Review #3: Ö

17 June 2016

The next morning I made my escape via the bus station, but had an hour to catch up with a dear old friend — who wasn’t surprised with how bad things were on this trip. He had his own gripes to vent about Riga — his own home town. It’s amazing how a totally crap city government can make a wonderful city so negative so quickly…

I hopped onto the bus and headed north for “home” — yep, an unexpected, unplanned quick stop in Tallinn. I still had to rush to Stockholm tomorrow, so had to eat a flight from RIX and buy a last-minute TLL-ARN ticket. Thank goodness it was modest. Rested the first half of the bus ride, had a long DM chat with someone the second half, so time went by quickly.

Got to my hotel and was so good to just speak Estonian again… Excellent room at the Swisshotel. I splurged a little because being last minute the prices were all about the same anyway, and I didn’t want to be in the Old Town, so this was perfect. I went to soak in the tub a little to relax, despite the gorgeous sunshine outside…

Since this was an unplanned trip most of my friends were busy, so I didn’t even bother. I made arrangement for dinner and headed out just as the weather turned. No surprise my dinner destination is to one of my favourite restaurants in the world, the fabulous Ö. I’ve had several memorable meals here. Last time was blown-away good, the previous time totally awesome.

I relaxed at this relatively early hour and chilled out with a martini…it’s always nice to have a perfectly made martini when you’re on the road.

martini

I of course went with the full tasting and wine pairing, and asked them to do service in both Estonian and English. Perfect. I was home and feel absolute bliss. If I was a rabbit I would have flopped right there…

Soon the amuse arrived, and it was a beauty…

ABa-skin-belly-herbal

The salmon skin was perfectly crispy, which is excellent as some recent places doing fish skin have been a little lax; nice tomato powder too. The aged belly was graced with currant powder, which was also very nice. Then the “herbal shot” was a good palate cleanser. What a nice start!

The wine pairings also started and my server enjoyed doing the description in both languages, especially when she started presenting the dishes. First up, whitefish carpaccio.

01b-whitefish

Wow, now this is beautiful. The fish was excellent, and the assortment of flowers actually adds to the flavour very nicely as did the dill oil. There was also some fine roe to round out this excellent start. Wow. I’m beyond happy already. Then we moved onto the second dish, elk carpaccio from Saaremaa…

02-elk

Mmm, this was very tasty from the beginning, the meat from the largest of the Estonian islands was clean and flavourful, augmented by generous usage of black garlic. The moss was also cute. With a very relaxed pinot as a pairing, this dish went down very well. Again, another excellent dish.

I always have wonderful meals here and am puzzled why not more food people make their way here. The quality of ingredients and cooking surpasses many Michelin places, and they deserve such a bigger audience! I was glad to see a large group of Koreans arriving, as well as a few tables of locals on this stormy Friday night. Next up was celeriac…

03-celeriac

One of the nicest chunk of celery root I’ve had in awhile, which they salt-baked. Lovely buttery flavours here, and the use of whey here brought back memories of Vinland in Portland. Very solid dish. Next up is again one of my favourite fish, the sturgeon.

04a-sturgeon

A very fine piece of fish, cooked well and full of flavour. Didn’t really need that sauce — which was rather mesmirising for some reason… The kohlrabi was nice, and the sauce helped that along very well. Again, I so rather have sturgeon than the caviar! Excellent!

I was extremely happy at this stage, and this is one of the tasting dinners of 2016 so far I must say. The next dish did nothing to change that — the quail.

05a-quail

Now I have praised the heck out of the quail here in the past, which comes from Järveotsa. Tender, juicy and rich, just the way quail should be — not the bland stuff you seem to get in the US these days. Now this prep was a wee serving, but it was cooked perfectly. Lovely skin too. The carrot puree and pickled carrots add to the overall appeal of this dish, but the star was certainly that bird. Wow…

What a fabulous dinner so far! At this point a pair of ladies sat down at the next table and started their tasting menu. Turns out they were dentists and were curious how I was speaking Estonian to the servers, so that ended up with me engaging in conversation with them the rest of the evening. What a wonderful addition to this fabulous food!

