Bread is a culinary symbol of Estonia. There was bread on the table back when grain was ground into flour at a flourmill. This is why a windmill is just as symbolic of everyday food as bread is.
When grain was no longer ground into flour at flourmills, windmills often became restaurants and cafes. Saaremaa Windmill is one of such rare places in Estonia that still offers food.
The food at the Windmill is simple and definitely a bit quaint with authentic roots. Dining at the Windmill is a rare and genuine experience.
When a man spends six years in planning, the results ought to be good. When that same man spends years training under a sushi master, the results might even be great. And if he is an entertainer of the humble yet funny sort, whose dry jokes can evoke loud sniggering among the small audience of ten, then you will surely enjoy his omakase. Chef Roger Asakil Joya calls himself an Edomae sushi master. He has an eye for raw ingredients and will show you how to identify fresh fish and which ones he prefers for his nigiri. The meal consists of 18 pieces of pristine nigiri sushi. Normae, his take on the Edomae tradition, means that nearly all the seafood here is sourced not too far from Pedersgate. The freshwater fish come from Orrevatnet; the shrimp from Sirevåg, the nearest fishing harbor, which is a wee cab fare south of the city; and the trout from the fjords of Hardanger. Everything is sourced and selected by Joya personally. The fish is of supreme quality. It’s tear-inducing in texture and taste. Laughing, he tells stories of how it got there, or of how he tasted it for the first time, which makes the wait between each mouthful seem as meaningful as the next bite. The rice comes from a small town in Japan and the Po River delta in Italy. The wasabi is grown in England, and this is a game-changer: finally, real wasabi. We start with a fresh and acidic sparkling yuzu sake that makes the grey weather of Stavanger disappear into distant memory. The small room is inviting and intriguing in all its simple Japanese complexity. On the ceiling there is a wave made out of thin oak strips. The wave tells the story of the weather that met Joya when he came to this town. Six years of wind and rain later, he has his own omakase. A room with wooden walls showcases the chef’s strength and a light green wallpaper behind the bar tells the diners he will take care of them, and he does. It starts out with a very light and fresh hot soup, to prepare the taste receptors for what’s to come. Toro of tuna and salmon have just the right amount of fat, if fat is your flavour. He is keen on the importance of cleanliness and of organic ingredients, but at the same time his salmon toro is farmed just a couple of miles up the coastline. Joya is pragmatic and as long as the product is of the best quality, he will use it. We forget any doubts we might have had when his techno-emotional take on gunkan with shrimp is served. The fresh shrimp is rolled in a gel of seaweed and soy, inspired by a guest chef he had from the legendary elBulli. It feels like a small step into modernity, away from the orthodox and almost religious setup of the rest of the menu. The grilled langoustine tail and the coal-heated trout leave the diners open-mouthed, wanting more. The drink pairings are carefully selected and span from sour beers to sweet rieslings. They match well, but these nigiri don’t need company; they are small gems all by themselves. Joya is a true Edomae, sorry, Normae master, with food that oozes with Japanese traditions yet is inextricable from Stavanger.
Salt proves that small can also be big. It might be a local restaurant, but its fame reaches far beyond its home turf of Kadriorg. There’s a couple of reasons for this: the drinks never cease to amaze and the food is a fireworks display of gastronomic bravado, a culinary United Nations of sorts as Peru, Laos, Sweden, China, Malaysia, France, Japan, Italy and Thailand are all represented here. And though some may say this is a baroque exaggeration and an overly enthusiastic endeavor, it works for Salt because the restaurant manages to ace even the most ambitious dishes. Though we’re not going to lie, occasionally the execution fails to stand up to the idea. The seasonal menu changes weekly, and yet, with all this variety, there is also some sense of permanence. Grilled octopus with crispy potatoes, red onion, fennel salad and perselata (a Spanish sauce of parsley, garlic and olive oil) has been on the menu every time we’ve visited. “As requested by our guests,” says the waiter. They’ve tried removing it several times, bringing about protest from the regulars. The staff is highly skilled at pairing this rollercoaster of global flavors with various beverages; the wine list includes sparkling wine from England, red wine from Georgia, ice wine from Romania, there are also pilsners, lagers and other suds as well as non-alcoholic options, and splendid cocktails. Contrasting all that brouhaha on the plates, Salt is sparsely decorated; the result is simple, beautiful, and very cozy. It gets crowded during prime dining-time, making the place look more like the overpopulated dining room of a private home. You’ll want to sit next to the open kitchen, the better to chat with the chefs about the peculiarities of the current mushroom season that brought about the black trumpet risotto you’re enjoying.
We sit on chipboard boxes with a gap between our backs and the window that makes it a tad uncomfortable to recline. The chairs are from schoolrooms, but this restaurant and its two siblings in other Helsinki neighbourhoods are a hit among the locals. Restaurateur and former New York Chef Richard McCormick hits the jackpot every time he opens a new one. Sandro’s target group is everyone and anyone who likes slightly spicy, Moroccan/Lebanese style food. English is the language of choice since most of the staff are foreigners from far-flung reaches of the globe who bring their nice flair to our interactions at the table. The menu is exotic and while you might think there’s a dearth of starters, the main course says it all. There it is, the pièce de résistance: slow-cooked lamb shank encircled by small portions of all kinds of dips and sides, including a little bit of cinnamon pumpkin, a dash of harissa pesto, a dollop of yoghurt, a spoonful of hummus, some slices of avocado, a helping of crunchy cauliflower tabbouleh and the crispiest sweet potato fries. The pulled duck “burgers” get washed down with fruity Australian pinot noir, the tajines come sizzling hot, and yellow saffron bread is served in chunks. This ain’t no fine dining joint. Take the day off, bring the kids and the grandparents, sit back and stuff yourself with delicious mouthfuls of unusual flavours.
The Pirita Yacht Club was built for the 1980 Olympic Games. Despite its daunting Soviet exterior, Sardiinid invites you into a bright space with a shabby chic decor reminiscent of the Hamptons. There are boats as far as the eye can see. The menu boasts sardines, of course, but it’s the more locally-inspired dishes that are the real catch. Cod, battered with the local kama (a finely milled flour mixture of barley, rye, oats and peas, traditionally eaten with buttermilk) is nutty-crunchy and the mixed grains salad is bursting with exotic, bright flavors. The menu and drinks list are brief, but you don’t need much more at a simple seaside restaurant.
When dining at Sarfalik, it’s impossible to forget that you're in Greenland. We're reminded as soon as we look out the top floor windows, with views that encompass sea, mountains, snow (most of the year) and local street art. We're also reminded, of course, by the menu. Sarfalik does its very best to embrace and cherish what is uniquely Greenlandic, with ingredients such as musk ox, angelica root and caribou. While the menu at a glance has an air of New Nordic about it, the kitchen is not constrained by any rules; imported goods are freely featured. We let the chef's choice be ours, and are rewarded with an appealing first dish: a generous heap of pale pink lumpfish roe with pickled onion, darker pink beet-coloured sourdough, lumpfish meat and more, topped with thick, tangy crème fraîche. It's a joy to look at and eat, as the fresh roe burst between our teeth. Another high point of the evening comes in the form of tenderised, smoked strips of caribou, accompanied by homemade kimchi and shallots in different forms. Throughout the night, fish competes with meat for the throne, but Sarfalik is also one of the few places you can be comfortably vegetarian in Greenland – the kitchen lets its creativity loose in dishes such as pea terrine with beet and rye crisp, and blackened asparagus. Whatever's on the table, it's pleasantly paired with traditional wines. The three sweets that come with the coffee are a fun affair, showcasing a range of inventive flavours and textures. In spite of the natural light, the dining space low-lit and classic as can be: there’s even a piano player in the corner, delivering mellow tunes.
In December the farm that previously housed Ambiance à Vindåkra was transformed into one of Malmö’s most outspoken New Nordic restaurants. Heading it up is the Danish-Swedish duo Sven Jensen and Alexander Fohlin who previously worked with Nordic pioneers like Thomas Drejing and Claus Meyer. The concept is perfect for the little farmhouse with its wooden beams, whitewashed walls and crackling fire – a cross-fertilization of an inn in Skåne and an urban Copenhagen restaurant, where the frugally Nordic meets the generosity of Skåne. The flavour spectrum they create here (often with the help of brown butter and sweetness) is rounder and more approachable – without sacrificing exciting wild-picked, self-harvested or pickled ingredients. A good example is the fine, foresty tartare of coarsely diced perch fillet with fried oak moss, blackberry elixir, preserved blackberries, brown butter and samphire. Or the extremely tasty little amuse-bouche of poached, mashed, dried, and finally fried Jerusalem artichoke that is used to scoop up a fresh buttermilk panna cotta topped by bleak roe. In a Nordic “spring roll” sugar beets from the fields outside have been simmered for several hours, sliced and softly pan-fried to form a housing that encloses liquorice cress, goat's cheese and black garlic. Black truffle and poppy seeds top the creation and the nutty seeds play elegantly together with the orange wine from the Swedish-French vineyard, Mas Zenitude. Our palates delight in a lukewarm buttery brioche in a nest of warm wheat kernels served with a chilli-rimmed, air-dried slice of pork’s neck and pickled sea buckthorn. The same thing goes for the precisely cooked local pork with a sabayon flavoured with blanched black pepper and Finnish tar syrup. The wines are well chosen from a selection of natural wines and the non-alcoholic beverage pairings are innovative. SAV is quite simply creative joy on all fronts – and extremely affordable considering the level of cooking.
Savoy is an institution in Helsinki, which is not so strange given that its space on the eighth floor was decorated by design icon Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino in 1937. It is worth going just to see the setting. Since Marshal Mannerheim’s beloved Vorschmack has been a regular feature on the menu for almost 80 years, they cannot stop paying tribute to this national hero: Polish “balls” of lamb and herring with beets, smetana and pickles. That said, today the Savoy is a place that attracts tourists and dressed-up locals looking for traditional fine dining. The service is impeccable, the tablecloths are starched, the views are captivating and wine is served at the proper temperature. The food is classic French – the pigeon comes from Anjou, asparagus is in season as soon as it shoots up in France and sole is served Belle Meunière. You pay for what you get, with most entrées hovering just under 50 €, and the wine list includes innumerable, expensive and mainly Old World bottles. Over the years the quality at the Savoy has fluctuated between mediocre and really good. This type of cuisine, with a lot of imported ingredients and classic recipes, works great if the kitchen is fully focused on execution, but is not at all forgiving of missteps. This spring we have noticed some sloppiness at the pots and pans, which we hope is temporary. Savoy’s kitchen is at their best when they let a little New Nordic inspiration seep into all that Francophila, like when a refreshingly acidic fern consommé is nicely balanced by the sweetness of onion purée against a sounding board of Puy lentils and mushrooms. The recommended pinot noir from German Jurtschitsch matches perfectly. More ideas like that and the bill might feel a little more affordable.
If you are the least bit enthusiastic about smørrebrød, the Danish claim to culinary fame, you are likely to fall in love with Schønemann. The restaurant is, as is customary, situated a few steps down from street level, and first thing that catches your eye is the well-stocked bar. Few places in town can compete with Schønemann’s offering of over 140 kinds of schnapps – and if you find the volume daunting the staff are very skilled at finding the very best match for your order and taste buds. The menu is extensive and you can definitely find every kind of traditional smørrebrød here, as well as quite a few original inventions. Some pay homage to regulars and Copenhagen icons like “Renés favourite” dedicated to Noma’s chef, a light creation of Greenland halibut, creamed cucumbers, radishes and chives. The service is folksy and friendly, and very knowledgeable. Although it’s a smørrebrød classic, shrimp is often a disappointment at Copenhagen establishments, as they’ve often been swimming in brine longer than they were in the ocean. Not so here, where both the plump, hand-peeled shrimp and the homemade mayo on the “shrimp pyramide” serving passes the test with flying colours. We are served an oaked dill schnapps to go with “Havfruen” (The Little Mermaid) and it works very well together with smoked salmon, halibut and the dill-spiked shrimp mayo that tops it off. Herring (house-pickled, of course) is a must here, as is trying one of the nine different variations on tartare. Those sceptical to raw meat need not fret, the seared tartare (named after restaurant critic and smørrebrød aficionado Ole Troelsø) is the perfect introduction – spiced up with cognac, lovage and garnished with horseradish and deep-fried capers. So how many smørrebrød can one eat? Well, according to Schønemann’s: two will lay the foundation, three will make you feel satiated, and four will end the meal with a smile.
The word on the street is unanimous: “fried Baltic herring and meatballs”. These are the signature dishes at Sea Horse and they have been on the menu since the days when it was little more than a seaside tavern. Nowadays, with its white napkins and tablecloths, it’s hard to imagine the drinking orgies that took place within these olive-coloured walls. Riimihärkää, Finland’s version of beef carpaccio, comes rather too thickly sliced on a bed of mushroom salad, but together with the capers and pickled red onion, the delicate taste of the beef holds its own. World-famous Napue gin from Kyrö Distillery in the middle of Finland goes down surprisingly well with the meat, leaving you with a rather pleasant tingling tongue. The cabbage rolls are doused in thick, dark beef gravy, topped with sweet lingonberries, but they are a little overwhelmed by the neighbouring side of vinegary beetroot, and turn out to be somewhat bland. A pick-me-up in the form of an organic syrah from Chile is a little spicy and does a balancing act with all that acidity. The joint is frequented by Asian tourists along with artists and rock musicians from a bygone era, now greying but still sipping their Koskenkorva (Finnish hooch) shots, while the Swedish-speaking group in the back room shouts “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah”! Sea Horse is, without doubt, iconic.
From the outside, this immense log cabin doesn’t look like much, but once inside, Seller’s cozy wooden interiors invites you to sit down to a surprising meal. The menu descriptions might be short, but everything beautifully presented: roasted beets and goats cheese, for example, delicate lamb’s tongues served with a fluffy vegetable cream and mint sauce. Drinks are locally focused, with a selection of craft beers from hyper-local breweries. For the designated driver, the celery lemonade is a must. And as you would expect from a family restaurant, service is friendly and inviting.
Sentralen has been open for a year, and it’s been a success from day one. The team behind it are called “Lava Oslo” – the fantastic four of the Oslo food scene – and they continue to create wondrous new dishes. Sentralen lies in the middle of Kvadraturen (“the quadrature”), a district formerly known for its courtesans and as a marketplace for those who lean toward self-medication. Today it is a whole other story and now, with this grand house of family entertainment, kids are flooding the streets and making it a safe place even for those who are easily scared. The old bank has been emptied of all its cold, hard cash and filled with soft values: good food and fine wines. The restaurant has a big open kitchen and a tall wine cabinet filled with the best from minimal-intervention producers around the world. The bread served here is made by Handwerk, a recently opened sourdough bakery. It has less of the old tradition, and more of the style of San Fran’s Tartine Bakery, with a charred almost black crust, a moist crumb and sports a mouth-watering acidity. The new classic, smoked beetroot tartare, is a nice way to take something as mundane as a beetroot and make it shine like a star. With a little help from horseradish and egg yolk, it’s as good as or even better than a traditional tartare. Next up, a bare-naked broccoli stalk is served with butter and broccoli cream – it’s as delicious at it is simple. A macerated Sancerre is a good choice, and because it has been macerated with its skin, it even stands up to the meatier things to come. The beef “tartare” is quickly seared before it is hand cut and dressed in pickled green strawberries, egg and Jerusalem artichoke chips. King crab, roasted in its shell with a Nordic spice blend including chervil and ramsons, is a greasy feast. It lacks some form of edible sponge to mop up all that delicious juice from the plate, but there is no shame here in using your finger to get it all. A potato pillow filled with Holtefjell XO, the go-to cheese of Norwegian chefs these days, is a cheeky take on gnocchi. The soft inner texture perfectly matches the pillowy exterior and the cheese's broad umami notes reveal why Holtefjell XO is called the Parmesan of the north. Sentralen is a cultural hotspot and still the best choice for a decent lunch in Oslo.
Shibumi is the Platonic ideal of an urban restaurant. Because of the format, and to a great extent the professional and well-informed staff, it can transform into exactly what you want it to be. True to the izakaya form, there is a bar with beer, well-shaken Asian twists on cocktails and finger food, but Shibumi’s range also extends to intimate date dinners, a foodie experience with carefully conceived sake matches, and friend or business dinners with an endless stream of share plates. It’s a pretty impressive feat. And despite the chameleon qualities that satisfy virtually everyone who walks through the door, the food at Shibumi is far from middle-of-the-road. Not, you understand, when it’s Sayan Isaksson who holds the reins. The salmon tartare in its little wooden box is a crowd pleaser we never tire of, with popping trout roe, sesame mayo and crispy rice paper, it is an explosion of flavour with lots of interesting textural play as a bonus. We prefer to sit in the bar and watch over the chefs as they assemble the most minutely prepared small dishes, grating fresh-smelling wasabi root on top and charring the ultra-fresh fish with a gas burner when it needs a little charred juxtaposition. Though fish occupies nearly half the menu, there are also deeply satisfying meat and vegetable dishes. Like flowersprouts, the trendy relative of Brussels sprouts which, after a turn in the deep fryer, delivers a crunchy cabbagey-ness. Gauzy katsuboshi flakes break up the oiliness. A Japanese “taco” containing tender braised short rib with homemade chilli paste and pickled cucumber disappears in a flash, though it’s somewhat one-dimensionally sweet. The skewered chicken hearts with fermented chilli paste is a more exciting choice with its delicious sweet-hot kick, as are the masterful gyoza dumplings. Have we eaten better ones in Stockholm? Probably not, even though dumplings have suddenly become commonplace. Shibumi’s version is crisp-fried on one side and the dough is perfectly paper-thin. The gingery ground pork inside is airy and juicy, and it comes with an extra-zippy ponzu sauce that contains aged red wine vinegar. And the desserts? We fall once again head over heels for the uber-charming small ice cream cones with the buttery, caramelly variation on miso. The bill is almost a joy to pay; it’s hard to imagine more bang for your buck.
Right next to the church and half a flight down we step into an older environment with small tables and art on the walls. The blackboard is in English, but we hear only Finnish being spoken. After we push our way onto the banquette sofa, the choice is obvious. The five-course menu kick-starts immediately with a Finnish version of ceviche made of whitefish topped with a fennel granité. So fresh! The intermediate dish of spelt porridge with porcini mushrooms is more filling than innovative, but the hay-smoked perch is one of the better fish we have eaten on the south coast – firm and nice! The friendly staff guide us safely through the wine list and the Slovenian wine served with the meal.
In the summer town of Porvoo you can eat well all year round at Sinne, situated a bit off the beaten path in a somewhat anonymous grey concrete building on the main road. The restaurant’s interior is industrial with huge pipes suspended from the ceiling and bare walls. It can get loud in here at times. But the waitresses do everything to make the diners happy, and they succeed brilliantly. The restaurant attracts a younger crowd who gladly sink their teeth into the famous hamburger. But try the five-course menu instead, which is Finnish and progressive and contains lots of local produce. The superb spelt bread comes from Malmgård a few kilometres inland, and the lamb meat is from Kivikko, just five kilometres away. (“We bought all 20 animals.”) Some of the meat is salt-cured and served as an excellent amuse-bouche. Some of it was made into the tartare that kick-starts menu, served with cured grated egg yolk, pomegranate and mint cream. A 65-degree egg comes with caramelised butter foam, green asparagus and fried potato shreds. It is slighty overpowering, but the Italian sangiovese provides the requisite balance as a finishing touch. An extremely thinly sliced king crab gets a bit lost in a sauce of fennel and spinach, but it tastes good. The kitchen chooses to braise the boneless veal rib-eye until tender, but is not entirely successful. The amazing cut becomes a little dry. Finally, the birch ice cream gives us a taste of Finnish summer. A panna cotta contributes a continental note, but pieces of almond cake and white meringue sticks emphasise the Nordic heritage.
Regardless of whether cruel autumn winds or balmy summer breezes are blowing out by Gothenburg’s inlet, it is solace for the soul to step into this beautifully renovated restaurant in the East India Company’s old warehouse. The welcome is warm and heartfelt, every detail is thought out and the rough-timbered walls create a cosy nostalgic charm. As soon as we sit down at the table it is clear that our hosts are Gothenburg’s – if not Sweden’s – most successful pair of restaurant workhorses, Ulf Wagner and Gustav Trägårdh. With the former at the helm and the latter in the kitchen, they run a well-oiled machine, focused on the total experience. The algae crispbread with subtle sea notes in the amply filled breadbasket sets the tone. Autumn is the season for both game and lobster, so a tender moose tartare has been given a lovely sounding board of lobster emulsion while tart apple and toasted hazelnuts create much needed contrast in terms of taste and texture. A semi-dry riesling from the Mosel matches nicely with its fruity, mineral notes. We continue with an absolutely brilliant cod loin, first cured and then poached to perfection. The creation is enthroned upon mixed cabbages in a foamy oyster sauce with a nice saltiness and crowned with freshly grated truffle. The flavours are finely tuned and let the fish play throughout his register. With a mighty piece of pan-fried turbot, however, the kitchen has thrown all finesse overboard and brought forth heavy artillery in the form of potato gnocchi, mushrooms and sweetbreads, all seasoned with tarragon. It’s rich, bordering on rustic, but it works. Even though the matching beaujolais struggles a bit. The delightful almond and pistachio cake with plums poached in port wine is still impossible to abstain from, but the tonka bean panna cotta that comes with it leaves us rather unmoved. At Sjömagasinet they are not only masters at combining ingredients on the plate - they also know how to match those combinations with the right beverage, and they do so with knowledge, charm and individuality. It is not easy to successfully navigate this flagship between the luxurious and the popular, tradition and innovation, but the gentlemen do it with honour.
At the very moment we step inside the door a cook begins browning butter. The smell! The sound! Isn’t this cheating? The sweet caramel aroma that fills the dining room naturally adds an additional dimension to the warmth, the atmosphere and the light that so nicely frames SK. We sit in the lower part of the dining room, where the pastry chef works at his kitchen island. In the upper dining room you look instead straight into the warm open kitchen. The cooks seem to thrive in the open exposure – they smile, cheer and come out with the food themselves. Choose between four, six or eight dishes on the long tasting menu – or order from the à la carte section. This is a high-class restaurant, but it never gets too fancy. They open at 5 o’clock and stay open late, so you can drop in for something quick – or devote an entire evening here. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Nor can you go wrong with the fermented, planed, puréed and fried celeriac, a perfect contrast to the salty-sweet, gently cured rainbow trout roe that clatters and pops around in your mouth. The hard-blackened, cured striploin with smoked mayonnaise, crispy pieces of winter apples and spring radishes offers nice contrasts. Except for the radishes, the kitchen follows along with the changing seasons. On our visit in early winter was dominated by root vegetables, cabbage, mushrooms and game. Overall the flavours are intense and a challenge for the sommeliers. They tend to match-make with well-known producers, but it’s the more unusual and artisanally produced wines to which we raise our glasses. Serving the white vermentino from the Italian red wine producer La Spinetta, with the rainbow trout roe, is typical, for example. But the best match is the one between the syrah grapes from Cornas and Domaine Vincent Paris and the tender, red wild duck that combines elegantly with mayonnaise made from toasted rapeseed oil, steamed cabbage and crunchy hazelnuts. If we should whine about something it’s the truly mediocre breadbasket. In the end, we are where our visit began – right beside that browning butter which, it turns out, is to fry the brioche that is served with a cloudberry compote and vanilla ice cream. Simple and so good. At SK the atmosphere is genial, generous and personalised, exactly what restaurateur Stefan Karlsson himself is so good at engendering.
A red cottage accommodates the small, homey restaurant with sturdy wooden tables and alluring ambiance. Upstairs there are a couple of hotel rooms and a short distance away in the village are the family’s two newly opened sister establishments. It is primarily the Bertilsson brothers who now run the restaurant side of the family business, and with a clear focus. The ambitions on the plate extend so far that their goal is to be completely self-sufficient in vegetables within a few years, a project that is already well advanced. Everything served this evening has its provenance either in their farm in Funäsdalen or comes from very local, carefully selected producers. Rustic dishes dominate the menu with natural flavours inspired by the mountain. The food is simple; every ingredient has a role. The dishes are a tribute to the region and that which nature provides. Homemade charcuterie starts the meal, followed by a buttery Jerusalem artichoke purée topped with pleasantly tart pickled tarragon, slow baked lamb and fried Jerusalem artichoke chips. These tender, nurturing flavours are paired with a nice cream ale from Åre. The beverage recommendations are consistently knowledgeable, and natural wines are chosen gladly so the pure flavours fit the food. The service is familial and professional, present and empathetic. Crunchy rainbow trout fried with its skin on is balanced with round sea-saltiness from trout roe, fermented fennel and mashed potatoes. Yes, in the menu it says simply, “mashed potatoes”. Liberatingly unpretentious.
This place is full of contradictions. On the one hand there’s the culturally significant, gorgeous old Skrunda Manor, and on the other there’s an old military eye-sore, until recently the Soviet Army’s most important radar station. There are no greater opposites––refined manor culture versus the army lifestyle of an aggressive socialist country. Thankfully, they didn’t destroy the old “chateau”, it remained (semi) intact and is now nicely restored, seeking to revive and modernize the values preceding the Soviet invasion. We don’t recommend Skrunda to regular gourmands used to enjoying the very finest culinary achievements, but if you’re open to new flavor experiences (including some extreme ones), then Skrunda might just be for you. Here you’ll enjoy pork salad with potatoes, sauerkraut soup with pork, lamb rib roast with vegetables and mushrooms. Definitely make this a packaged tour––staying overnight and visiting the ghostly, abandoned radar center is a unique experience. The cultural differences will feed your mind for a long time.
Oslo has a fair amount of restaurants with a view, but few can beat Skur 33 in that regard. Situated in a refurbished harbor warehouse on an old pier, this Italian seafood trattoria with an attractive terrace is a sure winner as far as outdoor crustacean experiences go, but it doesn’t need its vista to satisfy. Here, robust flavours get comforting, traditional treatments – a typical three-course can include a wonderfully savoury soup with Norwegian skrei and Italian vongole, a big flaky piece of halibut with crunchy speck and risotto, and an almond crème brûlée. It’s a no-nonsense combo of Mediterranean execution and – at least to a certain extent – local produce and fish. If you want something less expensive, there’s always pizza, courtesy of a traditional brick oven that greets you when you enter the spacious, picturesque and surprisingly cosy venue. The wine list is well stocked, although hardly surprising or non-traditional, and the prices are acceptable. The welcoming staff serves up food with big, well-balanced flavours that will have you singing, “That’s Amore!”.
Situated right on the idyllic harbour, Sletten is one of those restaurants that never seems to disappoint, and everything from the welcome to dessert flows effortlessly and elegantly – we never doubt that we are in good hands here. Sletten has a constantly changing menu of smaller courses that you can combine as you like according to your level of hunger. Ingredients are locally sourced and the proximity to Øresund is emphasised in the menu. This is the place to enjoy a well-prepared and deeply intense fish soup made from a stock of turbot and lobster, further enhanced by black trumpet mushrooms – as well as an enticing view over fishing boats, the pier and the thatched roofs of the well-preserved Humlebæk houses. Or you could try the fried skate wing with lemon-marinated kale topped with mussels. The food is fresh, colourful and well balanced – this is, after all, the sister restaurant of well-renowned formel B in the city centre. The Danish classic dish “brændende kærlighed” (burning love) is a comforting plate of buttery-soft mashed potatoes, dehydrated and deliciously liquoricey beetroots, crispy ventrèche and delicately prepared sweetbreads. A succulent cut of Iberico secreto is fried to pinkish perfection, and the rosemary ice cream atop a pear cream covered with a crisp almond tuile is a delightfully not-so-sweet ending. The wine list is excellent, and Bourgogne aficionados will surely spend a lot of time poring over what to choose. There is also a good selection of wines by the glass.
A stroll through the park and a break at the castle’s Matcafé is a perfect start to an afternoon off. If your goal is to maximise your evening, book a tasting menu in size small, medium or large, at the castle’s impressive Matrum. Slottsrestaurangen has Skåne and Småland as favourite landscapes and the menus change from day to day, driven by clever creations and availability of ingredients, like moose tongue, sweetbreads, cod skin or goose. The dishes are served on handmade porcelain that has been specially designed with inspiration from the castle’s rooms and facades. Whether you take a big or small spending mood with you, the visit is an almost magical experience. We test the daily special and get cherrywood-smoked salmon from the kitchen’s smoker with dilly mashed potatoes. Bands of dill-marinated cucumbers beautifully cut lengthwise, freshly harvested carrots and a parsnip marinated to outrageously sunny freshness are strewn helter-skelter. It would be inappropriate to lick the mash from the plate, but we sure we want to. Both the Matcafé and Matrum are located in the castle with its 800 years of history, and it captures the imagination. It turns out that Thomas and Charlotta Begic accept bookings from all over the world, sometimes of the more quirky type – like a wedding party with a menu comprised only of medicinal plants. After a charmingly handled cappuccino using beans from Balck Coffee, the local roastery in Kalmar, Slottsrestaurangen conjures up a glass of red wine with a balanced, incomparable roundness from northern Médoc. It is a perfect finish.
The dynamic duo of Melker Andersson and Danyel Couet have had a major impact in the restaurant industry in recent years. The most obvious being the move from fine dining to quality, fun eating. Under Marcus Lindstedt's leadership their most institutionalized restaurant, Smak, has parked itself confidently at the forefront of the group. The concept remains the same: small plates from world cuisines are served in rapid succession, each with a single, dominating flavour. You order by making checkmarks on a form, and there are also carefully selected beverage options with each of the dishes. We really enjoyed a brioche with sirloin steak, foie gras and ginger perfume, as well as a pointed cabbage wrap with sweetbreads with a bit of a chilli kick. Dilly brandade of cod from Lofoten and char with nutty brown butter, crispy (!) oyster mushrooms and trout roe, all illustrate the style nicely, too. On the sweet side the trio of pear, mint and chocolate invites you on a trip back to the 70s and we conclude that not everything was better back then. Even the setting is cut from the same conceptual template. It has the generic feeling of a modern big city restaurant over it all - stylish and properly put together, but not without cosiness. High ceilings, large windows, soft lighting from ornate light fixtures, muted colours, smoky mirrors and tapestries are a warm contrast to the glass and concrete of the surrounding city neighbourhood. The guest mix is eclectic - a mix of suits at work dinners, dating young couples and county officials up for a conference. The service is easy-going and knowledgeably leads us through the food and drinks.
A bit off the beaten path in downtown Tromsø, Eva-Linda and Espen Ramnestedt have reopened their acclaimed restaurant Smak (Taste), previously located in Bodø, some nine hours to the south by car. Starting all over again, they have tailored everything to their needs. With just eight tables, a small wine lounge, a chef’s table and a beautiful custom-made open kitchen, Smak is ready to revitalize the town. Both Eva-Linda and Espen are trained chefs, but Espen manages the kitchen while Eva-Linda takes care of the dining room, complementing his cooking with her hospitality. Espen uses modernist techniques blended with classic cooking to coax heartfelt flavors out of great ingredients. Eva-Linda’s warmth makes the diners relax and her passion for great wine makes any evening complete. As our meal starts off with a selection of snacks and champagne, we feel the devotion they’ve put into the restaurant. It’s immediately evident in the food that arrives: a thin crispy sheet of fennel is topped with Finish caviar and sour cream from Avdem Gardsysteri, and a potato waffle comes with Swedish vendace roe. A classic oxtail ragù is topped with lacto-fermented celeriac and a soft chicken liver pâté matched with sourdough and truffle snow. A serving of green asparagus, sweetbreads and quail egg makes us dream of spring, and their creamy and pristine fish soup made out of rose fish, lobster and carrots is a knockout in a town where fish soups are essential to the local food identity. Our meat course of beef cheeks takes the meal to a more rustic place, though we feel that some of the other dishes this evening could have been a bit simpler, with fewer components on the plate. The desserts are a show of technique, first with a delicious sorbet made out of Nýr cheese, then a dark chocolate parfait. The hand-brewed coffee and the box of petit fours is a great ending to the meal. Smak’s relocation to the town of Tromsø is a game-changer for the local restaurant industry and we hope its revival will lure the locals out of their homes on a regular basis. We, at least, will certainly return.
Chef Michael Björklund’s dream project is right next door to the tourist magnet Kastelholm Castle in the middle of the Åland outback. Smakbyn is an impressive complex comprised of a restaurant, distillery, conference facilities and a shop. Once inside the door the cathedral-like dining room almost takes our breath away, but we pull ourselves together as the extremely down-to-earth and welcoming staff show us to our table. The food is liberatingly far from the kind of dishes that gave Björklund top rankings in international competitions. It features local produce, unpretentiously cooked with love, with lots of extra yumminess on the plate. The snails are stout Ålanders, served Provencal-style with a ton of garlic butter. A browned pork consommé with pork rillettes and porcini is not for the fat-phobic, but attractively displays the pig’s delicate flavours. A pale ale from local Stallhagen works well alongside, but the apple and gooseberry pressed juice is even better, contributing much-needed acidity. Otherwise, the non-alcoholic alternatives are relatively few, which is a shame considering that most people come here by car from Mariehamn, half an hour away. Do not miss the Åland lamb if it’s on the menu! And we recommend wrapping things up with peasant-style sour cream paired with various forms of sweet and sour sea buckthorn.
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.