Bistrotek – Pop-up Restaurant with Italian/French Flare

With a solid background in wine and some good friends, Italian Eleanora Servo combined her talents with those of Alexis and Hadrien Alauzen, brothers from France. They found a great venue, Mille Mozzarelle in Punavuori, and what’s to stop them now?

Eleonora, Alexis and Hadrien (Photo credit: Juulia / www.vaimomatskuu.com)
Eleanora, Alexis and Hadrien (Photo credit: Juulia / www.vaimomatskuu.com)

The amuse-bouche is a little éclair stuffed with gouda and emmental cheese with disappears like a puff in your mouth, not without leaving you with a creamy morsel. Just about everything is homemade but as Hadrien puts it, “We don’t have a bakery yet”. The taster plate (€10) includes creamy houmous sensibly served in a little pot with enough salt to give it interest. I’ve tasted bland houmous swirling around your plate, too many times before. I scoop up the last bit with the crunchy bread. Tataki beef is seared on the outside but left very rare and is topped with sesame oil and some nuts for crunch. It has just the right amount of seasoning and melts away. Country-style paté is pushed up a notch by the Banjuls wine added to it giving it a gentle sweetness. Salmon tartare doesn’t lose its flavour with too much acidity. It’s just right and the salmon is like butter.

Tasting plate - as tasty as it looks
Tasting plate – as tasty as it looks (Photo credit: Juulia: www.vaimomatskuu.com)

This pop-up may just turn into something more permanent judging by the splash they’re making right from the start. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.

The wine list is short but there’s always something fun if you just ask for it. The Casale Del Giglio Syrah is one of my favourites in this category at the moment and fits the package just right. But I feel adventurous and in stead of ordering another, I decide to go for the Chateau Laroze Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2009 (70%Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc). Cabernet Franc even in lesser doses is a grape which I’m falling in love with. Its earthiness is made elegant by herbs and violets and every sip is stunning.

Earth Hour celebrated
Earth Hour celebrated (Photo credit: Juulia: www.vaimomatskuu.com)

This pop-up may just turn into something more permanent judging by the splash they’re making right from the start. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.

Bistrotek – Opening hours Wed – Sat 5 – 10 pm

Address: Pursimiehenkatu 7, 00150 Helsinki

When in Helsinki, Do Helsinki Menu

You may have heard a rumour or two about Scandinavian cuisine lately? What with the Danish restaurant Noma in third place of the best restaurants in the world, news travels fast. Even though Helsinki didn’t make it into the top 50 list, it’s not going to stop Finnish chefs from being creative and innovative in their quest for the best.

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So you find yourself in Helsinki and you’re wondering how you’re going to get to taste the finest the season can offer. Here’s where the Helsinki Menu comes in. Seasonal is the name of the game, as local as ingredients will allow is paramount, taste and texture are right up there and combinations of food and wine or food and beer are skilfully matched.

A total of 9 restaurants have put together 3- or 4-course menus to highlight what’s best right now. The Helsinki Menu changes of course according to the freshest ingredients, in some spots even 5 to 6 times a year. With the emergence of myriad microbreweries, Finland has become a mecca for beer lovers who like to drink this beverage with their food. Bryggeri and Suomenlinna Panimo both have their own breweries right on the premises and their combos of starter, main course and dessert go extremely well with their brews. Blue cheese from Peltola with caramelised walnuts is a striking match with Bryggeri’s own Weiss beer called Bryggeri Weizen whereas the grilled Finnish sirloin with creamed beets and horseradish butter holds it own against Spithead Bitter, an English type bitter with slight carbonation from Suomenlinna Panimo.

DSC02511 When Ari Ruoho’s not in the kitchen, he’s in Lapland fishing or chatting to small farmers scattered around Finland who are producing some great products. His Helsinki Menu at Restaurant Nokka is a knock out starting with a selection of Finnish lake fish with a sour cream sauce, followed by wild duck and cherry sauce, Finnish cheese and finally baked apple with buttermilk sorbet. Yes, you’re allowed to let your mouth water. On the seaside in one of the most picturesque parts of Helsinki, with oodles of atmosphere, the spirit of nature abounds and your taste buds are guaranteed to be soundly satisfied.

