An izakaya is the Japanese version of a gastropub, originally a haven for Japanese businesspeople, with high standards for food and drink. The team behind Jah Izakaya set out to create such a place in Vesterbro with a minimalistically appointed restaurant and open kitchen bar. Everything is steeped in precision and features the meticulous seasoning that has made Japanese cuisine so famous. You choose a variety of dishes to share with the others at your table. It is all very informal and the prices are affordable. The sashimi features the highest quality Faroese salmon, tender tuna and a Danish octopus that also makes a cameo in an ika ichiyaboshi – an unforgettable serving of slightly dried octopus with spicy mayo. Rarely have the sweetness and richness of an octopus come through so clearly. Each of the eight dishes we order is accompanied by a new dip – every one with its own personality. The wasabi here has notes of spiced tea and herbs. Each sauce specifically matches a dish, such as an ingenious yuzu soy sauce with the mouth-watering gyukatsu – fillet steak with a thin breading that is fried so the meat is red and the breading crisp. On the whole, the breading at Jah Izakaya is in a league of its own. The day’s special, avocado in a light tempura, is airy and perfectly crisp. Even the tofu, lightly fried then immersed in a warm dashi bouillon, packs impressive flavour. Beverages range from sake, whisky and Japanese shochu brandy, to beer, kombucha and natural wine. We pair with kombucha and méthode traditionnelle bubbles from Domain Bellaurd in Savoy whose minerality and nutty character fit well with the umami-dominated meal.
"Ezerputni", Amata, Drabešu pagasts, Amatas novads
Here’s a secret we considered keeping to ourselves, but it’s so good we can’t not share it! At the end of a road, deep in the Latvian forest lies a fantasy resort of sorts. Camouflaged by lush trees is a gorgeous wooden house with a thatched roof, it’s part of the Jonathan Spa Estate, a property consisting of one hundred (!) such houses, two of which are the quaint hotel and spa, the rest are private residences. Tastefully created artificial lakes render the environment even more picturesque; everything suggests that people here want to keep all this beauty and comfort to themselves. But we’re officially letting you in on the magic number. The restaurant’s atmosphere is sublime; the selection of European cuisine is wide, and features two or three daily specials. In these spectacular Latvian surroundings you should of course eat Latvian: the herring, a national dish, is as festive and tasty as you’d expect it to be; the parsnip-pear purée soup is a real flavor explosion, with an exceptionally light texture; everything giving nod to the local, Latvian suppliers.
Kortteli 5th floor, Urho Kekkosenkatu 1, 00100 Helsinki
At the top of a shopping center you will find Kortteli, a food court with everything from smoothies and pizza to fine dining. Little sister to the fine dining restaurant Ask, Jord is in an airy, rough-hewn space saturated in shades of blue with exposed pipes and beams. Through the giant windows diners can study the ant-sized people on Narinktorget below. Jord means “earth” or “soil” and Filip Langhoff’s food is definitely grounded, in spite of the elevated location. Every plate is a greeting from forest and field. The well-trained staff are anything but locally grown, many of whom prefer to speak English. Do not skip the starters, which offer a lesson in botany and a show of craftsmanship - like crispy-fried shiitake with mushroom mayo, lamb tartare with pickled ramson capers, or ultra-thin slices of air-dried ham served on a cutting board with preserves and pickles and a dab of golden rapeseed mayo. The main course of lamb brisket melts in the mouth. We enjoy the play of textures with popped cereals and a masterful porridge of ancient grains. Conclude with an adorable sour milk parfait resting on buttermilk caramel and strewn with crunchy honeycomb and fresh, green spruce oil. Naturally the food is more relaxed than at Ask, but perhaps it could do with some buttoning up, and it’s missing that pleasant buzz needed to drown out the background music of the neighboring restaurants.
