Red, White and Blue – Viking Line

The dark blue waters of the Baltic are brightened up by the red and white of Viking Line’s many crossings to Tallinn and Stockholm this summer. To liven up their regular timetable, they’ve gone as far as renting a catamaran which will be in operation until the end of October 2017. Besides FSTR or ‘Faster’, the aptly named aforementioned vessel, two of their other cruisers viz. the Mariella and Gabriella will also be called on to ply the heavy traffic between Helsinki and Tallinn together with their regular ship XPRS.

While there’s plenty of competition out there, Viking Line has always tried to stay ahead of the game with their friendly service, good food and cheap prices. The FSTR catamaran gets you from Helsinki to Tallinn in an hour and 45 minutes and is big enough to carry 835 passengers and 120 cars making it operational in all kinds of weather. The focus is on seating with airline-type loungers for everyone. The bar and cafeteria on board make sure that no one goes hungry or thirsty and for an extra fee, a hot breakfast or supper with beer and wine are available in the Club Lounge where the standard of service and products are of exceptional quality.

Viking XPRS is a little bigger with a 2500 passenger capacity taking a little longer. The two and a half hours on board can be spent singing karaoke, dancing to a live band, dining in one of the many restaurants, shopping at reduced prices or watching your kids play in the designated area. The Bistro Buffet is the most popular choice since the selection is vast and even pernickety eaters can find something they like here. Beer and wine are on tap. But for something a little more upmarket, Wine & Dine has white linen on the tables and service with lots of smiles is effortless. A 3-course meal sets you back around €38. Get into celebratory mood with a glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne at €8, a steal anywhere on the planet.

Kumu Art Museum in Kadriorg Park, Tallinn

Some hours in Tallinn can be combined with the Viking Line ticket and there are all kinds of options for all ages to keep the group happy. The Old Town always presents a photo opportunity with its architecture and colourful buildings. The Seaplane Harbour is a mecca for anyone interested in boats and sea craft, a real hands-on place where the most reluctant of museum-goer will dive into the activities. The Tele Tower is a futuristic experience with a 3-D movie to start your journey before your snappy elevator ride to the top floor where the view literally takes your breath away looking out over the city and down through the ‘hole’ in the floor. Kumu Art Museum is housed in a spectacular modern building with art treasures covering the period from the beginning of the 18thC until the end of World War II. Temporary exhibitions showcase Estonian and international artists and the performance schedule is choc-a-bloc. Besides, the walk through the immaculate Kadriorg Park to get there is a treat all on its own and there are many other museums to visit on the way.

Dinner aboard Viking Line’s XPRS at the Wine and Dine Restaurant

If time is not at a premium, staying overnight in Tallinn is reasonably priced especially when you book it with your Viking Line crossing. Budget to luxury are all within a price range that won’t bring tears to your eyes.

Here are the links to Viking Line’s timetables and ways you can spend your day in Tallinn:

https://www.sales.vikingline.com/

https://www.visittallinn.ee/eng

Celebration! Silja Line Turns 60

What a year it is! Finland celebrates 100 years of independence, Silja Line celebrates 60 years of being in business and what a long way they’ve come. (See the video!) New products have been chosen and a celebratory menu has been designed by Tommy Myllymäki and Matti Jämsén, Tallink Silja’s Head of Restaurant Services.

As you can see from the video, food has always since the very beginning, been a vital component of cruising. Putting together a menu of the best tastes of summer is the task ahead of Tommy and Matti and what fun they’re having. Finland explodes with spring vegetables, seafood and fish and some of the best ice cream in the world. At Bon Vivant, the fine dining option on board, Menu Nordic consisting of 5 courses is a tribute to Silja 60. Tomatoes are finally ripening and serving it as a cold soup with feta and basil gives you that first hint of warmer weather. With the Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine de la Garrelière from the Loire Valley, it’s an acidic rush that pricks the palate and opens the taste buds for the surprises to follow.

Veal tartar with crunchy green peas and slivers of radish

Veal Tartar comes with a tarragon sauce and crisp, sweet raw peas that Finland is so famous for. Just walk along the Market Square and see the number of empty pods lying on the ground, a habit that is cleaned up at the end of every day in the summer. Dry Rosé de Carsin especially made for Finland 100, gives this dish an extra dimension. Followed by Pike Perch & Ginger comes the Beef & Onion main course with morel mushrooms on a bed of spelt, hearty and filling and complements the Carsin Cuvée, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc to carry it through to its full conclusion. Rhubarb for dessert and to sweeten it there’s meringue and a creamy mascarpone ice cream. Price €109/118 including wine, the former with Silja Card.

