Le Benjamin is the kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get place where everybody, from first dates and work colleagues to chefs and gourmands, meet to relax and enjoy the French bistro-style kitchen. The atmosphere is friendly, busy and laid-back, and at least the sofas around the edge are comfortable. Evidence of the service team’s many accomplishments covers the wall in the bar and at least one of the staff members delivers a spotless performance with a welcoming and professional attitude. The à la carte menu offers a selection of about ten starters and ten main courses plus desserts and cheeses (there’s a kids’ menu as well). The crab cakes contain delicious, well-prepared crabmeat but the chilli mayo is more chilli than mayo, which dominates the dish and overpowers the suggested white Vacqueyras. The mussel soup has just the right mouthfeel and the mussels are “à point” but we taste mostly cream and the soup lacks the promised touch of saffron. The turbot serving with sweetbreads and brandade is an enormous portion with a well-executed fish and rich flavours, but the deep-frying of the delicate sweetbreads leaves limited opportunity for them to shine. The “almost-there” feeling continues throughout the meal, leaving us with the impression that it wouldn’t take much for the kitchen to go all the way. We finish off with a couple of safe bets: a delightful crème brûlée with chocolate and berries and a selection of cheeses served at the perfect temperature, which we would have enjoyed even more had we not been forced to share the smell of the cheese fondue served several tables away for the last few hours. The wine list at Le Benjamin is – not surprisingly – very French, and lovers of Burgundy wines in particular will have little to wish for. The suggested red from Anne Gros captures both the fish and meat as advised and is professionally decanted but sadly not maintained at the initial perfect temperature during the meal. There it was again: very good, but still not quite there.
Leaven is living a quiet life in Copenhagen’s city centre – so quiet, in fact, that we’re all alone in the restaurant on the evening we pay a visit. This must be pure chance, because although it’s a Tuesday, the combination of such low prices for such excellent cuisine and good wines should make Leaven a sensation among diners. We start off with king crab, morels and apple in crab bisque, and it’s precisely as delectable as it sounds. We also make room for a serving of lumpfish roe – ‘tis the season – with cool potato cubes and a mild citrus mayo that is equally satisfying. This is followed by one of Leaven’s heavenly classics: strips of Danish squid with ventreche in a foam of Vesterhavsost cheese. Paired with these dishes is a 2014 riesling from Fritz Haag and Montagny 1er cru from Boillot in Bourgone, both of which are superb choices. The next dish is an unconventional serving of chicken in the form of succulent roasted breast and sausage with a warm remoulade sauce, followed by delightful, perfectly fried sweetbreads with a robust caper vinaigrette and sauce with leeks. These are paired with a glass of Morey-Saint-Denis 2014 Clos Solon. Or rather, two glasses – but who’s counting? Time for dessert: Jerusalem artichokes, both raw and sugar-pickled, and fudge with a wonderfully rich milk ice cream and thyme. For anyone who doesn’t particularly appreciate veg-based desserts, this is a pleasant surprise. A wonderful Tokaj from Leonis concludes a truly fine meal for the price; the four-course menu costs DKK 400 and the à la carte options are also available at reasonable prices. Heed this advice: put the money saved to good use by exploring Leaven’s impressive Burgundy list, be it Tuesday or any other day of the week.
Leib - Bread - is a bold name for an Estonian restaurant. Estonians have a special relationship with bread, specifically black rye bread. Itis synonymous with food in general. Several years ago, the restaurant started slow in a house with a big garden in Tallinn Old Town. It gained confidence with every passing year and has since become synonymous with simple honest modern Estonian cuisine. Visitors often witness a farmer with a sack of potatoes or onions on his back making his way to the kitchen. The food comes straight from the farm not just figuratively, but literally. Estonia has fairly few restaurants dedicated to local cuisine. This country is too small tooffer something that is not found elsewhere. Estonians are too few to make food that noone else makes. Modern Estonian cuisine is a way of cooking. In a departure from tradition, Leib serves homemade spiced sprat with cucumber stew; lovage oil flavors the farm tomatoes. There is something novel to every dish. Except for bread. The bread at Leib is always the same, traditional. It is too holy here to experiment with. Leib puts forward an outstanding selection of homemade drinks (beers, cider, house liquor) as well asoneof the best wine lists in Estonia. We recommend looking out for their specially imported wines - small-batch products from small winemakers. Such as the Laherte Frères Ultratradition Brut biodynamic champagne for apéritif.
