follow a hard act, leave it in the hands of the pros. Royal Restaurants have taken over this historic spot overlooking the old shipyard and handed over the reins to Jani Hiltunen, manager, and Ali Toppinen, head chef, to reconstruct an age-old tradition.

Jani Hiltiunen and Ali Toppinen, Ravintola Hieta, avajaiset. Photo: ATTE KAJOVA

Dating back to 1897 when stevedores and workers called the then-named Salve their ‘local’, these walls have seen it all including billows of cigarette smoke, countless millions of litres of beer and Finnish hooch called Koskenkorva being consumed. Today we walk in there and the gasps of airy delight spring from the daylight shining in on the white walls. I ask whether there were always floor-to-ceiling windows and the answer is ‘yes, but they were half covered in stickers and huge ventilation boxes’.

Fried Baltic herring and craft beer

Jani and Ali are on the same page – they really don’t want to destroy that trademark history of good, homemade large portions of food at reasonable prices but they also realise that we’re living in a different age and that a modern twist is vital. Hence, smoked Baltic Herring still comes crispy but the salty cucumber is a crunchy mix of pickles with good acidity to cut the grease. Wiener Schnitzel is a slab that fills the plate with a dollop of parsley butter and not enough lemon to give you that hit of freshness. But you can ask for more and the super amazing staff are only ready to lay it on. Pancakes are the Finns’ favourite dessert and crispier I have yet to come across.

‘HIETA’ had to fit the boots of its predecessor ‘Salve’ in size and historic importance.

Enough of the food, let’s get down to the drink and then you know these guys have got it sussed. Their own blend of Stuvari ale comes from Donut Island craft brewery just down the road and is a refreshing balance of malt and hops with a twist of citrus to make it your favourite drink of choice this summer. But if brews are not your best, top quality Jacquart Brut Mosaïque champagne is available for an affordable €10,80/glass. All of this, with a view of the water and musings of times gone by, from the terrace of Hieta which will be opening as soon as the restaurant does, on Wednesday 26 April 2017.

Watch this space for links…

Sandro Restaurants – Helsinki

Sandro Kallio – no nonsense dining

THE PLACE 8/10: Neighbourhood restaurants in three spots in Helsinki, these joints concentrate on Moroccan/Lebanese cuisine in healthy portions. Marrakesh Madness brunch is served on Sundays while vegans and vegetarians and the rest of us can eat their hearts out on Saturdays.

THE FOOD 7/10: Lots of exotic flavours, spices, freshness and contrasts of textures are present in every dish but if spice is not your thing, there’s a huge selection for every age and finnicky eater.

THE DRINKS 7/10: Some pretty good appetite awakeners come as alcoholic and non-alcoholic and the wine menu is neatly curated to suit every pocket.

THE SERVICE (7/10): Usually good and always friendly since the staff is mostly from abroad bringing their own brand of personality to the table.

THE AMBIENCE (8/10): Can get dreadfully noisy since the acoustics ring out loud and clear especially when the ladies at the next table screech out their pure pleasure at each others’ jokes.

THE PRICE (7/10): Looks a bit pricey since everything’s around €25 but there are no starters and those come on the main course plate which is huge and includes the whole shebang.

OVERALL RATING (7/10): Easy dining for both families and couples and a fun way of spending some hours together.

Pulled duck burger with crispy sweet potato fries

Links:

Sandro Restaurants

Farang Restaurant, Helsinki

Amuse bouche of green shell mussel in turmeric curry

THE PLACE 8/10: Just under street level in a beautiful pink period building which also houses an art museum, this restaurant is understated in its elegance luring you to focus on the beautifully presented food.

THE FOOD 8/10: South-East Asia is their thing with lots of nuts (be careful if you’re allergic), creamy coconut and curry spices. It’s a fantasy ride of chillies, never too much, umami, smoke and musk. Crunch contrasts with cream and soft bites of succulent pork and lamb.