Restaurant Jordnær (which means “down-to-earth” in Danish) is housed in the historic, 350-year-old Gentofte Hotel, where the duo of Chef Eric Kragh Vildgaard and Restaurant Manager Tina Kragh Vildgaard bring forth new tones rooted in French traditions and Danish ingredients. The atmosphere is warm in the modernised “inn” with attractive plank floors, Nordic designer furniture and the impressive beam ceiling, while the service is professional and attentive. Eric knows what he wants and no compromise is accepted with ingredients, as evidenced by our first snack, brilliant in all its simplicity: Osietra caviar filled in a cylinder of carved cucumber with a lightly acidic cream in the bottom. The bittersweet cucumber plays up to the caviar’s elegant nut notes followed by deep umami, while the acidic interplay with the light cream at the bottom ties it all together into a delicious mouthful. This is followed by an immaculately fresh Gillardeau oyster with kohlrabi spheres, freshly harvested beach plants and horseradish to give it all a little punch. The snacks conclude with creamy crab on an “æbleskive” base (traditional Danish doughnut-like cake) that could have been a bit more interesting. A champagne from Robert Barbichon with fresh bread notes and wonderful acidity pairs nicely with the snacks and their recurrent taste of the sea. The first starter, an alluring composition of marinated raw langoustine with green strawberries, oysters and granité, is intense and mineral, while the acidity of the granité and the young riesling provide elegant and fresh balance – a dream for sushi lovers. The next starter is crisp and purely delightful with its touches of sea and nuttiness: white asparagus and fresh foam with a hint of acidity, watercress and Baerii caviar. The wine from Veneto made from the garganega grape is a bit opulent with this dish. A starter with zander wrapped in pointed cabbage in a green jus with ramson fills the palate with the goodness of succulent mild fish, the bit of cabbage and light spices bound together by the ramsons. The light fruitiness of the wine, made with a blend of varieties including spätburgunder, is a sublime vinous pairing on the full-bodied side. The main dish of perfectly roasted pink lamb, green asparagus, morel and truffle rises above traditional as Vildgaard spoons an incredibly elegant sauce over the lamb. The Barolo from Oberto in Piedmont is a perfect match, given its somewhat tight but sweet-bodied character. The first dessert of almonds, vanilla and rhubarb ice cream operates in the realm of delicate nuances, while the cake bottom could have been a bit lighter. The final dessert of hay-milk ice cream, bolstered by French sorrel and oxalis, and split with a cold pressed rapeseed oil, is immaculately well balanced.
Jossa mat og drikke is now temporary closed awaiting it’s and Restaurant Credo’s relocation at Lilleby in Trondheim.
Down a dark narrow alley and up a cramped and steep staircase lies this sibling restaurant of longtime Trondheim food-bastion, Credo. Inside it is warm and cosy, with naked old wooden walls, a nice bar and an open kitchen. Jossa is like the younger kid who escaped the motherland and came back with all kinds of crazy ideas – and the ideas work. It’s laid-back with great, reasonably priced food. You can choose between a three or five-course menu, or today’s meat or fish. The food is inspired from all over the world; it’s rustic, centered around local produce, and features vegetables, grains, dairy, fish and off-cuts of meat. Jossa offers a good selection of wine, beer and pour-over coffee, and it’s possible to order wine from Credo’s legendary wine cellar. We also recommend their artisanal selection of bottled sodas and kombuchas, made fresh on the premises. Their Saturday lunch is easily the best deal in town and the service is easygoing, though sometimes almost too lax. Chef and owner Heidi Bjerkan has assembled a young and ambitious team, who manage to make the restaurant feel like a home away from home. We’re glad we don’t live next door because we would probably be there every other day. Like its parent establishment, Jossa is moving to a new location later this year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what effect the new location will have.
