Hotdogs, Hamburger and Lobster – Restaurants in Helsinki, Finland

I’m on a mission, a fun one, to find the new and newish in the restaurant world out there. I hop on my bike, whizz down the road, make for the glorious Helsinki shoreline, pedal till I get tired and there it begins.

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Birgitta – neatly placed at the end of Eira and the beginning of Hernesaari, this café is much more than just that. Let’s start with the coffee which comes from local artisans that call themselves Kaffa Roastery, then the open sandwiches of Baltic Herring on rye and other innovations, the ‘pulla’ (sweet buns) brimming with butter and sugar and best of all, hamburgers, meat and veggie, barbecued on their charcoal grill set to rival any others out there. The salads are ridiculously fresh created with local, as local can be. And then there’s the Baltic Sea view…. (http://birgittahernesaari.com)

Hummeri ja Hodari (Lobster and hotdog) – You can only giggle at this one but this is no laughing matter, I assure you. The hotdogs are hand-selected from local sausage maker Chef Wotkins while the buns travel less than a klick from Kanniston Leipomo to land in the hands of the crazy chefs who love to fool around with lobster sauce combined with fresh dogs, or serve the whole crustacean on a bed of Caesar salad. Sides include black trumpet mushroom or Parmesan fries and coleslaw with not a hint of mayo in sight. Need I add that champagne is available at €9,50 a glass as are other stylish wines and beers. (http://hodari-hummeri.fi)

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Let’s tell a Story about a few top chefs of Michelin star fame that believe they have finally earned the right to take their place in the historic Market Hall recently reopened after extensive renovations. Anders, Matti, Teemu and Markus have paid their dues in some illustrious eateries and are serving up some creamy Eggs Benedict for breakfast, pulled pork sandwiches for lunch and dinner invented every Friday and Saturday by whatever captures the chefs’ imaginations in the hall that day. Of course there’s plenty more on the menu and the prices are well in sync with most wallets. (http://restaurantstory.fi)

It only takes a couple of Australians to take one look at Helsinki and say, “Yeah, mate, these guys like to drink and they like having fun.” The Woolshed is born. Friendlier you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere, good value for money too at this dining and drinks joint right next to the station. Lobster, flown in from Maine, features strongly and comes at as little as €20 while their plenty-to-eat burgers weigh in at a mere €14,50. Woolshed and Camden beers on tap as well as their wines cutting out the middleman and served to you at a competitive price. Live music. laughter and banter come free! (http://www.woolshed.eu)

But if you want some bite in your bite, sink your teeth into an Adobo De Res taco with Mexican chilli beef and onion or a slow-roasted pulled pork quesadilla at Eatos. To make your day even more complete, you’ll be just as pleased as I was when I saw the bill. (www.eatos.fi)

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Tapas plate at Bronda

You can’t miss it – it’s right there on the Esplanade near the Swedish Theatre and it’s Bronda owned by celebrity chefs Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg whose favourite European food countries are Spain, Italy and France and who incorporate their culinary travels with their finely-honed skills to present you with an Anchovy Toast and Manchega cheese snack, tiger prawns gently rolled in garlic and brown butter with fresh herbs and roasted almonds for crunch. Handcrafted snacks at the bar, a la carte or a tasting menu for dinner, it all happens in an elegant stylish atmosphere of white linen and selective lighting. (http://ravintolabronda.fi/?lang=en)

Passion is an overused word these days, but there’s nothing passé about the guys cooking food at Passio. Let’s get you started on smoky, creamy whitefish served with a potato pancake, then wild boar smothered in porter beer sauce next to Jerusalem artichokes, then apple pie and caramel… You know the feeling, you’ve died and gone to heaven. (http://passiodining.fi)

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Lunch at Kolmonen

Tucked away in cosy Kallio is Kolmonen, a tiny little place where good home food is made with heart and is served at no more than €10 at lunchtime with fresh bread and crispy salad, a little more at dinner. The menu changes constantly but there are some evergreens that make the list every day such as their own take on a Charolais Burger and Fish of the Day. Seek them out – you won’t be sorry! (Kolmas Linja 11, https://www.facebook.com/ravintolakolmon3n)

Lewes, the Centre of the Cosmos – only in the UK

Along a country road that can only be England with woodland that arches over and shades of green never to be found on a painter’s palette, you come upon the town of Lewes. There’s a lady walking up the street wearing plaid pyjama-like pants, Doc Martins, a colourful top with orange and purple key hangers around her neck and a jaunty looking purple hat. My friend assures me,

“This is Lewes. You think England’s full of eccentrics and then you come to Lewes.”