At the forest's edge, a stone's throw from the water, one finds Hesselhuset and its phenomenal view of the Great Belt, where the simple and pure concept of Patrick Lieffroy’s restaurant has brought gastronomy of the highest class to new shores. A three-course menu is extremely reasonably priced, and additional dishes are available according to the occasion and budget. With bubbles of chardonnay and pinot noir from Taittinger in our glasses and a delicious serving of snacks that includes an exquisitely seasoned tartare of veal and a crisp chip with lumpfish roe and shrimp, the stage is set for a evening in the company of the finest ingredients. Classic craftsmanship doesn’t come much better than this, and many of the evening’s dishes stand out with their brilliance. The freshly caught cod from the Great Belt approaches signature status for this establishment, prepared to perfection and topped with a thin and porous toast Melba providing a crisp “skin” on the cod’s succulent meat. The dish is accompanied by small potatoes from the restaurant’s home island of Funen with Osietra caviar, lovage oil and an airy clam sauce with a touch of smoke from a mild smoked cheese cream and small morsels of smoked eel. The stout and impressive body of a weissburgunder from Rheinhessen provides a fine balance with the dish’s notes of sea and smoke. Danish lobster is served with an excellent light hollandaise with sage and classic peas à la française with shallots and bacon, a tasty twist of pickled gherkins and a black cream of fermented garlic. The Mâcon-Villages from Jean Marc Boillot, with its minimal oaked notes and fine acidity, goes well with the sweetness of the dish. Lieffroy is an alluring virtuoso and absolutely well worth a trip to experience.
Spontaneously queuing in sleet and snow may have one advantage. Namely that, once inside, you have a shot at the best seats, at the bar, with full view into the kitchen. At 5 o’clock sharp the door opens and then – bam, they’re off! Yes, it’s an adrenaline-fueled gang here, five in the kitchen and three on the floor, all men, most with beards and several with cooking medals in their back pockets, and they’re in a particularly good mood. “How cool that you got the last seats. Welcome!” The motley public is warmly received. A roughly chopped horse tartare intermingled with thin slices of semi-dry pickled kumquats is nicely balanced with the chilli kick of a broth and foie gras mousse. One does not always get the visually beautifully along with the flavourful here; the lightness that meets the eye is sometimes contradicted by too much food on the stoneware plate. It can also get a bit fratty and (deliciously) indulgent. The salmon is cured and blackened, and the Swedish-Asian rendezvous comes with a real perk: gari with a rice paper sail askew. The foodie eating alone looks sick with longing at the iron pan with potato pancakes that rushes by with a cone of caviar on the side, which is among a handful of dishes only offered to parties of at least two. It is charming here, but it goes by too fast, sometimes so much so that they seem to lose their grip. The small, yuzu-sour kohlrabi package does its best but fails to liven up languishing pieces of char. And the sabayon with cherries might have had a few too many swigs of marsala. And then – bam! Time is up. Barely two hours have passed. We stagger slightly dazed out onto the street and watch others sit down on the chairs we just possessed. How nice it looks in there, where we would still really love to be.
In a hidden away spot in the centre of the city, behind an inconspicuous metal door, you’ll find a restaurant whose reputation has reached far and wide. In a story in a local paper from another town a good distance north, Linnéa & Peter has been presented as “Umeå’s best restaurant”, despite the distance of 140 km, and fierce competition from a very tight Umeå restaurant scene. In the crowded and pleasant dining room spontaneous conversation between tables is highly likely. The staff contribute greatly to the light-hearted mood by offering both relevant information and amusing anecdotes. The hospitality here is really in a class by itself. The menu has a strong local character and the staff gladly present the origin, preparation, and seasoning in depth. They also serve a very affordable prix fixe three-course Sunday dinner. The perfectly balanced seafood soup is a great start both in terms of portion size and its ability to awaken the taste buds. Three cuts from the pig form an interesting combination: shoulder, leg and secreto. The latter is a small muscle found in the throat, which is often not used in Sweden despite its status as a delicacy in Spain. The crispy oven-roasted sides are served in small cast-iron forms with each and every main. If you want to explore the kitchen’s specialties further, we recommend a seating at the chef’s table, where just about anything can happen. But no matter when you want to eat here, book a table in advance.