As we chatted we of course kept paying attention to our food. They enjoyed their amuse as my next course arrived, beef from Saaremaa.

06a-beef

Now beef had been in the past a weak part of the meat system in Estonia, but they have really done an amazing job in the last few years with some very select stuff from the island. They aged the beef in house and cooked it delicately, making sure it’s delicate but strong. Augmented by the very happy king trumpet, this was overall a stunning dish that actually did not need the sauce.

06c-beef

Look at the beef, it’s fabulous. My only comment is that it stands well on its own, the sauce can be minimalised with this prep. Fabulous beef.

I chatted more with the next table as they awaited their dishes and then they brought out a wee bit of palate cleanser for me…

07-ice

A nice ice and citrus sorbet snack and we moved onto the dessert, which came out with a bit of a show…

08-goat cheese-spruce

The liquid nitrogen kept going for quite awhile (they timed it very well and poured enough…) as I enjoyed the dessert…Mmm, some excellent goat cheese and spruce gelato, with some “ash cookie” gracing the bottom. A very nice dessert as the meal concluded — and the liquid nitrogen conveniently was spent…

What a fabulous meal, one of the tasting dinners of 2016 for sure. The quail and beef were fabulous as was the whitefish, those stood out the most. The celeriac also. This place should really be getting far more foodie love, and is totally worth making a trip. Frankly a flight here plus this dinner is probably cheaper than a night out in Copenhagen. And you get far more honest cooking that seeks to bring out the best of local ingredients, not to show off how bloody clever the kitchen is (often at the detriment of sensible, clean flavours).

If I had to choose a final meal, this restaurant would be one of the 5 I’d consider… Super stuff, very, very highly recommended. Fantastic service, very generous wine pours. If Michelin finally comes to Estonia no doubt this place will get a star.

I stayed and enjoyed some last sweet snacks and a few after-dinner drinks chatting with the two ladies until the place was basically ready to close. What was supposed to be a quick drop-in into Tallinn turned into a 6+ hour dinner with some unexpected company. I eventually thanked them — and my unexpected conversation partners — took my leave and strolled back to my hotel.

It’s so good to be home…

Ö
Mere puiestee 6E
Tallinn, Eesti

Review #2: Bibliotēka №1

16 June 2016

Got pretty much no sleep. Smoke inundated my room until 4am and the front desk did nothing — just scoffed. I began contemplating leaving Riga early, cutting my 3-night stay into 2. Sadly, I’ve done this once before a decade ago, again due to a horribly bad hotel making me so sick of the city…

I had a busy day on the other side of town and had an odd lunch at a place called International that included a beaver salad. Yes, you read that right… Good stuff.

The original hotel that nixed my booking had tried to fix things with the new hotel, but the new hotel wasn’t receptive. I was still pissed the original booking was axed, but am appreciative of their efforts. The new hotel was just a joke and if they didn’t try to fix things I will leave town early. So for part of the late afternoon I was trying to figure out how to escape Riga…

But before then I have to re-visit Bibliotēka №1, probably the finest restaurant in Riga. I had a wonderful meal here during my last visit (oh that lamprey…), but this time it was dinner so I happily went with the tasting menu. I was really looking forward to this…

I was the only person sitting inside as every table outside was full. It wasn’t that warm (plus the AC wasn’t on inside) but I see people vaping at tables and don’t need that. I’m glad it’s not cigarettes like at so many outdoor places in Europe, but this wasn’t much better. Plus, nice and quiet inside…

Then the sky opened up and I looked at my phone…and heard MP Jo Cox was killed by a deranged extremist nut. It was honestly not easy to enjoy a meal with this happening, and I kept following the story sometimes almost ignoring my food… What a tragic and sickening thing to happen…

Last night’s dinner at Restorāns 3 was excellent, but tonight my expectations are far higher. However, the bad news really hung over me and I didn’t enjoy this meal as much as I wanted to…not the fault of the restaurant. It’s just impossible to have a good night… But they tried, and I tried too.

