The menu at the R14 Wine Restaurant is principally inspired by the Mediterranean region, with hints of Asian, American, and Nordic influences. The Latin American ceviche ofNordic salmon is complemented by soy gel and Estonian bog cranberries. A delightfully naughty fusion brings us coconut tzatziki; the prawn are rolled in kataifi doughand served with feta. Asis suitable for a wine restaurant, the food and the wine gohandinhandinharmony, and the pairings are formed in creative collaboration between the head chef and the sommelier. The extensive wine selection is the work of Rein Kasela, the Grand Old Man of Estonian wine culture, a man whose contribution to its development is hard tooverestimate and whose wine house shares both space and its wines with the R14. The harmony of wine and food is paralleled with the way modern interior is complemented anddignified by the limestone walls of the 19th century industrial building.
Radio looks like the inside of a Scandinavian designer log cabin, with raw wood and large, empty windows facing out towards the iconic former home of the Danish Broadcasting Company’s radio studios – thus the name. The restaurant is the epitome of modern, healthy Nordic cuisine made with the season’s simple ingredients. We begin by feasting on rustic Øland wheat bread and an irresistible butter whipped with buttermilk and browned onion. Strips of Danish octopus are served with a creamy sauce of bakskuld (salted and smoked witch flounder), apple vinegar gelée, and grated egg yolk. A burnt leek adds a tad too much bitterness to this otherwise delicious dish with a good balance of richness, sweetness and acidity. Saltwater-poached cod with raw, marinated celeriac, celeriac purée, hay-cream, apple leather and toasted buckwheat seeds actually proves somewhat bland. Meanwhile, a 2015 aligoté from Meursault, fresh and acidic with a touch of butter, goes perfectly with the dish. Although also arriving in white and light hues, the next dish has a copious and fulfilling depth of flavour: baked Jerusalem artichokes with crisp pickled onion, a foamy sauce of Jerusalem artichokes and roasted almond butter for an added umami kick. A dark yellow 2005 riesling from Joseph Schmidt in Kremstal has a good age and is sufficiently stout to withstand the smoky richness of the Jerusalem artichokes. The cuisine is veg-intensive and many dishes resemble each other, following the formula of a root vegetable, a light sauce and a little bit of protein. It’s monotonous at times, but every dish shows careful consideration of balance and texture. Our waiters share their wonderfully nerdy enthusiasm for the wines and food, so we leave Radio wiser and with a comfortable lightness of body.
You get a nice warm feeling as you stroll into smallish Ragù, which is remarkably buzzing for a Wednesday night. Large parties of guests seated at the longish tables demonstrably thrive on the free and easy vibe. We’re wondering if the table next to us is celebrating somebody’s big 6-0. Our waiter is as attentive as he is charming, despite being rushed off his feet. Although or perhaps because it’s a painfully frosty night, he reckons we need a Negroni before proceeding. Shortly after the apéritif the bread basket arrives. The bread takes a back seat to the spreads, of which there are four – humus, butter, cheesy goat’s cream and cherry compote. The lamb tartare with tarragon-infused mayo, cloudberry jam, rolled sliced carrot and a cool miniature blood pancake hits the palate in just the right way. We’re talked into a sparkling lambrusco from Emilia Romagna that works, while being largely forgettable. The boneless veal rib-eye does not blow our socks off either, but the various trimmings move the dish up to and beyond scratch. Cauliflower in different guises fights with the meat for attention, and is backed up by pak choi and béarnaise. Spicy and lively watercress stretches its long tentacles across the creation. The pinot nero from Aosta works as it should. So what’s the interior like at Ragù? Italian? But of course! With its simplistic white walls and dark floor, leather-clad benches, grey-backed chairs and double linen tablecloths, the restaurant clearly takes its cue from the country that’s given us the world’s most iconic dishes. We stay in Italy for the dessert: lemon cream with slightly blow-torched Italian meringue and basil ice cream.