Do not let the casual, nondescript and cosy atmosphere fool you – Lux houses both artisan perfection and creative height. Season, origin and change have always been part of the Lux DNA, which is partly reflected in the current suffix “day by day”. Yes, each day there is a new bill of fare. In autumn a four-course menu honours not only the seasons, but also felled deer. The dinner subtly weaves a story based on the achievements of protagonists like Daniel, the hunter, and Niki, a forest-harvesting friend, who have made possible the kitchen’s refining of what we see on the plate. The ingredients are excellent and the processing sometimes brilliant, like the mushroom dashi with the venison shank, with its salty umami and deceptively transparent red broth, and the tartare of lightly smoked venison with mushrooms and moss. The latter is like agreeably stumbling through the woods, a gastronomic collage of autumn’s every scent with notes that force the amygdala to recall childhood memories of similar outings. When we get to tonight’s big main course, young venison with Gotland truffles, we reach meat overload. Not even the poor Gotland fungus can compel the gluttony to continue. The finish, a pear simmered in woodruff, is certainly not epic, but it is rescued by a good sauternes from tonight’s competent beverage pairings. The imprint of the entire experience is epic, and Niki and Hunter Dan have taken on the same status as legendary heroes in our urban folklore as Ulysses and Njal once did.
Although the calendar shows it’s a Monday, the raw wooden tables in Manfreds’ cosy cellar are filled with diners. Christian Puglisi and Co.’s restaurant on the hipster street Jægersborggade has become a Copenhagen classic in the global bistro genre. We can hear from the languages being spoken that people come from far and wide to dine here. The waiters also come from every corner of the globe, and they all share a passion for the natural wines served with the menu’s predominantly vegetable-based dishes. The wines are explained concisely and without too much talk, and they have no unnecessary additives. This is not the place to come for a classic Bordeaux, but those with an open mind can look forward to unexpected and adventurous wine experiences. The first batch of starters in the seven-course sharing menu is accompanied by a glass without vintage from Emilia-Romagna made from the green grape variety pignoletto, whose crisp simplicity is a fine pairing with a warm and tasty mushroom bouillon and salted cod with broccoli cream. The kale salad with Sicilian blood orange works brilliantly with the moderate tannins and slightly bitter grapefruit notes of an orange wine, as does the dish of golden beets with almonds and cream. Veal loin is the evening’s only meat dish, but the kitchen can also cook meat expertly and the side of pointed cabbage is marvellous. Every dish resembles something you could have made at home with a little ingenuity; this type of simple cooking truly allows the good organic ingredients to shine. Manfreds is not the place you go for culinary feats with foam and dry ice, but it is a rather genuine neighbourhood restaurant whose excellent food and atmosphere work just as well for everyday occasions as for celebrations.
A small green wooden house in the green Kadriorg district houses the Mantel ja Korsten, a restaurant with an unexpected name. In the Middle Ages, chimneys that covered the entire fireplace or even kitchen, then tapered off to a regular smokestack at the ceiling, were a frequent occurrence. Nowadays, few remain. One such chimney graces the restaurant Mantel ja Korsten and gives the eatery its name. Here, ithas been turned into a small dining room. Apart from the lesson in medieval architecture, the Mantel and Korsten entices with a rare skill in making very, very good simple food. Inspired by ravioli, the open raviolo resembles a plate-sized torn-open Italian dumpling, with filling - chopped spiced snow crab - spilling out, accompanied with a huge ladleful of sweetly foaming corn sauce. This is the signature cuisine of Head Chef Jüri Vainküla. Prominent in his cooking are homemade pasta, fresh tartares and uncommon ingredients: swordfish, goose breast, thymus... But make sure to leave the choice of drinks upto the restaurant. This might result in, among other things, a G&T flavored with pureed blackcurrants. As for wine, ask for “something interesting”. This lights up the imagination of the manager and sommelier Robert Põld. For us, he came up with a bottle of Granbazan Limousin Albarino aged in a newoak barrel, and a local Atla manor apple brandy for digestif. The flavors at Mantel jaKorsten are well complemented by a long walk in the Kadriorg Park in the immediate vicinity.
This all-white decorated establishment in Frogner is much cosier than first meets the eye. Beneath the somewhat formal decor we find this to be one of the most charming and inviting spots to eat in this part of Oslo. Despite its above-average pricing it has many regular costumers, like the older couple reading books and drinking champagne, with the woman’s bag dutifully placed on its own stool by the table. The service is first-rate and personal, and the dishes share some of the same qualities: composed but passionate. The homemade bread is a delight, and hints at the coastal focus of the menu. The loaf, combined with pieces of anchovies dipped in a shellfish-infused oil, rockets us off to the colourful starter with lightly smoked scallops, “Bloody Mary”-laced Avruga caviar and fluffy pillows of spinach gnocchi with a soft Taleggio sauce. We continue down this path with a halibut that sparkles with citrusy flavours and crisp fava beans, or a lightly seared piece of cod breaded in ground “clipfish” (dried and salted cod) with spelt risotto in a rich morel sauce. The desserts are equally flavourful and fun. We like the idea of white chocolate and thin slices of plum contrasted with a dollop of refreshing sake ice cream. They have a comprehensive wine list focused on France, with a large selection of decently priced champagne. Their beverage recommendations are as solid as the whole experience; this is a posh place with a huge heart.