No real snacks but we just went into the 9-course meal. The wine pairings were good and the pours generous, so that helped on such a sombre day… We start with something that helped clean the palate.

01-tomato cucumber soup

A cucumber soup graced with tomato. It certainly did its job, and was nice and refreshing. Next up was something that surprised me for this part of Europe — cod carpaccio.

02-cod carpaccio

The cod is excellent, with quail egg and pickled enoki as fine accompaniments to the delicious fish. What was also special was the wild asparagus shoot… Excellent dish! We kept moving and third up was veal.

03-veal

There’s several parts to this. The veal tartar was of good quality and delicious, but the tongue was the star. I was told it was slow cooked in butter for days… Wow, this was really something. Another excellent dish, my expectations are being met certainly so far!

Despite me frowning every few minutes from looking at more news updates, I smiled whenever I had a dish. Too much sadness and hate in the world, this is my oasis from it tonight. Next up a tasting of local goat cheese.

04-goat cheese

Now there’s few things as wonderful as when you get good goat cheese, and we have a winner here. I’m surprised by the quality of this local product, but the richness worked well in its various manifestations here. The wee pasty was especially nice, filled with extreme richness balanced by the shell; the gelato was also a fabulous treat, helped on by the nutty dust. Another winner!

I was really happy with this dinner so far! It almost made me forget the other hell that is my hotel situation… Next up was a bit of a show…

05-birch sap sorbet3

A palate cleanser was next in this fun presentation, but it’s a delicious birch sap sorbet. Apparently in a previous incarnation of this dish they had a goldfish swimming inside the ice, but when concerned diners tried to “rescue” the fish it actually endangered the otherwise-unharmed fish, so they stopped — and now just has some herbs instead suspended in the water inside the ice.

Anyway, back to the food as we move into the heartier dishes for this tasting menu. Item number six was a treat…

06-smoked sturgeon

Local sturgeon with roe. Strong and flavourful, sturgeon always one of my favourite things to eat. I actually prefer the fish to the caviar. Cooked perfectly, a very strong dish. And chef, hearing I liked those wild asparagus shoots, threw some onto this dish. How cool… Lovely stuff.

07-beef

I was almost sad when the last savoury item came next, the beef. There are cheeks under this, sorry the photo doesn’t really show it. But the cheeks were excellent. The filet was a little overcooked and underseasoned — the only real weak part of this tasting menu. Too bad it came at the end, but it can’t be all excellent.

We shifted to the desserts and the first was a nice little combination of local cheese and rhubarb.

08-rhubarb-cheese

I have to say the local cheeses are impressing me. Last night with that excellent sheep cheese, and tonight. Latvia is onto something here. Then the final dessert, which also featured cheese…

09-strawberry-elderberry sorbet

Strawberries and elderflower sorbet, all served with some liquid nitrogen-treated cheese. A very nice combination and although a little similar in style to the first dessert it was very nice. Strawberry season starts well!

I chilled out a bit there at the restaurant enjoying the wifi and checking out what to do if I decide to quit Riga a day early. Plus a make-your-own macaroon set… 🙂

10-build-your-own macaroons

There was no use to keep reading updates on Jo Cox — it won’t bring her back, it won’t put the racist genie that the Brexit campaign has let out of the bottle. Just tried to block it out or else I’ll go nuts…

Headed back to the hotel in a mixed mood — which changed when I got there. Another bad night in a crap hotel, when I made the decision to get out of Riga early. The excellent dinner kept me from just collapsing in a heap in despondency, but I need to get out of Dodge. Sorry, Riga, it’s goodbye after 22 years…

Bibliotēka №1
Tērbatas iela 2
Rīga, Latvija

Review: Restorāns 3

15 June 2016

I left Helsinki for Riga with a bit of a headache. No, not from the booze from last night’s excellent dinner at Finnjävel. Instead, it was my hotel in Riga screwing with me, saying my paid-for booking has been bumped, and they threw me into a clearly inferior place. I was livid as I headed to a town that has played with my mind for 22 years…

I have an intense love-hate relationship with Riga, a place I’ve been to over a dozen times in the past 22 years. From some amazing and emotional moments with Gulag survivors to shouting matches with drunken Brits on stag dos, from being the first and last foreign journalist to interview former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga during her 2 terms of office to interrupting a group of UK generals during a formal meeting when acting just as an observer, I’ve got memories up the wazoo here.