The restaurant of the most comfortable spa hotel at Pärnu, which spoils its customers with high-flying fine dining, probably didn't have much choice for a name. After all, the memorial of Raimond Valgre, one of the most renowned Estonian composers, stands right next to the building. The restaurant is slightly awkwardly located in the corner of the hotel’s spacious lobby, with just thin curtains separating the space from the hotel’s bustle. A self-playing piano (with some of Valgre’s pieces among its repertoire) still helps to set the mood. The dishes are easier to understand with some background knowledge about Valgre’s life and times. The servers may or may not offer to explain, but be sure to ask! If you do, you might see some of the dishes in a new light. The solyanka, for instance. Likely enough, Valgre had to eat it often during the Second World War. Back then, it was made using any scraps at hand, such as perhaps the kidneys that, along with homemade pork and beef sausages, give the soup at the Raimond its multilayered, deep flavor. The whole front page of the drinks card is dedicated to Estonian drinks. Most of them, furthermore, quite local. Make sure to try the Tori Cider and Wine Farm’s tree-fallen autumn apple cider, if there’s any left.
The eye-catching funk-style Pärnu Rannahotell with its tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and luminous restaurant is a fitting setting for the work of Herkki Ruubel, a practically-minded chef with a creative soul. Ruubel’s dishes are always carefully finished and decoratively presented. But the flavors are never lost among the effects. Our experiences at the Rannahotelli Restaurant have always been“by the book”: always upwards, rising to a crescendo. Therefore, it is only logical that the experience is best exemplified by a dessert. Juniper and pumpkin. An intriguing partnership, isn't it? The juniper is jellied. Tastes like genuine juniper. Nothing like the sticky gunge of less skilled attempts at gels. The same applies to pumpkin, served here as ice cream and pumpkin paper. Papers, dusts, foams and other effects in Herkki Ruubel’s creations demonstrate the way a flavor can take on different aspects through different textures. And this year, the Rannahotelli Restaurant had a leitmotif - the taste of rhubarb. It made its way into many of the dishes and drinks, too. The particularly authentically sour rhubarb crémant by Tori Cider and Wine Farm is one of the big successes of this year’s Estonian craft breweries. Check if there’s any left!
A big patio is protected from the harsh weather outside by the giant glass-paned roof. The wind and rain seem almost cosy when you’re sipping on a biodynamic crémant and enjoying small bites from Rogaland. A king snail is brought to the table grilled in its shell before being dressed in a vinegar gelée and ramson emulsion. The snail is a chewy yet pleasant surprise, and the chef says not to worry about any heavy metals as they’ve crushed the snail in its shell themselves to measure the metals and determined that they’re in the shell. A small sandwich of bøkling, a traditional Stavanger staple of salted herring, fits well with the crémant. The toast with herring roe and mascarpone is a snack we wish were handy in times of need – like on any given Friday, to accompany the marathon-viewing of the latest Nordic noir series. A razor clam shell is dressed in fermented pear and ginger juice with droplets of jalapeño oil to give it just a little bit of heat. After a chicken liver mousse on a truffle meringue we are led into the dining room. With its open kitchen and minimalistic interior, this room has no excess decoration so that your focus is on the food, the chefs and your dining companion. The crispbread comes on a small rack with butters from cow and goat that would make anyone happy, and we put uncivilized amounts on top of the thin, flat bread. The soft creamy texture of the milkfat against the crispy, sweet bread is hard to resist. An epiphany of umami starts off the round of main courses: scallops fried in a pan with jus made with smoked scallop roe, Parmesan, kombu and truffle. White asparagus, poached oysters and a parsley coulis with the acidity of sorrel is a tribute to spring. A langoustine the size of a forearm is dressed in seaweed butter, and the salty crust matches the intense sweetness of the moist and dripping meat. Next come turbot chops with a vin jaune sauce, green cabbage sprouts and guanciale. Then a real stunner enters: beets, oven-baked for hours, are served with beef marrow and caviar. The sweet, red, moist flesh balances perfectly with the marrow and with the small salty pearls of caviar. The serving seems too small! We drink up the rest of the juice from the little bowl. A small quail, bred on an island outside Stavanger, is matured for three weeks before it’s served here, with its innards on a small toast on the side, dressed in pickled onions. The sweet, rich taste of blood and offal is almost better than the bird’s meat, which is perfectly cooked, moist and salty. The quail comes in three servings, and the last one is its leg. With a sweet, sticky glaze it is to be eaten like a lollipop, or rather as meat on a bone like our ancestors ate when gathered around the bonfire. Thank goodness those ancestors eventually discovered wine though, for without it, this meal would not have been the same. The service at Sven Erik Renaa’s restaurant is pleasant, informative and at some points cheeky, in a good way – and the food stands out as a beacon of regional tradition and innovation.