Pike perch with brown butter sabayon sauce, sauerkraut and ginger

Every second year a new range of Ship’s wines and beverages are chosen. The lucky producers can look forward to massive sales on board but criteria are strict and supplies need to be forthcoming. Choosing them is not easy since you have to keep the general palate in mind, the price and not least of all the label. Hence, nothing too challenging and under €10 except for the champagne. Bauchet Brut Champagne at €28,90 is light and user-friendly with toast and almonds on the palate. Riesling is a huge favourite in Finland for the time being and hence needs to be represented. Geil Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen, Germany, fits the bill. It’s a no-nonsense wine with acidity, pear and herbs. Zonin Velluto Appassimento is the red choice with a blend of dried Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella grapes. It’s velvety and smooth and rather sweet as a result of the drying of the grapes.

Chocolates by Kultasuklaa celebrating Silja 60

Marimekko has entered the fray of the jollifications on board and has come up with special colours highlighting the marine mood that can be seen in the suites and restaurants. Don’t leave the ship without some bars of chocolate from Kultasuklaa. White chocolate with a flavouring of salty liquorice, dark chocolate with salt and milk chocolate, all made with heart by this small producer in Finland.

Happy cruising and cheers to Silja Line on this auspicious occasion.

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

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

Finland on My Mind – a culinary journey

Competition in the Baltic Sea is fierce. Not only do the cruise ships vie for best entertainment or comfort with style. Food is paramount and there are few shipping companies that do it as well as Silja Line does. This year is no exception. Their Bon Vivant Restaurant on both Serenade and Symphony, steps up to the fine culinary plate every time.

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A formidable team: Matti Jämsen, Miikka Manninen, Eero Vottonen, Heidi Mäkinen

Hard to go wrong when you’ve got Chef Eero Vottonen, whose been there and done that in the glittering Michelin star world of Helsinki, and Heidi Mäkinen, Finland’s best sommelier in 2015 and 8th in the world, at the helm. With the internationally well-known Matti Jämsen overseeing it all and the bright, young, fastidious Miikka Manninen as the sous-chef, you’re all set for a flavour expedition through the Finnish countryside at the highest possible standards.

 

Lavaret (white fish) and sour cream
Lavaret (white fish) and sour cream

No bigger than an amuse bouche comes the Lavaret or white fish as most of know it, served with smooth sour cream, a little crunch of cucumber and a subtle flavouring of dill. Swill it back with a Blanc de Blanc from Jacques Lassaigne in all its glorious minerality and you can’t wait for what’s next. The hot, crispy barley blini-like pancake is served with mushroom butter, so good you want to lick your hand where it slowly sidles its way down. Another gulp of that champers, thank you!

Lamb and caramelised onion with friend parsley root
Lamb and caramelised onion with friend parsley root

Put one and one together and you the resulting richness is much more than a mere two. The liver mousse is a combination of duck and chicken liver, delicate and powerful all at once with the forest mushrooms adding the oomph. This time it’s the earthy Yealands Estate Land Made Pinot Noir that carries the flavours through to the last mouthful.

Delicate as a flower - braised apple with buttermilk ice cream
Delicate as a flower – braised apple with buttermilk ice cream

While the lamb could do with a bit more salt and pepper, easily added of course, the herbs from the dish fall in side by side with the unmistakeable garrigue, or wild Mediterranean herb taste, present in the Maison Nicolas Perrin Cornas, worthy of a swoon.

Heidi Mäkinen has taken Eero Vottonen’s story of Finnish ingredients, one step further to turn this dining experience into an unforgettable journey.

5-course menu including wine selection: €118/person or €109 for Club One customers.

Menu available from 1 September 2016 – 10 January 2017.

Silja Line

Whiling away the time in Kotor, Montenegro

Just looked at the stats – 653, 747 in population. Kotor – 13,150. It’s a small place, a small country and it doesn’t have much in its favour. The mountains surround you and there is not much arable land to cultivate crops. Make the most of tourism? Then you have to have something that’ll make you stand out in the crowd. Here’s why I would come back:

Euro – even though it’s not part of the European Union yet, it employs the currency which could or might not work against you but at least it’s easy if you’re from the Eurozone or visiting many parts of it.

Fjord – perhaps you’ve heard this before, but it’s the only one in Europe, Norway counting as a Scandinavian destination. And totally stunning from every angle.

Beautiful Bay of Kotor
Beautiful Bay of Kotor

Galion Restaurant – fine dining, expensive by Montenegrin standards but the finest of fine dining to be found anywhere in Europe. The waiting staff understand what you’re on about, like after a white wine (which you can’t taste before ordering, minus points), ordering it anyway and then the waiter suggesting the red Vranac which is a whole lot better with your tender lamb infused with morel mushrooms lying on a bed of roast veg and creamy mashed potatoes. Cost for 2 €78 incl. 1 starter, 1 bottle of Krstac (white, better with food but quite acidic on its own), small bottle of Vrnac (red, recommended), 2 mains.

Galion Restaurant floats on the sea
Galion Restaurant floats on the sea
Lamb at its best at Galion Restaurant
Lamb at its best at Galion Restaurant

Fortress of Kotor – even an old 60-year-old bat like me can do it! 1200 m above sea level, 1350 steps with a bruised toe and a dizzy head. Really, I mean it, it’s so worth it. Every lookout point has another viewpoint and there are ‘angels’ on the way sitting under their umbrellas selling cold, cold water, coke and beer at reasonable prices. Even a rip off would have made me buy.

