Panorama Restaurant – Hotel Sky Ounasvaara, Rovaniemi, Lapland

I realise this is not exactly a Helsinki Restaurant but you can easily fit it in in a limited space of time if you take an overnight train on Friday, spend a day visiting Santa Claus, go for dinner and take a night train back (see below for a booking link). Worth every euro.

Reindeer tartare served on a wooden slab

THE PLACE 8/10: In a hotel that’s in need of a face lift, Panorama Restaurant is simple but elegant and has floor-to-ceiling windows on three out of four sides with spectacular views over the forest inviting nature in.

THE FOOD 9/10: Local, local, local are the innovative ingredients including spruce, reindeer and forest mushrooms. Dishes are works of art arranged on bespoke crockery designed by Anu Pentik while flavours and textures are rich in contrast. Every mouthful is a taste sensation.

THE DRINKS 8/10: Well-curated including subterranean Lappish water (no bottles used to protect the environment). Wines are perfectly paired with dishes albeit that many of them are also at Alko, a slight minus in my book. Non-alcoholic drinks are of high quality.

THE SERVICE (10/10): Waiting staff read you like a book. They tell stories about wines and ingredients when they see you’re interested, and if you’re not, a description of the food suffices. They check every glass, serve you with black gloves and bring each course at a leisurely pace, just enough time to digest the previous one.

THE AMBIENCE (8/10): Children are welcome and there’s a special menu for them. While the interior is plain, the focus is on the magnificent food set before you.

THE PRICE (8/10): 5-course tasting menu €59, wine pairing €44. Best value for money in Finland for fine dining at its best.

OVERALL RATING (9/10): No aurora borealis in the night sky (boo hoo). The rest is pure magic.

Arctic Char with leak cooked in three different ways

Links: Sky Hotel Ounasvaara Panorama Restaurant Closed from 9 April – 1 June 2017.

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland

VR – trains from Helsinki to Rovaniemi

Kosmos Restaurant

THE PLACE 8/10: A grande old dame in the centre of Helsinki, this place has seen many a politician, artist and journalist. The Art Deco interior has embossed wooden booths and chandeliers.

THE FOOD 7/10: Traditional Finnish/Russian. If you’re into offal, the sweetbreads are crispy and juicy and lamb kidneys are a favourite too. The usual fried Baltic herrings and Wiener Schnitzel also make their appearrance.

THE DRINKS 6/10: Dull wine menu, nothing really special. They promote the Finnish producer in France Chateau Carsin which is ok but lacking in imagination.

THE SERVICE (7/10): The serving staff have had years of experience and it shows. Could be more personalised but that would be so un-Finnish.

THE AMBIENCE (8/10): Even though it’s had several face-lifts, it still retains its former elegance and atmosphere.

THE PRICE (7/10): Above €50/head – expect no less than €60 for 2 courses and a couple of glasses of wine.

OVERALL RATING (7/10): A must for tourists.

Veal and sweetbreads at Kosmos

Link: Kosmos Restaurant, Kalevankatu 3, 00100 Helsinki

Sea Horse Restaurant, Helsinki

‘Riimihärkä’ – Finland’s version of Beef Carpaccio

THE PLACE 8/10: Dating back to the 1930’s, the walls have seen it all from sailors to musicians to artists and drunks. It’s cleaned up its act and nowadays it still has some interesting clientele, but there are no more cigarette stains on the tablecloths.

THE FOOD 7/10: Traditional Finnish. Famous for friend Baltic herring, meatballs and vorshmack. The standard is ok but the menu tends to get a bit boring after too many visits.

THE DRINKS 6/10: Dull wine menu, the usual beer and some cocktails prepared with Finnish gin Napue (about the only exciting drink).

THE SERVICE (6/10): Not very personalised and I even heard the waitress shout across the room at some guests who didn’t know they had to wait to be seated.

THE AMBIENCE (8/10): It still has that old world charm about it, especially in the tiny bathrooms with brown tiles. The people make the place.

THE PRICE (7/10): Prices have been steadily rising but you can still get a large plate of fried Baltic herrings for under €20.

OVERALL RATING (7/10): It’s fun, once a year.

The painting of a sea horse has been there forever.

Link: Sea Horse Restaurant, Kapteeninkatu 11, 00140 Helsinki

A Walk on the Wild Side

A train and bus ride takes you a world away from the hustle and bustle of Helsinki city where you can experience Finnish nature, virtually and physically. Haltia Nature Centre transports you within its environmentally friendly wooden walls to the treasures of Finland’s natural wonders. Everything is well done and attention to detail is stunning.

Nou hätä – no panic but the real caption says, “If anyone asks, you haven’t seen me.”

