Imagine a kitchen garden you could raid year round to create inspiring seasonal vegetable dishes. Now you know what von Krahli Aed is up to. Its menu is fit for vegan royalty. In fact, it was one of the first restaurants in Estonia to shift to more vegetarian/vegan-friendly cuisine, and the kitchen crew does so masterfully. The starter of celeriac carpaccio is the only thing that sneaks in meat, it comes with thinly sliced, maltose-marinated duck breast but can also be served meat-free. All main courses focus on one main ingredient; The onion, with “ryesotto” and Jerusalem artichoke; The carrot, with sea buckthorn cream and beet noodles, and so on. Aed’s drink’s list is equally eco-friendly. And the milieu stands true to the restaurant’s name, “aed” is the Estonian word for garden. Also worth noting: the restaurant is housed in an avant-garde theater building, for those of you who want a side of culture with your kohlrabi.
It’s the yin and yang of dining; the city’s finest restaurant rubbing elbows with its most down to earth eatery, both located at Pärnu Hedon Spa. While Raimond is upscale, Akord is the people’s restaurant. We mean this literally, as Estonians love a good barbeque and Akord is just that, through and through. The curious thing about it is the “build-it-yourself” menu; guests can, or rather must, create their own dishes, first by picking a protein or vegetarian option to be grilled, then by choosing sauces and sides. The menu offers guidance, should you have trouble deciding in which direction to go, just trust us when we say hold your horses; while you might want to order multiple things, one dish is more than enough here. We suggest you opt for the hanger steak or picanha of Liivimaa beef with asparagus, rich onion- and mustard sauce. Wash it down with Mamm & Frukt Family Reserve Dry Blackcurrant Wine. Trust us, this berry wine has surprised even the most skeptical sommeliers.
Let’s first get the confusion out of the way: there are two restaurants called Alexander. The first in Pädaste Manor on Muhu island, open from spring to late autumn, the other at Toompea in Tallinn, open in the wintertime, when key staff from Pädaste welcome guests at Alexander Chef’s Table. True to its name, it’s an establishment with an open kitchen, a single table accommodating up to fourteen people, with one seating per evening. The excitement is palpable already at the front door. It’s like being invited to a private dinner party; you ring the doorbell of an ordinary apartment building, then you’re invited past a peaceful, quiet courtyard, into an intimate wood-beamed room with elegantly minimalist touches. The staff is casually dressed, focusing all attention on the gala-clad food. Chef Adrian Klonowski and the Maître d’ Carlo Vanzan begin by setting the mood, from there the ambiance is dictated by the guests, most often strangers who finish the night as friends, having bonded over an elegant gastronomic experience, despite language barriers and cultural differences. Communal tables have existed just as long as the family meal, with the Chef’s Table, the ritual of breaking bread has taken a new direction; food connects people. At Alexander, Chef Klonowski found complete creative freedom and developed a unique, multi-facetted cuisine, based largely on Nordic island produce. Today, the restaurant attracts visitors that might not otherwise have come to Estonia. It opened the doors to this country and simultaneously started welcoming exotic ingredients from faraway lands into its own kitchen. To be sure, these don’t dominate, rather they enrich the spectrum of local aromas.
The fairytale of Pädaste Manor began 21 years ago when Imre Sooäär and Martin Breuer purchased the completely run-down countryside estate. They told the locals about a crazy dream they had: someday in the not too distant future, foreigners would come from all over the world to visit Estonia, and expressly to spend a few days on the small and unknown island of Muhu, at Pädaste, which they were making into a sumptuous hotel. People stopped listening. The dream, however, came true. Why? Pädaste mixes luxury with local island life in a rare and savvy way. To experience the true character of Pädaste Manor you can’t just stop by for a quick visit, you need to stay at the hotel, use the spa, and enjoy a meal at Alexander, the establishment’s restaurant. Over the years, Alexander has acquired a reputation for spearheading the development of Estonian culinary culture as a whole. First, they conjure gourmet meals out of humble local ingredient, i.e. slender garfish, dried flounder, local snails, and foraged weeds that used to be considered inedible This has inspired local fishermen and farmers, who in turn have set an example and encouraged other entrepreneurs on the island to open local eateries. By now, Muhu might just have the country’s highest ratio of restaurants per capita. Muhu bread is legendary among Estonia’s bakers. Craft beers are also gaining recognition. There is an ostrich farm on the island, and a grape farm with an emerging vineyard! Muhu’s inhabitants have always depended on the sea for their livelihood, just like seafarers have always brought home new exotic flavors. Alexander’s Nordic cuisine is nothing new, nor is it an ultra-narrow niche. By now, its reputation (as well as that of Pädaste) has risen to such heights that the establishment is no longer merely a place to eat and luxuriate, it’s also a sought-after work place for chefs. Lately, foreign culinary professionals have perfected the local dishes even more. The kitchen, run by Polish Chef Adrian Klonowski, offers a seven-course parade of super-local flavors at the chef’s table, patiently thought through, down to the smallest detail, turning the traditionally rustic palatably fancy. A shorter menu, consisting of three dishes and changing on daily basis, is offered to guests who chose to extend their stays at the hotel and might not be in the business of multiple tasting menu experiences. 21 years have passed since the locals laughed at Sooäär’s and Breuer’s dream, they’re not laughing anymore.
It’s all in the details at Antonius, the cuisine here is a whispered study in subtle details and aromas. Small, considered accents such as flaxseeds, chervil oil, birch syrup, spruce sprout vinaigrette, cornflower and buckwheat muesli create enticing nuances and rich flavors. The plates hold few ingredients, focusing on a pair that carries the dish. Trout and avocado, lamb and Jerusalem artichoke are perfect examples of Chef Taavi Adamson’s stellar use of this unassuming cooking style. His food, made with locally sourced ingredients, from carefully vetted purveyor, matches the surroundings. The restaurant is located in the Hotel Antonius, a handsome edifice boasting a rich and storied past, once the Livonian Noblemen’s Manor House Credit Association, later a hat shop and a police station. The dining room is in the basement, affording guests the pleasure of admiring rare historical and architectural elements, impressive rib vaults among them. An affordable, seasonal prix fix, three course menu has recently been added, proving old time values can be preserved and presented in a fresh, exciting manner.
During the day, Aparaat is a popular lunch place. You get your food fast, you don’t go hungry (the portions of no-nonsense food are very large), and it all comes at a reasonable price. Just as the guests like it. This is not when you should visit Aparaat. You want to come here for dinner when the dining room becomes a venue for exciting culinary encounters. Of course, the restaurant is an attraction in and of itself, housed in the former Widget Factory that during Soviet times manufactured secret submarine parts and––in an effort to mislead the public,––non-functioning umbrellas and zippers. The supper menu is still reasonably priced, though portions are less he-man sized, with a flavor-spectrum full of personality; smoked pork neck on Muhu bread is a classic favorite, other dishes include a non-traditional vitello tonnato, made the Aparaat way, with pork instead of veal and a tuna sauce flavored with spiced Baltic sprat. Aparaat’s burger is legendary nationwide. The establishment’s owners have understood well what the people of Tartu desire when stepping out on the town. The atmosphere is homey but not too much, a bit old-fashioned, but not excessively, a tiny bit modern, but within non-threatening, acceptable limits.
Apelsini Raudtee or orange railroad gets its name, not only from its proximity to the train station, but also from the railway’s history of bringing exotic fruit to the country from St. Petersburg over a century ago.
With a strange name comes an even more peculiar restaurant. Upon entering, it may seem like you’ve walked into the wrong place, as you’re greeted by bathroom showroom, but behind the tubs and sinks is the small dining room.
The menu is just as experimental as the decor, with a mix of local and international dishes and brunch at the weekends. Apelsini Raudtee is not so experimental, as dinner is still served at the table, not in the tub.
Not that it’s a totally new concept, many restaurants display art, but few turn their dining rooms into full-fledged galleries. When wittily named Art Priori opened in 2015 the restaurant became an immediate hit thanks to the inventive cuisine and the perpetually rotating, young chefs preparing it . The first group of them is already triumphing elsewhere, Orm Oja, for instance, was entrusted with managing NOA Chef’s Hall. In Estonia’s most prominent restaurant kitchen, the present kitchen crew is still extremely young and talented. An eatery where the chefs change as quickly as the paintings on its walls? It’s rather unheard of in the restaurant world, normally that’s a surefire recipe for failure, not so here. Though Art Priori isn’t receiving as much media attention these days, the food is still great, the tasting menus have been replaced with à la carte options, but everything is still as interesting and innovative as it used to be, supervised by rising star Chef Aleksander Kolomar. Lately, he’s snuck Russian nuances into his offerings, stroganina with three types of fish, accompanied by artisan horseradish aquavit is a perfect example.
There’s garlic here, lots of it, yet it never overshadows the subtle flavors that Balthasar’s menu brings forth. In addition to the onion’s cocky cousin, history is also ever present. The medieval building, squarely in the heart of the Old Town, with a view of the storied city hall, has been respectfully restored; its details, originating from various centuries, make yesteryear come alive. Adding to the sense of history, the Town Hall Apothecary operates in the same building, Europe’s oldest continuously operating pharmacy, with records dating back to 1422. Balthasar is also an example of persistence and stability. Since its inception in 1999, the kitchen has been led by the same Chef de Cuisine, Sergei Trunov. The special location and historical atmosphere have kept the restaurant’s menu on the traditional side. However, Chef Trunov always has some tricks up his sleeve, so make sure to try his langoustine soup. And by all means, try his Peipsi River pike perch fillet, his sizzling stone pan beefsteak, and his garlic ice cream, too.
It’s all class, all the time at this establishment. Bordoo (phonetic for Bordeaux, naturellement!) can be found in Tallinn’s The Three Sisters Hotel, indisputably the city’s most exclusive lodgings, a Relais & Châteaux property frequented by globetrotting bon vivants. It encompasses a trio of merchants houses from 1362 that were refurbished and fashioned into a design hotel, merging the contemporary with the ancient, and featuring a decadent dining room splashed out in a dramatic red and black color scheme; red representing Bordeaux wine, bien sûr, The restaurant is known for its impressive wine cellar. And as Coravin enables pouring wines from the most valuable bottles without removing their corks, these treasures are being consumed like cake at a kids’ party. The place is full of contrasts, from the interiors to the food- and beverage selections. Make no mistake though, this isn’t a coincidence. The staff is young, the drinks are stiff; new, hip cocktails are offered alongside prestigious, pedigree beverages. The cuisine is imaginative and utilizes the latest culinary techniques. Bordoo’s general goal is simple: be the best of the best, an objective that has been reached with varying degrees of success, until now, when the kitchen is doing better than ever. Despite his young age, Chef Pavel Gurjanov is already a veteran of culinary competitions, his trophy cabinet is mighty impressive. He’s particularly skilled at putting his experiences from the competitions into practice when crafting new dishes, the latest menu contains several we would definitely recommend. The problem here is that Gurjanov is so creative, his menu changes so frequently that making recommendations would be futile. Hence our recommendation is simply to pay Bordoo a visit, preferably several, only then will you really learn to understand and appreciate this class act.
Purtse Castle, an intriguing mix of gothic and renaissance styles built in 1533, is most definitely Estonia’s most unique architectural structure. Touring this astonishing mini-chateau is a weekend-only affair as it’s closed to the public during weekdays. A visit here should imperatively be crowned with a meal in the fortified manor’s ground floor restaurant where you’ll enjoy straight-forward, home-cooked meals in a dining room whose walls are thicker than you are tall. Everything is local, from the herring and the venison, to the foraged mushrooms and herbs. And, everything should be washed down with the castle brew, a Trappist beer with notes of honey and hops. There are now eight types of Purtse beer, each of which has a story to tell, mostly about the hard life in the surrounding industrial landscape.
Ten years in the business and nothing has really changed since Chedi first opened. Chefs have come and gone, but the cuisine––modern Asian––has remained the same. Occasionally, a dish has been swapped out for something new, the former sorely missed and the latter welcomed with open mouths, like the terrific steamed bao bun. Stir-fries prepared at very high temperatures (800°C) have a special, unique consistency and flavor that you cannot forget. Addictive, we’d say, partly thanks to the cooking method and the woks developed by Chef Alan Yau of Hakkasan fame. The one thing that’s been updated to mirror more contemporary tastes is the beverage list, now featuring craft tipples such as Põhjala beer and Tori-Jõesuu cider. It turns out local drinks pair very well with Asian cuisine, and the knowledgeable wait staff is happy to make recommendations.
Ten years ago, Estonia was full of pubs. Today, not many of them remain, though the pub as we know it is by no means an endangered species; if anything, it’s coming back with a vengeance; Estonia might be a small country, but it’s a big producer of craft beers; among brew lovers Põhjala Brewery might be more known than Estonia itself. Per capita, Estonia probably has the world’s largest number of craft beer breweries. Gastropubs, on the other hand, those convivial eateries with quality food and pleasant drinks, are few and far in between. Clayhills, situated in a charming medieval house, was Estonia’s first restaurant of this kind, it boasts a wide selection of said brews and serves straightforward dishes distinguished by intense, flavored sauces. Marbled Sirloin steak with a secret house sauce is a perpetual favorite. Value added bonus: Clayhills is also a lively music venue.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a fresher meal. The fish at this rustic seaside eatery in Dirhami Port goes straight form the boats, through the kitchen and onto your plate. The ever-changing menu is dictated by what the anglers catch, and it really doesn’t matter what they pull up, as there isn’t one aquatic creature that the chefs here can’t turn into an extraordinary meal. Extraordinary is not an exaggeration here. Every Estonian loves Baltic sprat but the ones served here are nothing short of amazing; accompanied by rye bread and devoid of that bitter sprat taste so common with this Baltic fish. The flavor is elegantly sour-sweet and the texture is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Always on the menu: three types of traditionally prepared fish dishes, again rivaling anything we’ve tasted anywhere else. You can’t go wrong with the pan-fried pike perch, and for those less interested in local catches, there are plenty of non-fishy options on the menu. Chef Joel Kannimäe is one of the three legendary founders of the equally legendary Põhjaka Restaurant. Finally, consider this: the Fish Café is open year round, there are very few places serving fresh fish straight from the boat in the middle of winter.
Situated in the historic Old Town Square of Tallinn’s medieval center, D.O.M’s common exterior hides a lavish interior that invites you to sit down––preferably by one of the large windows overlooking the square––to a surprising meal. The food jumps off of the plate in vibrant colors; green, seasonal pea puree with smoked wild trout; rich yellow confit egg yolk dotting a cured ostrich from Muhu Island. Even if you’re not hungry, step in for something reviving, like a glass of champagne or some local apple quince wine, it’s a moment’s respite form the tourist trappings right outside that picture window.
It could well be that there are too many Italian restaurants in Tallinn. Their numbers, however, don’t necessarily mean quality. Thankfully Enoteca Lucca offers the finest of just that, without making much noise or trying to attract too much attention. The chic wine shop and eatery is nestled on the ground floor of a contemporary, multi-story building, you have to know it to find it. All wines sold here are offered in the restaurant, they’re hand picked, personally imported and not available anywhere else. Best of all, you don’t have to commit to a whole bottle as a large number of them are offered by the glass, opened and preserved with a Coravin device. The predominantly Italian wine selection pairs very well with the classic, Mediterranean-tinted fare, Don’t miss the vittello tonnato if it’s on the menu, nowhere in Tallinn will you find such gastronomic stand-out of such excellent quality. If you forgot how exquisitely tasty a schnitzel can be, Enoteca Lucca’s version, fried crispy in butter, will remind you immediately. By all means, do trust the astute wine suggestions that come with each dish, though if you enjoy surprises and rarities, be sure to ask the sommelier for alternative recommendations. Enoteca Lucca is a little Italian gem that grows on you; it’s very easy to spend more time here than you originally thought you would.
Farm’s curious window display has a way of stopping passersby in their tracks; a party of taxidermied, feral animals having a riotous feast around a rustic dinner table. Who wouldn’t stop for that? But can the food and drink behind such a frivolous storefront be taken seriously? Estonians are considered reserved. Estonia’s culinary heritage could be regarded similarly––it lacks color and taste. When Estonians tell their children not to play with their food they are dead serious about it. Farm thankfully behaves differently, the animal fiesta is perhaps the complete opposite of dead serious, and that’s a good thing. When stepping into this dining room, to the tunes of sober background music, you’re greeted by a slightly over-dramatized interior, and an open kitchen that doesn’t leave room for gimmickry. The restaurant is a brave promoter of new Estonian cuisine, there are no taboos, but there is no playing with food either. The appetizers and soups are particularly successful––even the names reflect the imagination with which the food is prepared. The spiced sprat is offered as an ice pop, cow tail aspic is presented as a warm soup under a cloud of horseradish-spiked sour cream, and the traditional rustic sauerkraut soup leaves you altogether speechless. We have hardly ever seen traditional Estonian food take such bold directions. You should pay close attention to the small Estonian flags on the beverage menu, they represent the local, mostly craft tipples. Rhubarb wine from Allikukivi Wine Manor is a pleasant aperitif, it’s also interesting because its taste evolves as its temperature changes. Good craft drinks are produced in very limited quantities in Estonia, so seize the opportunity to try local berry wines, or if that seems too extreme, a cider or a beer. Estonia’s drinking culture is developing much faster than its cuisine these days.
These exact words describe Ken Trahv, the chef at one of Tartu’s newest restaurants. The status quo of the city’s restaurant scene had dragged on far too long, young and angry energy was bound to hit it at some point. Now it’s here, flexing its muscles at Fii, in Hotel Sophia, next to the Lõunakeskus Shopping Center; two things that can make a food enthusiast cautious––hotel dining and shopping mall malaise. In this case, however, you might want to swallow those preconceived notions, or you’ll miss out on a stellar young and angry food extravaganza. Trahv has worked in Estonia’s best restaurants, forming his culinary style along the way. It’s interesting to observe how his previous experiences are maturing into something personal; facsimiles of dishes he cooked elsewhere are gradually becoming his very own creations. Fii’s menu offers familiar main ingredients with somewhat surprising finishing touches, such as eel with mango, Jerusalem artichoke with pumpkin hummus or lamb with edamame beans. Tartu’s new generation of choleric chefs is rapidly making up for the culinary stagnation that has hitherto ruled in the city’s kitchens; Fii is the best place to get a taste of this development. And if you don’t like it you can always go shopping instead.
Fredo is every office worker’s favorite new lunch spot. It’s not hard to understand why. If the overloaded soup- and salad bar isn’t enough to convince you, the daily specials, scribbled on a large chalkboard, and the tantalizing aromas wafting from the kitchen should do the trick. Best of luck choosing between the specials or the à la carte menu! The grilled caesar salad offers a twist on the classic, with grilled hearts of romaine adding a pleasant, smoky balance to the assertive garlic dressing.
Frenchy brings a little bit of France to the trendy Telliskivi area. If a snug French bistro married a large, modern industrial space, Frenchy would be their lovechild. Despite its gargantuan interiors, Frenchy’s owner Heili Mäeveer-Le Masne manages to add Parisian charm to the space and an “à la bonne franquette” soupçon to the menu that’s filled with classic, rich dishes like foie gras, cassolette with escargots, and raclette. The lamb confit is the ultimate, winter comfort food. And, you can practice your French with Mäeveer-Le Masne as she tells you about the wines, which she imports directly herself.
Gloria commands a nod in more ways than one, anyone taller than 150 cm has to bend down to walk through the low cellar door that leads to this wine lair. Nowhere within a 500 km radius is there a grander selection of libations. Of course it’s up to you to decide what you’re bowing to––the extensive wine list or that single glass of grape juice. Either way, your host, Sommelier Marko Hark is there to help you chose the right drink. And maybe something to go with it, Gloria offers a simple menu comprised of dishes are designed to not distract from the real reason you’re here: to sip a Crémant de Loire, an Alsatian Riesling or a Chablis grand cru. Or perhaps a Margaux, a pinot noir from Alto Adige or an Australia shiraz. This is one of old Tallinn’s most authentic gustatory experiences.
“Enjoy with style” is the tempting catchphrase at GMP Pühajärve Hotel and Restaurant. It‘s worth accepting the invitation as the countryside is some of Estonia’s most splendid, almost as splendid as the champagne that will be the first thing to catch your attention upon entering the restaurant. A Moët Chandon- branded terrace with umbrellas, pillows and blankets. Does this sound like just another alluring cliché? Don’t jump to conclusions, because it actually only gets better. Wait ‘til you see the bread that’s brought tableside. We’re talking about proper country bread, baked the way grandma has been doing it for decades. The two extremes, fine champagne and rustic bread, complement each other surprisingly well. The uniqueness of GMP Pühajärve Restaurant lies in combining urban style and countryside rusticity. The cooking mimics fine dining; the ingredients, however, originate from the surrounding farmhouses. Imagination runs wild at these flavor-loaded dinners, where themes range from distant past to near future, from elk with rowanberry, to duck with pumpkin; from house ciders and lemonades to rare South African wines. For the most unique experience, spend at least two evenings at Lake Pühajärv. Tammuri Farm, located just two kilometers away, offers similar food in a completely different atmosphere.
Belarus is and will most likely always be in the shadow of the great Russia. Russians, they are all the same? The ones who have visited Belarus do not think so. The people there are very warm-hearted, modest, and hard-working.
There are not many Belarusian restaurants in the world. Tallinn has been blessed, as we now have one such establishment. Very simple and homely. Slightly gauche and shy, but oh how delicious.
Just try their open pies with an abundance of filling or their grenkas (large grilled pieces of bread with different toppings). Even before leaving Grenka, you will be thinking about your next visit.
To date, Ida-Viru County remains an underrated travel destination. However, there is enough exotic, and at times also extreme entertainment to warrant a weekend visit. And, as a value added bonus, you’re guaranteed to not leave hungry. The best Georgian cuisine (which is also exotic!) in Estonia is offered at Mimino, a gastropub in the suburbs of Jõhvi, along the Tallinn-St Petersburg road, next to a gas station and a mechanic’s shop (which is also exotic!). Sure, the location might raise some doubts, but don’t be discouraged. The restaurant with a somewhat theatrical interior offers the best of Georgian cuisine, quality food, prepared with Georgian gusto, mellowed by the stability of Estonian management; there’s herb-fragrant lamb- and beef kharcho, chahohbili chicken stew with tomatoes and spices, as well as a chocolate zamtari cake, to name but a few of the Caucasus region’s gut-busting delicacies. You’d also be wise not to drive anywhere after visiting Mimino as the generous pours of remarkable quaffs are definitely worth trying; Georgian beer, wine, cognac and chacha, a high-octane grappa (which is also exotic!)
You won’t find a family restaurant like this one anywhere else in Estonia. Run by Marju and Shuichi Shiraishi, the couple has managed to create a unique Japanese dining experience in an unassuming (perfectly Nippon:esque) home-turned-restaurant. The tiny house might sit off a busy street, but the dining room is as tranquil as a Kyoto teahouse, decorated with Japanese art and carvings, and tables set with origami crane chopstick holders that Marju folds every morning. The menu is ambitious, yet sincere. Shuichi’s experience cooking in various exotic locales can be sensed throughout the menu, and New Nordic influences are present here and there, like the beef marinated in Scandi-flavored miso sauce. The salty sweetness of a duck tataki, brightened with tangy citrus sauce, is beautifully paired with a glass of crisp, sparkling wine.
Haapsalu town’s Dietrich Café was an institution already 100 years ago when their excellent baked goods were famed far beyond the city limits. The current Hapsal Dietrich, opened with Maie Dietrich’s blessing, descendant of the famous café’s owner, aimed to restore the place’s former grandeur and improve Haapsalu’s culinary reputation as a whole. It all went very quickly, within just a few years Dietrich 2.0 enjoyed great acclaim, which in turn encouraged other entrepreneurial Haapsalu residents to open restaurants of their own. What we love the most about Dietrich are the dishes prepared with local ingredients: the anglers’ daily catch, wild game from Linnamäe Butchery and Canning company, and cheese from Nõmmiku Farm. The dining room is adorned with photos of the original Dietrich Café, underlining the continuing tradition, and illustrating Haapsalu’s past. This makes you want to stay here longer, which in fact you can, Hapsal Dietrich’s guest accommodations are the city’s best.
Viljandi County has always been, and still is Estonia’s granary. The roads around here are choked with agricultural vehicles, the landscape is a vast canvas of gold and green fields. Though finding a good place to eat in this part of the country isn’t easy, the farmers who grow good crops can also prepare the best food, there is no real need to dine out. If you can’t get yourself invited to their dinner tables, head to Harmoonia, a very suitable place if you’re curious about local Estonian cuisine. Situated in the community center yet looking every bit like a plush establishment with warm brown interiors and starched tablecloths, it introduces the regional food culture without much fanfare or frills, just genuinely and simply, like it’s done in most Estonian homes. Golden fish soup of cod fillet, vegetables and fennel, probably the most common soup in Estonian homes, has delicate cod mixed with stronger flavors of fresh vegetables and a soupçon of saffron.
The first step inside the restaurant does not reveal the rurality of the place. Rather, the milieu is vintage formal. Not even the small menu betrays the distinctiveness of Hea Maa, which becomes clear only when you have a chance to talk to the chef-patron.
He can tell interesting stories about every base material used. Some are hand-grown and handpicked. But there is not much time for these talks, as the chef’s place is in the kitchen.
Hea Maa is quite a small enterprise. It manages with few employees and is in the exact same mood as the chef. Outside of summer season, the restaurant does not see many visitors, so feel free to strike up a conversation with the chef.
Spacious and bright, with discrete and efficient service, Hõlm is Tartu’s grande dame of restaurants, an elegant classic. Once awed by the dignity of its atmosphere, you’re bound to be equally impressed by its drinks menu. A more exclusive champagne selection is hard to find. Tartu’s dining scene isn’t exactly known for offering fine wines, Hõlm is the exception. Its food menu might seem shockingly short, but it’s all about quality, not quantity here; the dishes on offer are contemporary and refined, a quarter of them are vegetarian and have become personal favorites. Don’t miss the
leek, false morel and sunflower seeds; mushroom toffee with chocolate and biscuit ice cream. You’d do well to try a glass of Ayala Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 too. The noble restaurant is modest, perfect for a quiet, elegant meal that would only be improved by spending the night at the Hotel Lydia where Hõlm is situated. Lydia and Hõlm have taken hospitality to a whole new level in Tartu.
Horisont’s biggest draw? That would be the scenery. From the 30th floor of this restaurant within the Swissôtel you can spot the horizon. Most of the dining tables have window seats, affording a mesmerizing, front row-spectacle of evening lights and sweeping views of the waterfront and Toompea, Estonia’s oldest fortress. Swissôtel Tallinn was one of the first international hotel chains to open here, bringing flair and finesse to the country after it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Today it’s a dependable work horse, the food isn’t ahead of its time, but the quality is consistently great. The service is perfect and the bar mixes every tipple imaginable––you need to try at least one, as this is the place that shaped Estonia’s current cocktail culture. The kitchen is helmed by Chef Marko Sõmer, the wine selection is managed Sommelier Jüri Viital, since they were put in charge, Horisont has gained in popularity, attracting not only the hotel guests but also, most interestingly, local food enthusiasts . Sõmer’s menu is inspired by international cuisine, seafood is prominently and generously featured Cobia ceviche with fennel lime gel, grey mullet with caponata and roasted onion-orange purée taste extra special when enhanced by the ocean views far below. In addition to the à la carte options, Horisont also offers three tasting menus with drink pairings.
Giant restaurants don’t usually churn out the best fare, Joyce, however is the exception to that rule. Housed in Tartu’s first spa hotel, a large and popular resort, this beauty offers some of the city’s finest gastronomy. Sadly, Joyce’s size––140 seats spread over two floors––gets in the way, were it not for its gargantuan proportions, this would probably be considered southern Estonia’s best restaurant. Chef Mihkel Manglus is young, talented, and ambitious. His food shines brighter than the beverage selection, the service, and even the atmosphere. It contains traces of traditional, local flavors, though always boldly combined with exotic aromas that conjure far-away locales. Take for instance his cured duck starter with cucumber, pumpkin cream, sage and balsamico, a dish that marries Estonia with Italy. Manglus is one of Estonia’s most creative and progressive chefs, with a style that is completely his own.
Juur’s roots reach deep into… coffee. In the cold Nordic climate, coffee is an important beverage. The more important something is, the harder people work to improve it. Juur, which means roots in Estonian, is owned by Gourmet Coffee, a leader of the country’s new wave-coffee scene; the first company to source rare coffee beans at auctions, and the first to roast them in-house. Now, they have taken it even further: Gourmet Coffee teaches coffee farmers in developing countries to grow precious beans, they also buy their first crops. This background information is necessary to understand that Juur is more than just a restaurant. Juur is a way of life. It’s the flagship restaurant at Ülemiste City, the Silicon Valley of Northern Europe, a breeding ground for innovation. And while lunch here is more than just something that eases hunger, dinnertime is when you really want to pay a visit. The newly opened restaurant offers a truly ambitious fine dining experience, focused on developing the definitive version of New Estonian Cuisine. It gets its produce from its own farm in Southern Estonia and is currently developing an urban farm right next door. Juur’s food is different––you’ll understand what we mean as soon as bread is brought to the table. This is hemp bread, it looks and tastes different than any other bread in Estonia. There is something unique and boldly unprecedented about everything that Juur does, from said hemp bread to pinecone tea. Juur has its roots in the kind of soil where others do not dare to tread. Growing local produce is a skill that was lost during the Soviet period, the tradition was broken and recovery doesn’t happen overnight, so even the most ambitious restaurants tend to be overly respectful to local ingredients. Juur is not. It’s also not ashamed of being a bit green and making mistakes. Though these don’t end up on the plates, guests’ limits are nonetheless tested when traditional main ingredient are combined with unexpected flourishes and techniques like making jelly from classic bread soup. Traditional rye porridge gets an update with goat cheese, crispy groats, quince and salted lemon, making for a completely new interpretation. At Juur, you can see that local Estonian beverages are starting to recover the ground lost to foreign drinks. Craft beers and ciders are already old hat; now it is time for the berry wines, which until now have been only served with desserts. But of course you can’t leave Juur without trying the coffee.
Intimate restaurant Kaheksa jalga, or Eight Legs (there is an octopus-shaped chandelier in the ceiling alluding to its name), is located in the small Kõue Manor, exactly 50 kilometers from the center of Tallinn. A short drive for a very big culinary experience that should of course be combined with an overnight stay at this cozy manor hotel, once belonging to the explorer Otto von Kotzebue. The current owners have restored it in their own original way, it is without a doubt Estonia’s most whimsical accommodation, with the restaurant giving it added flair. Chef Ellery Powell’s menu is perhaps the country’s shortest, consisting of three appetizers, three main courses, and three desserts, from wild boar and pistachio terrine to quince, granola and goat cheese ice cream. Those change quite frequently though, so returning guests need not fear eating the same dish twice. Compared to the hotel’s idiosyncratic décor, Ellery’s cooking is more modest and restrained. It’s paired with exclusive wines that are stored in a striking cellar dating back to the 13th century. A meander through the manor ‘s gardens and its environs will give you a very good picture of where the food on your plate comes from.
You could use your GPS to find Kaja on Tallinn’s Õle Street, or you could just search for the crowd that is usually milling about outside one specific house on an otherwise deserted street. They’re pacing back and forth, seemingly waiting for something. That something being pizza. Most of them have had it before, so they know it’s worth waiting for. Kaja’s dedicated pizzaioli churn out pies with great expertise and equal amounts of passion. It might not be rocket science, but it’s definitely an exact science for these cooks. Confident and smiling, they go about their work to the tunes of roaring rock music, preparing a finite amount of dough each day and shutting shop when they run out, which is most often a mere couple of hours after the midday opening. The Chef-Owner Andrei Lesment used to run a successful fine dining restaurant in London, he has brought the same philosophy and methods to this small suburban pizza joint that delivers a unique experience every time. Try the creative pizza of the day and Kaja’s homemade lime- and elderflower drink.
That old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” could not be further from the truth at Kaks Kokka, which not only has two chefs (like the name suggests), but also shares a kitchen with its “big sister” Ö. The modern, Scandinavian-inspired decor is inviting, with large jars of pickled vegetables and preserved berries placed on tall shelves in a sort of culinary laboratory esthetic. The best tables are, in fact, the ones behind those shelves as they offer views of the bar and a glimpse of the kitchen. The menu is a blend of Asian and Scandinavian-inspired dishes. Locally cured elk or sauna-smoked ham can be chased by ramen or steamed buns. Simple combinations and delicate flavors are skillfully executed, yet the Kaks Kokka chefs are certainly not afraid of bold experiments. Some of the more exciting dishes have more obscure descriptions––caramelized cauliflower with aged rennet cheese, or roasted leg of lamb with ramson béchamel. The dining room balances that same high-low notion with a casual atmosphere of fun and indulgence. A short drinks list complements the menu, starting with seasonal specialty cocktails and continuing with expertly paired wines by the glass (or bottle) to match any palate or budget.
Offering food to strangers in your home in exchange for money is a growing trend all over the world. A level up from that is running a home restaurant, which means constantly welcoming guests in your home. In Estonia, many people have tried that but only one has managed to continue doing so – MerMer, located at Jaaniranna in the village of Kolga-Aabla. It is a place where every day, you are served fish caught by the anglers from the neighbouring village, as well as craft beer brewed about ten kilometres away. At MerMer, a smaller group of people could easily be fed by the goods originating from the near vicinity alone.
In most cases, a home is occupied by a certain group of people, be there two or twenty of them. Thus, a close personal bond is bound to be created between the members of the household and their guests. The bond is so personal, in fact, that people often feel free to pour their hearts out. This happens so often that the residents have started to call the restaurant a place to pour your heart out.
The New World, a district located right outside the heart of Tallinn. The buildings here are smaller; there is more space, as well as greenery. No random citizens lives here. For somebody coming from the Old Town, this might indeed look like a new world.
An essential meeting place of this world is a restaurant called Kohalik. This restaurant does not take pains to attract customers. Most of the dishes have been on the menu since the restaurant was opened. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people that come to eat here without looking for a change.
For example, try their simple chicken liver pâté with onion jam and evergreen syrup and you will be charmed. You will want to go back at any time and eat more and more of that pâté. To create a bit of variety and excitement however, the restaurant has a constantly changing barrel of surprise beer. Make sure to try their homemade chokeberry schnapps.
It is almost as if the New World is not Tallinn. People here keep to themselves. They lead simple yet quality lives!
The sum of this small bistro in the heart of Viljandi’s old town is a lot bigger than its parts. Its interiors are simple but the food is by far the best in town. Although its former chef, who made Fellin one of Estonia’s most interesting dining establishments, left for Tallinn, the restaurant continues to be as great and charming as before. In fact, it has set such a good example that many more eateries have popped up around the ancient city (Harmoonia is a prime example). Fellin deserves praise for using local produce; the closer the ingredients grow, the better the dishes are. Anything made with lamb is a sure bet here, the signature sandwich with roasted lamb, smoked mayo, pickles and onion is particularly good. Another great reason to visit is the excellent and affordable drinks menu; wines by the glass and by the bottle, as well as craft ciders and beers, and artisanal non-alcoholic beverages. As a café-restaurant, Fellin’s staff also understands the importance of top-notch coffee and tea. It is easy to fall in love with its clean flavors and sincere, joyful service.
The Koržets family is Estonia’s foremost fish-authority, famous for knowing everything about the delicacies that come out of the country’s waters, legendary for its humble but charming fish restaurant, housed in a cottage in the middle of Tallinn’s Hirve Park. The patriarch, Vladislav is a TV-host, fisherman and chef, his son Kaarel learned all the tricks of the trade from his father before he helmed the kitchen at Kalambuur where mother and daughter are also involved. Step inside and you’re immediately struck by their friendliness and the coziness of their eatery. They’re passionate about fish, in fact, their aquatic storytelling is as endlessly amusing as their cooking is mouth-watering. Complex cooking techniques don’t belong here, and the food is all the better for it. Pike, be it in the form of quenelles or patties, are the best in town. The Boyar’s blinis with caviar are worthy of their name, and the sturgeon solyanka is by now a classic. Kalambuur makes us think that preserving old knowledge and skills might be even harder than creating new ones.
One glance is all it takes to establish that Retro is worthy of its name. The furniture is mismatched, the tablecloths look like they’ve been stolen from grandma’s house, one yellow wall is dotted with vinyl records, another is equipped with a TV airing old cartoons. Behind the bar made of barrels is a shelf lined with booze bottles, the likes of which have not been in production since the last century. The menu is similarly retro-themed, boasting roasted Baltic herring and marinated Saaremaa lamb. A whole smoked perch is brought to the table with nothing but a knife, leaving you to your own devices to handle the rest. Back in the day, that was how they ate smoked fish in Saaremaa. Those who don’t know must learn. This is particularly tricky for non-local guests. Yet Retro is a magical place, with each visit it becomes more and more like home, and the local customs grow more and more interesting with each passing minute. Naturally, the beverages also have an old-timey bent, featuring Saaremaa Vodka and Saaremaa Tuulik beer.
Don’t let the ostentatious emptiness of the two-story building at the corner of Telliskivi and Paldiski maantee mislead you, Kolm Sibulat’s cuisine is indeed a surprise. Roman Zashcherinskiy and Igor Andreev, former chefs at Ö and Tchaikovsky, really know how to cook. Their food is a perfect combination of Asian-Middle Eastern motifs and Estonian love of local products. Ceviche of slightly smoked beets with hummus and parsley aioli; king prawns in chili-flecked tomato sauce; vegetarian curry with broccoli, peas and Muscat pumpkin; there’s something for everyone here. Just do yourself a favor and don’t miss the noodle soup, prepared à la ramen, with beef, duck confit or pork. It’s no surprise that Kolm Sibulat is always packed with locals.
Dine with a view of Tallinn’s most majestic square, grab a window seat at Konrad and observe the city buzz right at the heart of it all. It’s particularly captivating in the evening, when the surrounding buildings are lit up from within. The restaurant is named after Konrad Mägi, considered to be the most talented Estonian artist of all times, a prolific man who led a turbulent life and died too young in 1925. He had a penchant for landscape painting, but was influenced by every new art movement that came around, thus creating an eclectic oeuvre that spanned many styles. This eatery’s fortune has had a similar trajectory, starting off with Estonian-Russian cuisine, then dabbling with molecular gastronomy, only to end up serving straightforward, authentic Estonian cookery; salted whitefish with dried red onion; lamb tenderloin with juniper berry sauce. Interestingly, such twists and turns have only benefitted the restaurant, located in the Hotel Palace, which is constantly voted the country’s best.
In the Muhu dialect, ‘koost’ means ‘spoon’, which is exactly what greets you as you enter the restaurant with the same name; a large wall-hanging installation of wooden spoons. The owners of Koost believe the name is a modest reflection of their low-key, down to earth cuisine. Modesty is indeed the red thread connecting everything at this eatery. The menu is short. The signature dishes are Väinamere fish soup and a smoky four-fish patty. This is classic food, served at every table, in every kitchen on the island of Muhu. Especially during lean times. Koost, with its unassuming air, is the only restaurant open year-round on this land dotted by thatched cottages, windmills and quiet fishing villages. There aren’t enough guests for other places, so clearly the power of modesty should not be underestimated. It has helped the islanders of Muhu islanders to survive since the beginning of time.
On the outskirts of the bohemian Kalamaja neighborhood, Kopli brings together food and culture in a peculiar meeting place where you can peruse vintage finds and enjoy a simple meal at the same time. The space is eclectic, with mismatched tables and chairs and an open kitchen. Service is relaxed and friendly. And just like the casual and artsy atmosphere promises, the menu offers familiar classics, with the chef’s own twist, like buffalo mozzarella with roasted tomatoes and spaghetti carbonara with chanterelles.
Located in the rapidly developing waterfront area of Tallinn, Korsten has been fully booked since its opening earlier this year. Named after the tall smoke stack that stands beside this converted warehouse space (entrance to the restaurant is also from under the chimney), the atmosphere is lively any time of day, with friendly waiters running food from the massive kitchen. The restaurant’s most interesting feature is the semi-open kitchen from which large flames appear from time to time situated behind the pass, an extension of the bar. The menu is Italian-inspired, though you won’t find any pizza here. Appetisers feature all the basics you would expect, prosciutto e melone, caprese salad, and so on. The more elaborate appetisers are warm, like the large truffle ravioli or the fried squid in Parmesan batter. Fresh pasta is made in-house and served in generous portions. Despite the high pressure on the kitchen, service is still friendly and personal, with waiters taking the time to talk about the menu. The modest wine list offers an ample selection of wines by the glass, all available for sampling.
In the second half of the 19th century, when curative sea-mud was discovered in Estonia, the country’s shores became a big resort destination for czarist Russia. So called “resort halls” (kuursaal) were built to accommodate them, replete with baths, theaters, and of course restaurants. These complexes are true gems of older Estonian architecture, and though there are many, Kuressaare Resort Hall, is indisputably the king of them all, what’s more, its seasonal restaurant, KuKuu, is a crown jewel in its own right. Saare County’s cuisine is dictated by what the fishermen bring ashore, fishing and eating fish are the region’s cultural cornerstones. KuKuu’s is where you’re going to want to taste it, their selection of local catches is unbeatable, their menu reads like a classic of Saare specialties, simple, honest, yet exquisite dishes, just as they’ve been prepared since the dawn of kuursaals. Bouillabaisse à la Saaremaa with a selection of local fish, the daily catch, supplied by local fishermen, from Baltic sprat to whitefish and eel. You’ll enjoy these in a dining room that seems suspended in a time warp, delightfully old-world, with a very special ambiance. But if you’re staying the night in Kuressaare, opt for the Ekesparre Boutique Hotel. “There is no place on Earth better than Saare County in the summer time,” as the famous song goes. The resort hall and Ekesparre verily prove it.
Kärme Küülik’s name––rapid rabbit––is misleading. This is not a place for a quick lunch or dinner. One glance at the ever-expanding menu and you’ll understand why. It starts with a grand selection of “delicacies from the larder” that you might not get past on a first visit. Rabbit liver, pumpkin jam, roasted beet, apple tree-smoked shrimps, grilled duck hearts. Inquire about what else is on offer, and you’ll probably be conned into ordering a special that isn’t even on the menu yet. Dishes are served family-style, on large platters, if you’re dining alone, you get a choice of seasonal goodies. Whatever you do, don’t travel here by car; the drinks list is as large as the bill of fare, and both are reasonably priced. Unlike the stressed Alice in Wonderland-rabbit, you’ll check haste and quickness at the door when you set foot in this bunny’s lair. The best time to come is off-season, when Kärme Küülik is even more relaxed.
The international love affair with Italian food has of course enraptured Estonia has well. When well executed, there’s nothing finer than the simple, fresh flavors of regional Italian cuisine, all they need is a garnish of olive oil and salt. La Bottega has been Tallinn’s darling for many years. The no-fuss Sardinian cuisine served by its long-standing Executive Chef Nicolo Tanda is as comforting as a passionate embrace. There are no tricks here. Each dish is prepared with a minimum number of ingredients, like braised veal cheeks with porcini polenta or beef carpaccio with arugula and Grana Padano. Eat slowly, choose multiple courses and enjoy them with a glass of Chianti.
The best indication of an Estonian restaurants’ ambition and level of quality lies in the bread basket, it’s a sure indicator of what’s yet to come. At Leib Resto & Aed they’re not kidding around, even the name suggests they take their bread seriously, leib is the Estonian word for black bread. Although the traditional black rye stuff can be quite dry, Leib’s loaves are the most moist and delicious you’ll ever find. It might come across as a simple place, but it’s all in the details here, and if you don’t pay attention, you might not even notice how great the restaurant actually is. It has not been easy for them to stay within the narrow limits of traditional Estonian cuisine. This is inevitable: the essence of local rustic cooking is humble, maybe even boring, when compared to the temptations and opportunities that the rest of the culinary world offers. Nevertheless, it seems that Leib has found a new source of inspiration in recent years. Among other things, they’ve had the courage to bring current vegetarian trends into their rather traditional, pork-heavy menu that Estonians are so fond of, and they’ve done so not merely to follow the trend. Their carrot tartar is first dehydrated, then brought back to life with vinegar, and served with carrot- and sea buckthorn cream as well as dried buckwheat sprouts. The taste and texture are a revelation. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was some exotic fruit, not a plebeian carrot. The drinks menu also deserves special attention, offering the latest in Estonian craft beverages. Leib brews its own beer; not just one kind but several. They also offer homemade aquavit and other infused vodkas. The wine list is equally progressive, that carrot tartar is paired with a biodynamic, Italian orange wine. The atmosphere is somewhat clubby, which makes sense as the premises used to be a Scottish club. Hence the Sean Connery bust that greets guests in the restaurant’s garden. Estonia and Scotland are actually very much alike, even when it comes to food and drinks.
Finally beef has made into the limelight! In the otherwise pork-loving Estonia, no less than three steak restaurants opened last year. Unlike pork, there is not a lot of local beef served here, grass-fed beef farming still has a long way to go to reach the levels that pig farming is enjoying. Tartu’s Lihuniku Äri is a red meat-pioneer, the only restaurant in Estonia offering local grass-fed beef, to take home or to eat on the spot. Though beef-connoisseurs have whined that the texture of this meat is too tough and that it doesn’t melt in your mouth, Lihuniku Äri’s butchers are quickly honing their dry-ageing skills, making it harder and harder for the skeptics to complain. Case in point, there are three-, five- or seven course tasting menus, served right-smack in the middle of a rather unadorned, open kitchen, at a convivial communal table. The three-course menu includes carrot and cottage cheese, dry aged beef with kale and maple juice mousse, all meals are accompanied by wine with an excellent price to quality ratio. This bovine bonanza has only just begun.
There is a restaurant in Tallinn called Mehed Köögis––Men in the Kitchen. At Lime Lounge, it’s the other way around––all the important jobs, both in the kitchen and at the front of house, are held by women. Does this really mean anything? Sure it does. Have you noticed that men try to stand out more when cooking? The food prepared by Lime Lounge’s female brigade is unassuming yet delicious. What you see on your plate is not art, yet the dishes look divine. Chef Merike Kotsulim’s fare is feminine and charming. Beet carpaccio with buckwheat popcorn, cabbage with panko and truffle cheese, rhubarb tart. These and many others have been enough to place Lime Lounge––yes, more of a lounge than a stiff restaurant––among Pärnu’s top restaurants, and rightly so. In addition, Lime Lounge should get kudos for its dependability. Consistently delectable, high-quality food is not something you can find everywhere in his town.
Here to brighten the scene: Viru Lyon, in Tallinn’s Viru Keskus mall. It labels itself as a café, serving coffee and excellent pastries in the morning, then cranks things up for lunch and dinner, featuring a long, French-tinted à la carte menu and an impressive range of tipples usually only found in more ambitious restaurants. When Viru Lyon opened with two locations, three years ago, nobody predicted that they would enjoy any greater success. By now, there are three branches, each with its own characteristic features. How Chef Jürgen Lip manages to prepare such excellent food in a shopping center setting is an enigma, everything is leagues above what we expect from an eatery that rubs elbows with 109 shops competing for your hard-earned cash. And if you don’t spend it at Zara, River Island or Armani Exchange you deserve a glass of champagne or apple wine.
Tired of the same old breakfast? Mahedik will cure that with their selection of farm-fresh, country-style offerings. Chia bowls with berries; sunny side up duck eggs with ham, avocado and tomato; cottage cheese donuts. To boot, they serve your favorite morning meal until 1pm everyday. But Mahedik is more than just a breakfast joint, it’s an all-day eatery, open also for lunch and dinner, owned by a mother-daughter duo that is 100% committed to a sustainable lifestyle, taking great pride in using all organic ingredients, and going so far as to advertise their purveyors on the restaurant’s website. Their soups are particularly good, the borscht, served with a beef pie, has been on the menu since day one and is clearly here to stay. The name you wonder? It means “mom” in Estonian, further illustrating how cozy, nurturing and welcoming this place is.
A sole wooden building in an urban jungle of glass, concrete and stone, it’s a surprising and lovely sight, especially when spotted in the heart of Tallinn. It’s a gift that keeps on giving as there’s more than meets the eye in this jewelry box. Upon entering the lone wooden house from 1881 your jaw is bound to drop, this is without a doubt Tallinn’s most original establishment. It houses not only an eclectic Thai restaurant in a delightful hodgepodge of styles, but also a deliberately whacky bar, serving expertly concocted cocktails. Although the surroundings look like they encourage mayhem and laissez-faire, simple gin and tonics and an oh-I’ll-get-to-it-tomorrow-attitude, Manna La Roosa is a can-do joint, doing it thoroughly and serving it in style. It’s a strong candidate for the title Estonia’s Best Bar. Similarly, it churns out rich and delicious food that is guaranteed to trick you into ordering another one of the house’s luscious mixed drinks. Manna La Roosa is a place to lift your spirits. You’re sure look at life through rose-tinted glasses here.
Meat Market, Tartu’s first unapologetically meat-centric restaurant is colorful and eclectic, with a sidetrack-venture/bar that sprung up as the owners started getting into cocktails, in addition to preparing the carnivore cuisine they’d become known for. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer team of bartenders. For a while, the very modern and forward-looking menu was paired with mixed drinks, but sadly, the city’s more conservative restaurant patrons weren’t ready for this. So Meat Market morphed into two venues; a cocktail bar with the country’s sharpest quaffs and a meat-loving restaurant serving––you guessed it––steaks. This somewhat odd combination works great. Meat Market and its annex are both hits among locals, for dining as well as for merrymaking. To visitors, Tartu might come across as a bit quirky, the city’s restaurants do a great job of conveying this.
Like many cities with growing pains, Tallinn’s citizens are spilling into the ‘burbs, and where do these suburban dwellers go when they want a good steak? They go to Meat Resto & Butchery. The craftsmanship is impressive: dry aged local beef––until recently a relatively new concept, especially in this pork-obsessed country––hangs proudly in the drying chamber for 28 days until ready to be seared to your liking. Enjoy it with a glass of Primitivo. Aside from steak, Meat’s house-made beef dumplings in mushroom broth are the ultimate comfort food on a rainy day. A slice of chocolate cheesecake is the perfect sweet ending.
Never judge a book, or in this case a restaurant, by its cover. What looks quite touristy, with large menu-posters littering the entrance, is actually quaint once you step inside. Walk upstairs and you’re greeted by a charming dining room with colorful ceramic plates lining the stone walls and a view of the national theater. Mehed Köögis––or men in the kitchen––focuses on modern Nordic cuisine with a home-style twist. Portions are creatively presented and more generous than you might expect. Share the appetizer platter for two with tangy pumpkin hummus and the restaurant’s famous green pancakes served with whitefish roe. The slow-cooked lamb pairs well with a glass of hearty Saperavi Georgian red, as recommended by the staff.
When life is grey and you are blue, Mimosa is there to help. Surrounded by a well-manicured little garden, the idyllic wooden house in the Tallinn suburbs has a way of spreading positive vibes and a dash of color, no matter what the season or the mood. A mimosa is of course the only way to start things off here. If you’re really in need, you can even buy it by the liter. The menu isn’t long but the food is guaranteed to snap you out of the blue and into a happier-hued place. And where there is color, there is flavor. Vivid vegetables taste just-picked from the garden, duck with mashed yellow carrots and red wine sauce is an exclamation mark of gamey, rich aromas, and velvety chocolate cake is brightened by passion fruit ice cream and cherry coulis. It’s like being in a hidden countryside retreat. And who doesn’t need that once in a while?
Vladimir Iljin, Chef de Cuisine at Mix, is one of those rare toques who is able to create something completely new by trusting himself. His menu fuses countries and continents, but does so through a personal taste-prism that exposes a soupçon of traditional Russian cuisine. The beverage selection complements the chef’s vision better every year, providing opportunities for excellent flavor- and texture combinations. Organic beet carpaccio with goat cheese cream and cashew nuts proves that point. Mix is one of Tallinn’s most rapidly developing restaurants. Years ago, as a newcomer, it had lots of ambition yet not enough ability to deliver. By now, there’s less bravado and the cooking is more mature. Take for instance the Saaremaa style baked wild boar with juniper berry sauce, a brilliant mix of deft cuisine and innovation. The current location, in the basement of a hotel is a bit too down-to-earth for the team’s creative spirit––it’s comfortable, functional, and in its modest way, even cozy, but doesn’t add anything to the experience. The service, however, has the kind of finesse you would never expect in this seemingly modest restaurant.
People who leave Estonia to work in other European countries often complain upon returning that there are practically no restaurants in Estonia that serve traditional European cuisine prepared with care, and with basic yet excellent ingredients. Mon Ami, French for My Friend, located in Pärnu’s Frost Boutique Hotel is here to prove them wrong. The menu flaunts some of the classics of European cuisine, from quiche lorraine to moules marinières. Thursdays to Sundays this dear buddy shucks fresh oysters and serves them with champagne. Naturellement! It’s one of Pärnu’s only two eateries that indulge in that ultra-un-Estonian habit. Truth be told, you’d do good to have a little one night stand with Mon Ami, he’s best enjoyed while spending a night at the hotel, it ensures a truly unique Pärnu experience.
Mon Repos, located in a delightful old villa from 1870, is not one, but two restaurants; upstairs a chef’s table tasting menu-affair, downstairs a lively bistro where Chef Vladislav Djatšuk conjures the flavors of Kadriorg’s golden age while utilizing contemporary cooking techniques and exciting discoveries from kitchens near and far. In the summer, the restaurant offers al fresco dining at the edge of Kadriorg Park, though the environs merit a visit year round.
Mon Repos, a duo of dining options in a pristine, old wooden villa, has an illustrious past. Back in roaring 1921-22 it was a decadent restaurant with a renowned chef who trained at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Court and a bartender plucked from London’s Savoy Hotel. Mon Repos, French for My Rest, was a den of vices, offering repose from humdrum daily life with a lively cabaret scene and a casino too. Sadly, the cops put an end to this gaiety in 1922 when a raid exposed moonshine and gambling. Quel domage! The homonymous eateries occupying the same locale since October 2016 are just a bit more serious. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The building from 1870 has been respectfully renovated, preserving its original integrity; it blends beautifully with the neighboring historical Kadriorg Park, which, incidentally, is great for a post-prandial walk. The golden age of Kadriorg has obviously been a source of inspiration for the ground floor bistro where the menu matches the old-world exterior. The first floor, on the other hand, is completely modern, with minimalist décor and fashion photographer Toomas Volkmann’s dynamic images on the walls; an austerity that perfectly spotlights Chef Vladislav Djatšuk’s artful cuisine. He’s known both for working at Tchaikovsky, one of the country’s top restaurants, and for representing Estonia in the 2009 Bocuse d’Or finale. Choose between the four- or the six-course menus and let the sommelier suggest appropriate wine pairings, if you wish to conjure some of yesteryear’s excess. It’s a rare treat to taste cooking contest dishes; wild Scottish salmon is the dish Djatšuk prepared for the Bocuse d’Or in Stavanger. Anchoring the highly imaginative cooking, the wine pairings lean toward the traditional.
Two of Estonia’s best chefs, cooking traditional Russian cuisine, side by side in a family restaurant that is so much more than just another eatery, it’s a home, offering not only hearty food and drink but also well-being. While Moon’s kitchen is helmed by Roman Zaštšerinski and Igor Andrejev, the front of house is run by Jana Zaštšerinski, who makes everyone feel like family. The first half of Moon’s menu––starters, snacks and soups––is classic; buckwheat blinis with caviar, dumplings, herring tartar, borscht and uhhaa fish soup. It’s in the main courses that Zaštšerinski and Andrejev show their real creativity, tweaking time-honored dishes in exciting ways; Chicken à la Kiev comes with a kohlrabi-spinach salad and hazelnut dressing, roast duck is brightened by Dijon mustard, carrot puree and ginger sauce, a lamb patty is dressed up with Israeli couscous, tzatziki, eggplant puree and minty wine sauce. The desserts are also inspired by old recipes but as with the mains, Moon manages to conjure new, clean and deep flavors from rather common ingredients. Pastry Chef Ljuda Sarnavskaya’s pies are by now legendary and there’s an excellent pavlova with passionfruit and sea buckthorn ice cream, also giving a nod to the Russian theme. The beverage list supports the dishes well, with suggestions for every taste; ecological, biodynamic and kosher drinks, craft beers and ciders. The non-alcoholic selection is also wide; from spruce sprout-, apple-, orange and sea buckthorn juices, to kombucha.
Mosaiik, in Kuressaare on Saaremaa Island, is a multi-faceted restaurant that offers delicious refreshments for breakfast as well as relaxing late night cocktails. The menu is long and interesting enough to warrant frequent visits. Flavors are authentic, traditional and ingredients are locally sourced. Some dishes come with little tricks or surprises, others offer classic combinations. Together, they make up a mosaic of different textures, tastes and aromas. Goat cheese with beet hummus, roasted carrot and green salad; Saaremaa pork belly with slow cooked cabbage, fried onion aioli and parsnip cream. The kitchen works hard on plating and makes an effort to create a pleasant atmosphere. Great food and refreshing drinks have a way of making guests linger for a long time, yet as soon as one party leaves the next one rolls in and takes its place. Mosaiik is always busy, it keeps twisting and turning itself in a mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic fashion.
Golf is a peculiar game. An old game with new clubs and top-notch equipment acquired every year. Immediately after opening at the Otepää Golf Club, Mr Jakob saw to it that it was titled the best golf restaurant in Estonia, without needing anyone to actually give the title. And the restaurant is nowhere near surrendering it to somebody else.
The restaurant is located in an ultramodern golf building and invites visitors to reminisce about historical values, as well as to keep them in mind. At first glance, the antiquities placed almost randomly here and there in the interior raise questions, which are then answered when the food arrives. Mr Jakob’s dishes are rustic and in the modern interior of the restaurant, act as an old Shepherd’s crook next to the latest golf club.
People who are better acquainted with golf equipment know what they are talking about when they say that these old wooden sticks are surprisingly not far behind top technological clubs in simulator comparison. The men of Mr Jakob know what they are doing.
Sitting pretty by the seaside, at the edge of the city, with a spectacular view of Tallinn’s skyline. NOA is a stunner, housed in a building that was designed specifically to be a restaurant, and there aren’t too many of those in Estonia. Set foot inside and the amazement continues ––it’s cozy and comfortable here. NOA was such an instant crowd-pleaser, it seems the restaurant has been here forever, even though it’s only four years old. It’s a two-in-one operation, with NOA Chef’s Hall offering exquisite fine dining and NOA providing casual nibbles coming out of the same kitchen. It’s particularly pleasant in the summer when guests can spill out on the popular seaside terrace, on sunny days there’s nary an empty seat to be had. NOA, along with Chef’s Hall are the flagships of rapidly developing Siigur Restaurants Group. Usually, when a restaurant group expands, attention is shifted to new projects, leaving older ones to deteriorate. It’s the other way around with NOA, the food and drink here is currently better than ever before; firepit corn, “baby” trout filet, moose pie, to name a few dishes. Head Chef and Partner Tõnis Siigur’s idiosyncratic cuisine always surprises; a portobello mushroom “schnitzel” with peas and truffle cheese is a perfect representation of his culinary imagination. Mixologist and Sommelier Sander Kink’s creative––and also non-acoholic––tipples pair well with the food, one might even say they compete with it, so if you’re not hungry you might want to just stop by for a juice cocktail.
A trifecta of great food, great drink and great ambiance, orchestrated by some of the country’s most accomplished hospitality pros. Tõnis Siigur, the founder and executive chef of Siigur Restaurant Group (NOA Chef’s Hall, NOA, Tuljak, OKO, Paju Villa), has become something of a mentor in the kitchen, encouraging his young, ambitious crew to express their personal culinary creativity rather than imposing his own style on everything. They cook most of the dishes over open flames and in a smoker, making the seemingly simple taste complex and rich with a charred charm. Smoked tomato with blue cheese and chives; asparagus “royal” with caviar dill and truffle; squid with “vintage” egg yolk and mussel jus are perfect examples of how Siigur’s chefs keep pushing for culinary innovation. And though we love wine and can’t really fathom a meal without it, we are forced to admit that Sommelier Sander Kink’s juice pairings are nothing short of genius, making wine seem like a boring beverage choice. Try the smoked tomato with “Tiger Milk” or pineapple-, cucumber and coriander juice, test the squid with apple and dill juice, sample the pigeon with blackcurrant- and blood orange juice and you’ll see what we mean. If you’re not convinced you can always consult the excellent wine list, filled with a thoughtful selection; Vaumorillon”Bourgogne Tonnerre 2016 from Domaine Moutard and SP68 Bianco 2016 from Arianna Occhipianti, Terre Siciliane IGT. The discerning, attentive wait staff knows how to create magic and make the meal an unforgettable experience. The ambiance plays a big role in this too, during a long dinner, the light, either artificial or natural, changes several times. You’d do well to pause before the dessert and visit the seaside terrace where the waves come crashing in right before your eyes. The worse the weather, the more spectacular the sight!
Nok Nok is Thai for bird, the restaurant’s name comes from the building’s owl-shaped bas-reliefs, it also indicates Chef Pensiri Pattanachaeng’s nationality, she’s proudly Thai, cooking her nation’s cuisine with gusto, taking laab, pad thai and tom kha gai to a level you won’t find anywhere else in Tallinn. The service and refined decor can compete with some of the city’s better restaurants too, yet Nok Nok is down-to-earth, reflecting the true flavors of Thailand. Of particular note are Pattanachaeng’s fish creations, like spicy fried fish salad with lemongrass and mint, offering a pungent burst of fresh chili in each crispy bite, or the steamed fish served in an aromatic chili and lime broth. Pair the spicier dishes with a glass of American riesling to balance the heat and finish the meal with the very unique warmed banana in coconut milk.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. We long for history, and every once in a while a restaurant opens its doors so you can return to the past, if only just for one meal. The Nõmme Railway Restaurant Elsa does just this. The building, which has housed many different restaurants over the past 100 years, has been restored to its original glory. While modern trains pass by outside, inside it’s still 1950-something. Olive green carpets line the floor, crisp white tablecloths cover the tables, and the waitress behind the solid bar is dressed in a black dress with a clean white apron. Get a taste of the Soviet Era with a shot of vodka and bite of herring, or lamb dumplings with sour cream. Back then, everything paired well with vodka, but if wine is more your thing, the beverage list has plenty of that too.
It’s personal, you either like it or you don’t, but it doesn’t leave you indifferent. Chef Rudolph Visnapuu’s cooking style is entirely his own, he’s one of Estonia’s most experienced chefs, a long-term board member of the Estonian Chef Association, and a culinary authority that has probably taught every single one of the country’s top young chefs. Visnapuu’s latest venture, Noot, is nestled in Pärnu’s tony, new Resort Hotel and Spa Estonia. The restaurant reflects this most experienced chef’s originality. Noot is an eatery in a big spa hotel, yet it refuses to obey the boring taste-dictates of mass catering, instead it boldly offers a set of flavors that have matured, with much experience and savvy, over the course of countless years. What might look like a conventional salmon salad is, at closer inspection, a delicious mix of fish, vegetables and tiger prawns, decked with a zesty rhubarb dressing. Similarly, a dish called simply Black and White turns out to be a visual checkerboard of the catch of the day, playing with black mayonnaise, parsnips and salsify. The wine list is an exposé of European favorites.
Paju Villa in Nõmme, one of Tallinn’s leafiest residential districts, is a handsome, hundred year-old house. The restaurant within its walls, however, is almost brand new and utterly contemporary Nordic-chic with a rambling set of dining rooms, catering to both large and small parties. The short but exciting menu features several dishes from the Siigur Restaurant group’s other establishments, albeit with slight variations. We especially love Paju Villa’s tomato, a trompe-l’oeil creation that looks plucked straight from the garden, but is filled with mozzarella and pesto. The drinks menu includes many small batch, local craft beverages produced exclusively for Siigur. The newest of them is Paju Villa Cider, prepared by Jaanihanso Ciderhouse, using the traditional champagne method. While the young wait staff is enthusiastic and hard-working, they’re still at the beginning of their professional careers.
There’s a tropical bird in Tallinn’s Old Town. An exotic creature that can’t live without glitter and lush plants. At Parrot the “aloha theme” is in full swing; the staff uniforms sport loud patterns that compete with the in-your-face wallpaper. Tropicana has left its mark on the drinks list as well as the toothsome menu; flavors are informed by juices, dressings and seasoning are made with exotic fruits, and the service is Caribbean-attentive and friendly. In addition to Tropicana, the creators of Parrot also found inspiration in the secrecy of America’s prohibition era. The ground floor is influenced by art deco and the basement by art noveau, both look beautiful. These two styles and stories are joined by a surprise. As was common during prohibition, the entrance to the downstairs bar is through a closet. Creative cocktails rule the beverage menu, the selection of wines is limited, though our waiter promised it will soon be expanded. The most exciting tipples play along with the carefree 1920s theme, there are, however, alcohol-free options for non-bon vivants. Befitting the minute bar, dishes are tapas-sized, meant to provide a taste experience rather than fill your stomach. A bite-sized burger and a macaroon-shaped fish cookie are delicious but you need pay close attention to pin down the actual flavors of either, as these starters are truly small. Mini-mains weighing a hundred grams are one step up in size, there are also a couple of larger offerings for hungrier guests. Tropical Oysters is the most surprising of Parrot’s desserts, taking a bit of help from molecular gastronomy; mango and peach have been turned into a “mollusk”, served as oysters usually are––on an oyster shell, surrounded by seaweed. It’s a fruity greeting from a sandy beach, flavored with sweet sunshine.
Papli tänav is one of Pärnu’s most architecturally interesting streets. It’s quiet, with imposing residential homes, showcasing a panoply of building styles, from classic, old wooden villas to low-slung and very modern glass- and concrete building complexes. At Piparmünt, Chef Vladimir Upeniek (voted Estonia’s best chef 2012) offers food that is imminently suitable to these surroundings, based on traditional recipes, but prepared with the latest possible techniques. During the peak of summer, the restaurant and its generous outdoor terrace are usually overly crowded, resulting in dishes that don’t quite reflect the chef’s full potential, this is why it’s wise to visit off-season, when you can really experience the stillness of Papli Street and Upeniek’s true genius. Situated in the Kurgo Villa Hotel, Piparmünt, or peppermint in English, gets its herbs from the verdant hotel garden. The seasonal menu changes frequently, you might find Atlantic halibut with sunflower seeds and 12 hour-baked wild boar neck, they pair nicely with the house cocktails and mocktails on offer. There are two dining rooms, a formal one and a more casual café serving lighter fare.
Right between the ferry terminal and the heart of Tallinn, Platz, with its magnificent stone arches, is perpetually busy as it sees constant foot traffic between the two. It’s the oldest of the new Rotermann Quarter’s restaurants and it begs for some self-control as you might just get carried away ordering; the Platz burger and portions of slow cooked pork belly are huge. Another thing that requires a bit of restraint is the drinks menu, boasting a fascinating and diverse selection, don’t try mixing Estonian craft gin with ditto beer! The ambience here is usually electric, thanks to the palpable enthusiasm of celebratory guests on their way to- or from the port, heading off on vacation or coming home from one, with all of Tallinn’s temptations at their fingertips, and zero fear of getting carried away, with heaping platters of food and brimming glasses of hootch.
History has not been kind to Põhjaka Manor. From a distance, the lone building in a thicket of trees really doesn’t measure up to standards. Sadly, it doesn’t get any better up close. The house has been renovated just enough to include the bare essentials for operating a restaurant. While manors usually serve very luxurious food, Põhjaka is the exception to that rule. This kitchen prepares very humble and mostly local, country fare. But something curious happens when you eat here, right after the first course has been served, that feeling of gloom and peeling-paint-hopelessness disappears. Over the course of the past seven years, Põhjaka’s culinary ambitions have been cranked up, albeit while the building itself has remained untouched. In the summer, there’s al fresco dining, under a cozy canopy, to the sound of tweeting birds, with farm animals gamboling just beyond, and a kitchen garden a spade’s throw away. Põhjaka is no longer just a roadside attraction; the kitchen now prepares products sold in Estonian supermarkets known for championing sustainable, local food. Põhjaka Distillery makes sea-buckthorn aquavit, rowan ditto and spruce needle vodka, which you can buy on the spot. The restaurant was the first to put goat cheese on the menu, a move that was copied by many others. Several of their dishes have become legendary, such as the Baltic herring and the pâté, the pavlova and the napoleon cake. Sure, it doesn’t really look like a manor, yet it operates like a chateau, offering the same old simple food as they’ve always done, with an easy-going and sincere way of treating all their guests like royalty.
Tartu is a special Estonian city. It does not immediately open up to strangers and first-time visitors have a hard time understanding its essence. What makes Tartu special is called the spirit of Tartu by locals.
Years ago, the Tartu spirit lived in the beer restaurant that used to reside in the rooms of the current restaurant Polpo. This was a place for people to come together, drink some beer, and discuss the town affairs.
Restaurant Polpo is far more respectable than its predecessor, as well as entirely different for its interior. Nevertheless, the spirit of Tartu reveals itself on the premises from time to time. Especially when there are a lot of Tartu residents gathered here at the same time. However, town affairs are now discussed over oysters and champagne.
The pace of life in the centre of Tartu is sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Restaurant Polpo is like a reflection of the Tartu spirit. The mood here is exactly like the one present in the whole city.
The men of Saaremaa hold homemade beer in high esteem and should they drink anything else, it is the harder stuff. Wine has never been very popular in Saaremaa, if only among women.
Nevertheless, Kuressaare has a wine cellar. Based on the above-mentioned, it is no wonder that it is run by a woman. Wine culture across Estonia is still rather slight, which is why people from all walks of life enjoy a good wine. Every city or settlement in the thousand kilometre radius can be proud of Prelude.
The wines here are fascinating and the accompanying dishes compete successfully with the food of all the restaurants on the island. Not many people visit Prelude when it is not summertime, as proselytising the people of Saaremaa to enjoy wine is a gradual process. Let us help Kuressaare keep its treasure by having a glass of wine at Prelude whenever we are in town.
You go to PULL for a full-on carnivore experience. Dry-aged T-bone, ribs, veal cheeks, smoked duck with mashed sweet potatoes or why not bear paws? Three owners, Andres Tuule, Enn Tobreluts and Hanno Kuul, have done an outstanding job offering not only meat but also a variety of other dishes: well-balanced ceviche with octopus, shrimps, sea bass, mango, cucumber, chili and avocado; interesting salads, even vegetarian courses.
Purtse kindlus, Purtse küla, Lüganuse vald, Ida-Virumaa
Purtse Castle, an intriguing mix of gothic and renaissance styles built in 1533, is most definitely Estonia’s most unique architectural structure. Touring this astonishing mini-chateau is a weekend-only affair as it’s closed to the public during weekdays. A visit here should imperatively be crowned with a meal in the fortified manor’s ground floor restaurant where you’ll enjoy straight-forward, home-cooked meals in a dining room whose walls are thicker than you are tall. Everything is local, from the herring and the venison, to the foraged mushrooms and herbs. And, everything should be washed down with the castle brew, a Trappist beer with notes of honey and hops. There are now eight types of Purtse beer, each of which has a story to tell, mostly about the hard life in the surrounding industrial landscape.
Straight out of the ocean and onto your plate, it doesn’t fresher than this. Kalamajaka café, in the Pärnu marketplace, belongs to the eponymous fishmonger whose retail operation is right there too, selling Estonia’s largest selection of local fish. The impressive variety of fish and seafood on offer is reflected on the menu; river lamprey, ruffe, tench, burbot and smelt. Always the freshest catch. Traditionally, Estonians tend to eat a lot of pork, new flavors and foreign eating habits are met with skepticism, as such, Kalamajaka is a pioneer, teaching the locals to explore a new range of tastes and textures. There are two separate dining rooms; the first, next to a semi-open kitchen, is minimalist and charmingly rough-hewn with simple chairs, the other is more cozy and restaurant-like.
Like many other restaurants in Rotermanni, a restored industrial quarter near the Old Town, R14 plays with the factory-chic style in a graceful way; high ceilings, arched windows, exposed brick and a glassed-in wine vault create an atmosphere that brings people together. Then there’s the food: risotto with Venere Nero rice and smoked salmon; octopus with tuna chips, corn salad, crispy onions, tomato, potatoes and aioli. Although the wine selection isn’t huge, the pairings are great.
Named after the country’s favorite musicians, Raimond Valgre, a dapper man who died too young in 1949, and who composed some of his most famous songs here in Pärnu, this place was designed to tug at the heartstrings of every Estonian. As a proud native it’s impossible to not be just a bit nostalgic when opening Raimond’s menu and reading the first lines of one of its namesake’s most adored songs; “Soon I will come back to you…” Interestingly, the food is not sentimental, rather, it’s forward-thinking, using classic Nordic ingredients in a refreshingly modern way; a beef tartar gets its saltiness from Baltic herring and its braggadocio from an accompanying bloody mary ketchup; butter fried pike perch flexes its muscles with burnt cauliflower, daikon and a mushroom-cauliflower broth; slow roasted pork belly with mustard-beet sauce is made luxe with truffle powder. But, just as Valgre himself experienced some difficult times, the restaurant’s complicated machinery doesn’t always deliver stability. On a good day, it immediately wins you over, on a bad one it makes you hope Valgres lyrics will come true; “Soon I will come back to you…” This is partly due to the daring local ingredients that Chef Marko Lumera chooses to use, some of which are seemingly better in theory than in practice, all of which are more progressive than anything you’ll find at other Pärnu eateries. Be sure to peruse and try the great selection of local drinks.
Built for life’s larger celebrations, for joyous gatherings where elegant guests enjoyed a cornucopia of exquisite food while lubricating their conversations with plentiful drink, Rannahotell was constructed to symbolize the glamour of the 1930s. Today both the hotel and its restaurant have been fully renovated twice but, most interestingly, the special spark of the past is still very much present. This atmosphere carries through the food, traditional yet prepared and served in a modern manner. Chef Herkki Ruubel creates complex dishes, though refreshingly, he leaves his ego out of them; he uses innovative techniques to bring out the distinct characteristics of the ingredients rather than to show off his skills. Ruubel is especially good with sauces, his whey dressing makes a dish of burnt onion soar, it’s a very special culinary experience. His porcini mushroom velouté gives an incredibly aromatic nuance to an expertly cooked filet of halibut. The Rannahotell and restaurant are also special for another reason, time stands still here. It always has. This, however, doesn’t mean it’s stagnant and boring, rather, it invites you to take some time off and enjoy a whiff of the olden days.
To say that Estonians have a love for Italian cuisine would be an understatement. You will encounter more Italian restaurants than ones offering Estonian cuisine in the Old Town of Tallinn. Bocca stands out among the better ones for its sleek design, but also refined interpretation of rustic Italian cuisine. The pasta dishes, for example, take something traditionally rustic and present them carefully plated, paying close attention to every detail. One can question if pasta really needs to be plated this elaborately, but the flavours are nonetheless sharp and rich. Bocca continues to feature game bird on the menu, and oven roasted wild pigeon served with salt baked carrots, onions, and dates. The underappreciated meat is paired beautifully with a glass of pinot noir, as suggested by the waiter. The small selection of fish dishes are also worth noting, like the grilled tuna fillet served with turnip fondant, Piquillo peppers and spiced red onion jam. We finish the meal with a classic tiramisu, a wonderful pick-me-up at the end.
Cru’s name is inspired by the world of wines, and lives up to expectations in various ways. We find ourselves returning here increasingly more often as it’s exciting to watch a restaurant mature the way Cru is doing, demonstrating great culinary skills and precision; nothing here is done without a reason or for the sake of vanity. Newer menus have included not just one, but several gastronomic treasures. Cru’s improvisations with the most common flavors of Estonia’s simple cuisine are especially pleasing. The so-called ice herring is a special late autumn treat, caught by the most skilled anglers in already frozen waters, and prepared with utmost care to bring out the delicate aromas of the stout fish. Ice herring season is definitely when you’ll want to visit Cru. The rest of the year, you can comfort yourself with another classic of Estonian cuisine––aspic. Estonians are so fond of aspic that every larger festivity is called an “aspic party”. The aspic at Cru, especially the one made with wild boar, is a true celebration of flavors. Living up to its name, Cru has its own wine cellar, furnished as another dining room, perfect for observing the wine maturing slowly and relishing in the peace that this process creates. Of course the beverage selection is wine-focused and Chef Dmitri Haljukov is always ready to suggest dishes to pair with specific wines, if necessary. The atmosphere is festive while also democratically tolerant and casual. It seems that the guests are maturing hand-in-hand with the restaurant, there are now fewer random passers-by and more regulars.
With a sharp modern interior and airy exterior, Fabrik is a popular bistro any time of year. Located in the trendy neighbourhood of Kalamaja, the restaurant sits in a converted warehouse space, where you can come for a full meal or cup of coffee with a slice of cake from their impressive cake display. Like with many modern interiors, sometimes the chairs looks better than it feels. Choose a seat in the middle of the room, just to be safe. Each of the dishes play with contrasting flavours and textures. The veal carpaccio, for example, is served with delicate oyster milk, crunchy sea asparagus, and cured egg yolk shavings. The main course, a locally-caught zander fillet is served with spinach puree dotted on the plate, and sits in a shallow pool of green-flecked whey. A slice of green new cabbage is nicely charred and adds a lovely crunch and freshness to the dish. The main course doesn’t disappoint, but the interesting sounding desserts are not quite as impressive. Opt for a slice of cake instead. In addition to the inventive menu, the drinks list offers many wines by the glass, original cocktails and local craft beers.
The name of the restaurant stands for “The art of modern Estonian cuisine” and indeed, Chef Rene Uusmees’ craft is impeccable and contemporary. Roasted pork with lard, pepper, coriander and garlic-fries or baked lamb with soy sprouts, cherry and red onions––everything here is prepared with utmost accuracy. The restaurant’s interior is rather interesting; there’s a moss-wall with neon lighting and the ceiling boasts sleek beams, as if to say, “Look! Nature and Estonian cuisine are one.”
Ten year old Ribe isn’t trying to pursue fashionable trends, it doesn’t need to. This stylish restaurant isn’t afraid of appearing quaint; the kitchen crew’s names are written on a chalkboard, wine glasses are stored in boxes under the stairs––all that is part of Ribe’s charms. The spacious dining rooms (on two floors) are flooded with light and teeter between old-timey and contemporary. This place will make you feel at home, whether you’re a local stopping by for some mushroom ravioli or a tourist who just wants to relax with a glass of Chateau Nenin 1999 after a long walk around the Old Town. Estonian restaurants usually prefer to hire local chefs, Ribe is an exception; Rado Mitro, who has built his career in London, is Slovakian. His interpretation of Estonian gastronomy is elegant and skillful: stewed cod cheeks with lemon mayo, served with buckwheat pancakes, Saaremaa beef tartar with onion-caper cream, pumpkin seeds and pickles, everything will make your taste buds tingle. The chef is betting on local products, yet doesn’t shy away from featuring imported delicacies such as Scottish salmon, prepared with leeks, langoustine bisque and almost flawless gnocchi. Some desserts are true culinary masterpieces. Don’t miss Ribe’s rhubarb-specialty, served with milk ice cream and dill oil. In order to fully experience Mitro’s local gastronomy, you’d do well to order the set menu of three- to six course. The service you wonder? It’s excellent: fast, accurate and very informative, a pleasant bonus.
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.
Rondeel is located in the fortified tower of Narva Castle. Russia is within easy reach, right across the river, Tallinn, the country’s capital is far away, on the other side of the country. This location is symbolic; the very first cultural encounters between tiny Estonia and great big Russia took place here. It was not only a gathering of two nations, it was also a culinary convergence. Hence the menu that offers dishes rarely seen in the rest of Estonia; goat cheese salad with sunflower seeds and sauerkraut soup with salmon, to name just two. Since Narva is the country’s lamprey capital, it’s almost mandatory to order this eel-like, primitive fish here. Rondeel is a time warp, offering an older generation of local guests a taste of bygone times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Situated in Tallinn’s luxurious, medieval Schlössle Hotel’s magical, vaulted stone cellar, Stenhus is all candle-lit, romantic perfection. As is appropriate for the historical environment, the menu fuses cooking and fine art, presenting dishes inspired by the same. Spinach ravioli with wild mushrooms, sour cream and herb oil, mushroom espuma and potato twist references Edgar Degas’ The green dancer; surf and turf with roe deer filet, cold smoked Baltic mackerel, aioli, trout roe and dehydrated egg yolk is a nod to Peter Paul Rubens’ The union of earth and water; and so on. The dim lighting creates a fantastic atmosphere, though it’s less than ideal for discerning what’s actually on your plate. Be that as it may, Stenhus’ service is impeccable and the ambiance is plush. You’re here for the roaring fireplace and the coziness of Tallinn’s Old Town-charms.
We’re pretty sure, no actually we’re totally convinced that there is no other restaurant like this on the face of this earth. Sure, the world is big ,things keep repeating themselves; imitations beget copies. But, we are still persuaded we’re right. Nothing rivals the whacko-playful interiors and the top-notch cuisine at Tai Boh. Come and see for yourself! The first impulse that strikes you when entering the classic wooden building is to turn around and leave. There’s no way this staircase could possibly lead to a restaurant, it looks like the entrance to bohemian artist’s studio. It might take time to warm up to, and perhaps a minute to settle down and relax in this eccentric milieu, yet we know you’ll be coming back for more very soon again. Tai Boh’s cross-over Asian food has a calming effect from the first bite of the first dish. Those extremely spicy notes that Thai and Indian cooking are famous for have been adjusted to appeal to Nordic palates, they’re dialed down to reflect the chillier surroundings, but rest assured, they’re not dumbed down. Start off with one of the house signature cocktails, they’re wonders of balanced flavors and contrast marvelously with the psychedelic décor. Continue with some gyoza or a beef tataki, then move on to a Thai green- or panang chicken curry, and finish off with a pineapple carpaccio. Or, if the choices are too daunting, opt for one of the tasting menus. There is also a vegetarian menu if you’d rather go that route. Just please don’t miss this fun-house.
The one-man restaurant Tammuri is slowly but surely changing the notions and behaviour of Estonians. About two or three years ago, many chose not to visit the farm because it was unheard of for a farm restaurant not to patiently wait for its patrons all day long with a pot of porridge ready on the fire.
People were cautious of the fact that one man prepares all the dishes primarily from what he grows or picks from the forest himself. But Erki did it. There are no more random visitors in Tammuri.
Tammuri is a place for the most interesting culinary tales in Estonia, as the chef is intimately familiar with every crumb, flake, and sprout on the plate. Even the drinks to accompany the food are chosen or made by Erki himself.
“Homemade, well made,” says an old Estonian proverb. Nowadays, it is not always the case, but when it comes to food, it definitely is.
Renowned and respected since its inception, Tchaikovsky’s French-Russian cuisine harkens back to the Golden Age of imperial Russia while using Nordic ingredients to make it contemporary. It’s the sort of place where local dignitaries take important foreign guests, its weekend suppers are accompanied by wildly popular live music sessions blending tunes and flavors in a multi-sensory spectacle. Both are particularly delicate at Tchaikovsky; subtle and refined aromas are Chef Vladislav Djatšuk’s signature. It takes great skill and patience to develop such rich flavor nuances, even more to keep them consistently on the same high level. Start with the traditional dishes: pelmeni, blinis, borscht (definitely with pies), etc., they are dulcet, classical cantatas compared to the rock n’ roll versions you’ll find everywhere else. Adding to the festive atmosphere is the grand interiors that make a soirée here feel like a visit to the Bolshoi. Do yourself a favor and finish off with a classic dessert, the pavlova and the baba au rhum are divine.
Hotel restaurants are hit or miss, usually catering to lazy travellers who may be too tired to venture out in a new city upon arrival. Quarter is a hit. Located on the eighth floor of the Swissôtel (that also houses Horisont on its top floor), not only does this new restaurant offer a not-so-modest view of the city, both the service and the food are inviting after a long journey. Dishes are straight forward, yet balanced. Asparagus risotto showcases seasonal flavors, while a pan-seared salmon filet is enhanced by jalapeño mayonnaise. On Saturdays and Sundays you can tuck into an equally comforting brunch here.
Until recently, Tallinn did not have much in the way of Asian restaurants, but then TOA came along and changed everything. The repurposed old warehouse seems the ideal location for a restaurant keen to experiment. TOA doesn’t claim to offer authentic Asian food, but rather their own interpretation of it. Don’t mistake that for caution, though: the kitchen is not afraid to use chilli, and dishes like the crispy cod or Vietnamese-style chicken wings are bursting with flavour. The beef tartare, though beautifully presented, is a bit unbalanced both in terms of flavour and textures, but the coconut curry (which comes with a choice of meat or fish) packs a nice chilli punch. The open kitchen allows you to watch a line of cooks in sleek black outfits prepare and endless array of colourful dishes. TOA’s cocktail list, including the currently fashionable extensive selection of G&Ts, is worth lingering over.
Rannakohviku, Liimala küla, Lüganuse vald, Ida-Virumaa
Tulivee in Purtse yacht harbor reveals stories about the prohibition at the turn of the last century, when the coastal people’s livelihood often depended on bootlegging. The beverage menu offers craft beers brewed exclusively for the restaurant, and custom-designed rum, distilled in far-away Jamaica. Drinks here are a must, preferably while savoring postcard-views of the open waters from the modern, minimalist dining room; the Baltic Sea is forever changing in these parts, offering new vistas every day. At the crossroads of St. Petersburg and Tallinn, Tulivee’s menu offers hearty Estonian coastal fare. Humble dishes are pleasing to both eyes and taste buds. The local seafood is especially authentic. Baltic herring in tomato sauce on toasted artisan bread offers flavors that many generations have grown up with. The bouillabaisse is a marriage of local fish and French cuisine, a tomato-spicy dish offering warmth during the colder season. Tulivee captivates us with its tales and its personality.
For Estonians, newly reopened Tuljak is more than just a restaurant, it symbolizes the best of architecture and restaurant culture from the 1960s. The historic building is landmarked and was recently carefully renovated, preserving all original details, down to the interior design which is altogether period too. What makes this legendary restaurant special, in addition to its esthetics and the general nostalgia of it all, is its seaside location right by the Song Festival Grounds. During summer, guests can dine al fresco with a view of beautiful Tallinn Bay. Tuljak carries on the traditions of a classic restaurant; as a sign of respect to its dignified past, the menu includes the once popular club sandwich and a wide selection of mixed drinks. The cocktail culture was blooming already in the old Tuljak-days, under its new ownership it has reached next-level perfection. There’s a great array of old, original tipples, a fair selection of wines, as well as ciders and craft beer brewed exclusively for Tuljak. The food is as rich in details as the dining room is ‘60s sleek, presented in a lovely manner, technically thorough and balanced, it manages to surprise again and again. The bbq lamb is particularly tasty. Even the good old tiramisu takes an unprecedented and especially beautiful form. Tuljak’s signature dish is a sinful dessert with an unimaginative name: “Tubes” of chocolate and toffee spiked with cognac and Vana Tallinn liqueur. Thanks to its storied past, Tuljak is a very democratic eatery, guests include locals of course, as well as wistful older folks, international businesspeople, and families with children. Its dining room is always abuzz with that special Tuljak-sound––echoing laughter, conversation and clinking glasses, which proves its popularity as this buzz can only be created when the place is full, people feel good, and the service provides a sense of security. We’ve heard that beekeepers can tell whether a colony is healthy by listening to the bees’ buzzing. Based on this buzz, Tuljak is in great shape.
The white villa sits majestically in an old apple orchard. Inside, the house is buzzing with energy. Friendly servers hurry you to your table while balancing drink trays. The semi-open kitchen is brimming with activity; gurgling pots, hissing pans, and aromas that waft through the dining room, prompting you to exclaim “I’ll have that”. Umami doesn’t try or even pretend to be an Asian-style restaurant. The chefs just like to experiment with bold and daring flavors. Hints of coriander, soy, ginger, wakame can be found in many of dishes, complementing salads or delicate pieces of marinated fish. But, it would be unfair to say that Umami’s cuisine stops at Asian. Latin accents turn up unexpectedly in dishes like green peas with guasacaca or ramson chimichurri. The drinks list is equally daring, with many local beers as well as interesting Old- and New World wines, selected by the restaurant’s sommelier co-owner Kristjan Peäske. This child-friendly restaurant doesn’t eliminate the possibility for a romantic evening either as there are numerous, intimate tables for two.
Restaurant and wine bar Umb Roht was a hit from the moment it opened. The staff’s incredible enthusiasm, coupled with the innovative food and drink contribute to making this quite a scene. The menu (five starters, five mains and five desserts) changes often enough to lure the regulars back again and again; creamy celeriac soup with Roman cauliflower, carrot oil and buckwheat crisp; pork belly with enoki mushrooms, white truffle, white asparagus and rhubarb broth; birch jelly with redcurrant, gooseberry, birch leaves and chickpea meringue. All paired with an excellent wine selection, which is kept semi-secret as it’s never published on Umb Roht’s website, making each visit an exciting blind date with the (Coravin preserved) drink. And if wine isn’t the order of the day, then the cocktail menu is sure to do the trick, co-owner Karl Astok is one of Estonia’s top mixologists. Umb Roht is a thief of time, people often pop in for one glass of wine and end up getting another, and yet another, staying longer than anticipated. Be sure to order your dishes the same way, one by one. Even starters are so generous that you might not want a second course. The unique and cozy courtyard is Tartu’s most popular place for al fresco dining during the summer season.
Vanasadama, Suuresadama küla, Pühalepa vald, Hiiumaa
Until Ungru came along, Hiiu County, comprised of a smattering of islands, was off the Estonian restaurant-radar, even though it has always attracted visitors. The main island of Hiiumaa, with its rich forests, marsh lands and remarkable wildlife (elk, deer, wild boar, lynx, fox and some 250 bird species!), is a bountiful larder of local goodies, made for gastronomic exploration and experimentation. And though there are plenty of guesthouses on the island, Ungru, housed in the harbor’s former customs building, is the one you’ll want to hit up, it’s intimate, it has an exciting history, and best of all, it boasts a restaurant. The barque Hioma was built in the very same harbor, she was the first Estonian ship to round Cape Horn. Ungru’s seaside accommodations are comfortable; the food is creative, melding tradition with modern cooking methods; the really short menu features nine dishes in total, ranging from virgin herring with pumpkin, herring roe, egg and potato, to slow cooked pork with pepper sauce, roasted carrot mustard, onion cream and fried potato, and juniper créme brûlée. All is served with a side of storytelling, the staff is happy to share the region’s past. Once you have finished your meal, order a cup of tea made with handpicked wild herbs, and let the tall tales begin!
We’ll be the first to admit that Uulits on Soo Street is an attempt to turn a hamburger joint into a real restaurant, but really, there’s no shame in being just a straight-forward burger joint when you make burgers as good as these. To be sure, there are other options on the menu, but they’re probably merely an attempt to make that restaurant connotation more plausible. If you look around, you’ll occasionally see someone eating something other than a burger. But it’s very rare. Uulits’ regulars are true burger connoisseurs––the kind of people who sneer at a conventional burger––that’s because Uulits’ offers plenty of creative alternatives to the classics; blackcurrant marmalade burger, grilled goat cheese burger with beet jam and mustard-honey sauce, for instance. All it takes is one bite to realize that great effort and hard work have been put into achieving this splendid harmony of tastes.
Valgamaakond, otepää vald, Sangaste Loss, Lossiküla
Estonia is known across Europe for its hunting tourism but only one restaurant has dared to fully confine themselves to preparing food from the game that is hunted. This, too, was opened quite recently in Sangaste Castle.
Sangaste Rural Municipality is better known for producing rye. It is a place where old stories are revived often and people keep looking for new ways to use rye. Sangaste for example makes its own rye beer and vodka, both of which you will be able to try in the castle together with your meal of game meat at Vidrik.
Sangaste Castle also provides excellent accommodation. The surrounding nature offers spectacular views every season and your hunger will be satiated by the game hunted by local hunters. The question is not about whether you should visit (or revisit) Sangaste, but when – just get your calendar and figure it out!
Vihula manor, 800 years old and proud, is one of Estonia’s most impressive manor complexes. Its restaurant also serves up some mighty progressive food. If we were to mention just two dishes it would have to be the smoked eel with beet aioli and the sous-vide bear with oyster mushrooms. Eel is a symbol of Estonian perseverance––when the seas run out of eel we simply farm it, Estonian cuisine would be nothing without fish and seafood. Bear, however, stands for our ambition and wit. Chef Fred Ruubel is inspired by the nature around him, creating a sophisticated cuisine that doesn’t try to copy the classics or keep up with the latest trends. Vihula Manor is an ideal location for a short holiday if great food plays an important role in said holiday.
Villa Wesset was once a private home, occupied by the owner of Progress, a confectionary factory established at the beginning of the 20th century. The solid brick building underwent massive renovations ten years ago when it was turned into a hotel, its spacious terrace a beacon of sorts that can almost be spotted from the other side of Pärnu. Progress is a spot-on word to describe the food currently served in the hotel’s restaurant. Young Chef Mart Kukk has found a fresh and surprising approach to reinventing traditional Estonian dishes, picking them apart and piecing them back together in ingenious ways. The trusty staple of pea soup is here called Smoked Rib and Pea, it’s disassembled into single ingredients, and presented with some new and surprising details. Tableside, the smoked rib broth is joined by semi-dried tomato and peanuts, making for an entirely new mélange. The classic pork with sauerkraut has also undergone some changes, morphing into a novelty with slow-cooked ribs, pickled cabbage, corn and wine sauce. There is only a soupçon of the old there to give you a hint of where the chef found his ideas. Villa Wesset’s restaurant gives you a glimpse of where new Estonian cuisine is going. The Progress confectionary was nationalized in the 1940s and subsequently fell into oblivion, Chef Kukk is bringing back its sweet legacy with panache.
Almost two hundred years ago, the Hiiu-Kärdla Broadcloth Factory brought life to the island of Hiiumaa and its only town, Kärdla. Now it seems history is repeating itself. Until this year, Hiiumaa didn’t exist on Estonia’s dining map. Then, the factory’s former laundry, a solid two-story structure, was converted into a brewery with a modern pub above it. Wabrik pairs lovingly crafted beers with generous portions of simple food, prepared mainly with produce grown on the island. The grilled catch of the day is matched with the sour-sweet beer Keinamehe Eit, brewed with honey. The offerings are so excellent that the locals have made this their regular dining room, even women, some with children in tow, have taken to frequenting the brasserie, something that isn’t too common in Estonia. Wabrik is one of Hiiumaa’s only places open year-round, giving this island life some zest while also promoting the new local beer culture.
Situated in a pine thicket directly on the seashore, it’s hard to imagine finer, more lush surroundings for a restaurant. The staff at Wicca has fully understood how special the location is, everyone displays great pride in working with pure, local ingredients, and seem to find joy in coaxing maximum amounts of flavors out of them. Wicca is one of several restaurants at Laulasmaa Spa Hotel, a big operation that hosts numerous events every day and that sees throngs of people coming and going. Yet Wicca’s dining room is pleasantly private and stately. Outside, nature is a parade of colors that changes with the seasons, those shades march their way into table decorations as well as into the carefully prepared food, of course. Head Chef Angelica Udekülli, one of the country’s most creative culinary professionals, designs all dishes using only two main ingredients, efficaciously reflected in the name of each. Fish and egg is a delicate surprise; a clear fish broth with a floating, frothy egg white-cloud, a nod to classic French cuisine perhaps. Most of Chef Udekülli’s creations are awe-inspiring, leading guests to face hard choices when presented with the menu. The beverage list provides a small cross section of the most interesting local ciders and craft beers, as well as homemade aperitifs and digestifs. There are also beverage recommendations for each dish, these are not merely wine suggestions. The food of Wicca is seasonal and fresh, boosted by herbs and greens that are foraged right outside the door, in Laulasmaa’s plentiful natural pantry, taking the shortest path possible from the earth straight to the plate.
Wöse is the latest addition to the restaurants that are popping up around the country’s small ports and welcoming seafaring visitors with increasingly more delicious fare. Hungry travelers would do well to disembark in Kaberneeme, Dirhami or Võsu where they’ll find fine examples of what Estonia is cooking up right now. Upon taking a seat at Wöse in Võsu, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re still somewhere out on the Baltic ocean as the restaurant is surrounded by water. Mart Klaas, who made Tallinn’s Art Priori one of the country’s best restaurants, helms the kitchen, using locally sourced ingredients. He offers a simple summer menu, and amps things up in the wintertime when the restaurant is open only during weekends, making it extra worthwhile to drive here from the city. If you notice roe deer on the menu, be sure to try it. The entire animal carcass is brought to the restaurant and cooked in its entirety, from nose to tail. The fish dishes don’t disappoint either.
The food here takes the form of a journey, it’s an imaginary, gustatory trek, leaping from one flavor to another while weaving a tale in seven- or eleven courses. Before embarking on this adventure, you might want to hear Ö’s story: it dabbled with contemporary food, combining local flavors with Asian accents, gaining recognition and suddenly dropping the exotic influences to concentrate on the purely Estonian. Ö was at the top of its game when harder times hit the restaurant and its top-rating fell. In recent years, however, it has started sharpening its culinary elbows again. Presently, Ö (as well as Kaks Kokka in the same building) is led by Chefs Ranno Paukson and Martin Meikas. Ö is a symbolic name for them, in their local dialect the letter “ö” alludes to islands, they are both from Saare County, Estonia’s largest island. The chefs’ gastro-journey focuses on that particular region’s very characteristic cuisine; elk with horseradish and moss; turnip and black pudding. The best tables in the house let you peek straight into the open kitchen where its baseball cap-wearing crew whips up ever fresher concepts. Ö is a pioneer of modern, Estonian cuisine and an excellent place to explore the country’scutting-edge cooking.
It’s not easy to find Ööbiku Gastronomy Farm in the Rapla County forests, but it certainly deserves the nearly hour-long drive from Tallinn. It’s a pleasant journey through bucolic pastures, affording a glimpse of authentic Estonian country life. When Chef Ants Uustalu bought the farm in Kuimetsa village he intended to use it as a summer residence. That plan changed rather suddenly as he discovered the immense bounty of quality ingredients growing all around him––most of it destined for personal consumption, with some “leftovers” quickly finding their way into Uustalu’s kitchen. And thus a true farm-to-table restaurant was born, with sustainability on the agenda, still utilizing the “cultivated rejects” that the farmers themselves don’t want. It took a mere couple of years for Uustalu’s life to change significantly; people are now coming to him, instead of the other way around, what used to be a summer restaurant is a year-round venture that also arranges events and seminars. Ööbiku offers a five-course tasting dinner Mondays through Saturdays, and ditto brunch on Sundays. The guests don’t find out what is on the menu until they are seated at the table. Suffice to know that it’s going to be organic, local and made with country charm.
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.