In the doorway we are greeted by a maître d’ of the classic school – a type that is unfortunately rare these days. He has built up an inspired and thoughtful wine cellar with a predilection for France and Italy. When it comes to the food it is unclear where Chef Markus Aremo wants to steer our senses. There’s a chance we’ll see southern European classics like risotto and ratatouille, rustic elements from home and side trips to North Africa. The champion- ship winning minced pike under a tomato salad and a crispy pastry lid is a memorable signature dish. Though what hummus is doing under an almost cold poached egg and smoked shrimp we do not know. Fortunately we can wash it down with sparkling rosé from Veneto full of refreshing strawberry flavour. It is also easy to enjoy the glass art objects on the dark grey walls, the nice jazz streaming from the speakers and the comfortable chairs that encourage you to sit until late in the evening.
Christian Puglisi has perfected his simple idea, rooted in a deep commitment to sustainability and organics, by going to creatively daring new heights. Bringing his inner Italian more clearly to the fore has only resulted in even more delicious fare. The room is still minimalist but filled with a diversity of guests, creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The service is also informal but extremely correct, as we are clearly in the company of purveyors of elite Nordic gastronomy. Vegetables play the leading role here. Many of the first dishes on the experience menu exemplify Relæ’s interpretation of Mies Van der Rohe: less is more. The year’s first radishes with a cod roe cream, perfectly poached Zittauer onion in birch juice with spruce shoots and oil, and large, wonderful mussels in their own jus with ramsons. Fresh baked sourdough bread also arrives at the table, further appeasing our appetites – but this is just the beginning. The menu offers wine pairings, but with excellent guidance from the knowledgeable staff, it’s worth exploring whether bottles could be an option at the same or an even lower price. La Matta is a fresh spumante with low alcohol content and it goes brilliantly with many of the first dishes, including the memorable Limfjord oyster in yoghurt, packed in various green spring shoots and cabbage from Birkemosegård: the bitterness and cream are enhanced by a perfect edge of lemon and juniper berry. The kitchen uses as much as possible from the restaurant’s own farm or other nearby organic producers, but avoids being fanatically Nordic with its embrace of dazzling lemons and olives from warmer lands to the south, as well as an array of techniques and flavours from Italian cuisine. This approach is manifest in the next innovative and alluring dish: rehydrated potato as a kind of cacio e pepe. The potatoes are prepared like the Peruvian Chuño. This makes it possible to cook the potato al dente, and with a little sprinkling of lemon peel. It is the evening’s greatest masterpiece. We have red grapes in our glass from Selva Dolce in Bordighera, and on the recommendation of our waiter we choose to share a single glass of orange wine, “Vej 2010” vintage 2015, as a pairing with the Hindholm Farm pork. The wine has a surprising amount of body and is excellent, while the serving of slightly bland slices of pork with broccoli shoots is the evening’s only mediocre dish. But the all-out flavour returns with the desserts, where the cheese is virtually a cannoli with homemade ricotta, olive and blueberry, laying the groundwork for two inventive desserts. A base of grapefruit with frozen yoghurt ice cream on top of a lemon-mandarin-orange gratiné replicates the wonderful flavour of a classic Danish ice cream on a stick known as the Copenhagen Bar. After freshening us up with acidity, the menu goes umami with a mushroom parfait, glazed mushrooms, chanterelle powder and a caramel of mushroom soy sauce, with crunch from a crispy croissant. On departure, our palates are satiated and satisfied by Relæ’s diverse simplicity.