Look up, look down, look around you as you go through a winter wonderland where a bear is feeding on the meat of a ‘fallen’ reindeer, where you can listen to the sounds of nightlife in the forest and experience the rush of rapids and see what goes on underneath the water’s surface. The panorama display keeps on changing, revealing all 5 seasons from polar night to summer. Enter the giant Duck’s Egg and see Osmo Rauhala’s installation of white swans playing chess on a randomly-changing board. Pat the snoring, sleeping bear in its den and look through the bird hold to see who the next visitor might be.

‘Now this sucks’ – part of an hilarious exhibition at Haltia.

It makes you hungry for the real thing which is easy to find since the Nuuksio National Park is right there surrounding you. Lake Pitkäjärvi is large and when the water is open, you can rent a canoe from Solvalla Sports Centre to see the forest from a different angle. The reception staff at Haltia will be happy to help you book one. Cycling, sauna, swimming and feeding reindeer at the Nuuksio Reindeer Park, are all options whether you’re there for a day or overnight. But it’s hiking that’s really the thing to slow you down, get you meditating and communing with nature. The slow pace brings peace and calm within this cathedral of birch trees with moss-covered primary rock and its here where you’ll listen to that inner voice that brings rest and a healthy mind. Stumbling upon a barbecue is not uncommon and wood is usually in plentiful supply. Take your own sausage and dry matches with you.

Osmo Rauhala’s swans playing chess
Cosy up to baby bear in his den

This paradise is easily reachable from downtown Helsinki: https://aikataulut.reittiopas.fi/linjat/en/b245.html

Haltia Nature Centre is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9.30 – 5 pm: https://www.haltia.com/en/

A comprehensive guide to facilities and activities at Nuuksio National Park: https://www.nuuksioresort.fi/en/

 

La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life in Helsinki

Wine and food fairs are a menace. You never get to drink a full glass and you never seem to be able to fill your stomach on all the snacky portions available. You usually come away feeling dehydrated and slightly ill. Nowadays, I make it a habit of going to a fair not just to see what’s available but with a particular mission in mind, a quest for what is different and new.

At this year’s Italian celebration of their fabulous fare, held in the gorgeous setting of the Old Student House or Vanha Ylioppilastalo as it is known in Finnish, I’m on the look out for some grape varietals I’ve never tasted before. Not as easy as you might think…. Not because I’ve tasted so many wines in my lifetime but because the standard and generic is in your face all the time and it’s hard to sift through the stuff that you always come across.

Benanti’s Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla

This time I’m in luck when I stumble upon the Benanti wines from Sicily. Their Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla, has a wicked sense of humour and before you know it, you’re tasting some products that grab your attention. Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 is made from Carricante grapes. I try not to look too stupid. It’s full of mineral and flint, slightly spicy and plays games with your taste buds resulting in a long, extended finish. When I do a bit of research, I find out that Carricante is an ancient grape that thrives on the slopes of Mount Etna’s volcanic soil and is prized for its acidity. The vines inherited by the Benanti family are old, really old between 80 and 120 years I am told. The complexity in all their wines are testament to these struggling growths digging deep to find water and hence survival.

This brings me to the reds and again I’m trying not to show my ignorance. Benanti Etna Rosso is a product of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio both of which have been around forever, both of which are intriguing in their profile. It reminds me a bit of Pinot Noir with its fruity intensity without losing that trademark minerality of all Benanti wines. It could be my imagination but do I really taste the terroir here? Then the 100% Benanti Nerello Mascalese. We’re talking tannins and sour cherry, cranberry and some hints of a flower, violets perhaps? It’s medium-bodied and stuffed with all kinds of intricate flavours that keep you talking and sipping.

With diurnal temperatures sometimes ranging as wide as 20 degrees at certain times of year, these vineyards have to fight for their very existence. Growing ancient grapes on an active volcano is not for sissies. The Benanti family intend to hang in there and judging by awards, they’re reaching for the stars and getting there.

Alko stocks 2 of their wines: Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 and Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2013.

Barolo, Barbaresco, King and Queen?

Let’s get down to the earth. If you read what it says on the websites, it’s all in the soil but should one be considered better or lesser than the other, is another question.

Perjantaiparlementti or Friday Parliament is what the Minister of Wine, Veli-Antti Koivuranta calls the Friday wine tastings where he pulls out all the stops and goes for the top of the range stuff. Here’s a chance to taste wines that you might never buy yourself but that you’d love to try.

The Minister of Wine. Veli-Antti Koivuranta

North-West Italy is where these wines originate. The region is divided into four areas viz. Piemonte (Barolo and Barbaresco; Astia, Alba; Gavi), Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Liguria. Now that we know this, we understand that Barolo and Barbaresco are areas, not grape varietals and that the fruit is called Nebbiolo. But the devil is in the detail and here it is: soils in Barbaresco are more nutrient and hence produce less tannins than what you might find in Barolo. Both produce wines that smell of flowers and perfume and both have a long finish. But on the palate is where you’ll find the difference, less of a chalky mouth-feel on the Barbaresco. Then there is also the question of cellar time. Barolo stays in barrel longer because of its tannic qualities but it also changes the flavour profile.