Ari Ruoho from Nokka getting carried away
Ari Ruoho from Nokka getting carried away

Where’s the reindeer you might ask? Graniitilinna kicks off with smoked whitefish tartare and their pièce de la résistance is no other than farmed reindeer from way up north in Inari. Lapland potatoes, port wine sauce, perfect! And then Crème Brûlée with salt licorice and strawberry ice cream, oh so Finnish.

DSC03054 Other participating restaurants include Arthur Helsinki, Fly Inn Restaurant and Deli at Helsinki Airport, cosy Kuu and KuuKuu in Töölö and the best view in town at Ursula. Prices range from €40 to €64 excluding beer and wine menus.

Links:

Helsinki Menu

Bryggeri

Suomenlinna Panimo

Restaurant Nokka

Graniitilinna

Arthur Helsinki

Fly Inn Restaurant and Deli

Kuu

KuuKuu

Ursula

Burgers, Helsinki and Me

I thought I could live without this much-maligned fast food but alas, curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate what all the hoopla is about. Suddenly everyone’s talking about “the best in town” and I’ve been on a mission to find it.

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Friends & Brgrs – could it be play on words as in Shakespeare’s “Friends and countrymen…” – check out the dictionary definition and you’ll find out that burgers could be synonymous. This place is about friends and countrymen and that meaty stuff called burgers. A group of Finnish guys went on a quest to find the stuff they like best and came up with locally baked buns, home made aioli, Finnish beef and toppings like caramelised onion and forest mushrooms that hit the spot. Fries are so-so, would have liked them thicker but the price is right at €11 for a meal including soft drinks.

Woolshed – Gastro bar and kitchen with a strong Australian bent. An array of choices on the menu and being a South African I particularly like the smokiness of the Johannesburg Braai Burger. For the uninitiated, ‘braai’ is the classic SA word for barbecue. Patties are made daily, ensuring freshness and it’s hard to beat the combination of bacon, cheese and BBQ sauce. It’s a toss up between the afore mentioned and the pulled lamb burger. Both are piled high, served with salad and ordinary fries. Price approx. €15. Hint: On Tuesdays 4 of the most popular burgers are on sale for €10 from 2 to 10 pm but beware, there’s a long wait.

Woolshed 1 Stones – Late night revellers can still the hunger pangs at this joint that specialises in that mouthful of meat that tastes so good after a bout of carousing. Try the reindeer one with cranberry, forest mushrooms and smoked onion and you know you’re in Finland. If Rudolf’s too close to your heart, then there’s also the pulled duck version with Korea mayonnaise and soy sauce. Prices range between €14 for a veggie one to €19 for the reindeer.

Teatteri Grilli – A surf on turf twist to the beef on a bun comes in the form of chilli prawns which you can order as an extra. The bun is crispy, the veg fresh and the mustard mayonnaise straight from the chef’s hands. Now we go upmarket a bit since the venue is pretty smart and the atmosphere a little different from a rowdy pub. Straightforward burger €19 – top it with the surf and it goes up to €21,50 and if you prefer salmon instead of beef, well then slap on an extra €6.

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Kämp Brasserie – if it’s good enough for Sibelius it’s good enough for me, not that Sibelius would have partaken of this American staple but nonetheless. The atmosphere is hard to beat in the classic surroundings of this 5-star hotel. The Black Angus brisket they use is particularly good with their chipotle and bacon dressing. The bun is crispy on the outside and once you sink your teeth into it, you know you’ve arrived. Best burger in town in my opinion but it comes at a price of €24. Hey, but with a glass of Ned & Henry Shiraz from Hewitson’s in Australia, not so bad after all.

Links:

Friends & Brgrs

Woolshed

Stones

Teatteri Grilli

Kämp Brasserie

 

Unforgettably Asian – New Yume at Kämp Hotel

Niko is from Finland, Mikey from Myanmar and Herby from the Philippines. Put these three together and you get an explosion of ideas, recipes, dishes and not least of all fun in the kitchen. I’m talking about the New Yume at Kämp Hotel, Helsinki.