Succulent pork ribs with plenty of coconut and coriander

THE DRINKS 6/10: The Hügel Sylvaner from Wittmann Winery works well with its blend of melon and pears but the red from Spain just doesn’t. However, the dessert wine is superbly light, a bit like brandy, and matches the Mekong River dessert exceptionally well.

Light dessert wine of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon

THE SERVICE (7/10): Very good with the timing of dishes arriving in paced succession. Some of the waiting staff are a little inexperienced and just parrot what you can already read on the menu but it’s not a big deal. They’re all friendly.

THE AMBIENCE (7/10): Even though it’s minimalistic, it does have a feel of relaxation. The thin ‘curtains’ that divide the large area, blow softly in the breeze of the aircon, a cool feeling with all that spice.

THE PRICE (7/10): Around €100/head including the wine recommendations.

OVERALL RATING (8/10): Fantastic flavours to transport you to the East served with charm and delicacy.

Links:

Farang Restaurant

Colour, Coffee and Art

It’s bright pink, purple, yellow and orange that catches your eye when walking by the supermarket shelves dedicated to coffee. This one’s Paulig’s Presidentti Special Blend 2017 made with coffee beans from Sumatra. To make it even more intriguing, there’s an art exhibition to go with it in the deli at Stockmann Department Store with pictures of Presidents of Finland done in WPAP style by Indonesian artist Arif Wicaksonon. You may well ask about the connection…

President Tarja Halonen in WPAP style

Every year Paulig produces a special blend that celebrates a different taste from a different country and always an exotic one. This year, it’s Sumatra’s turn to shine and this balanced yet striking mouthful of liquid is quite unusual. The edges are soft but the flavour is wild and together with a macaroon it’s a perfect afternoon break enhancer.

Six Presidents, the sixth year of Presidentti Special Blend. And how were they selected? Easy, they all have a coffee story to tell. President Tarja Halonen only started drinking coffee at the age of 18 but fell passionately in love with the brew and has a favourite spot at Hakaniemi Market Hall where she partakes of it with relish. President Kekkonen on the other hand, was alive and well and even had a hand in roasting the first blend at the then new Paulig roastery in Vuosaari where the head office is currently located. He was also known to take Presidentti with him on his travels.

President Kekkonen loved Presidentti coffee

The WPAP art was developed by Indonesian Wedha Abdul Rasyid and stands for Wedha’s Pop Art Portrait. This highly colourful, geometric style has spread outside of his home country and to other parts, now to be seen at Stockmann’s (city centre 28-5.3 and Tapiola 15 – 19.3) and at Narinkka Square at Kamppi Shopping Centre (16 – 19.3). More importantly, the coffee is for sale in every major supermarket in Finland.

Line Up at The Roster – a modern eatery run by a hip crowd

With a view of some of Helsinki’s stunning period architecture, The Roster stands out as a trendy place to have your lunch, drink a cocktail or indulge in their version of a Sunday roast. Brainchild of Kari Aihinen, executive chef of the exclusive Savoy Restaurant, this one’s not a ‘baby Savoy’. His love of ice hockey speaks for itself in the name and he runs this kitchen as well as the more upmarket one, like he would a hockey team. The right hand knows what the left is doing and the result is a winner.

Trout, spinach purée and lobster sauce

My trout on a spinach purée with lobster sauce melts in the mouth with umami, freshness and creaminess all intermingled. The salad that comes as a side looks dull since it’s just a bunch of leaves but my oh my, that truffle dressing is enough to stop you in your tracks. I feel like a red wine with all of this and the recommendation of a Pinot Meunier from the house of Friedrich Becker from the Pfalz region in Germany, is earthy, with hints of truffle and terroir that just brings this whole meal together.

All of this doesn’t come cheap but you wouldn’t expect it to. You get the feeling that every ingredient is hand-picked and that the food is prepared with the utmost care. Service is friendly, funny and full of personality. I think they like working here and if they don’t, they’re damn good actors. Go for the slapshot, fork out €40 and knock yourself out with a great plate of nosh.

Links:

The Roster Helsinki

What a Kombo

Sini was invited to a party in Madrid, Christian was too. Serendipity played its role in the meeting of this Finnish woman with this Spanish man and olé, it worked! Dovetailing their talents, they now have the cutest eatery in Sörnäinen, a tram ride away from the heart of Helsinki.

The buzz at Kombo starts at around 7pm and by 7.30 every table is taken. Grant it, it’s not big with covers for around 25 -30 people but for a place that spends zero on advertising, word of mouth has done its job and customers come from far and wide.

Christian is down on his haunches at the table, explaining the food on offer which basically consists of a variety of tapas that comes in 4 sizes from a snack to a hearty portion. The wine is palate-picked ranging from lighter red to heavy-duty stuff. And of course there’s white and cava too but on a miserable winter’s night, it’s the red that pulls and what a combo (sic!) with the food.

dsc05489It’s the Grenache Noir of La Fontaine des Loups from Languedoc that takes my fancy and delivers well when it comes to the winter salad, duck rillettes and Spanish omelette on my plate. Every mouthful is a treat with the pomegranate popping in my mouth, speaking to the black currant and plum flavours of the wine.

dsc05494The generous cheese plate arrives and my choice is the Artigazo’s blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that gives you that nice, toasty feeling and leaves a trace of balsamic behind. The aged Manchega cheese has a partner in the form of red capsicum jam, a first for me.

Kombo is all about matching combinations. While Christian handles front of house, Sini does her thing in the kitchen and they both do their job with aplomb. The food hits the spot and the wine just takes it to another level. They’ve thought this through carefully and come up with a winner and even your wallet survives the experience.

For bookings: http://www.kombowinebar.fi/Kombo.html

Blushing with Blossa

As a wine drinker, I blush to admit that I do like a tipple or two of that sweet, Christmas drink in Finland called glögi. Before everybody shouts me down, I’m fussy and cannot include those cloying excuses of berry juice with alcohol added that stick to your gums and spoil the rest of your wine-drinking evening.

Glögi parties are huge in December and you’re bound to get invited to more than one during this festive season. Be prepared! Welcoming you to the party is a glass of hot, sweet juice with a spike of vodka added, some raisins and almonds thrown in and off you go. One is usually quite enough for me. But there are some that will change your perception forever. Once you taste them, there’s no going back really. You’re Christmas craving will always remind you of that one.

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It’ll take only one sip of Blossa 16 to convince you. It’s green, minty, full of pine cones and ginger. Chirstmas in a mouthful. Whether it’s the first or the last drink of the night, it’s going to bring Santa straight down the chimney. They’re never going to give away the secret but here’s a hint: white wine base and crowberry…. Yes, crowberry, and according to Wikipedia, “a small genus of dwarf evergreen shrub that bears edible fruit.” And full-flavoured to boot. (Alko price €13,99)

And just when you think you’ve had enough, Blossa 1895 hits you with a port wine base and herbs and structure to such an extent that all that’s lacking is the classical blue cheese to round it off. What bliss would that be! (Alko price €14,99)

Finland on My Mind – a culinary journey

Competition in the Baltic Sea is fierce. Not only do the cruise ships vie for best entertainment or comfort with style. Food is paramount and there are few shipping companies that do it as well as Silja Line does. This year is no exception. Their Bon Vivant Restaurant on both Serenade and Symphony, steps up to the fine culinary plate every time.

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A formidable team: Matti Jämsen, Miikka Manninen, Eero Vottonen, Heidi Mäkinen

Hard to go wrong when you’ve got Chef Eero Vottonen, whose been there and done that in the glittering Michelin star world of Helsinki, and Heidi Mäkinen, Finland’s best sommelier in 2015 and 8th in the world, at the helm. With the internationally well-known Matti Jämsen overseeing it all and the bright, young, fastidious Miikka Manninen as the sous-chef, you’re all set for a flavour expedition through the Finnish countryside at the highest possible standards.

 

Lavaret (white fish) and sour cream
Lavaret (white fish) and sour cream

No bigger than an amuse bouche comes the Lavaret or white fish as most of know it, served with smooth sour cream, a little crunch of cucumber and a subtle flavouring of dill. Swill it back with a Blanc de Blanc from Jacques Lassaigne in all its glorious minerality and you can’t wait for what’s next. The hot, crispy barley blini-like pancake is served with mushroom butter, so good you want to lick your hand where it slowly sidles its way down. Another gulp of that champers, thank you!

Lamb and caramelised onion with friend parsley root
Lamb and caramelised onion with friend parsley root

Put one and one together and you the resulting richness is much more than a mere two. The liver mousse is a combination of duck and chicken liver, delicate and powerful all at once with the forest mushrooms adding the oomph. This time it’s the earthy Yealands Estate Land Made Pinot Noir that carries the flavours through to the last mouthful.

Delicate as a flower - braised apple with buttermilk ice cream
Delicate as a flower – braised apple with buttermilk ice cream

While the lamb could do with a bit more salt and pepper, easily added of course, the herbs from the dish fall in side by side with the unmistakeable garrigue, or wild Mediterranean herb taste, present in the Maison Nicolas Perrin Cornas, worthy of a swoon.

Heidi Mäkinen has taken Eero Vottonen’s story of Finnish ingredients, one step further to turn this dining experience into an unforgettable journey.

5-course menu including wine selection: €118/person or €109 for Club One customers.

Menu available from 1 September 2016 – 10 January 2017.

Silja Line

Long Live the Classics – Elite Restaurant, Helsinki

Phew! A sigh of relief when you enter a restaurant that’s been a true icon for the longest time, then undergoes a renovation and you hold your breath thinking that they’ve just ruined the whole atmosphere by turning it into something hip. Thank goodness this is not the case and the only change you notice is the smell of fresh paint, in the same Art Deco colours, I might add. All the paintings are still in place and the interior has been pretty much left the way it was before.

A lick of fresh paint, but the rest is still there.
A lick of fresh paint, but the rest is still there.

We are pleasantly greeted by Vova, aka Vladimir Gusevin, who has guarded the door of the entrance for longer than most of us remember. The waiting staff have also kept their jobs there and it’s only the restaurant manager, now Tiina Partti, and the head chef Petri Rissanen, that are relatively new. The classic menu is still in tact and never in a month of Sundays are they going to get rid of ‘läskisoosi’ or ‘sauce with plenty of pork fat, or Tauno Palo’s steak, a favourite of the artist’s consisting of rump steak with an onion and cream sauce.

Vova's Vorschmack
Vova’s Vorschmack

Other Finnish staples include vorschmack, Vova’s version of it, with minced meat and I do believe some anchovies mixed in served with sour cream and beetroot salad. Perfectly fried white fish comes in a soup bowl, that familiar ‘kesäkeitto’ or summer soup, a milky mix of colourful, fresh summer vegetables and for afters, lemon pie in a decidedly delicious shortcrust pastry with a spoonful of raspberry sorbet on the side.

Whitefish in 'summer soup'
Whitefish in ‘summer soup’
Good old-fashioned lemon pie
Good old-fashioned lemon pie

One thing that has been vamped up, and it’s about time too, is the wine list. Their own artsy label painted  by Senja Vellonen contains a zippy blend of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo and the red is not too shabby either with its full-bodied, balanced tannins in the Garnacha, Syrah, Carinena and Merlot. Both of these are a safe bet and can be ordered without reservations. Wine prices are never low in Helsinki and the €48 you’re going to fork out for it, is well spent in a restaurant of this calibre.

Artsy wine with backbone
Artsy wine with backbone

Just goes to show, not every joint under the sun needs to make room for the modern or the trendy. Some places are just left as they should be and the charm of this drinking and dining favourite amongst the artists, musicians, dancers and hangers-on in the artsy world of days gone by, still lures you in and plays its magic on you.

04 2016
Art Deco at its finest