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.
There’s a blackboard displaying random greetings at entrance to Rucola. When we visited this humble restaurant at the edge of the Õismäe district the message announced that the best kind of love is the love of good food. We’re inclined to agree and we particularly love the food here. Unpretentious simplicity is Rucola’s greatest strength. This applies to its food, drinks, service, and ambiance. Just grab a table to your liking and feel right at home. The tuna we ordered was cooked perfectly medium and the side dish of potato and arugula mousse was exquisite in its straight-forward modesty. It’s a busy place, people seem to dine and dash, rather than linger over drinks. Hence the reason it might take some time for the wine you ordered to actually reach your table. If you’re impatient and more into cooking yourself you can find everything you need in the adjacent gourmet shop Et Cetera where you can also pick up a bottle wine.
Sadama tee 10, Neeme küla, Jõelähtme vald,, Harjumaa
A couple of years ago, nobody knew what “ruhe” meant in Estonian. For German speakers, it means “tranquility”, but here it refers to a boat carved out of a tree trunk. The first thing that catches your attention at the restaurant Ruhe is one of these rudimentary boats, under a lone apple tree on a sleek wooden dock, set against the endless sea beyond. We’re willing to bet everyone who’s ever been here has a photo of that overly Instagrammable spot, it’s one of Estonia’s most picturesque, quiet and peaceful places, a mere 30 minute drive from Tallinn, in Jõelähtme county’s Neeme village. A place that is guaranteed to make you catch your breath while oohing and aahing. At first, the idea was to offer a fish-forward menu, prepared with mainly local catches, but the carved out boat and the tranquility turned out to be such magnets that there just wasn’t enough fish to feed the steadily increasing stream of hungry guests. Although they’ve adjusted the menu somewhat, Ruhe remains faithful to the bounties of the sea, and the food keeps getting better every year. By now, “the place with the boat” is confidently competing with the country’s best-known restaurants. Lately, Estonian chefs have been obsessed with goat cheese and beets. Frequent restaurant-goers might have tired of that combo by now, and although Ruhe is also guilty of dabbling with the two, do yourself a favor and order the beet ravioli with goat cheese, a marvelous goat cheese- and beet combination only found here at Ruhe. The dish is perfectly balanced, with a cream sauce that doesn’t dominate the unexpectedly pure taste of beet and cheese. The establishment is known for preparing common dishes better than anyone else, and it uses its own tricks to do so. Champagne is definitely the best drink to sip while looking out over the foamy waves. Thankfully there’s an excellent selection of sparkling wines, served by glass, to boot. If you have one too many, you can always spend the night in one of the well-appointed guestrooms. We promise you, the same boat and tranquility will be there when you wake up in the morning, and like us, you won’t want to leave.
Grand Hôtel, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8, 103 27 Stockholm
Chili, lime and coriander. Avocado and mango. These components are from a lot further afield than Mathias Dahlgren’s former “natural kitchen” concept. With Rutabaga – ”a world-class vegetarian restaurant” – he is headed in a whole new direction and invites us to experience flavours and ingredients from around the world. The interior is decorated with greenery, and naked light bulbs create a warm, welcoming glow. A bartender shakes cocktails – developed in collaboration with the kitchen. We begin with an alcohol-free, homemade kombucha poured over a glass of beautiful red berries. The version with alcohol is based on umeshu plum wine and is topped with tofu foam and small flakes of nori; it smells like sushi and tastes delightful. The appetiser goes well with the drinks – seared spicy pineapple, roasted cashew nuts, sesame bread and fresh yogurt cream. What you see is what you get: Mango and mozzarella are mango and mozzarella; avocado with jalapeño is avocado with jalapeño. The simplicity is striking, but everything is fresh and flavourful. If you want to drink wine, it comes in four different sizes. Choose between light, full, funky or exclusive – white or red. A lot of the dishes follow the formula of “main ingredient plus condiment”. For example, the small, fried falafel-like chickpeas balls are accompanied by of a coarse pea guacamole. The roasted cauliflower comes with a deep-green ”béarnaise”. The highlight of the evening is raw, grated carrots on a bed of silky mayonnaise, sprinkled with peanuts and coriander. Eggs and dairy products are allowed, but rarely play the main role except in a few dishes: a light echo of Dahlgren’s previous restaurant Matsalen, appears in the truffle-laced, fried “twin” egg yolks with large, tender white beans. Rutabaga is the sort of uncomplicated and consistently enjoyable experience we would like to see more of.