But one thing that has consistently sucked — the hospitality industry. Way too much of Riga is geared towards the stag party scene, which is a total bloody shame on BOTH sides. The hotels are a joke, noisy and full of smoke (despite it being illegal), with just terrible attitudes by employees. The only saving grace is that a few very excellent restaurants had appeared and really raising the bar here. Too bad we have to go back to hotels after the meals…

After dealing with the hotel BS all day I headed out to dinner in the historic Old Town to one of the new brand of restaurants in Riga that offered tasting menus — Restorāns 3. I don’t need to translate that name… But when I got there I got another unpleasant surprise. The main restaurant upstairs was rented out by a VIP group, so I have to do the tasting menu in the cafe downstairs. Again, bumped. Just like my hotel. Sometimes I feel like Latvia’s more Uzbekistan than Estonia…

I tried to put it all behind me and enjoy the dinner, and once I did that it turned out to be a pretty good evening of food. I went with the tasting menu, of course, with a wine pairing. That didn’t turn out bad at all, and the food darn good. Although when the amuse came full of liquid nitrogen I worried…

AB-pie

Flashy but prolly unnecessary. The cheese and chanterelle pie was nice enough on its own. Then with the breads, served with local rapeseed oil. After a little the course — and wines — began.

01a-trout-oyster

The first dish was a good start with a lot of seafood goodies. The ocean trout was smoked very well in juniper, a tasty and armoatic morsel. The samphire on top were a nice touch, I wish there was more. The oyster was also nice, the herb salad in the shell a cute and tasty touch. An excellent start. Then the next item was based on asparagus, but what is this I see?

02-asparagus-pheasant egg

Oooh, pheasant egg? Now that was a treat. The local green asparagus was in season and delicious too, but the egg was awesome. Pheasant eggs aren’t too rich, so it worked well with the various asparagus treatment. Glad I saved some of the bread to mop the yolk up!!! Excellent dish! Next up was a crab dish…

03-crab

Oh my, this is just excellent. The crab is of fabulous quality and full of briny goodness. But the black garlic mayo was utterly divine, turning an already excellent crab into the best dish of the night. If ever was a dish I’d take seconds (and thirds) of is this one. Sorry about the bad angle of the photo! Just lovely stuff. BTW this also came with a drink of cucumber and herbs, which just added to the overall appeal. Before the larger main dishes we have something for the palate…

04-sorrel-radish

Now this is an excellent palate cleansing dish, a soup based on sorrel with local sheep cheese. I was impressed with the cheese, which is rich and complex in an Mediterranean way, which worked so well with the sorrel and the rye (for wee crunch). One of the really good palate cleansing dishes of the year, before we moved into the larger dishes. First was a fish dish — flounder.

05-flounder

The flounder was excellent, cooked well and flavourful. The broccoli and wild rabe was also excellent, but what I thought would be good — the snails — were utterly undercooked… I have not abandoned snails since that horrible night at Orsay in Jacksonville, Florida, but this night I did… Too bad, as the fish was rather good. The last savoury course goes to red meat…

06-lamb

The lamb was pretty good, slow cooked and full of flavour. The sunchoke and aubergine were nice sides, but the lamb was good. A very nice end to this meal before the one dessert — based on rhubarb.