Marg & Bein (“Marrow and bone”) is a rustic restaurant with an atmosphere that is the definition of Norwegian ”hygge”, or cosiness. The wooden house is snug and warm with candlelit tables and sheep fleeces draped over the pinewood chairs. The whole room conveys Norwegian nature, raw and pure. There are pictures of cold and snowy landscapes on the walls; the tables are decorated with jars of animal bones, and vases containing dried flowers. The decor features grandmother's bureau and more jars, filled with preserves. At Marg & Bein, the atmosphere is informal, just like the clientele and the food. Today’s menu is representative of the restaurant’s style – it consists of chicken livers, pork cheeks and lemon cream with meringue. Marg & Bein cooks substantial food using the whole animal, which suits the hard, Nordic climate. The dishes are often rich and nutritious due to ingredients like cod tongue and marrow-bones. Unfortunately the pork cheek dish is disappointing, poorly balanced in taste and texture, with dry, over-cooked beans and drowned salad leaves. But the rest of the dishes are tasty and well composed. Veal sweetbreads with fried capers and mustard mayonnaise is an exciting, salty combination of fat and crunch. The restaurant’s classic dish of beef cheeks with mashed potatoes and baked vegetables is still on the menu and just as tender and flavourful as last year. The waitress is very helpful with drink recommendations and when she has time for it, she is happy to share her knowledge by telling a little about the producers. The focus on coffee is not as strong as it once was, but the restaurant still makes it from freshly ground beans.
Stavanger has seen some heavy storms lately. The big spenders from the oil industry have been subject to a tighter spending regime since oil prices plummeted in 2015, and restaurants have watched their golden age wither away. But they still come to Matbaren, all those whose spending habits have been reduced to fewer plates and to burgundies of the lesser villages. The rest come here too, after their shopping sprees, or just to warm up after a walk in the heavy winds that tend to oppress this city. Sven Erik Renaa runs the place with his wife and together they have steered this ship steadily through the rough financial times. At Matbaren the food is robust. Their take on modern bistro fare is both filling and elegant. At lunchtime there are Copenhagen-style open-faced sandwiches to be had, with cod, liver pâté, and roast beef among others. The open kitchen gives the wooden interior a warmth and livens up the dining room. The chefs work at a nice pace, not too loud and not too disturbing, and act as a combination of backdrop and entertainment. The highlights of the dinner service are the meats and fish. At Matbaren they are particular in their selection, and the rib-eye is dry-aged from an older animal. Because of its age the meat has nutty flavours, and together with a béarnaise, a big portion of fries and a deep-fried onion ring, it all comes together in a unified dish. The fat in the lightly grilled rib-eye melts on the tongue, and the buttery sauce gives the fat just the right amount of acidity to make you close your eyes and chew slowly so as to enjoy the last little bit and fibre of flavour.
Tromsø is proud of its food heritage and this food-stall-by-day and restaurant-by-night is a great place to taste some of the region’s best produce. Here you can indulge in local meat and fish, all in the comfortable surroundings of a modern restaurant – or take it back home from the take-out counter. Chef Gunnar Jensen’s food always brings a smile to our lips. Be sure not to miss his classic-modern herring dish with local potatoes, horseradish, rye and brown butter. A serving of chicken broth warms our bones on this cold, soon-to-be-spring evening. The cod, served with lemon, carrot, bacon hollandaise and kale is a scruffy sight, but it tastes great. Generous slices of lamb come with onion, celeriac and mushrooms. It’s not the most instagram-friendly food, but it’s as tasty as one could want. Mathallen’s unusual décor is a fresh breath in this town; we like their humorous approach to a garage-meets-restaurant, but showing off everything also demands greater tidiness. Unfortunately, our service is on a par with a fast-food restaurant and lacks all of the hospitality the region is known for. And with a new player in town, Mathallen needs to fine-tune its front of house – until then we’ll save this place for quick meals.