Kick off with a cocktail - Honey Margarita is sweet, sour and an appetite awakener.
Kick off with a cocktail – Honey Margarita is sweet, sour and an appetite awakener.

Cross-kitchen, Modern Asian, Fusion with a touch of California is how they describe the food they prepare. Sushi is high on the list but not just the boring generic stuff you get all over Helsinki these days but with a twist and a tweak that gets your taste buds running for more and wondering what that special flavour was. The Tuna Poke is particularly interesting with something I don’t recognise – I’m told it’s Yuzu Juice, an extra lift of citrus to the already fresh lime tastes that dominate this gorgeous mouthful.

Sushi is not just sushi in this joint
Sushi is not just sushi in this joint

The Street Food Menu (€62) runs the gamut of 7 courses taking you on a heady ride from Japan to Thailand to the USA, ending in a grande finale of Key Lime Pie. The Thai Pork Ribs are sticky, finger-licking good, falling off the bone and served with a wet towel for obvious reasons. The Java Curry has just the right amount of chilli, creamy coconut sauce and rich duck to make you throw etiquette to the wind and drink the bowl! It goes very well with the Gewürtztraminer, an aromatic wine with enough acidity to provide a good balance.

Two orders of those Thai Pork Ribs please!
Two orders of those Thai Pork Ribs please!

So you think that because this is in a 5-star hotel it’s going to put you on porridge for the rest of the month? Not really. Courses range from €5 for a Pulled Pork Bun to €32 for Marble Beef. Here’s food made with dedication and plenty of years of experience of how to mix and match ingredients to extract their full potential.

Links:

New Yume Restaurant

Kämp Hotel

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From Bark Bread to Dark Bread – the story of Finnish rye

Ask any Finn living abroad what they miss most about their home country and they will almost unanimously reply, “Ruisleipä!” i.e. rye bread.

Finnish cuisines
Finnish rye bread

“Better bread than gold. Pine bread makes the cheeks rosey, rye gives strength”

or

“Ruis gives power to the wrists” – these are just some of the quotes glorifying the staple of Finnish cuisine. A Finnish household with no bread? Unthinkable! A Finnish household with no rye bread? They can’t be Finns! The day starts with either porridge from grains, including rye of course, or making open sandwiches on your favourite slice of rye. The health benefits are multiple reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer and diabetes. It contains four times more fiber than white bread and is high in antioxidants.

But life wasn’t always so kind to the Finns and there were times when people were dirt poor and rye flour was not so easily available and bread was made out of the white inner layer of the bark of pine trees which saved many lives but proved to be damaging to the kidneys when consumed for long periods of time.

“I have not tasted it myself but I know that bark bread was common as late as World War II and I’ve heard that it’s making a comeback and becoming quite trendy again,“ says Ulla from Café La Marché at Hietalahti Market Hall.

“My home is never without rye bread. My relatives have made their own for a long, long time and they use a root which has been kept alive for over a hundred years. No yeast is used, only rye flour, water and salt. This root causes it to rise just a little.”

Finnish rye bread
Rye bread comes in all shapes and forms

Nowadays, it comes in all shapes and forms. It can be round, oblong, triangular, with a hole in the middle or sliced, mixed with barley or wheat. It’s even been made into tortilla-type chips flavoured with chilli, lemon, onion and garlic, a healthy snack which goes particularly well with beer. There’s fierce competition between the big bakeries but it’s the little guys that stick to the original formula producing this wonderfully crispy exterior and soft interior using 100% rye that make this bread so delightfully chewy and tasty. Slightly toasted with a sliver of butter it’s no longer just nourishment but becomes a culinary delight.

And it lasts so long too. In days gone by, the hole in the centre would be used for hanging the bread on a pole across the ceiling and there it would stay for many months becoming quite hard. Teeth-breaking stuff but when the men pulled out their ever-present puukko or dagger and sliced off shavings it became more user-friendly and was kept in a sack and snacked upon whenever. Not a sign of mould even after months.

And there’s a thing, it’s hit the United States. There’s a Ryevolution going on and Nordic breads have entered the fray and are doing really well. You can order loaves from their website and find out where it’s available: http://www.nordicbreads.com.

Sour dough bread
Leipätori at Hakaniemi Market Hall

Here in Helsinki, the best breads come from Voipojat, a tiny bakery that supplies their products to Mama’s Deli at Hietaniemi Market Hall. Then there’s Leipomo Väyrynen who supplies Café La Marché at the same place. Kanniston Leipomo has long been in the business and their selection is superb. Their shops are to be found all over Helsinki. For the greatest variety in sour dough, visit Leipä Tori at Hakaniemi Market Hall.

Links:

Café Le Marché

Hietalahti Market Hall

Nordic Breads in the USA

Voipojat

Leipomo Väyrynen

Kanniston Leipomo

Leipätori

Helsinki Restaurant Struts Like a Cock

Not ‘Le Coq’ or ‘Coq au Vin’ or ‘Cockerel’, no, just plain The Cock! Here’s an eating establishment that takes its food seriously with ear-to-ear smiles, fun and a lot of buzz. Not a trace of ‘I’m doing you a favour serving you’ only people who are more than happy to help and put you in a good mood for the rest of the day.

The Cock Restaurant
There’s a new cock in town!

The food is wonderful! Help yourself to a funky metal plate and fill it up with fabulously fresh salads from the buffet table at lunchtime as well as soup and turmeric bread with a hint of aniseed, all of which burst with Med/Moroccan flavours and plenty of crunch. I especially liked the quinoa, cranberry and artichoke salad, a tiny bit spicy or was I imagining that? The hot salmon had a blob of tarragon pesto to give it an extra dimension.

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Ville Relander, partner in crime with Richard McCormick, both of whom are masters at creating (and sustaining!) affordable, trendy eateries says,

“We make it all ourselves. Our own granola, pastries, bread. There’s a chicken rotisserie in the kitchen, already in operation, that will be brought out for all to see when we get the time to do so!”

Hey, they serve breakfast, not a common occurrence in this town. The menu includes said granola as well as other goodies that suit both the cholesterol freaks and herbivores amongst us.

Homemade breakfast
Homemade breakfast

But the two pièces-des-résistances are their rotisserie slowly grilling their herby chicken to perfection and the ping-pong table that doubles up as a dessert buffet (psst, for as little as €9!!!).  

Dessert buffet
Load up the carbs from the ping pong table

 

Ambience: Buzzy, relaxed, smiley

Food: Med/Moroccan and everywhere else – fresh, crunchy, a bit different

Prices: Dead reasonable (for Helsinki, that is!)

Service: With a happy grin

Wines: Catchy labels, pricey except for Champagne Serge Mathieu for €55

Drinks: Clever non-alcoholic and special alcoholic combinations

My rating: 8/10

Links:

The Cock – http://thecock.fi

Tripadvisor – http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189934-d7890909-Reviews-The_Cock-Helsinki_Southern_Finland.html

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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.

Helsinki
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

 

Something Special – food from Finland

Eating is such a pleasure and is the most talked-about activity for people on holiday. Finland’s vast selection of gourmet delights make unique gifts for family and friends back home.

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It’s a local, a real neighbourhood shop where the staff greet you with a smile and add that special ingredient called ‘good service’ to your shopping experience. It’s called Anton & Anton and is to be found in three locations in Helsinki – Töölö, Kruunuhaka and Ullanlinna. The name priced my interest and the friendly guy behind the counter called Daniel, he had a nametag on, was happy to help.

“The business originally belonged to two families and as it happened they both had sons called Anton. Hence the name.”

“We try to sell mostly organic, local stuff but it’s a bit of a problem when it comes to some exotic fruit like avocado, not exactly grown down the road. Not only that but we care about ethics and we like to buy from sources we know.”

“What about additives?”

“We don’t like e-numbers and colouring much.”