Restaurant 1877 is a traditional but modern restaurant in the heart of Bergen at “Kjøttbasaren”, the old meat market. This soulful place that has held an important position in Bergen’s trade history. The room is filled with warmth and generosity. The service is attentive and jovial, and the elegant, original interior is filled with brass, brick and wood. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the open pass station, raised and framed in a wooden bar. In from the left comes a smiling waitress. “Welcome”, she says, with a firm handshake. The staff at 1877 make a big deal out of this handshake as a symbol of the restaurant’s personal service. The chefs regularly come to the table to present the food and their stories are clearly rehearsed, without too much detail, bringing you closer to the food and to the suppliers. One of them comes to the table to explain how she prepared the chicken that lies before us. On the plate is a chicken dish in several forms, one of which is stuffed with a homemade pesto. The potatoes are roasted in chicken fat to make them rich and salty and the carrots are pickled and sieved into an intense purée. 1877 plays with traditional flavours and gives them a new twist. The cheese course is a good example of this. The traditional sour cream porridge called rømmegrøt is served in a hot stone mortar. On top is a crumbled blue cheese from Stavanger. The dish is creative, but excessively rich. The chocolate dessert with barley ice cream rounds off the meal with some of the best flavours Norwegian cuisine can offer. A visit to 1877 is a visit you will remember.
There’s a river and it flows from the springs of Lapland. It’s crystal clear and it’s called the Juutua, one of many where fly fishermen swing their lines and catch the freshest of fish. The snow is pure white and the people are, shall we say, on their guard, but friendly nonetheless. Lapland is the land of shamans and it is at the kitchen altar of Heikki Nikula that we worship tonight, at Aanaar Restaurant in the Kultahovi Hotel where Sami culture and cuisine gets a rare chance to shine. His artistry comes in a rainbow of pink, orange, green and white, with some hairy brown stuff on top that we eye with suspicion. It’s ’naava’ or hanging moss, found on nearby trees – a testament to the clean air that reindeer find irresistible. It melts in our mouths, adding texture and an earthiness to this succulent starter of lightly smoked reindeer hearts, horseradish yoghurt and sweet marinated vegetables. Johanna Fabritius is in charge of the beverages and like the chef she has her own bag of tricks, combining food with beer, cocktails and wine. The house version of Finland’s famous Napue gin comes with angelica syrup, an ingredient we will come across again on this menu. It’s made from the hardy aromatic flowering herb angelica, that grows as far north as Iceland and Greenland. The main course is pike caught by Inari fishermen and turned into the lightest of fluffy white balls flavoured with a touch of lemongrass. Though the latter is not from this region we give them a break because it adds acidic, fresh interest to a dish that might otherwise be quite bland. The fish balls are accompanied by yellowish beurre blanc and cerise beetroot mousse with a hit of vinegar. We wash all of this down with a Yealands Riesling – clean, pure and unadulterated like the river flowing by. Dessert is aptly called “Snowball”. The bowl is too small for the lingonberry-filled scoop of yoghurt ice cream with angelica syrup and crunchy sweet meringue slices on the side. As we leaf through the menu, it’s evident that people from all over the world visit this magical place and that special care is taken to accommodate frequent visitors. In the heart of Sápmi, from true Sami people, comes this warm welcome.
Bodø can be one of the most unpleasant places on earth. It’s cold, windy, rainy, and the nightlife is almost non-existent. That is, until now. Restaurant Nyt has opened in the old premises of Smak (which has moved up to Tromsø) and taken over the position as the culinary frontier in central Norway. The rain still pours down in amounts that might lead to complete shutdowns a bit further south, but here they don’t seem to mind the weather, as they cast glances at small-shoed travellers fighting the wind with oversized umbrellas. The restaurant is buzzing, and the staff treat their guests as if they are all old friends. First course is a scallop cooked in its shell, sliced thin and resting in its juice with fried scallop roe. It’s a nice presentation of time and place, this being both the prime season and location for the mollusc. A composition of butter-fried Jerusalem artichoke with morel cream and morels is too brown, too salty and too creamy. The bread serving, to our relief, is awesome. Small pan-baked loaves of whole wheat bread with fermented wheat grains added in are excellent with the homemade butter that’s salted with the local salt from Saltstraumen (which has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world). The season is also peak for Atlantic cod, which comes almost all the way into the harbour to reproduce more Atlantic cod. This white, lean meat has been cured with salt and sugar for 24 hours before it’s baked and served with Romesco sauce, celery root purée and cod roe. It’s a light, perfectly salted fish course that leaves us longing for more. For dessert, raisin compote with bread crumble, coffee ice and coffee syrup has flavours that take us happily back to vague memories of what our grandmothers served at family reunions. We leave the restaurant with a reason to travel again to Bodø. Not to mention that they also have damn good coffee. Two reasons, then.