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This is a town, not a village, and it pretty much has everything you can possibly want or need. The ancient bookshop, the food market where you can buy a healthy, salady wrap or a pork pie or something in between, the Needlemakers – a conglomeration of quaint shops and a café that serves a homemade muffin with all the crunch and softness you’d like to sink your teeth into and then of course the usual chains. The Harvey’s brewery nestles next to the River Ouse and the beer produced is way up there amongst the favourites in this area and beyond. We go into an antiquarian bookshop and its owner is as dusty as the books it contains. A gentleman walks in with 3 thick, hard copies.

“I was wondering whether you’d be interested in these first editions of The Art of the Antarctica?”

“First editions you say?”

“Yes they are. Complete works.”

“Hmmm, I would be but that binding on this one looks dodgy.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Hmmm, I could offer you £100 for all three.”

“I was hoping for £120”

“But it’s the binding you see.”

“Well, alright then.”

Shuffling around for a pen and a chequebook, yes, they still use chequebooks, he writes out the cheque, and there’s a kindly and terribly polite closing of the deal and parting.

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Now I get it! My friends in their supremely British way really belong in this place, it’s the dinner party in Lewes where no one will care whether you live in a two-up-two-down and where the conversation will not be about your latest acquisition but rather touch on the subjects of the last gig you attended, where the laughter will ring in your ears and the histrionics will take their place in your memory.

“This is Lewes.” Or at least it’s how I imagine it to be.

English Food

Gone are the days when people pull up their nose and call it a contradiction in terms. Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have put a sudden stop to the misnomer that a plate of decent nosh is only to be found outside the borders of this green island.

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Take  Bill’s for instance. It’s a chain and no need to snort at that either. The standard is consistently high wherever you go. The burger is a munchy mouthful of locally sourced beef between a bun that doesn’t go squelch when you bite into it. The avocado, bacon and spinach salad is a caveman’s delight with crisp, crunch and creamy all in one plate. The menu covers everyman’s wants and needs from a not-so-hungry light meze plate to a full on duck pie or English lamb rump. Looking around is a treat with walls covered in trading store goods, the service is always fun and upbeat and it’s nice to share a table with some other friendly locals. All this for a price that’s not going to burst your bubble. Even the house white from Spain, completely palatable by the way, comes in at a decent £14.95. A happy place indeed and a lot healthier than your usual greasy spoon.

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Bill’s in Lewes, East Sussex

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Bacon, avocado, spinach salad at Bill’s

Pubs are vying for customers nowadays and it’s not the beer alone that’s going to lure them in. Most publicans say they have higher wine sales and it’s the food that really makes the profit margins rise. More competition always lifts the bar a notch or two and even in small towns, the one with the better food is the one that stays in business. The White Horse in the artists’ town of Ditchling in the South Downs, is head-on-head with The Bull, both establishments doing their utmost to keep the punters happy. I wolfed down a sausage and caramelised onion ciabatta with fat cut chips and washed down with slugs of Simonsvlei Sauvignon Blanc in all its crispy acidity and grassy character at The White Horse and felt duly satisfied.

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London Walkabout

London Bridge Station – within about a 2 kilometres radius around this point you can come away from a day of wandering that’ll leave you divinely exhausted with a shot in the proverbial arm that’ll keep your brain cells going for a time to come.

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Simply stepping out of the station, you crane your neck, and then a little more, and maybe you can see the pinprick top of the Shard. The tallest building not only in London but also in the European Union with 87 storeys standing 306 metres high. Here’s a hot tip – if you don’t want to pay the £30 to get to the viewing deck, walk in to the Shangri-La Hotel as if you own the place, get a lift to the 35th floor, take another lift to the 52nd floor where the GŎNG Bar perches, buy a drink and feast your eyes on a view of London that can’t get better not even on the top floor of this amazing glass structure. Not the cheapest glass of wine in town but a good one and some tasty snacks to go with it.

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There it is – the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the memorial to the Fire of London, the Thames of course, Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge, the Cheese Grater, Boris Johnson’s office.  I love the English. They take the mickey out of everything including themselves, for example the Cheesegrater, designed by Richard Rogers destined to be completed this year in 2014, a building that might catch your eye, it would be strange if it didn’t. Then there’s the Gherkin designed by Norman Foster and the concave Walkie-Talkie by Rafael Viñoly still under construction. Building seems to be rife in this city judging by the number of cranes dotting the skyline, an elegant sight in itself. Can’t imagine what a pretty penny that might cost.