One problem with travelling in the same geographic region and focusing on fresh, local ingredient-driven restaurants is that you keep getting similar stuff sometimes, and this we see with the dessert…

07-rhubarb

Once more, rhubarb. Nice tasting of all different rhubarby goodness, from the glaze to the pickled greens. Nothing innovative, but not too sweet so went down well. A coffee later and I headed out into the downpour…

This was a pretty good dinner, despite the seating/booking crap. It had many star dishes, such as the pheasant egg & asparagus dish and of course that crab with black garlic mayo… A strong night of food, which gave me so much hope for this city to really break out of the stag party tourism vicious circle.

Got back to my hotel, which was boiling humid thanks to the downpour, with cigarette smoke seeping in. The good memories of this dinner is not gonna last very long with this idiocy…

Restorāns 3
Kalēju iela 3
Rīga, Latvija

Review: Finnjävel

14 June 2016

I had a long day in sunny Helsinki as the city enjoys its sunshine seriously. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back to Helsinki, so it’s great to see it in such good form. The busy day resulted in a terrible K-Citymarket “lunch” on the run, but I was looking forward to dinner tonight.

I had my pick of Michelin-starred places, but I wanted to find something more interesting for the big meal. Thanks to a recommendation once again by Reijosfood, I ended up at Finnjävel. I didn’t even know about this place, but the more I read the more I was fascinated by it. It sounds like what I was really looking for on this trip — expertly crafted tasting menu of local ingredients, dominated by the national character. There’s something very “Finnish” about Finnjävel, and that’s just perfect for me.

Having spent so many years living less than 100km across the water, I never appreciated Finnish cooking very much in the past. I missed the recent food revolution here, and this seems like the perfect place to experience it. Last night’s dinner at Aito already showed me how good Finnish cooking and local ingredients have become. So this should be fun.

The building looks a bit run-down inside but as it is a historical building (and thus protected) there was very little they could do but to make it comfortable for diners. It was already busy at an early-ish hour, which is heartening to see for a restaurant doing tasting menus. I grinned when I saw the menu…

I happily asked for the full tasting menu and the wine pairing, and it started off very smoothly with a palate-cleansing opening number.

AB1-nettle gazpacho

A tasty little nettle gazpacho that was very refreshing on a sunny day like this. Then to the assortment of snacks…

AB2a-tartar-cabbage roll-liver

A cute set of snacks here, from the chicken liver mousse on rye (nice and rich), to the potato cake with wee herring (a quick sour snap but perfect here), and a cabbage roll with tartar (smooth transition out). A very nice start! I’m looking forward to this menu! The service has been very solid, though before I explained my long connection with this town they were over-explaining the Finnish aspects of things…nice for tourists certainly!

BTW the utensils were cute, playing off the devil motif…

silverware - 01

Then we started the tasting and I can see we’re gonna have a creative yet Finnish night coming up. First up was some malt crispbread with smoked salmon and roe, their take on voileipäkakku

01-malted bread-salmon (voileipäkakku)

Excellent quality, and the sweet shoots were an unexpected surprise. Nice start certainly. Next up kesäkeitto

02-milk veg soup (kesäkeitto)

A surprisingly good milk-based vegetable soup, with the peas and carrots standing out here. The base was a bit acidic but the sweet seasonal veg really cuts into it and balances things out. I always dislike the acid overdose popular with many chefs these days, but when it’s balanced out it works very well — like here.

03-smoked fish-potato (savukalaa ja siikliä)

The third dish of the tasting was some excellent smoked whitefish, with a tasty little new potato. I’m not a potato fan but this was excellent. The fish was smoked perfectly, and it was enjoyed both by tongue and nose. Oh, the pairings btw have been excellent, and they tell you when there’s an overlap — a fundamental thing so many restaurants screw up. Very happy so far!

The next dish is a bit curious, as in English it’s listed as “spring cabbage from the pit” — and yes that’s what it is, roasted in a pit as it has been for centuries…

04a-cabbage (varhaiskaalia maakuopasta)

Then it’s plated, served with lingonberries.

