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

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

Good Taste in Helsinki

Stunning, stylish and suave is this event that happens every June in Helsinki, come rain or shine. But with white marquees on green lawns right in the heart of the city at Citizens’ Square, there’s no holding back on the superlative food and drinks Taste of Helsinki has to offer.

Let’s start with champagne. The house champagne this year is André Clouet Brut Grand Réserve from Bouzy where Pinot Noir is the grape of choice and this one sings through with strong notes of red fruit, beautifully balanced with enough spark to carry it through to the final finish. And that’s just one champagne. There’ll be a bevy of great wines to go with whatever pleases your palate and the beer tent with its micro and big brewery craft numbers, will keep you happy if wine’s not your thing.

Restaurants have been carefully chosen to represent previous years stalwarts as well as newbies on the block like Grön, for instance. It’s a fab newish place that’s doing some exciting stuff with greens as its eponymous name suggests including foraged gems found by the chef himself. From further afield in Tampere comes Hella & Huone, ‘stove and room’ to be exact with cold-smoked Jerusalem artichoke served with spicy Lapland beef and a dash of herbs.

Hella & Huone's innovative platter
Hella & Huone’s innovative platter

Bistro o Mat is a husband and wife team that are passionate about their place in Kirkkonummi. Their pike burgers are a winning combination of homemade, of course!, brioche bun with the best flavoured fat fish cake of delectable fish, shimmied up by mayo and herbs. Other chefs that’ll be busy slaving away on these days of glorious food will be from Ask, Kolmonen, Muru, Pastor, Sinne and Toca. For the first time, the culinary genius so prevalent in Estonia will be represented by Restaurant Ö.

Bistro o Mat's pike burger
Bistro o Mat’s pike burger

To keep the punters lingering longer, the jazz music of We Jazz Collective and DJs will keep you swinging until late. The Aperol Bar and Coffee Lab driven by Johan & Nyström are pleasant distractors in between all the munching and sipping that will take place at Taste of Helsinki, the place to be between 16 and 19 June 2016.

Toca getting ready for the rush of dessert lovers
Toca getting ready for the rush of dessert lovers

Here’s where to book: http://www.tasteofhelsinki.fi/en/#page-11.

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

My Neighbourhood – Kallio Quirks

I, a South African, always dreamt of living in a pink building and although this one’s more salmon than pink, it’s Jugend Style, has masses of character and is run by a fantastic housing company who keep it looking good. It’s when I look out my window that I see the fairy lights adorning the doorway across the road where sex is plentiful and dreams are short lived. So while my building is upmarket, the surroundings suggest something different.

HumHum's young entrepreneur
HumHum’s young entrepreneur

I love it. Right next door to the massage parlour called Amatsoonit (draw your own conclusions), there’s Dionysus Film Studio. On the other corner there’s Refugee Law. Down the road, some Jordanian guys are busily snipping away at men’s hair at Newroz the cheapest charge in town, only €12 and across from there there’s HumHum (details below). It’s owned by a young Egyptian student who has big dreams and makes even bigger shwarma sandwiches which are stuffed to overflowing. Everything, except the lettuce, is made by him. He opens at 1 pm not because he sleeps late but because he attends college in the mornings. His spirit will not be quenched by red tape, questioning authorities or health inspectors. Like the Jordanians, he’s determined to survive in these cold climes.

Fine and Dandy, a café, a beauty parlour and a hairdresser
Fine and Dandy, a café, a beauty parlour and a hairdresser

Vaasankatu is the closest you’ll come to a red light district and sex shops, dancers and masseuse abound. At last count there were 11 bars along the same street. But then, there are these special gems stuck in amongst the rough diamonds like Café Pequeño. The guy from Argentina shares the space with a beauty parlour and a hairdresser and they all work side by side in an atmosphere of cutesy calm. His contribution to the usual cinnamon buns and croissants are seriously delicious carrot cup cakes and empanadas, a delightful little meat pie from his home country. The music swings too. Solmu pub has its own special brand of beer; Molotov bar is filled with students and lovely people from across the globe. And there’s a thing, the drinks are cheap, for Helsinki that is.

The Argentinian owner of Café Pequeño
The Argentinian owner of Café Pequeño

While town is full of Thai restaurants, one as mediocre as the other, there are two that catch my fancy, Tuk-Tuk on Vaasankatu and Pinto B’Staurant on Vilhovuorenkatu. Fresh is the password, spicy and crisp, every dish is distinct and both have authentic Thai chefs in the kitchen. Then there’s Kombo run by a friendly Spaniard and his Finnish partner. They serve tapas made with care and heart and really good wines.

The sauna on Harjukatu is from times gone by. Heated the old fashioned way, by wood, makes the löyly (steam) soft and healing, the dressing room is well, retro. You can even find a lady who will wash you, men and women alike, although the facilities are separate. At Arla Sauna, cupping or the release of bad blood by small incisions in the skin, is a draw card.

Cupping is done here
Cupping is done here

Talk about rich, this area is as rich as it gets when it comes to people of different cultures all rubbing shoulders together. What makes it different is that we all feel that we’re in the same boat together and that survival is our only hope in this cold country. Survival with a good dollop of cream on top, that is.