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The Walkie-Talkie

Across the bridge again, down the steps, through the arches and you stumble upon the Golden Hind, the restored galleon of Sir Francis Drake. Next up is William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where you can either watch a show or just do a tour. By this time you’re in need of the English fix-all, a good cup of tea. What better spot than the Swan right next door. The atmosphere in this gastro pub with its simple fayre is special not least of all because of the old school service you find here. You can look over the Thames, watch the pedestrians on the Millennium Bridge while delicately biting your slice of cake and sipping your cuppa.

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Then there’s the Tate Modern, a huge construction of a building that houses modern art and is free for everyone except for the special exhibitions. Start at the top where the Artists’ Rooms house suggestive photography by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989), drawings by Louise Bourgeois better known for her sculptures.

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Street foodies have died and gone to heaven when they enter Borough Market, a conglomeration of food stands for wholesale and retail purposes. Fresh fish, meat and vegetables are in plentiful supply as are vendors selling ready-to-eat meals ranging from Thali to crumpets to prosciutto. There’s a buzz in the air, people are talkative, playful and call you ‘Luv’, and even if you’re not hungry, you’ll end up buying something just for the hell of it. Vinopolis is a wine lovers’ mecca that starts off with an intro on how to taste and then leaves you free to use up those tokens. Prices range from £27 to £38 depending on how expensive your tastes are since champagne might set you back 2 tokens instead of 1.

 It’s time to catch the train and thankfully it’s a short walk passed the famous Guy’s Hospital to London Bridge Station. The day has been full, you’re tired, your feet may be aching but you can feast on the richness that is London for a time to come.

 

A Man Among Women – Kenneth Greve, Director of the Finnish National Ballet

Kenneth Greve is no sissy. He’s first and foremost a husband and father of three but he’s also the Director of the Finnish Ballet.

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Kenneth Greve

Photographer © 2012 Heikki Tuuli

“Finns love dancing. I have yet to come across a society that indulges in couples dancing as much as the Finns do. There are ‘stages’ all over Finland where people go with the express intention of doing the waltz, foxtrot, jive, you name it. Why is it that boys are conspicuous in their absence at the ballet school?”

Kenneth:

“Exactly. The Finns love dancing, I watch them from my office window doing the lindy-hop and whatever else in the amphitheatre down below. It’s the age group from about 10 to 16 that would rather be seen dead than doing a pirouette.”

“Does it have something to do with being perceived as gay?”

Kenneth:

“Definitely. But that is based on a complete fallacy since I have never seen anyone become gay because of ballet. On the contrary, you have to be twice as masculine to be the only guy amongst twenty half-naked gorgeous women moving in the most fluid, beautiful way possible.”

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Tero Saarinen’s Kullervo

Featuring Tuukka Piitulainen, photographer Perttu Saksa ©2014

“How are you trying to change this?”

Kenneth:

“My children are adept at using mobile phones, iPads and computers. Getting them away from these immobile activities is a challenge. We are embarking on a new project called So You Think You Can Move? which we’re taking to the schools. We show the whole school a performance and then we invite the 6th graders to participate in the dance clinic. The others are excluded. Of course, it’s entirely voluntary whether they want to dance, they can just watch if they like. We teach them some moves, we film it and they can upload it from the website. In this way we marry dance with technology. The best performers win tickets to the ballet and some gear which they can use for dance practice thereby encouraging them to continue.”

“What kind of dance will you be promoting?”

Kenneth:

“Both classical ballet and street dance since the latter is so popular in Finland. We’re doing something similar in another project called Dare to Dance for the slightly older people.”

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R & M – Francis Guardia, Kare Länsivuori

Photographer © Sakari Viika

It’s clear that in amongst all the premieres and returning ballets for this season as well as projects like Finnish National Ballet Youth Company’s R&J (Romeo and Juliet) and Dancing with Dancers, a club-like atmosphere that starts at 10 pm and finishes at 4 am, Kenneth Greve is going to be a busy man. But as I said, he’s no sissy, he’s a leader able to grab the challenge and lift the FNB to new heights.

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Horečná-Godani-Robbins: Sara Saviola, Antti Keinänen

Photographer © 2014 Jonas Lundqvist