Hieta Restaurant – history in the making

If you want to follow a hard act, leave it in the hands of the pros. Royal Restaurants have taken over this historic spot overlooking the old shipyard and handed over the reins to Jani Hiltunen, manager, and Ali Toppinen, head chef, to reconstruct an age-old tradition.

Jani Hiltiunen and Ali Toppinen, Ravintola Hieta, avajaiset. Photo: ATTE KAJOVA

Dating back to 1897 when stevedores and workers called the then-named Salve their ‘local’, these walls have seen it all including billows of cigarette smoke, countless millions of litres of beer and Finnish hooch called Koskenkorva being consumed. Today we walk in there and the gasps of airy delight spring from the daylight shining in on the white walls. I ask whether there were always floor-to-ceiling windows and the answer is ‘yes, but they were half covered in stickers and huge ventilation boxes’.

Fried Baltic herring and craft beer

Jani and Ali are on the same page – they really don’t want to destroy that trademark history of good, homemade large portions of food at reasonable prices but they also realise that we’re living in a different age and that a modern twist is vital. Hence, smoked Baltic Herring still comes crispy but the salty cucumber is a crunchy mix of pickles with good acidity to cut the grease. Wiener Schnitzel is a slab that fills the plate with a dollop of parsley butter and not enough lemon to give you that hit of freshness. But you can ask for more and the super amazing staff are only ready to lay it on. Pancakes are the Finns’ favourite dessert and crispier I have yet to come across.

‘HIETA’ had to fit the boots of its predecessor ‘Salve’ in size and historic importance.

Enough of the food, let’s get down to the drink and then you know these guys have got it sussed. Their own blend of Stuvari ale comes from Donut Island craft brewery just down the road and is a refreshing balance of malt and hops with a twist of citrus to make it your favourite drink of choice this summer. But if brews are not your best, top quality Jacquart Brut Mosaïque champagne is available for an affordable €10,80/glass. All of this, with a view of the water and musings of times gone by, from the terrace of Hieta which will be opening as soon as the restaurant does, on Wednesday 26 April 2017.

Watch this space for links…

Sandro Restaurants – Helsinki

Sandro Kallio – no nonsense dining

THE PLACE 8/10: Neighbourhood restaurants in three spots in Helsinki, these joints concentrate on Moroccan/Lebanese cuisine in healthy portions. Marrakesh Madness brunch is served on Sundays while vegans and vegetarians and the rest of us can eat their hearts out on Saturdays.

THE FOOD 7/10: Lots of exotic flavours, spices, freshness and contrasts of textures are present in every dish but if spice is not your thing, there’s a huge selection for every age and finnicky eater.

THE DRINKS 7/10: Some pretty good appetite awakeners come as alcoholic and non-alcoholic and the wine menu is neatly curated to suit every pocket.

THE SERVICE (7/10): Usually good and always friendly since the staff is mostly from abroad bringing their own brand of personality to the table.

THE AMBIENCE (8/10): Can get dreadfully noisy since the acoustics ring out loud and clear especially when the ladies at the next table screech out their pure pleasure at each others’ jokes.

THE PRICE (7/10): Looks a bit pricey since everything’s around €25 but there are no starters and those come on the main course plate which is huge and includes the whole shebang.

OVERALL RATING (7/10): Easy dining for both families and couples and a fun way of spending some hours together.

Pulled duck burger with crispy sweet potato fries

Links:

Sandro Restaurants

Farang Restaurant, Helsinki

Amuse bouche of green shell mussel in turmeric curry

THE PLACE 8/10: Just under street level in a beautiful pink period building which also houses an art museum, this restaurant is understated in its elegance luring you to focus on the beautifully presented food.

THE FOOD 8/10: South-East Asia is their thing with lots of nuts (be careful if you’re allergic), creamy coconut and curry spices. It’s a fantasy ride of chillies, never too much, umami, smoke and musk. Crunch contrasts with cream and soft bites of succulent pork and lamb.

Succulent pork ribs with plenty of coconut and coriander

THE DRINKS 6/10: The Hügel Sylvaner from Wittmann Winery works well with its blend of melon and pears but the red from Spain just doesn’t. However, the dessert wine is superbly light, a bit like brandy, and matches the Mekong River dessert exceptionally well.

Light dessert wine of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon

THE SERVICE (7/10): Very good with the timing of dishes arriving in paced succession. Some of the waiting staff are a little inexperienced and just parrot what you can already read on the menu but it’s not a big deal. They’re all friendly.

THE AMBIENCE (7/10): Even though it’s minimalistic, it does have a feel of relaxation. The thin ‘curtains’ that divide the large area, blow softly in the breeze of the aircon, a cool feeling with all that spice.

THE PRICE (7/10): Around €100/head including the wine recommendations.

OVERALL RATING (8/10): Fantastic flavours to transport you to the East served with charm and delicacy.

Links:

Farang Restaurant

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.