Four Seasons at Restaurant Nokka, Helsinki, Finland

The slush outside (January 2015) is enough to drive you straight back to where you came from and I mean anywhere else except Helsinki. Crossing the bridge to the peninsula called Katajanokka, there’s a glimmer of hope when you notice that all the love locks chained to it, weigh it down with stories of passion and love that it turns your attention away from the surroundings and makes you smile.

The view from the peninsula of Katajanokka, just across the bridge from Helsinki

At Nokka you get out from the cold and the wet, and there’s this happy fuzzy feeling of being wrapped in comfort and warmth. The interior just folds you in with its vaulted redbrick ceilings and over-stuffed chairs. The building speaks of its historical past when this area used to be a busy cargo port and where spaces like these were used as warehouses. I love this place and really, if I were rolling in it, I would come here on a weekly basis. Maybe it has something to do with the last time I was here when the waiter broke into perfect Afrikaans, my mother tongue, and asked me whether I was comfortable? Gob smacked is an under statement.

Even though the Afrikaans speaking waiter is no longer there, it’s still a pleasure to be served by someone a little less interested in keeping up appearances and more involved in serving you with care and attention.

Ari Ruoho
Ari Ruoho, executive chef at Nokka

And then the food… This guy, called Ari Ruoho, throws all your worries of high cholesterol out of the window and slaps on the butter. After all, he’s not your physician, he’s your chef and he’s gonna indulge you. Ari’s head of the kitchen of this esteemed establishment and he’s into Finnish and more Finnish ingredients unless necessity calls for it and then it’s fresh as fresh can be. Like the king crab, flown in from Bugøynes or Pykeija in Finnish with its many Finnish-speaking residents. This town was on the verge of financial collapse until they discovered this succulent crustacean. So even if it’s not exactly from Finland, Pykeija is close enough.

King crab at Restaurant Nokka
King crab from Bugøynes or Pykeija in Finnish

Ari’s Four Seasons menu gets sweeter, juicier and tastier as you go along from this same tender, sweet king crab to rosemary and garlic infused elk. You try to bite but your teeth only sink into a melting pot of textures and flavours that go so well with the wines they have chosen to select. There’s the Klosterneuburg Grüner Veltliner 2012 with just a hint of acidity necessary for the delicate seafood but the Jèma Corvina 2010 turns the elk into a taste extravaganza. Ye gods! this full, huge, fruity number takes the cake and is one helluva pairing on the part of the resident sommelier.

Elk at Restaurant Nokka
Elk comes in a stoneware pot

Afters? Well, I’m not so into sweets but if I can say anything at all, it would be that the cloy of the chocolate next to the cloudberry sauce works, but not for me. I just don’t like desserts much but I do like the hug from the reindeer man Hannu Lahtela who treated us to his reindeer ‘chips’ Poromi, chewy, salty and a real good combo with beer or chilled vodka.

Dessert at Restaurant Nokka
Chocolate/salty liquorice mousse and flambéed cloudberries


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