Links:

HumHum – Helsinginkatu 4 a, 00500 Helsinki; +358 44 2511292

Fine and Dandy

Café Pequeño

Solmu Pub

Molotov Pub – Vaasankatu 29, 00550 Helsinki

Tuk-Tuk Restaurant

Pinto B’Staurant

Kombo Restaurant

Harju Sauna

Arla Sauna

Trending Now – Wine in Finland

He’s seen the inside of kitchens, packed wine on cellar shelves, taken stock, paid his dues in some of the most renowned restaurants in town and now Samuil Angelov is a highly regarded sommelier and wine educator in Helsinki. I want to know his views on wine trends.

Samuil Angelov, owner and sommelier of restaurants Muru, Pastis and Hodari ja Hummeri
Samuil Angelov, owner and sommelier of restaurants Muru, Pastis and Hodari ja Hummeri

“Less is more,” he says. “People, especially Finns are becoming more and more health conscious. They want to eat well and exercise, drink less. This is evident in the sales of hard liquor which have gone down not only in Finland but I’d venture to say in the rest of Europe, especially in restaurants.”

“Today it’s not unusual to find say two gentlemen going out for a meal ordering champagne or sparkling as an aperitif. In the past it would automatically have been a dry Martini or a Vodka Polar. Wine and bubbles have become the order of the day, so to speak.”

“So you mean to say Finns have changed their drinking habits?”

“Definitely. The long lunch is out. Life is too hectic and demanding. It’s possible to have a glass of wine at lunch time without it affecting your work load in the afternoon. You can’t do that with a good dose of heavy liquor under your belt.”

“What would you say is the fastest growing beverage?”

“Champagne and sparkling wine. We have one of the world’s most highly acclaimed champagne specialists and Masters of Wine, Essi Avellan as well as Alko’s Communication and Marketing Director and Master of Wine, Taina Vilkuna, right in our midst. Needless to say they have had a great influence on the consumption of wine in general and especially bubbles.”

“Finns are quick learners and early adopters. As a sommelier, can you see this in your restaurants?”

“When I started working the floor in the late 90’s, wine knowledge was pretty limited. Today, my customers keep me on my toes. They’ve become so aware and know so much and it pleases me when I see a young couple coming in for a meal who know what they want in both categories of food and drink.”

“What about the style of wine? Are the heavy, in-your-face types still popular?”

“It depends on the weather. If it’s cold, Amarone and Barolo are the ones that’ll warm you up. But the lighter styles are in, with German wines doing really well at the moment. Riesling, Spätburgunder, Pinot Noir, cool climate wines with less alcohol are flying off the shelves. Personally, I’d like to see more consumption of the new style of USA and South African Chardonnay which is more acidic, fruity and elegant than the over-oaked stuff they used to make. It’s still oaked but balance is everything.”

According to Samuil, wine is here to stay. The demographic is changing to include the millenials who are taking a deep interest in the subject. This is evident from the attendees of wine tastings, of which he does a lot.

“We still have a long way to go to educate the entire population of Finland. There are a few wine drinking pockets mostly in the big cities but the countryside is going to take some doing. On the other hand, Alko is providing a good service in that you can find almost every grape varietal available in their shops from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, if not on the shelves then to order.”

Watch out for these events:

Grand Champagne 21 – 23 April 2016

Wine Tasting for Dummies with Samuil at Pastis

Links:

Pastis

Muru

Hodari ja Hummeri (Hot dogs and lobster)

Grand Champagne

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.

DSC04190

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.

Friends & Brgrs 3

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.

2015-03-27 12.34.28

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

 

Pizzarium – Straight from a Roman’s Heart

It must have been quite a culture shock for Luca Platania when he first came from Rome to his wife Salla’s hometown in Finland. It only took one bite of the generic offering of pizza a la Finlandese to convince him to make his own brand of the real thing.

Luca and Salla Platania
Luca and Salla Platania

“My motto is ‘no compromise’. The dough has to be just right, the tomato sauce simple but flavourful, the ingredients of the highest quality and the balance of flavours un-dominated by the ubiquitous garlic and more garlic,” says Luca in perfect Finnish.

Only the best of flour will do
Only the best of flour will do

“I make pizza in the Roman way – huge, oblong slabs of dough which, when sliced do not require a knife and fork but can easily be eaten just by hand. It can be hot or cold, as we do in the summer in Italy, or even sweet with a lathering of Nutella and cream, “ he adds.

Large slabs of dough covered with generous helpings of toppings
Large slabs of dough covered with generous helpings of toppings

There’s no skimping on toppings. If you ask for Salame-Mozzarella, every corner of that base is covered in meat with creamy dollops of buffalo mozzarella. Same with Rucola E Salmone, no squinting your eyes trying to pick out the smoked salmon. Everything is generous about these pizzas.

And then there's dessert - Nutella and cream
And then there’s dessert – Nutella and cream

Believe me, Finland can do with artisan fast food like this especially when it comes to this particular brand of Italian food. With Royal Restaurants as a partner, Pizzarium is bound to go big.

Ambience: Simple, it is after all ‘street food’

Food: Real Italian pizza

Prices: A huge slice €3,90

Lunch: 11.00 – 14.30 – 2 slices €9,90; 3 slices €11,90

Service: Fast and friendly

Wines: –

Drinks: Regular

My rating: 8/10

Locations: Kluuvi Shopping Centre (entrance from Aleksanterinkatu 9, Helsinki); Hansa Quarters, Kultatalo 3rd Floor, Aurakatu 12 a, Turku.

Opening hours:

Link: Pizzarium

 

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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