Three favourites

We always kick off with a sparkling of some kind and this one is a Frizzante from Lombardy. It’s a good way to get the palate going and freshen it up. Seven wines to follow and every single one is an explosion of flavour.

Barbaresco Gallina 2012 from Ugo Lequio which smells like cherry, a hint of liquorice and rose petal. It’s nuanced with great balance between soft tannins and sweet berries. (Alko €28,39).

The Gemma Giblin Barolo 2008 reminds me of creosote, leather and smoke and yet has heady notes of roses and spice. (Alko €58,40).

Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2012 ranges in scores from 98 by James Suckling to 89 from Wine Enthusiast. With spice, ash, raspberry on the nose and then more violets and sour cherry on the palate, the finish is tannic. It’s robust and big and it’ll take a well-matured steak or truffles to stand up to its powerful flavour. Be warned, this is not for sipping. (Alko €92).

Friday Parliament – a wine tasting with top-tier stuff

To join us for well-priced, top quality tastings at Nomad Cellars, see Viiniministeri.fi and for info in English, call Veli-Antti Koivuranta at +358 40 4143705.

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.

Biodynamic, Organic, Natural. Huh?

Can you really taste the difference? Is it healthier for you and is it better for the environment? These are all questions that spring to mind when the discussion on organic, biodynamic and natural wines comes up.

So what’s different between these 3? All three have factors in common not least of which are little manmade intervention, zero technology i.e. no sugars or yeasts added. What you see in the vineyard is what you get in the bottle. But when we get down to the nitty gritty, what can or rather cannot be done to the grapes in order to produce wine that can be considered drinkable?

Organic and biodynamic are largely vineyard-related practices while some certification does restrict what you do in the cellar. No synthetic chemicals can be used in organic farming while the principles propagated by Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophical philosophy takes it a step further that prevention is better than cure. Build a strong, robust vine by using plants, minerals that occur naturally and animals for manure, and the battle against diseases is mostly won. Planting, pruning and harvesting are done according to the cycles of the moon and the movement of planets and stars. It’s a holistic approach preaching the inter-connectivity of everything.

Sulphites are used to preserve wine and to give it a longer shelf-and cellar life. This is taken into account by organic and biodynamic winemakers but to a far lesser degree than would generally be the case. Wild yeasts or certified organic yeasts get the fermentation process started while stabilisers have to be bentonite or cream of tartar to prevent clouding. ‘Less is more’ could easily be the motto.

So what distinguishes natural from the biodynamic and organic? No real definition exists for natural wines and no certification has as yet been issued by authorities but disciples are increasing and practices are being firmly established. ‘No’ is a word you’ll hear often when speaking to a natural winemaker. It applies to irrigation, machinery, yeasts, bacteria, additives, sulphites (although some cheat ever so slightly just before bottling), fining, filtration, meddling on the whole.

Ultimately, do they taste any different? In some cases, a resounding ‘yes’ is the answer. Unfortunately, however, this would apply in the negative sense and the liquid would preferably be spat out rather than consumed. This was the case for most who tasted Les Quarterons 2012 Sancerre (Alko €28.58) by Sébastien Riffault, a young winemaker who has taken over his father’s 5-hectare property in the Loire Valley. This Sauvignon Blanc gives you a strong nose of straw and farmyard and a smoky palate with yeast and speaks to you straight from the earth it grows in, but whether it’s palatable is another matter. It grows on you but it’s not something I would choose for a party. The blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne is something that you might look for in France’s Rhone Valley but this one comes from a producer in the Casablanca Valley in Chile called Emiliana. Signos De Origen La Vinilla is organically farmed, fermented in stainless steel and finished off in used oak barrels. The wine is lush with tropical fruit and nuttiness on the palate and has enough acidity to give it a medium finish.

The reds were more interesting than the white wines at this tasting. Austria has made its mark on the wine industry ranking mostly as high quality and Beck Ink (Alko €16.50) holds that banner high. Watch out for Judith Beck. She has taken control of the family winery in Gols on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee in Burgenland and she’s doing some pretty amazing stuff. A blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent, this wine is vibrant and fresh with balanced acidity in the sour cherry, herbaceous flavours. It would go well with smoky meats.

Another female winemaker in this male-dominated world is Elizabetta Foradori from the Dolomites. Her grape of choice? Teroldego, a new one for me but not for Italy where it’s been cultivated for hundreds of years. Horseradish and herbs on the nose and dustiness on the palate turns this wine into a fine example of what minimal intervention creates. Simply called Foradori 2014 (Alko €29.90), it shows the true colours of the stony terroir from where it hails.