We are in the northernmost reaches of Denmark, encircled by breathtakingly scenic nature. Chef Dennis Juhl Jensen elegantly weaves elements of his surroundings into a number of dishes served this evening. Our geographical location is firmly established from the very first bite: a crisp puffed fish skin welcomes us to the tastes of Skagen and its waters. The in-between course called “Skagen Fish” features a beautiful cut of crispy fried turbot. A mild sauce of browned butter and potato has a deep richness and creamy texture that provide a base for the turbot’s flavour and firm flesh. Leaves of Brussels sprouts are butter-steamed to temper the bitterness and the slightly sweet cabbage notes blend gently into the dish without causing jolting disruptions. A fashionable splash of green oil and a sprinkling of nettle dust complete the aesthetic presentation and add a light aromatic nuance. Flavour, consistency and presentation are all in perfect harmony – a trait echoed in the subsequent dish of tender fried veal sweetbreads. The sweetbreads are served on a bed of delicate and sweet browned onion purée and tender mushrooms, which are an ideal textural companion for the sweetbreads. The dish, completed with foaming morel sauce, is accompanied by the evening’s best wine pairing: a biodynamic trousseau from Jura. The wine has plenty of fresh acidity to cleanse the richness of the sweetbreads and contrast the sweet onions, as well as nice earthy mushroom notes that harmonise with the morel sauce. All of the wine pairings keenly match the kitchen’s dishes, and the waiters convincingly relay the origin of the wines and their connection with the food. The service generally reflects the high standard at Ruths Hotel, with a style elegantly adapted to the temperament of the guests. The decor is bright and Nordic, with a relaxing atmosphere and a soothing, crackling open fire, which not only sets the mood, but also gives flavour to the main course of beef tenderloin. The taste of smoke and fire give greater character to the otherwise mild-flavoured cut, which is served with salsify, bittersweet walnut purée and truffles – a dish that is just as well composed as the rest of our meal. An uncompromising dedication to flavour is the kitchen’s guiding star, while Juhl Jensen’s creativity brings the surrounding nature and ingredients of Skagen to the plate, cementing the restaurant’s place as one of the many reasons to visit the uppermost tip of Denmark. (Note: Just before printing we learned that Dennis Juhl will be opening a new restaurant in Aalborg after the summer of 2017, and will be replaced by Jakob Spolum (currently at Sletten.)
This is a top-rate sushi joint. Though we miss the intimate view of the chefs at work, now that the bar section is gone, we get to watch as the stylish, oblong glass panels are carried in laden with sushi and sashimi pieces. Aw, shucks! We should probably have also ordered a few nigiri with seared cod and apple purée. It’s like a parade of pastel-coloured confections. And everything looks unabashedly good. Less colourful treats, like the gunkan sushi with grilled duck heart, get visual help from a cummerbund of thinly planed cucumber. When one gunkan falls to the floor (the one with scallop tartare, browned butter and miso emulsion) the waiter immediately offers us a new one. “It’s one of my favourites. I don’t want you to miss out”. The sweet seafood pieces with umami-rich cream are delicious. Our humble and easy-going waiters also have full control of everything drinkable – from the bitter Reparationsbajer (“recovery beer”) from Denmark’s To Øl brewery to a polished, mineral sake. We even get a sneak taste of an Argentinean white, just because “it’s so good”. It suggests a certain confidence to serve a mixed sashimi (Moriawase) without any other bling. But there is ingenuity in the other dishes, like zander with lardo from Swedish Wagyu, and beautiful beetroot-salted halibut. The food is imaginative, tasty and loaded with finesse. Our glass plate, overloaded just a bit ago, is now almost empty. Not even one roe remains. It was just too good.