You’re not likely to buy carrots and onions as a gift but there is such a selection of everything including tinned elk, beautifully wrapped rye crackers and cheese from local producers like Helsingin Meijerliike and abroad of course. (http://www.antonanton.fi/en/tuotteet/artisaanituotteet)

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Just down the road from Anton & Anton there’s a corner shop that’s dreadfully difficult to walk by. It’s Petris Chocolate Room owned by Petri Sirén whose first work practice session was in a bakery where he fell in love with confectionary. Ever since then, he’s had a penchant for cakes and chocolate. He’s raised the bar in that he only uses real ingredients as fillings. Hence, if you see cognac on the label, it’s real cognac, champagne, the real thing, no essence or flavourings are good enough as far as he’s concerned. And then there are the cakes, not that you would want to transport those back with you, but they also have sofas and decent coffee to get you off your feet for a wee while. His stuff is so irresistible that he’s created a small chain of shops. Here’s more: http://petris.fi

The three market halls in Helsinki will tempt you with their array of delicious delectables. Each one sells the usual fresh meat, fish, cheese and bread but each one has a slightly different slant. Kauppahalli has reindeer, sauna-smoked ham and other locally cured meats while Hakaniemi is said to be slightly cheaper and a place where the locals go, whereas Hietalahti is not left behind with their selection of epicurean delights. The latter is also a great place for lunch.

Helsinki’s answer to Harrod’s is Stockmann where the food section will leave you gaping. If you can’t find it anywhere else, you’re sure to find it there. The products come from abroad but needless to say, they concentrate heavily on stuff found in Finland from farmers and producers.

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“Delicious, is our password. That’s first and foremost.” The words of the owner of Ceesta Shop who also assures me that whatever they sell are sourced from small manufacturers that don’t use e-numbers to enhance flavours. Most of what you can see on the shelves is from Italy but they also have some fine goods from England and of course, Belgian chocolate. (http://www.ceestashop.fi/index.php?inc=24&language=en)

Chocolate, Chilli and Cowboys – a Restaurant in Helsinki, Finland

Get ready, grab your hats, ‘cause we’re on a trail from east to west, north to south. Your taste buds will never be the same again. Yiihaaa!!!

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Plunge into the depths of the traditional, always-been-there König Restaurant, down to the nightclub that most Finns have seen the inside of at least once in their lives and there you’ll find Shanghai Cowboy, a fusion of food and a conglomeration of nationalities you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Helsinki. Here’s a line-up of the mix: Mehdi Younes, Lebanese Project Manager; Iman, Persian Restaurant Manager, chefs from America and the Congo, waiting staff from Australia, Bangladesh and as far flung as Finland! They’re all smiling, having a laugh and obviously loving every minute of it.

Now let’s get down to business. The food is fresh, mostly locally sourced except for the stuff you can’t find here and beautifully presented. Take a look at this Angry Duck Quesadilla with a touch of North Africa in the sweet dried fruit and nut mole, mixed herbs, a Lebanese input with pomegranate, manchego from Spain and Mexican salsa to top it, a vegetarian’s dream but equally good for a meat lover.

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And speaking of meat, the ribs drip with chocolate and coke with chipotle making its presence felt and would even make the toothless smile, they’re so tender. Or the Korean Gochujang version again with chipotle, a little thinner in consistency this time, but beware, it’s beautifully spiced.

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And then there are the cocktails with standards like Chilli Mule and Margaritas amongst others (€10) or Cowboy Tea with a mix of Jack, mint, lemon and orange and yes, tea!

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It’s colourful, everything’s playful and fun and bursting with energy and life, including the chow. It’s innovative and to boot, will not break the budget. Most expensive on the menu is the ribs at €25, the rest is all below €20.

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Pull on your boots and go for a raucous ride! Even the kids will love it, peering at you from behind their complimentary sinister face masks.

Matarromera Crianza 2011 – wine from Spain

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Winery: Bodega Matarromera
Region: DO Ribera del Duero
Type of Wine: Red wine
Aging & Type of Oak:
12 Months in French and American Oak
Annual Production(in bottles): 700,000
We’re mingling with royals this week with the younger relative of the Matarromera Reserva the King of Spain likes to order. Even though it’s younger than its illustrious older brother, there’s nothing humble about it.

The colour is rich, dark and blueish

The complex nose promises all kinds of stuff like cherries, wood, vanilla

The palate has acidity, tannins that underline the wood; licorice; blueberries and cocoa

Elegant, full wine with intensity

Pairing: toast lamb with herbs, game dishes, stews

Availability (delivery costs apply): Viinitkotiin.com – €20; WinesfromSpain.com €19,99; Decantelo.com €18