Forget all about foam, dust and live shrimp. Instead, lean back in the wide chairs and enjoy the classic French-Danish cuisine from the hand of the unassuming power couple, Lisbeth and Bo Jacobsen. At the helm of Restaurationen for more than 25 years, they do so much to make sure guests feel comfortable that we practically feel like we’re visiting them at home. This is the kind of true hospitality that you should find everywhere. Bo cuts thin slices of 660-day air-dried Danish ham at the table while sharing tales from far and wide. Along with the ham, we enjoy a perfectly poached egg with truffle cream, crisp croutons and freshly shaved truffles – a sexy dish and also the evening’s best. Pot pies with mushroom sauce and breaded sweetbreads are simply too much after two mouthfuls, lacking in freshness and contrasting flavours. The fish of the day is fried redfish, served on a vegetable terrine with a green parsley clam sauce. It tastes good, but looks like something a skilled home chef could easily prepare on a Saturday. A 2000 Henriot champagne at a very attractive price brings some added exuberance to the evening. The wine list as a whole is modestly priced, offering an impressive selection of vintage bottles, and we are expertly guided through it by the house sommelier. Our coffee is accompanied by Lisbeth’s fantastic selection of homemade petits fours. We leave the establishment full, satisfied and ebullient from the champagne. We don’t go here to be modern, but to enjoy expert service, drink mature wines, eat well-cooked food prepared with the finest ingredients, and simply surrender to the warm embrace of Bo and Lisbeth.
Hafen is a well-lit, colorful harbor restaurant. It is the newest addition to Saaremaa’s eateries and serves flavors from near and far. Spiced sprat –an iconic Estonian food - features here in a salad with roast potatoes and carrots, pickled vegetables and mustard sauce. Old hat for the locals, it is next to compulsory for visitors. The taste of sprat echoes deepin the Estonian soul. Hafen’s soft steamed buns with pulled chicken and kimchi are elsewhere called bao. While they may not quite merit a dedicated visit, they are emblematic of the way the island’s sailors have returned from their trips with new foods through centuries. The curiosity for food is handed down through generations as well. Hafen facilitates new acquaintances with Saaremaa’s local Lahhentagge craft gin. Stunning views to the sea and the ancient castle-fortress entice usto linger longer.
Cru’s broad floor-to-ceiling window stands evident to all by the massively frequented Viru street in Tallinn Old Town. Getting in, on the other hand, is more complicated. From the street, you take an underpass into a small courtyard, then up the stairs to a narrow hall. The overall impression is one of a restaurant at a tiny vineyard somewhere in Alsace. Cru is the signature cuisine of oneo f the most famous Estonian chefs, Dmitri Haljukov. Serving classic fine dining upto a couple of years ago, ithas since taken a turn towards ever lesser processing. The chef has proved himself. With no more needto show his mastery of the techniques (nobody doubts him anymore), he takes time to select the raw ingredients and bring out its best qualities. Presented inan egg-shaped ceramic bowl, the smoked trout Benedict is a pleasantly fatty slice of springwater-bred, house-smoked trout. Itis served with low-cooked runny egg, farm potato blin and chive foam. The chef's favorite pastime these days seems tobepreparing classic dishes with his own twist. Regardless of the name, wine here is chosen todo honor to the food, but no more. The different faces of the restaurant show in different dining halls. The showy front room with its tall ceilings, an intimate back room for a smaller group, and a cellar hall for a bigger party for privacy.Regardless of the milieu, the restaurant offers an excellent digestif toend the evening with - a hop distillate from a local brewery. Enjoying this eaude vieof a kind brings back the emotions you hadat entering.