Wine tastings with Veli-Antti Koivuranta, the Viiniministeri, take place at Nomad Cellars more or less 4 to 5 times a month and are laid-back, fun and reasonably priced events where you’ll feel comfortable whether you’re a novice or someone who takes this thing of sipping wine seriously. Website: http://www.viiniministeri.fi/ (for details in English, call +358 40 414 3705).

 

Class with a touch of casual – Emo Restaurant, Helsinki, Finland

Wooden tables, serviettes like dishcloths hanging on the side, cutlery in a wooden box all add to the informal atmosphere. But don’t be fooled. This joint might not strike you as ‘fine dining’ but dining fine you will, believe me!

Tomato soup with truffle foam

With a choice of non-alcoholic beverages like fresh apple juice or spicy tomato to get those salivary glands going is just the ticket for lunchtime. The tomato soup starter brims with richness and elegance is thrown in with the truffle foam on the side while crunch is provided by the croutons. Every mouthful is a treat and if the croutons aren’t enough, there’s plenty of home made bread with butter on the side. Haddock is my choice of the 3 main courses only because it brings back memories of breakfast in South Africa when I was child and when it was always smoked. This one comes with potato mousse, a poached egg and lots of capers to give it a good kick of acidity. It’s all so soft and creamy but get your teeth into the crispy onion and the salsify slices on top and you know the chef, Ilkka Lääveri knows what he’s doing. Combine this relatively light lunch with a cold, crisp Brut Nature cava by Castell del Remei and you wish you could linger longer. My dining partner chooses the pork with gem lettuce and a heap of caramelized-to-a-crisp onions to make for a slightly heavier meal. There’s also a vegetarian option. Of course the menu changes and whatever’s fresh, seasonal and local when possible, is served up every week.

Creamy haddock and almond potato mousse

Lunch for 2 courses sets you back €25, 3 courses €29 and 4 at €34. Dinner comes in set meals or as à la carte and is a little more expensive as is the practice in Finland. That laid-back mood is just a ruse, there’s serious food and wine coming your way at Emo.

Links:

Emo Restaurant

Curves, Folds Shades and Sandals

An exhibition of the oil paintings of Caesar van Everdingen (1616/1617 – 1678)

Place: Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Time: 16 February – 14 May 2017

Mythology, portraits, history and hunting, the stuff of Caesar van Everdingen’s masterpieces and so much more. Overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Rembrandt, he has been rediscovered and takes his rightful place as a grand master of Dutch classicism. With the help of the exhibition’s curator from the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, van Everdingen’s hometown, Christi Klinkert, we delve into the detail.

Christi Klinkiert, curator from Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

“The Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat you will all agree is wearing a white shirt. Come closer and you see within the folds of this garment that colours emerge. Grey, pink, peach was used to turn it into a 3-dimensional garment. Her hat is made of coloured cloth wound around a wicker frame casting a half shadow over her eyes giving her a seductive look reminiscent of a gypsy. In fact, the hat itself was associated with that same culture. It’s okay to say that this painting is just lovely to look at. She is the epitomy of summer.”

Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat

“Now look at this portrait, also of a girl, part of three that are on loan from the Rijk’s Museum. Quite a contrast, warming her hands over a brazier, is wearing expensive clothes and everything about her demeanour and surroundings spells winter. Then there’s this lady, completing the trilogy, dressed in black wearing a hat which would normally have been worn by a greengrocer at a market stall. The black cloth on the smalt pigment which has faded from blue to greyish teal, suggests the season of autumn.”

We stand in front of a provocative scene: a huge canvas with a nude couple, the male obviously trying to seduce the female. Without looking at the title, is it a male? The secret is out – it’s Jupiter disguised as Diana and Callisto who looks apprehensively at her suitor, not knowing quite what to make of him. The cherubs in the top left hold a mask and Jupiter’s eagle spreads its wings wide in the shadows on the right hand side. In fact, what we’re observing is nothing other than a rape scene since the story goes that he gets his way with her. In the conservative times of van Everdingen, such a painting could have been construed as immoral but since the subjects hail from classical times, it becomes a story and he’s able to tell it without repercussions.

Jupiter and Callisto

The exhibition takes us through various portraits of people from the bourgeoisie, those that could afford to pay for the commissions or then the city of Alkmaar, immortalizing their city leaders and encouraging worthy values such as education. The detail with which every brush stroke is executed is extraordinary. The sandals are of such elegant design that they could even be Italian. The satins in contrast with wool, cotton and linen come alive in such a way that you want to reach out and touch it to feel its texture. The colours are rich and bold on whimsical backgrounds that give us hints but are not that important.

The Sinebrychoff Museum has always had a penchant for Dutch art with this exhibition being one of their great achievements. A string of events such as croquis nude drawing and guided tours of course will enhance the experience of having such mastery in our midst.

Links:

Caesar van Everdingen

Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar