For over 115 years, visitors have been getting first-rate delicacies along with edible eye candy in the city’s beautiful market hall. Immediately upon entering you encounter a symphony of top-notch produce. At the other end is 4 Vuodenaikaa (Four Seasons), which quickly fills with people around lunchtime. Old and young, locals and tourists, everyone wants to eat here. In the queue you can see the city’s trendsetters in their checkered shirts, with beards and skateboards. The chefs are as tattooed and on-trend as their patrons, but the food is traditional with a French orientation. The bouillabaisse is a classic, available in two sizes. The fried fish is served with Hollandaise and a delicate potato purée. Nowadays the wine is presented in an ice chest beside the register where you can choose from several different really good bottles. But the hard wooden stools do not encourage you to sit for long, so we drink our espresso standing up, before hurrying off to buy ingredients for dinner.
Deivydas Praspaliauskas, the owner and head chef of Amandus, hastobeoneof the most vibrant personas in modern Lithuanian restauration. The list of restaurants hehasestablished is lengthy. And his very own restaurant is its logical apogee. The organisational pinnacle reached, Deivydas focuses his remarkable energy on food. Amandus stretches through two floors at the fashionable Hotel Artagonist in Vilnius. The ground floor, meant for hotel guests, offers up a short à la carte menu and a three-course degustation menu. The basement is Deivydas’ signature space. The longer degustation menu served here changes monthly. This month’s menu draws inspiration from Japan. The water is purified with Ubame oakcoal and the recommended drink to accompany the dessert is Japanese apple wine. Plum and cherry dominate the sauces. The medium rare duck seems tobeoneof the chef’s special favourites –it resurfaces from menu to menu, is always perfectly cooked andsurrounded by seasonal accompaniments. And when Deivydas is not out seeking inspiration elsewhere, you will undoubtedly meet him inoneof the dining halls. This man will not be restricted to the kitchen. Customer feedback is oneof his primary sources of inspiration. On your next visit, you might well encounter something your own suggestions inspired. This is the power of inspiration.
The Anno Home Restaurant and Wine Corner is special with its long name, informative and misleading at once. Those who expect to enter somebody’s actual home will bedisappointed. But even though nobody lives here, an atmosphere as cozy, homelike andcomfortable asat the Anno is hard tofind even at real homes. The small restaurant (seats 22 - don't bother swinging by without booking in advance) and its souls and owners Anna and Erno Kaasik give cause to reflect about whether true restaurant ownership could everbe simply a business and a profession... Or always a calling and a lifestyle. With their service and attitude, the two “amateurs” (neither considers themselves professionals) surpass the majority of pros. Anna Kaasik’s simple (homelike?) cuisine offers flavors (such as the spicy beet consommé or the smoky eggplant fillet) whose clarity and depth could teach a thing or a few to the most ambitious of restaurants. Erno Kaasik is yet to find the perfect wines to match their meals. But heis searching. And until then, wegetto try two orthree quite different, but“quite passable” ones. Your second visit to Anna and Erno Kaasik’
s restaurant makes you a family acquaintance. Both for their real home and restaurant home.
The Boutique Hotel Antonius is located across the street from the principal symbol of Tartu - the main building of the university. The 18th-century building exudes elegance and grace. The restaurant, located in the basement and adorned with a ceiling window, capitalizes onthis impression. The best tables stand slightly apart, under the limestone arches. The small restaurant with its formally grey walls is the quietest and most peaceful in Tartu. The elegant atmosphere comes with equally elegant classical cuisine built around local ingredients. The trout, marinated with Härjanurme vodka, has a dense texture reminiscent of gummy candy. Its avocado cream, dill and trout roe accompaniments blend into a harmonic, salty-sour, excellently balanced composition. The best drink togo with the trout is the vodka the fish was marinated in - the local Hõbe.The service balances respect for the guests’ privacy with warm, courteous care.
Through the panoramic windows the Helsinki night passes by but at Ateljé Finne the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and filled with heart and soul. The restaurant is located in the former studio of the sculptor Gunnar Finne and the walls are covered with his artwork. There’s history in these walls, to say the least, and it adds a lot of personality to the restaurant. The menu is anchored mainly in Finnish cuisine, but the cheese pelmenis give us a taste of Russian food heritage – pasta dumplings cooked to perfection served in a rich bullion that, together with shredded beets, has a nice, earthy sweetness. A whitefish is up next, served in a generous amount of butter. The skin of the fish has a lovely crispiness and the grilled gem salad adds a nice, bitter taste. The competent and incredibly sweet service staff know their wines, so let them come with suggestions. The experience that awaits you here is in all aspects a genuine treat.
Seven years of success have proved that distinguished Chef Marko Palovaara made the right decision when he left one of the best restaurants in Helsinki and opened a bistro of his own in a small town well outside the capital. O Mat has become popular particularly among commuters. There’s nothing posh here (the restaurant is actually situated by the parking area of a large supermarket) and the food speaks for itself. Dinner on an ordinary Wednesday night shows that their kitchen keeps up with the trends. Parsnip has become increasingly popular in Finnish restaurants of late. Here it’s made into a creamy, almost foamy soup where strips of duck leg balance some of the root vegetable sweetness. The main course is perfectly roasted zander, and it seems to be tagging along on another popular trend, namely the adding of a surprising amount of smoke to ingredients where it does not usually belong, like in the butter sauce. At this bistro they know their wines, and they recommend sauvignon blanc from New Zealand with the dessert, a crème brûlée with rose hips. It tastes new and unusual, and comes with a trendy fennel meringue.
When the Chedi opened to the public in Tallinn a decade ago,it was an event akin toanearthquake. An ultramodern Asian restaurant with staff from the iconic London Hakkasan manning the kitchen. In Tallinn, not any nearby major city! Now, a decade later, everything isasit was, except the ground isdone trembling. And Chedi isno longer a thing ofbewilderment. In the general scheme of things, sounds like things took a turn downhill? On the contrary! Chedi is here to stay. This is the addiction to good food. Everything else, the still-inspiring interior down to the very decent drinks list, is secondary. A sweetish taste binds the menu into a whole. Itis comparable to Coca-Cola (you see what makes it so addictive!). Prepared on a spitting hotwok, the food is crisp on the surface, yet delicate on the inside. Spicy flavors accentuate without dominating. You either love or hate the food at the Chedi. Indifference is infrequent. But the Chedi was a good reason to visit Tallinn a decade ago and we expect itto remain one for the decade to come!
The Dia (from the Latin word for daytime) hides its charms behind a stone wall. When the restaurant is closed, the passer-by might never suspect food and a warm welcome behind the big pair of wooden gates. But they open to a cosy courtyard not a hair broader than the gates are wide; and the first tables are within arm’s reach, and so are the plush, comfortable chairs and couches. In the summer, there isnoneedto venture further. In the winter, the interior appeals with even cushier chairs upholstered in blue velvet, with eye-catching lamps lighting up the room. On weekdays, Dia closes at10pmand thus justifies its name for any Southern European guests. Champagne and sparkling wines take up nearly half of the drinks card. The perceptive browser will take the hint. The menu certainly does– most of the dishes are designed tocomplement sparkling wines. The squid & crab is served on a cushion ofgreens with peashoots and samphire in preponderance. The crab is fresh outof the tin (tut-tut!), butthe squid, lightly dusted with herbs, is extremely fresh, juicy and delicious. The pairing isunusual, but why not? It reflects the streets of Kaunas, where derelict former industrial buildings stand side by side with cutting edge design. During the day, Kaunas looks like anup-and-coming place. Sodoes the restaurant.
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.
Nowhere is the Spanish spirit as evident asin the markets of this country. What wanderer of the markets of Madrid and Barcelona would not wish to have something similar athome? But attempts to export Spain result all too often in a restaurant with a Spanish kitchen but whose spirit falls flat. Last year was a good year in Vilnius – success crowned not just one, but two such export attempts (see also: Selfish). The first glimpse atEl Mercado confirms that this isno kitsch. A combination of a minimarket, wine and tapas bar and restaurant, El Mercado spans two floors and may have the potential to change Lithuanians and Lithuania. Its mix of peoples reminds of the actual Spanish el mercados. While there are noSpaniards among the staff, the food and atmosphere are authentic. The fried peppers are flavourful without the dreaded bitter undertones. The paella – often a pale shadow of itself outside of Spain – leaves nothing tobe desired. And there are four of them! Also of note: El Mercado is a Cava paradise.
A half step below ground level on a leafy square in a restful neighbourhood lies Elite Restaurant. This is a happy place with a fantastical Art Deco interior that bathes you in flattering colours of orange, yellow and green. Just staring at the art is enough to give you a real lift. Families are welcome and even the littler guests are treated with deference. Whether the paintings were in lieu of bar bills or gifts from grateful patrons, it shows off the clientele that have been frequenting Elite since 1932. Tauno Palo, singer and actor, was one of these and his favourite steak is still served today. The Artist’s Menu looks more appetizing than a slab of meat with onion sauce (Tauno Palo’s favourite), and it begins with salmon and crayfish galantine with a slice of brittle, almost transparent rye toast. Trout as a main comes with a crispy skin and if it were not for the pimento, it would be quite bland. Pine nuts contribute some crunch. The crème brûlée is as it should be, nice and hard on top and creamy underneath. But the wine selection, alas, is too dull and lacks imagination. Elite is a classic and almost everyone in Finland knows this restaurant. It will always be here, it will always be frequented and the interior is absolutely worth the visit.
Helsinki is quite small and most eateries are reachable on foot. EMO is no exception, just a few steps off the lively Esplanadi. The place has a toned-down, Japanesy feel to it with vertical textile screens that do very little to stop your neighbours from hearing or seeing what you’re up to. Our waitress is friendly and down-to-earth as she hands us the impressive wine list. A glass of German riesling from Haus Klosterberg should work with the beetroot soup, she says. It’s fresh and clean as a whistle, and does wonders for the deeply flavoured soup. Goat’s cheese cream and chopped chives add to the experience. There’s a low-key sophistication about Gastrobar EMO that seems to appeal to businesspeople. The ground beef from Eastern Finncattle (Kyyttö) comes with quinoa, mushrooms and yoghurt souped up with saffron. It’s well-executed in EMO’s characteristically unpretentious style. A glass of Madiran courtesy of Alain Brumont helps things along. We finish with a lovely dessert: crumbled chocolate sponge cake with milk chocolate ice cream, passion fruit sorbet, passion fruit gelée and flaky meringue. Plus a macchiato, which – somewhat mysteriously – arrives before the dessert.
By Tartu standards, the Fii is far out in the suburbs. You need a good reason to bother with the 10-minute drive. Well, we are pleased to present two such reasons: shopping and good food. The restaurant is located on the first floor of Hotel Sophia, across the street from a shopping mall. The Fii might be only a couple of years old, yet it has an important role to play in Tartu. Itisoneof the places that transformed Tartu from a town of boring food into a town where foodies need never be bored. Those who don’t know the story might initially feel slightly confused. The interior design, very minimalist, doesn’t reveal the slightest hint about the food. But when the plates hit the table, they command all attention. The thymus is served hidden in a roll of kataifi pastry; the rolls are accompanied by a trifecta of cauliflower (cream, couscous, and slices). It looks as minimalist as the interior design does, but the flavors run rampant. Each of the cauliflower sides complements the juicy thymus in a fresh and appealing way. Practically each of the dishes on the short menu combines visual appeal with tastes to write home about. Who has visited once will want to come again.
There is no need to throw a coin in the wishing well that you pass on your way to the underground lair in downtown Reykjavik where “The Fish Company” is housed – not to improve your chances of having a great meal anyway. This is one of the most popular restaurants in town so rest assured they can handle a full house and still give you a singular experience. Fresh local ingredients appear in interpretations inspired by exotic kitchens from around the world. The presentations of all of the courses are outstanding – starting with appetisers served from a log and nitrogen cooling at the table. All of our taste buds are triggered. The connection to France is established through deliciously sweet and mild fried monkfish and langoustine with a foamy and elegant nutty foie gras sauce, both fresh and pickled Jerusalem artichokes, Jerusalem artichoke ice cream, and crunchy roasted hazelnuts, all embellished with watercress and parsley. One of two Icelandic starters on this world tour is “all in” on cod: a slowly cooked fillet of cod is served with cod caviar mayonnaise, chunky cod and almond crumble, smoked cod foam with sharp notes from pickled celery, and a refreshingly sour lemon and celeriac purée. The trip to Malaysia is a decorative, tasty serving of mild and buttery diced tuna with a soft, rounded mustard emulsion, restrained green chilli notes, a fresh liquorice taste from fennel, and sesame crisp. The kitchen has won our confidence, so we dare to enjoy the contribution from Canadian cuisine in the form of a very pink pan-fried duck breast with a crispy skin, tender and juicy duck leg confit with exotic apricot jam and fried wild mushrooms, egg yolk sauce and honey-glazed carrots with smoked almond and apricot granola. After such a great world tour, we cannot help but wonder if perhaps all those coins are from satisfied guests flipping one in the well on their way out.
Gaijin takes Asian food to a whole new level. Only in this context could China, Japan and Korea join forces to take us on a joy ride. Ingredients are carefully picked and pickled, the fish is of the finest quality, and all kinds of ingredients, from hamachi to daikon and wakame, are combined in mind-boggling ways. The starter is simply called “Sashimi Tasting”. It comes with hamachi, and salmon so soft and tender it nearly falls off your chopsticks. The wakame seaweed is a bit tough but subtly sweet in flavour. Daikon, a winter radish, comes thinly sliced adding some bite to the creaminess of the fish. Served with Vouvray from Marc Brédif, it works well enough but lacks punch. The Veal Hot Pot is a triumph. It’s comforting and a perfect balance of spicy and sweet, umami and meaty. As we listen to the rap music, and look around the room, the crowd makes us feel our age. This is a hipster spot and all you need to fit in is a tattoo.
Gaspar’s, a small local restaurant at the edge of the Vilnius Old Town, takes its name from its owner and head chef Gaspar Fernandes. Gaspar was born in Goa to Portuguese parents. While the visitors might not know his background, anyone familiar with those cuisines will certainly recognise the flavours predominantin his cooking. The restaurant is not geared towards the wildest and most outrageous flavours from India and Portugal. Exotic dishes are adapted for local palates. The eel, marinated and grilled, isseasoned with Indian spices, but the delicate flavour bouquet of the dish is dominated bythe asparagus cream with marinated watermelon peel. The presentation emphasises the exotic inspiration. The turmeric ice cream with pistachio foam and cake crumbs is served in a coconut shell. The restaurant offers a small, quite individual wine selection. Gaspar’s is the threshold to the world of strange and exotic flavours. Lithuanians with their conservative preferences find it appealing. The restaurant is always crowded, andbookings are taken only byphone.
Smart design is the first thing you think of when you enter Geiri Smart at the Canopy Hotel, another one of the many new establishments on the recently fancied-up Hverfisgata. The name is taken from a famous Iceland song, “Sirkus Geira Smart”. With a smile we are guided to our seats in a nice, warm room with sapphire-coloured chairs and banquettes. Though we are surrounded by lot of staff, it’s still cosy and relaxed and strangely not even noisy. Cocktails are currently in fashion, and they sure know how to make them here: “You Sexy Thing”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or maybe you would like to try “Wicked Games”? It’s a good selection. You can choose from among the set menus for the whole table or order à la carte. From the “A side” options (they like their music puns here) we choose beef tataki with soy and horseradish, and smoked cod with fermented potatoes. They are both very good. A shellfish soup with scallops and shrimps is nice and warming on a cold night. Blue ling fillet with fried broccolini is super fresh when in season, and the best of the main courses we have tried here. The beef is also tasty and the tagliatelle with Havgus cheese is elegant. We try a red wine from the Canadian grape, baco noir, for the first time ever – it’s an interesting pairing from the well-educated sommelier. Both the Madagascar chocolate with blood orange and the crème fraîche ice cream are tasty desserts. Geiri Smart is a great new choice in town.
The Georg Ots Spa and its restaurant are emblematic sites, each in their own right andasa whole. Ancient traditions have always been honored in Saaremaa; this establishment introduced a new era with new customers. Before the Georg Ots Spa was founded, the island had sanatoriums for treatment orgeneral recuperation. The Georg Ots Spa took treatment procedures and turned them into soothing care, earnest rehabilitation into leisurely relaxation. The restaurant has always been famed for serving the island's most fashionable food. The head chef, Alar Aksalu, is keen on sourcing his ingredients locally. He prepares dishes that are part and parcel of the island's traditions. But he employs fresh and modern techniques and pairs the traditional with the new and unexpected. Smoked Baltic herring is served with prawn crackers; dill, a perennial favorite found in every garden, features as oil. This ishow modern Saaremaa tastes. The spa and the restaurant are both very popular. They can accommodate a lot of people - and everybody is there. The infants and the elderly alike. Famous and fashionable, the Georg Ots Spa Restaurant is not a place for solitary reflections.
The Grillmarket has been one of the hottest places in town since it opened. The bold interior design gives this place quite a unique look and is reminiscent of an American steakhouse. The dried skin of spotted catfish is certainly something to look at on the wall. The restaurant spans two floors, the first floor and basement. On the upper floor you can watch the chefs grilling the food over an open fire. The service is very much alert and attentive. The style of cooking is rather American; though the portions are not as big as usual, which is nice. As a starter the shellfish soup is good and hot, and served with fresh dill. The grilled king crab is rather tasteless and served with seaweed from the south coast of Iceland. The main course of a hefty redfish fillet and smoked pork cheek is a nice duo served with corn and chanterelles. The skyr and liquorice with crispy meringue is really good. Overall we enjoy our visit, and the place is packed as usual on a Sunday night.
A large meat cabinet is the centre-piece in the light and elegant dining room. With meat as the star, the menu presents cuts of premium beef carefully cooked on a charcoal grill. But do not overlook the other sections of the menu! The Black Angus tri-tip is juicy with a seductive salty taste, charred by flames and served with tiptop sides: triple-fried French fries, a sharply acidic béarnaise sauce and roasted tomatoes. The salmon is paired with pickled red onions, fresh cilantro and herby dill pesto – a well-balanced dish, although served with a slightly dull chickpea salad. A plate of brutally black and grey colours is an explosion of flavours with a heavy liquorice taste and sour lemon curd – a dessert with attitude. The service is somewhat shaky and the sommelier shows us how matching wines can be done with almost no words at all. A fixed price margin of €20 on all wine bottles makes it possible to enjoy premium wines at fair prices.
The town of Haapsalu is busy in the summer but hibernates in the winter. But in the coldest season, two of its restaurants (see also: Kärme Küülik) may well be the only reason to take the time to visit. Hapsal Dietrich is one. The same building houses some of the coziest and most comfortable guest apartments in Haapsalu. Perhaps that is partly why Hapsal Dietrich opens its doors in time for breakfast; andit doesn’t get quiet until closing time after dinner. Morning visits are rewarded with excellent coffee and cake to write home about. Our tip: ask for the triple chocolate cheesecake. Day and night, men make the trek (and bring women along) for the Schnitzel Wiener Art. The juicy pork is a welcome variation of the original beef of the dish. As for the ladies, they might notget further than the XXXL-sized smoothies. Or maybe there’s still room left for a slice of cake... The small dining room is always bustling with excited eaters and sleepiness is never anissue, be it summer or winter.
