22 May 2013
After a restless night (from aforementioned vertigo, jetlag, draftless heat and tourist noise), I got up feeling not that great. Several meetings today, and for some reason I felt very knackered and ropey. Nevertheless I trudged on, and had a nice lunch with a dear friend at Mekk. Sorry, no review as was busy conversing, but it’s a good place for lunch or dinner. I’ve always enjoyed Mekk. I promise next time I will do a proper review of this fine eatery.
The day was knackering and my original dinner plans sort of fell through, so I went solo and headed to Ö — one of the best restaurants in the city. I had a good a la carte meal the last time I was there a few years ago, when it was rated the best restaurant in the country. Although it had fallen to second, I was keen on checking out the tasting menu.
I arrived at the stylish restaurant just outside the Old Town early, and sadly it was empty. Odd, this restaurant just doesn’t have the same appeal as last night’s busy Bocca, even though it’s runned by the same group. And through the night there were pretty much only foreigners there… Maybe locals have not gotten used to this type of dining yet, especially tasting menus? It was a little disappointing.
I was given a nice corner elevated section and enjoyed the evening from a nice position overlooking the rest of the restaurant. I immediately went with the tasting menu and to test them, I also asked for a full pairing. Let’s see how well they do. I’ve never had a tasting menu and pairing in Estonia before, despite living here for so many years (well, those years were before the era of tasting menus…nor did I have the resources to afford anything that grand).
We began with a fairly simple amuse bouche of whitefish in broth. Simple, nothing special, a rather salty broth to get the palate ready (and thirsty). I was waiting for my wine pairing to begin, and it wasn’t too long before I was presented with a glass of sancerre to go with my first course, a goat cheese salad.
I love goat cheese, as I have said so many times on this blog, and this features goat cheese produced by the Kalamatsi dairy. It was nice, the whole production, but I do wish it had a little more of the goat cheese. But at the end, it’s a salad.
Not a bad start, and I was ready for round two. My server presented something different, a local Estonian apple wine for the next course — the smoked eel.
I love eel to death, smoked or fresh, broiled or fried, freshwater or ocean. This generously-portioned chunk of smoked eel was flavourful, though some may find the skin off-putting. I don’t mind it at all, I actually like it. The apple wine really worked well here, despite my earlier apprehension. The parsnip and carrots were an afterthought for me as the main ingredient really shone strongly by itself.
After two courses I was pretty happy. There were some guests at the restaurant now, so it’s not deathly quiet — which was welcome. I still wish more locals would come here, though I do understand it is rather pricey by any standards. My server brought me my next wine, a solid chianti classico, to accompany the third course, the baby lamb.
I’ve been having spectacular luck with lamb recently, from the amazing one at Steiereck in Wien/Vienna and Costes in Budapest to last night’s at Bocca. This was also solid and tender, executed well. Not at the level of the aforementioned wonders, but good. The beets were a welcome addition to this plate.
At this point we reached the half-way mark and my palette-cleanser of apple sorbet arrived. I spent this time reflecting on how far Estonian cooking has come since I first visited in the early 1990s and the dodgy meals I had over the many years. Ö can easily compete with the top restaurants of the region, and it deserves more recognition outside of Estonia.
The break soon ended, to my delight, and I was greeted with a serving of a local whitefish (hard to explain but in Estonian is siig — similar to the common whitefish).
With a chilling Italian white on the side, this fish dish went down nicely. Now I’m not a big fan of this fish, but was executed well. The fennel worked with the fish’s texture and mild taste. I’m glad they went with a local fish despite it not being one of my favourites.
The server soon poured me a glass of valpolicella and presented the pentultimate course, the venison.
This exhibition of Estonian game cooking, at which they excel, was a treat. I love venison and game meat in general (as opposed to game birds, which I generally dislike), and Estonia is rich in game. The venison was tender and extremely flavourful, a richness you cannot get with the “farmed game” in the US. A fantastic final savoury course!
I am not a dessert person, but I was hoping for something nice in the marzipan-centric final course. To be honest, it was boring — except for the sorbet made from sea buckthorn. Estonians have a deep love for the tangy and sharp tastes of this berry, which they call astelpaju. This was indeed a treat, though I remember nothing about the other “boring” parts of the dish…
I finished up after a digestif and thanked the attentive staff and headed out into the still-bright Tallinn evening, happy to have enjoyed this tasting menu. Again, this shows the Estonians can do it. A bit more polishing and this restaurant can be pushed up to quite a high international level. It certainly kicks the rears of many others that have received a Michelin star. Probably too soon for one, but sooner than later.
Mere puiestee 6E