Ræst is among the small enclave of restaurants in Tórshavn that excel in traditional Faroese cuisine. You can count on an experience that will get completely under your skin – and on your clothes. Upon entering the centuries-old wooden house, you are immediately bombarded with the pungent smell of fermented fish and lamb that sticks to – and remains on – your skin, hair and clothes. We are welcomed by the chefs, who also serve as waiters and sommeliers; they escort us through a couple of low-ceilinged, homey rooms with crooked doorways where classic Faroese decor combines with beautifully set dining tables. The five-course menu is firmly rooted in local traditions and ingredients, including a confoundingly airy and delicate lamb blood sausage cake with a cream of cod hung to age for three months, mixed with stilton cheese and angelica, giving the clearly fermented cod sharpness and acidity, which in turn is balanced by the sweet pickled raisins. It’s a cavalcade of flavours with amazing lightness, and the harmony is completed by a complex ale with fresh bitter notes, KOKS Ræst Fisk by Mikkeller. The next dish features exquisite skerpikjøt, a wind-dried lamb hung for eight months whose appearance and taste is incontrovertibly in the same league as pata negra, together with slices of a fatty, roasted sausage with significant umami notes from offal. The dish is also accompanied by egg cream with beer-pickled seaweed, sunflower seeds and Dijon mustard. After having enjoyed this dish, the chef informs us that we have eaten sperðil: pan-fried slices of fermented lamb sausage stuffed in its own intestines and made with the tallow surrounding the intestines. The dish of pork fat and meat is very beautifully arranged – and highly delicate. The dessert with angelica is also deftly executed. For novices in controlled rancidity, the odour and certain dishes require some acclimation, but the visit is highly recommended as a historical, cultural and culinary experience for life.
An old red cottage rests idyllically between forest and sea. In the summer, it offers outdoor service; in the winter, its guests are invited into the simply appointed room. For some years now, Anita Klemensen has cemented her reputation as one of Denmark’s most talented chefs. With unobtrusive but firm principles, Klemensen and her skilled sommelier, who combines a seemingly clairvoyant understanding of each guest with an inviting manner, have crafted a special atmosphere around the perfectly executed and incredibly delicious menu, which varies from four to eight dishes. The kitchen’s style is evident from the start, as oysters arrive with the strong, bitter flavour of cress and acidic tapioca pearls that have been marinated in sweet porter. The simple language of the seasons is spoken here. Early spring can be one of the most difficult periods when it comes to variety – but not for the kitchen at Den Røde Cottage. Lumpfish roe served in generous portions over a cream with crispy cubes of Jerusalem artichoke makes a strong textural impression. One of the highlights is a perfect cut of fried cod with a wheat berry cream: a re-interpretation of Waldorf meets Denmark, with crisp celery flakes, hazelnut purée, apple pieces and hay-smoked cheese. Our uplifting and genuinely cheerful waiter enthusiastically explains why this Chassagne-Montrachet, with its richness and acidity, is a good pairing for the lightly salted cod and smoked notes in the cheese. And he’s right. Throughout the evening he matches the wines flawlessly. The menu’s most inventive dish is “onions in onions”: burnt, puréed and a sweet bomb of umami in a rich bouillon, with a kick from the season’s first tiny ramson shoots. Meat cravings are catered to with veal tongue and veal with a light herb fricassee, joined by the most delicious leek we have tasted in ages. The kitchen masters vegetable contrasts, ensuring that all of the dishes are fresh and multifaceted in flavour and texture. Anita has a special touch with desserts. Her past exploits, including her role as pastry chef at Søllerød Kro, cannot be concealed. She even succeeds in making white chocolate taste heavenly and fresh in an ice cream with pickled rosehip leaves, rosehip syrup and liquorice, revitalising the palate in the wake of the main courses, while paving the way for our final landing with the most iconic sweet and bitter classic of them all: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. This most glorious chocolate cake, with chocolate in three layers, textures, and intensities, has been on the menu through the years – and regulars would undoubtedly march out in protest if it were not.
A relative newcomer to Trondheim’s dining scene, Røst maintains its position as one of the frontrunners for the city’s best restaurant. Situated inside Trøndelag Teater in a lush, spacious room previously used as a theater stage, you could be fooled into thinking that the cuisine is as old-fashioned as the white tablecloths and red velvet curtains that surround you. This is not the case. Despite the formal backdrop the menu is wonderfully eccentric and diverse, with surprising textures and flavour combinations. With an ever-changing menu you never know what you will get – perhaps a beef tartare with Kalix bleak roe served in a crêpe to be eaten like a soft taco, or butter-fried potato bread with whipped sour cream? From the homegrown herbs to the yeasted sourdough and the impressive execution, these well-renowned chefs (from such fine dining bastions as Ylajali and Maaemo) aspire for greatness. When in peak form, Røst serves some of the most fully balanced and inventive meals in the country. While this level of quality is not always evidenced throughout the whole meal, the three, five, or eight-course set menus are well worth your time. In fact, expect to spend half an hour on each course. In the meantime you can chat with the clever, welcoming staff, peruse the evening’s theater productions, and mentally begin planning your next visit.
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.