MEKK is the Estonian acronym for Art of Modern Estonian Cooking. This trailblazer was the first to dare to present a modern Estonian cuisine along with creatively prepared simple local peasant food. Whether by chance orby design, its anniversary falls on the same dayas the Republic of Estonia’s - 24 February. And even though many other restaurants have joined the ranks of Estonian cuisine, MEKK remains oneof the leaders ofthe art of local cooking. Head Chef Rene Uusmees has a talent for rediscovering and reinterpreting local food tradition in fresh and interesting ways. His creations have been known to surprise even Estonians, and a fair few locals have found their grandmothers’time-honoured recipes presented under a different angle. Even herring and potatoes have been turned into a highly presentable dish. The wine card surprises with a greater-than-average selection of wines in small bottles and house craft liquor.
"Restorans 3, the current talk of the town in Latvian culinary circles, takesup two floors at a narrow pedestrian street in Riga Old Town. The first floor is the Heaven and the ground floor is the Earth. And sure enough, itis harder togetto Heaven than itisto stay at the Earth. Not that it's particularly hard to walk upthe stairs –it’s just that the stairs to the Heaven are rarely open.Itis used to organize dinners where food smell mingles with the smellsof nature inthe dining hall. Film projections offer beautiful natural views and sounds of nature soothe the ear. Restorans 3 has become a serious contender for the title of the best restaurant in Latvia. Keep an eye on them. The Heaven is worth a special trip to Riga. But ifitis really not accessible, then... the Earth is perfectly goodas well. The broad windows offer cinema-screen-like views to the narrow old town street. Sunlight ordarkness, fog or rain... the different moods are there, at a hand’s reach. During the day, the 3 offers an à la carte menu, where the guest can make up their mind about some of the best fine dining in Latvia based on single dishes. In the evening, the 5- and 7-course “Taste the Nature” menus are also available, and a vegetarian version isavailable of the former. Head Chef Juris Dukalskis makes sure to keep the experience atthe Earth not dissimilar to that at the Heaven. The baked quail is smoked with juniper right there on the table. The burning juniper branches are a supremely aromatic spectacle. Hedoesnot hesitate to use many different ingredients inone dish (such as oxtail, beef tongue and squid), but each complex composition forms an enjoyable, balanced whole. The wine selection leans noticeably towards natural and biodynamic tendencies."
Estonia has its share of decade-old restaurants, but the fame that hasbeen accompanying the Ribe through its entire existence is unique. Founded by three waiters, the restaurant took off in full sail. The service was at a level unheard ofin Estonia at the time. And the quality persists to this day. On your first visit, you’re a guest, on the second visit – a good acquaintance, on the third visit – a dear friend. The restaurant knows and remembers its customers. It also surprises with unexpected drinks that are hard to come across, whether a Pierre Gimmonet single grape Chardonnay growers champagne for apéritif or Caron's smoky, whisky-like rum, aged for 17 years inTrinidad inoak barrels, for digéstif. Ribe is always crowded. Crowded with nurselings and centenaries, next-door neighbours and Australian tourists alike. Itis impossible to say to whom Ribe is best or least suited. Most likely, everybody likes the cuisine. Soft-boiled quail egg, green broad beans and buckwheat popcorn add their textures and nuances to the otherwise perhaps basic creamy chanterelle soup. Head Chef Rado Mitro brings a similar unexpected twist to every menu item. We like the Ribe best in the autumn. In the mushroom season, when the menu features lots of different local forest mushrooms. But everybody will find their own reason to love Ribe.
With an open kitchen that is a true spectacle and a menu to suit even subdued Nordic palate, Riis––or rice––is packed with regulars, both during lunch and dinner. It’s just the kind of casual and informal joint every neighborhood needs. While such an intricately balanced cuisine is difficult to master, the chefs at Riis do it well, preparing delicately cooked curries and crunchy fresh salads to awaken the palate. We’ll let you in on a secret: there’s a rather extensive menu of daily lunch specials. So stop by for a midday meal and you’ll come across as a native, non-tourist.
Architects Sandell and Bohlin’s interpretation of a modern, socially focused restaurant is unique: a beautiful combination of harsh concrete, intimate floor plan and warm hues. Here you sit around the bar and the open kitchen or along the wall, shoulder to shoulder with other diners, many of whom have been hanging out at “Roffes” for many years. They often have creative but commercial jobs, which characterises the mood. Many of the dishes on the menu are classics. The perfectly fibrous braised ox cheek with smooth pressed potatoes is one such example. The always-crispy potato pancake with caviar is another. Johan Jureskog has run the restaurant for a while and has the sense to protect their signature dishes. Sometimes more elaborate compositions feel a bit uneven. But the kitchen does have a way with pig. The Iberico shoulder has a nice texture and fat, nougaty flavours. The pork belly confit with cabbage and beer-poached onions is also outstanding. The Lobster Thermidor has been under the broiler a little too long but is still really yummy, filled as it is with sweetbreads and foie gras. You would be wise to begin all this with snacks: a few slices of pata negra, some oysters and perhaps a handful of snails with lardo. Yes, the style is robustly masculine. The wine list is impressive both in breadth and depth, and the staff know how to match drinks and food, but sometimes this gets rushed over. Likely because of the awaiting diners who stand stomping in the undersized entrance. That Roffes is as crowded as an Indian train compartment and as loud as a college frat party is, however, part of the charm.
Occasionally, a menu item at a restaurant raises eyebrows or sparks questions. But this is probably the first occasion we know of where the restaurant itself appends a question mark behind some entries on the food card. Precisely that is the custom at the Rondeel, situated at the ancient, massive limestone castle of Narva. Okroshka? Kharcho? It is as if the Narva castle restaurant had resolved to defend Estonian cuisine against foreign influences; to stand up for the local traditions of mustard-roasted pork, roast Narva river lamprey or smoked meat with pearl barley. Theirs is a counterattack. We will serve kharcho. But we will not serve it like you do. (The kharcho at the Rondeel has a sour flavor generally not found in this dish.) Narva is a city that differs from the rest of Estonia. And its food and drink are different aswell. Exotic, even, if you will. Have the lamprey. Quaff a foaming draught of local beer. You will know exactly what this special city tastes like.
In true southern Jutland fashion, we are welcomed warmly at the door, our coats are taken and we are escorted to a table with a view over bumpy cobblestone streets in the heart of Tønder. Despite the restaurant being fully booked, the talented chefs and owners, Marcel Rodrigues and Steffen Snitgaard, elegantly create a relaxed atmosphere for a culinary journey through interpretations of local ingredients and traditional regional dishes, while also finding time to chat with guests, answer questions and take part in serving dishes from the open kitchen in the barely 98-square-metre restaurant. They have returned to their hometown to create a locally-rooted gastronomic bastion with affordable prices. Given the sublime five-course menu for DKK 398, their mission has undeniably been successful. Both the cutlery and art were made especially for the restaurant by local artists, and the juice menu is predominantly sourced from local farmers. The wine list comprises a limited but well-curated selection of French, German and Italian bottles with the most popular classic grapes. We are served a welcome snack of light veal terrine and a mushroom mayo that gives the delicate cold meat nice acidity and notes of porcini, as well as homemade chips, homemade olives, salted almonds, malt buns, and oats and butter whipped with locally sourced ramsons. Sauce nage, a delicate balancing act between sour and sweet, is strongly dependent on the quality of the wine. In this serving, it goes perfectly with fresh wolffish, whose white meat and mildly sweet flavour reveal a diet primarily composed of lobster. Carrot purée, dill oil and fresh dill add freshness and colour to the beautiful dish. Effervescent redcurrant juice from the local cider mill, Vibegaard, is a well-chosen sweet and sour match. Open meat pie – a classic local dish – is at its best with the rich but light and crispy puff pastry, filled with a vegetable ragout of creamy Jerusalem artichokes, sharp horseradish and spring onions, topped with paper-thin slices of radish, cress and crisp chicken skin with a flavour that cuts through the dish. Small chunky slices of veal round, slow roasted at 56 degrees Celsius, are completely pink and juicy with excellent structure, accompanied by grilled spring onion, celeriac purée and pommes anna – an often heavy side which in this version offers a light, fresh onion flavour. The round red wine glaze with light tannins once again shows that the kitchen does not cut corners with the quality of its cooking wine. The cheese board features Havgus, Rød Løber and the local Sønderjyske Blå, accompanied by a sweet and sour apple compote, delicious toasted dark rye bread and a well-executed lightly salted crisp bread. The strong cheeses are matched by “Æbleau”, a voluminous, acidic and sweet fortified cider made with Danish apples from Skærsøgaard and featuring vanilla notes from oak barrel aging. The dessert is a crisp almond crumble topped with rhubarb compote and fresh rhubarb pastry, whose acidity is balanced by sweet caramel ice cream.