Every Icelandic chef with an interest in food culture has channeled Helga Sigurðardóttir. This mother of Icelandic food, like Julia Child, set the standard in Icelandic cuisine with her 1954 recipe collection, Matur og Drykkur (Food and Beverage). These traditional dishes are the inspiration at the restaurant called Matur og Drykkur. The raw environment echoes the building’s history as a fish factory. The design and decor today are playfully creative and the staff have a nice, relaxed style. In both the kitchen and at the bar, their ambitions are high. Why not start with a Brennvin Negroni, one of several fun cocktails that have made them famous in town? Interestingly enough, it works well with a trout that has been smoked with a mix of sheep’s dung, straw and blueberry rice served with horseradish cream. A German riesling is perfect with their halibut soup, in which a magically tasty fish broth is poured over the fish, some mussels, marinated raisins, apple cubes and dill oil. The flavours are equally balanced in the arctic char dish, where dill oil is combined with cucumber, fennel and a cream made from skyr (Icelandic yoghurt). The homemade birch schnapps that goes with their Ástarpungar – twisted donuts with caramelized whey – is a must as a finishing touch. And with that, good coffee from locally roasted beans.
Let’s make it clear right away: this is a place for meat lovers. After the walk over the cobblestone streets of Old Porvoo you step through the old wooden door on the corner of a building from the last century. Almost immediately you encounter the fridge with its large glass doors, behind which pieces of meat hang in a row. Some realise right away that they are in the wrong place, but they actually have vegetarian options here. If you sit in the room by the fridge, you also get to enjoy the open kitchen with its flaming grill and savvy cooks. And you won’t be the only one. The locals, young and old alike, appreciate the progressive meat theme and the quality here is very high. Many of the cuts have been hanging for six weeks, with guaranteed tenderness as a result. But we start out gently with pieces of salami, chorizo and pata negra. The latter is very good, with a pronounced nutty flavour. But it is the beef tartare that really make us happy. The cow, of the Charolais breed, has grazed just twelve kilometres from the restaurant. Mini burgers are cooked to medium and topped with cheddar cheese. We wash all this down with a light pinot noir from Hungary. The main attraction on the smaller “Half In” menu (as opposed to the “All in” alternative) turns out to be sirloin, lightly grilled medium rare over an open fire. The standout among the condiments is the red wine sauce with marrow. Amazing! Naturally we sit on cowhide chairs. They’re not very comfortable but certainly appropriate at this establishment. The wine list is packed with good bottles from the Old World.
A wall of moss provides atmosphere and acoustic insulation in Mes, the small restaurant owned by Chef Mads Rye Magnusson. With previous experience at restaurants such as Falsled Kro and Geranium, he certainly knows his stuff. Mes serves reasonably priced gourmet cuisine with wines – both natural and more classic vintages – almost exclusively from Jura and Germany. The atmosphere is informal with relatively loud electronic music, simple black tables and naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. All diners are served the same five-course menu, along with the option of purchasing additional snacks and cheese. The snacks are impressive and demonstrate Magnusson’s high ambitions. Platters arrive with shrimp chips and mushroom mayo, malt croustades with chive cream and tart red sprinkles of dried tomato. Toasted Tuscan kale with sous vide egg yolk, lovage hollandaise and crisp-fried potato crumbles is pure vegetal enjoyment. Another brilliant yet simple dish is the coarsely chopped veal tartare under a lid of paper-thin slices of raw mushroom surrounded by nothing more than small dots of horseradish mayo and shaved horseradish. The cold mushrooms and horseradish kick give the dish a refreshing coolness. A hippie wine from Arbois of chardonnay and merlot reeks of farmyard and tastes more like grape juice than wine, but it goes brilliantly with the raw freshness of the tartare. Magnusson’s modus operandi is to serve his personal favourites and we are not disappointed. His cuisine is modern yet unpretentious with simple dishes that reflect his personality and provide diners with no-frills Nordic luxury.
From the seductive decor in bordello red, with bar, sofas, small tables and booths in an enchanting blend, this place is slick. We could be anywhere in the world, but this is Melker Andersson and Danyel Couet’s Östermalm, where the women like bubbles in their glasses and the men all have beards. The smart, minimalistic menu offers 15 “salty” dishes and six “sweet”, broadly embracing all of Asia. A sesame-sprinkled rack of lamb, Korean BBQ-style, comes with asparagus, broccoli and goat's cheese cream. It’s a home run. So, too, is the duck confit with ginger and Asian pear, though the spices sometimes knock over the other ingredients. The tuna with wasabi, yuzu-soy and Avruga caviar is also seriously yummy, one of our faves. Or does the initial lobster taco with a wasabi and avocado cream still take the prize? The drinks we choose are good, well matched, and doled out liberally. And so is the ending. What could it be? Our fleet-footed waiter proposes a combination of all the desserts, all seven, in a grand dessert. It is a beautiful performance with chocolate and plum, coconut with tapioca and fruit salad, mango with kaffir lime, and a spicy crème brûlée with apple and almond. But what about ice cream, ask the children. Done! And some sorbet for the adults, at the conclusion of a trip through Östermalm’s orient.
In the midst of Mols Bjerge National Park lies the Friland eco-village, home to the vegetarian gourmet restaurant Moment since 2016. With new Head Chef René Warn, whose past experience includes a stint at Kommandanten in Copenhagen, the menu is light-years from simple salads. The flavours are full throttle, as techniques such as pickling, fermentation and smoking transform familiar vegetarian ingredients into intense new culinary experiences with depth and complexity. Slow-braised green cabbage has a caramelised, sweet depth, as juice from fermented cabbage gives the dish more power and balanced acidity. Le Sacre from Ebeltoft Bryghus, a fine and vinous beer from the drinks menu, does a good job of capturing both the fermented and fresh notes, but struggles a bit with the sweetness of the cabbage. The host couple, Morten and Rikke Storm Overgaard, are working the floor this evening. They share their expertise on ingredients, preparation and the wines in our glasses, while providing warm and welcoming hospitality. The restaurant is bright, with modern Nordic decor and a view of the somewhat futuristic greenhouse, where many of the kitchen’s ingredients are grown during the summer. The dessert nicely concludes a well-composed meal with a taste of sunny summer: pickled wild blueberries and a refreshing granité of aronia berries with crystallised white chocolate, caramel and rich, creamy sheep’s milk yoghurt topped with dried rosehip petals that give the dish a lightly perfumed and floral summer aroma. A meal at Restaurant Moment is a tour de force in vegetarian diversity with sustainable principles underlying the delicious cuisine on every plate.
Monte Pacis may well have been last year’s single biggest surprise. After all, what would you expect of food inan active monastery? Austerity, perhaps, and meager offerings...yet throughout history, monasteries have contributed a lot toour knowledge of food in general and drinks in particular. And this is where Monte Pacis lives upto its heritage and blazes the trail for restaurants everywhere. The authentic rustic milieu created by the rustic wooden furniture belies the menu, which ismodern fine dining. The first section of the drinks menu covers...water. The fifteen different choices range from the crystal-clear Norwegian Vossto the Georgian Borjomi whose salty flavour some might consider an acquired taste. The list moves onto local fruit wines, monastery wines, beers, and ciders, and then champagnes. Choosing your beverages distracts pleasantly from the urgency of hunger. The Borjomi is a good choice for anyone who believes that all water is created equivalent. Moving on from there, the standout among sparkling wine-like aperitifs is the Abbazia di San Gaudenzio Fragolino, a mix of fermented grape- and strawberry juices that the Piemontese monks have beenmaking since the 9th century. Strawberry notes dominate and provide a very sweet counterweight for those tired of the old brut. The kitchen is helmed by Rokas Vasiliauskas, the youngest chef inany upscale restaurant in the Baltics. The restaurant really puts its best foot forward with the 9-course “carte blanche” degustation menu, where each dish remains a secret until it arrives at the table. The chef’s attention is largely occupied with introducing the degustation menu and guests that settle for the brief à la carte options might notget his full attention, even though the food is equally delicious. The lamb in the dumplings is coarsely chopped, which allows the flavor of the mutton a clarity that regular fine mince cannot quite achieve. Still today wehave fond memories of the perfectly cooked duck breast with delicate pickled rhubarb.
"he Moon is a family restaurant at the edge of the trendy Kalamaja district. Based onclassic Russian cuisine, itis worth visiting for excellent food and homelike atmosphere. The Moon blends the ancient with the modern and reinterprets traditional Russian cuisine in a new fashion. Moon's appreciation of traditions and openness to the newis confirmed by the fact that they were oneof the first restaurants to establish itself in the proto-gentrifying Kalamaja. Ithas since become a cozy, well worked in place with a special atmosphere where the food, drink, interior and service form a whole and bring a crowd. The soul of the Moon isoneof the top Estonian chefs Roman Zaštšerinski with his chef nephew Igor Andrejev. Tired of fine dining, these gentlemen threw off the toque blancheandreturned to their roots. Roman's wife Jana prepares the drinks and takes care of the guests, and as such, the Moon isan outstanding family restaurant. The menu lists some traditional Russian dishes as well as their modern interpretations. The pies are just as they have always been - fresh, fragrant, and richly stuffed. The great Russian soups - borsch, solyanka, uha - as well as dumplings and buckwheat blini hark back to the classics. The Head Chef has given his imagination looser reins with main dishes. Classics such as chicken à la Kiev, rabbit, and beefsteak are revamped with interesting sides and sauces - the chicken Kiev with kohlrabi-spinach salad and hazelnut dressing, the rabbit with carrot-spinach puree and Parmesan cream, and the entrecote with roast parsnip and tomato-aubergine salad. The drinks complement the food. The selection is broad and caters to several interests: biological, biodynamic and kosher categories are all represented, as are local small breweries and cider-makers. Non-alcoholic drinks are also available.
Morten Nielsen is celebrating 20 years as a restaurateur in Aalborg; and from the very first popping of inaugural corks, his ambition has been to position the restaurant at the upper echelon of the city’s gastronomic establishments. Extensive elbow grease has gone into creating a cosmopolitan milieu that stands out from Aalborg’s other restaurants. Cream-coloured leather, purple neon, an Uncle Scrooge painting and lounge versions of such classics as the Temptations’ “My Girl” are just a taste of the sensory input in the dimly lit, cave-like restaurant – a David Lynchian hybrid of dream and reality. With precision, credibility and a well-measured formal distance, Morten himself orchestrates the evening’s meal. Surprisingly, the oeuvre of snacks, bubbles and bread receives a taciturn presentation amounting only to a quick mention that the bread is “warm” and nary a word about the champagne. We move on to the evening’s menu, where the best dish is a cut of perfectly fried wolf-fish fillet garnished with creamy saffron barley risotto, perfectly acidic sauce nage and al dente cabbage; the pairing of an oily, floral viognier fits the cabbage like a glove and brings us to a state of bliss. A luxurious serving of poached cockerel, sauce suprême of crème fraîche, goose liver and cognac with shaved winter truffle is just as classic as a Mercedes 350SL cabriolet and evokes sentimentality for Larousse Gastronomique and a bygone era. The richness could have been broken up by something crisp, but the balance and completeness are fortunately consolidated by a cool, acidic pinot from Santa Barbara. The old-school style continues with a veal fillet flambé, carved at our table. The accompaniments of creamy potato purée, glossy veal demi-glace and a thick basil sauce are flawless and seamlessly intertwine with the bacony and peppery California shiraz from Coppola; although the portion is more than generous, this overly safe dish lacks a few innovative and enthralling elements. This issue is obliterated by the myriad inventive and affable options on the cocktail menu, which you absolutely must dabble in before calling for the bill.
If you continue along the quay, so far that the indistinct signage makes you think you made a wrong turn, you will soon find yourself at the epicentre of Finland’s wild flavours. It’s a rather unexpected location for such an extraordinary restaurant experience, a stone’s throw from the moored cruise liners with their giant smorgasbords. At Nokka they make it clear early on that the kitchen adheres exactly to seasonal variations and is dependent on what they receive from small-scale suppliers, both in terms of animals and vegetables. This sets the tone for the two set menus, one of which is vegan. The first courses look confusingly similar. The omnivore’s dish, smoked pike with its roe, has a strangely delicious saltiness under pickled radishes, brightened up by a bowl of tarragon-laced cucumber salad as ice cold as the ocean outside. On the vegan dish the fish has been replaced by pieces of porcini. The pairing of a six-year-old, oak-barrel-aged, cognac-scented and white grenache from Montsant is more interesting than good. But the non-alcoholic pairing is perfectly on point: a lightly spiced sparkling beverage made of black currant leaves meets a small caramelized onion with browned butter and crispy “muesli”. At Nokka they are proud to have their own fisherman, who has provided the pike for the main course, which has been pan-fried with honour and comes with vegetable “cannelloni” and a potato croquette to suck up the creamy and tart sauce. The passion-fruit-flavoured sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is a fresh exception to the wine list that is primarily dominated by the Old World. Though the food is finely nuanced it’s never pretentious in this former warehouse on the harbour. It’s warm and inviting here, between the brick walls, with a full view of the kitchen where the happy cooks have eschewed knitted hats in favour of baseball caps. The staff are in a really good mood when the dining room is filled with tourists from far away, often from Japan and the United States, sitting side by side with jubilant large family gatherings. Over elderflower granite served in the restaurant’s obligatory carved wooden box we discuss how rare it is at a restaurant of this calibre to find the kind of generosity they exhibit in switching out dishes on the fixed menus. The food odyssey is rounded off with riches from “the land of a thousand lakes” in the form of a milk chocolate with gooseberries.
The website implores locals to drop by and enjoy themselves in the united spirits of Christianshavn (where the restaurant is located) and Bornholm (the home island of Kadeau’s founders) – be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The decor perfectly matches the culinary style, which is simple, Nordic and seasonal. On an autumn evening, it is only natural to start with a herby, rich appetiser of beef broth with tarragon oil and beef fat, bringing warmth to body and soul alike. Appetiser number two is a dehydrated beetroot with shredded beef fat and yeast – a sensational umami bomb to kick off our meal. And thus it continues at an impressive clip. Our waiters are well informed about the food and wine, the latter of which are low on sulphites, in keeping with the concept. The appetisers are accompanied by a white Jura made with savagnin and other local grapes, whose nice acidity and slight oxidation make it a fine pairing with the sour and umami-rich servings; it brilliantly matches a simple but refined dish of al dente squid with sweet grilled beetroot, sour yoghurt and fresh citrusy herbs. The tartare, not to be missed, is a real pleaser. Coarsely minced meat with good flavour and structure is joined by sour green tomatoes and oyster mayo, bringing the dish together nicely with richness and bitter/salty notes. A gargantuan and inelegant dessert with a slightly too chewy meringue, sloppily seasoned whipped cream and pickled cherries lacks sweetness and is simply a dud. But the kitchen is otherwise fine-tuned and unmistakably in the Kadeau lineage from beginning to end. A more affordable everyday version of its famous big brother, it’s a genuine “back pocket” deserving of a visit.
Naert opened in 2015 as a Norwegian gourmet restaurant with long menus and high prices, but a revamping of the menu last year saw a reduction in both. We are immediately thrilled by the introductory snacks, a simple and satisfying egg boiled in miso, served with a little dill mayonnaise. Throughout the menu the flavours are intensely delicious. A boned chicken thigh is surrounded by a thick and enticing ultra-crisp skin, while an acidic butter sauce with dulse and fried Tuscan kale envelops the crispness with a jaw-dropping umami punch. An orange wine with strong tannins and bold acidity stands up well to the rich dish. Naert clearly shows that Norwegian/Nordic cuisine is capable of embracing more than the cool and delicate flavours it’s known for. The kitchen makes good use of the season’s available ingredients, while banking those of past seasons with the extensive use of fermentation and pickling. A slow-roasted lamb breast virtually melts under the outer crust, held in check by beetroot and fermented blackcurrant. The beetroot notes in the extremely succulent and meaty gamay wine pairing make the dish sing loud and clear. Our attentive sommelier (the only waiter this evening) has carefully considered the natural wines that he exquisitely pairs with the flavours of our food. The only misstep of the evening is the bland milk ice cream with chunks of dry pastry, pickled sea buckthorn and poppy seeds. It looks like someone smushed a
Danish pastry into a scoop of ice cream, and the accompanying oloroso sherry is too dry to withstand the sweetness of the dish. The dining room has too few tables to fill out the relatively large space, and the naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling do nothing to create a cosy atmosphere, but the friendly service and kitchen’s high level of culinary ability make the overall experience a positive one.
In the middle of reading the menu we notice that the Pommern is gone! Instead of the four-masted steel barque that is usually moored in the harbour outside Nautical and the Åland Maritime Museum, now there is nothing but the (albeit beautiful) glittering waters of Mariehamn. Our first look at the menu inspires fears that that resourceful simplicity that charmed us on previous visits might also be missing. Toast Skagen and flounder meunière sound undeniably like dishes you might find on the menu of a small town hotel. But after assurances that the museum ship has only been temporarily relocated for maintenance, and a delicious amuse-bouche in the form of Jerusalem artichoke soup with smoky bits of lamb tartare and crisp black bread, we feel much calmer. When Skagen à la Chädström turns out to be chock-full of horseradish, and the witch flounder majestically sails in like the Pommern on a 1:2 scale with zesty pickled fennel and a decadent buttery champagne sauce, all our worries are blown away. It’s a bit intimidating to eat, but there is nothing not to like when it’s this intensely delicious. “The cod has arrived!” exclaims our very social waiter, pointing out the fishing spot beside some islets just beyond the harbour entrance. On the plate the fish swim à la bourguignonne, in red wine sauce with diced pork and mushrooms. A nice, smooth potato crème completes the plate. This dish is also rather hefty, but just the right amount of nourishment on a bleak late-winter night in expectation of spring – and the Pommern’s return.
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.