After a couple of years out in the cold this centrally located Mariehamn restaurant is back. And it’s a good thing, because this is the kind of place where everyone is welcomed with open arms – night-clubbing young people, families and those craving a snack, as well as gourmands. The friendly staff promptly provides us with a little mood-boosting amuse-bouche in the form of a spoon of smoked salmon with horseradish cream. Most of the old regulars wave the menu away, but the kitchen shows ambition and finesse by offering tuna tataki with fermented pointed cabbage and soy pearls, and the variation on beets is accompanied by salty roasted pine nuts and a nice, wholesome cashew nut purée instead of the usual chèvre. The portions here are huge and packed with flavour. After lobster risotto with both croquettes and fried scallops, and duck with Puy lentils and parsnip puree, we enjoy a little chocolate bite with the coffee. It’s an extra plus that they have an ambitious wine list with reasonable prices.
The Jop Antonius is situated in a courtyard shared between three buildings and geared atartists and craftsmen. In the summer, the courtyard hosts performances, concerts, and exhibitions; the rest of the year, it's rather quiet. The surroundings tune your expectations down a notch, and you might brace yourself for indifferent, purely practical eats. The entrance from the courtyard to the restaurant, where the restaurant dooron the left might go unnoticed, only contributes to this impression. The restaurant itself consists oftwo dining halls, with frequently changing art exhibitions onthe walls. The art of food tries tokeep up, and as a consequence, the menu changes with every new exhibition. The paintings adorning the walls during our visit are experimental, restless, eye-catching and attention-seeking, complemented with neon LED strips. We open the menu. The tempura grape leaves with herbal pesto and seeds immediately catch the eye. This appetizer is excellent with wine and harmonizes well with the surroundings. The pork tenderloin is glazed black with blackcurrants and titled Must Notsu – Black Piglet –in a charming cultural reference. Served with ramson-potato puree and whey sauce, the dish looks striking, and its smooth flavor and silky texture go a long way towards dissipating the doubts raised by the courtyard. Follow-up visits only confirm the impression that the food will always be a pleasant surprise and the service will keep you ingood mood. Even the flamboyant name will cease to intimidate. Our verdict: if you pass bythe Jop Antonius courtyard, ignore the first impression and walk right in.
Kortteli 5th floor, Urho Kekkosenkatu 1, 00100 Helsinki
At the top of a shopping center you will find Kortteli, a food court with everything from smoothies and pizza to fine dining. Little sister to the fine dining restaurant Ask, Jord is in an airy, rough-hewn space saturated in shades of blue with exposed pipes and beams. Through the giant windows diners can study the ant-sized people on Narinktorget below. Jord means “earth” or “soil” and Filip Langhoff’s food is definitely grounded, in spite of the elevated location. Every plate is a greeting from forest and field. The well-trained staff are anything but locally grown, many of whom prefer to speak English. Do not skip the starters, which offer a lesson in botany and a show of craftsmanship - like crispy-fried shiitake with mushroom mayo, lamb tartare with pickled ramson capers, or ultra-thin slices of air-dried ham served on a cutting board with preserves and pickles and a dab of golden rapeseed mayo. The main course of lamb brisket melts in the mouth. We enjoy the play of textures with popped cereals and a masterful porridge of ancient grains. Conclude with an adorable sour milk parfait resting on buttermilk caramel and strewn with crunchy honeycomb and fresh, green spruce oil. Naturally the food is more relaxed than at Ask, but perhaps it could do with some buttoning up, and it’s missing that pleasant buzz needed to drown out the background music of the neighboring restaurants.
The website of the Joyce promises the best flavors in the town of Tartu. Bold, isn’t it? Quite so, but not really overconfidence. The head chef Mihkel Manglus takes frequent learning trips to outstanding restaurants around the world. The resulting food is unique in Tartu. A particular highlight of the summer menu was a cucumber-almond soup, with crunchy lemon-pickled cucumber dice floating in a broth of almond milk, cucumber juice and garlic, and lime gel pulling the components together into a creamy whole that glides across the entire range of sour flavors. The autumn menu surprised with a simple tuna tartare elevated by blue mussel sauce andherb cream. Last year we found the Joyce particularly impressive for its food. The creative dishes were miles ahead of the somewhat conservative drinks selection. The latter hasnow become more interesting and varied and the service has gained confidence. If you really offer the best there is, there isno shame in saying so.
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.