Almost there, not!
Almost there, not!

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Old Town – I know, seen so many of these in your time but this one is brimming with churches both Orthodox and Catholic, no mosques unfortunately even though it has the 2nd most devotees in the country. The prettiest one has to be St. Triphon’s Cathedral with twin towers and a wonderfully restful pale pink/beige interior. The upper floor houses a museum of relics and a view over the piazza.

St. Triphon's Cathedral in all its pale pink and beige glory
St. Triphon’s Cathedral in all its pale pink and beige glory

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Wine bars – abound, where the local drop of red (again, recommended) can be had for as little as €2/10 cl. At Bokun, the cheapest one was full of a cow’s milk nose, pleasantly so even though the malolactose might get to some. The flavour was full of prunes and plums and mocca. Delectable for sipping. At The Old Winery, the rosé is a bit more upmarket at around €4 incl. service. Delightfully refreshing, light and a no-brainer for a hot Saturday afternoon.

Me sipping wine, how unusual!
Me sipping wine, how unusual!

The Market – we’re all in love with markets thinking that we’re going to pick up a bargain here or there. Be warned – not always the cheapest since most vendors have already caught up with the trend. But do try the local Prsut (prosciutto), air-dried and deliciously succulent without being stringy, and ‘the best cheese in the world’ according to the lady behind the counter, Katunjanka from Čevo, high up in the mountains and a success story of small producers making their presence felt. Both come at reasonable prices.

Take your pick at the market
Take your pick at the market
A selection of Rakije, not Raki as in aniseed as in Turkey, but fire water with a flavour
A selection of Rakije, not Raki as in aniseed as in Turkey, but fire water with a flavour

Montenegrins – come with a smile albeit a non-knowledgeable one. Their language skills in English are somewhat limited and this could be the reason. The first question you’re asked is ‘Where do you come from?’ Taking the conversation further becomes problematic. Ask them where the nearest bike rental place is and they can’t tell you. Come on! It’s a small town and even I discovered it 2 minutes later 100m away. Some scenes however, give you an insight into their characters : one car rear ends another during a full-on traffic jam. You think to yourself, ‘how totally unnecessary’ and the next minute the drivers of both cars are shaking hands and getting on with life.

Dukley Design Montenegro – artists in residence use the environment to come up with some wildly interpretative images made in cloth, wire, paper, paint and whatever else comes to hand. Visit it on a Sunday and you get it straight from the artist’s mouth, as it were, with their explanations and musings on the works they’ve created.

Let's talk!
Let’s talk!

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Cherry on the top – take a dive into the clear waters, float on your back, peer up into those mountains and allow them to speak to you.

DSC05016Links:

Kotor

Galion Restaurant

Fortress of Kotor

Dukley European Art Community

 

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.

That Little Bit Extra – Restaurant Trühvel, Tallinn, Estonia

In the heart of Telliskivi Creative City, a little ways from Tallinn’s Old Town, there’s a restaurant that lures you by their attention to detail. With impeccable service and food to salivate for, the whole package is enough to take you that extra mile.

Cold, acidic sorbet lines the palate up for the mains.
Cold, acidic sorbet lines the palate up for the mains

In true Mediterranean style, the menu consists of starters, soups, pasta, risotto, mains and of course desserts. But with a definite Estonian twist. Before anything else happens, we’re presented with an amuse bouche of citrus fruit hiding a creamy mousse, compliments of the kitchen, a perfect awakener with the Jacquart champagne at a mere €7,50/glass. My starter of Vitello Tonnato has the usual pink veal with smooth tuna sauce but it’s the roasted nuts and big capers that steps up to the plate. The crusty toast adds crunch to this delicious dish. My partner’s seafood risotto is just as it should be with flakes of Grana Padano cheese to top it off. But before we can go on, we of course need a palate cleanser of green apple sorbet doused in fresh Prosecco. This again is on the house.

Vitello Tonnato as it should be
Vitello Tonnato as it should be

The wine list is vast and you can find everything from Margaux to our less pricey Valdivieso Cabernet Franc from Chile which vies for attention with my veal cheek and crispy sweetbreads resting nicely on sweet potatoes with a red wine sauce slightly spiked with cinnamon. It could do with a bit more acidity and turns out slightly bland for my taste but then it would be hard to do better than my starter. The duck confit however, is a mouthful of perfection and couldn’t disappoint even the fussiest of gourmands.

Veal cheek with sweetbreads
Veal cheek with sweetbreads

We’re too eloquently satisfied to order dessert but they bring us home made truffle chocolates anyway and the bill puts a smile on your face.

Ambience: Colourful, clean style

Food: Italian with Estonian inspiration

Prices: Starters around €8,50, mains approx. €16

Service: Attentive, warm

Wines: Excellent, wide selection including champagne by the glass

My rating: 8+/10

Link:

Restaurant Trühvel