When an ice-hockey-goalie-turned-fine-dining-chef and a restaurateur of note put their heads together, they naturally came up with a workable solution. Housed in a period building right on the Market Square, Roster has a bag of tricks that fills every seat on a Sunday afternoon. Kape Aihinen, who decided early on that a career in ice hockey wasn’t going to cut it, has earned his spot as Executive Chef of Savoy Restaurant, one of the finest dining restaurants in town. He and Paul Hickman know what it takes to build a team: careful coaching and encouragement. Roster’s staff are super knowledgeable and when they’re not, they call in sommelier Olli Kolu to save the day. The devil is in Roster’s details. The interior is brassy but not tacky, and the quirky touch of an illuminated skull, also embroidered on the staffs’ tops, befuddles us for a moment. Then we think we get it – perhaps it’s another mafia allusion like their hidden Omertà lounge. Three starters arrive, each more intriguing than the last. “Caramel Chix” are chicken legs and wings meant for dipping into that black pepper cream with your fingers. Nuggets of citrussy zander with slivers of tomatillo are a little sour and a little spicy, urging that Sumarroca cava to show more of its green apple flavours. Sweet parsnips with walnuts and a creamy, umami miso yoghurt is named “Pastinaca”, which you have to be Finnish to understand. A herby, green risotto circles the meaty stroganoff and by the time the “Cake” arrives, a heady mix of sorrel sorbet, pistachios and meringues, we’re all wondering how we’re going to manage. Roster has a winning formula. It’s casual dining but with no holds barred on quality and the wine comes in glasses and carafes, a long-awaited phenomenon in Helsinki.
Located 100 kilometres from Helsinki the town of Lahti can be reached by train in less than one hour, and Roux, a charming family restaurant, is the main attraction for many visitors. The French tradition is obvious from the name of the place, but most of the ingredients they use are carefully selected from domestic suppliers with consideration for the season. In late April asparagus plays a major role. Fans of that seasonal delicacy can enjoy it in an amuse-bouche mousse, in a soup with morsels of smoked salmon and even for dessert in a posset with pickled strawberries. There are many other delicacies, including fish and game. A farmed whitefish from Bothnia Bay could not have tasted better with spring potatoes and garnished with anchovy crème. Chef Sami Häkkinen has good connections with producers up north, so reindeer is always on the menu, now as a tender fillet and hearty blood sausage. Roux is proud of their wine selection. Though they are open on the weekends, they do not have a lunch menu. In a way it is a pity, because this old chemist’s shop with its attractive traditional interior is practically made for brunching, which is still a rarity in Finland. The service is friendly, efficient and dedicated.
Rub23 is a good place to know about if you should fine yourself in the heart of northern Iceland. The Asian-inspired concept involves them rubbing hot spices into the fish or any other dish of your choosing (there’s a vegan option). We like the idea, especially on a cold night. The list of beverages is really good, especially given the restaurant's remote location. The sushi options take up a large portion of the menu. The must-try starter is the signature dish from chef and owner Einar Geirsson: sushi pizza. It’s essentially the popular and elegant fish, fresh Arctic char, served on rice with various toppings. The starter of cod and salmon ceviche with fennel and orange is nice, but the reindeer tataki with fresh apple and a hint of lime and soy blows us away. The mixed seafood platter is also a good choice. The young staff provide cheerful and decent service. Rub23 is a gem in Akureyri, perfect for spending an evening in the far north.
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.