Giant restaurants don’t usually churn out the best fare, Joyce, however is the exception to that rule. Housed in Tartu’s first spa hotel, a large and popular resort, this beauty offers some of the city’s finest gastronomy. Sadly, Joyce’s size––140 seats spread over two floors––gets in the way, were it not for its gargantuan proportions, this would probably be considered southern Estonia’s best restaurant. Chef Mihkel Manglus is young, talented, and ambitious. His food shines brighter than the beverage selection, the service, and even the atmosphere. It contains traces of traditional, local flavors, though always boldly combined with exotic aromas that conjure far-away locales. Take for instance his cured duck starter with cucumber, pumpkin cream, sage and balsamico, a dish that marries Estonia with Italy. Manglus is one of Estonia’s most creative and progressive chefs, with a style that is completely his own.
Juur’s roots reach deep into… coffee. In the cold Nordic climate, coffee is an important beverage. The more important something is, the harder people work to improve it. Juur, which means roots in Estonian, is owned by Gourmet Coffee, a leader of the country’s new wave-coffee scene; the first company to source rare coffee beans at auctions, and the first to roast them in-house. Now, they have taken it even further: Gourmet Coffee teaches coffee farmers in developing countries to grow precious beans, they also buy their first crops. This background information is necessary to understand that Juur is more than just a restaurant. Juur is a way of life. It’s the flagship restaurant at Ülemiste City, the Silicon Valley of Northern Europe, a breeding ground for innovation. And while lunch here is more than just something that eases hunger, dinnertime is when you really want to pay a visit. The newly opened restaurant offers a truly ambitious fine dining experience, focused on developing the definitive version of New Estonian Cuisine. It gets its produce from its own farm in Southern Estonia and is currently developing an urban farm right next door. Juur’s food is different––you’ll understand what we mean as soon as bread is brought to the table. This is hemp bread, it looks and tastes different than any other bread in Estonia. There is something unique and boldly unprecedented about everything that Juur does, from said hemp bread to pinecone tea. Juur has its roots in the kind of soil where others do not dare to tread. Growing local produce is a skill that was lost during the Soviet period, the tradition was broken and recovery doesn’t happen overnight, so even the most ambitious restaurants tend to be overly respectful to local ingredients. Juur is not. It’s also not ashamed of being a bit green and making mistakes. Though these don’t end up on the plates, guests’ limits are nonetheless tested when traditional main ingredient are combined with unexpected flourishes and techniques like making jelly from classic bread soup. Traditional rye porridge gets an update with goat cheese, crispy groats, quince and salted lemon, making for a completely new interpretation. At Juur, you can see that local Estonian beverages are starting to recover the ground lost to foreign drinks. Craft beers and ciders are already old hat; now it is time for the berry wines, which until now have been only served with desserts. But of course you can’t leave Juur without trying the coffee.
It would not be right to shun the sapas at Juuri, as in all truthfulness they are what’s given the restaurant its special status. Sapas are small dishes, appetisers really, based on traditional Finnish cuisine made with a modern – and it has to be said – tapas-like twist. So, Finnish tapas. The first one we try is lamb’s tongue with beetroot and crème of the same, plus yoghurt and pickles. The tongue is incredibly tender, and a great start. Clocking in as sapa number two is the equally addictive cured Baltic herring. It features yellow beets in two forms as well as crumbled flatbread. We’re instructed to pick the Toivo red ale with our sapas, and do exactly as we’re told. It happens to be spot on. All of the beer served at Juuri is Finnish, by the way. The restaurant seems to attract a youngish clientele, and an international one, too, because all of a sudden there are Americans next to us, and then two Japanese parties come through the door. Fillet of perch is our next stop on the menu, and we fancy a glass of Roero Arneis from the Piedmont to go along with it. The wine and the fish prove to be an excellent combo. Not only is the dish lovely, but the perch is also pan-fried to perfection, and made to swim attractively in a frothy cauliflower crème with florets attractively strewn about. Suddenly we find ourselves with a juniper-scented crème brûlée dotted with transparent gin jelly, crème anglaise and rosemary sorbet. How did it all go by so fast.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.