04b-cabbage (varhaiskaalia maakuopasta)

It’s actually a very good dish. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in the region but I can eat cabbage all day, so this was a joy to have. Then the next dish was pork belly roll, and I smiled a bit…

05-pork belly (rullasyltty mallasporsaasta)

This now feels a bit like home, the sliced roll with some pickled morels. The “dirt” is of various local grains, with a nice amount of dried mushroom powder to add to the overall flavour. It’s a wee bit of a piss-take on local deli meats but it was very nice. In fact, part of this meal seems like a piss-take on stuff that Finns have nightmare dining on over the course of their lives, from childhood to cafeterias… That’s part of the fun!

Then it moves into a bit of an odd point with the bread service, a potato bread with some local butter and also a glass of sour milk.

06-bread and dairy (Finnjäevelin meijeri)

This brought out the wrong type of nostalgia for me and I cringed to be honest…okay, next!

I was curious what they would do to one of the more stereotypical items of Finnish cuisine — Karjalanpiirakka, or Karelian pie…

07-deconstructed Karelian pirog (Karjalanpiirakka)

Ah, deconstructed and worked over I see… The contents were breaded in rye with eggs in various ways all over, from powdered yolk to a salady white, to a rather solid yolk. Didn’t quite work for me, nor did the sake pairing they suggested as an alternative… Although service, especially the wine pairing has been good, they ended up upselling additions that they didn’t clearly say were supplements. This breaks a bit of a cardinal sin with wine service…

In any case, when the next dish was presented I grinned again, as this was what I was really looking forward to — verilettu

08-blood crepe (verilettu)

Oh, I love blood crepes. Beautiful stuff, simple and done well, the texture felt divine and strong but not overwhelming flavour. The berry wine ironically worked here. Then we got to the final savoury dish, which the name — tilliliha (dill meat) would strike fear into any Finn…

09-veal (tilliliha)

A piss-take of the horrible tasteless “meat” served to children for decades, this was anything but. If you love dill you’ll love this dish; even if you don’t, you’ll like how it works with the very fine braised veal. Full of flavour, tender and succulent. An excellent closing savoury number!

At this point I decided to have a wee cheese course, and the result was a local cheddar…

10-cheddar

Not much to say about this to be honest, so let’s move on. The first dessert item was more a palate cleanser but a nice one at that.

11-spruce ice

Spruce is everywhere here, so it’s not surprising to have it on the menu. Fabulous ice, the sprout was a nice treat. Very refreshing with wee bits of chocolate to remind you it’s a dessert. Nice, then the final item is a celebration of strawberry season.

12-strawberries (suvivirsi)

Nice slices of strawberry, but it’s rhubarb-centric — from the shredded, wee pickled greens to the tasty gelato. A nice end to a rather long meal, running about 4 hours. I like the Finnish make-an-evening-of-it length of dinner but for a solo diner it’s a bit long. And it dragged a bit at the end, slowing down significantly especially once the savouries ended.

The service was excellent, but the wine upselling and not mentioning the supplement is a bit of a no-no. The food was creative and really played on Finnish aspects, from memories to ingredients. Some items were fabulous, like the blood crepe and whitefish; one or two misses, especially that sour milk that brought bad scary memories for me… But most of it was very good.

To me Finnjävel is a vital restaurant for Helsinki to have — to really show off creative cooking in a very Finnish mode. Not just the local ingredients, but all the local flavours and mindset. The piss-take on some childhood nightmares are pretty cool for those of us who understand why, and they really show off how nice Finnish ingredients work so well with an innovative take on Finnish culinary traditions.

I’m a little saddened that they put a timeline on their restaurant, with the clock counting down to their closure in April 2018, but perhaps it’s an honest way of doing things. Just make sure you be more honest about the wine service tho…

Excellent, heavily recommended. Kiitos, Reijosfood!

Finnjävel
Eteläranta 16
Helsinki, Suomi

Review: Aito

13 June 2016

I headed out of Copenhagen early Monday morning, delayed no thanks to Kastrup being extremely busy — and inundated by unruly children — and a passing storm. I arrived into Helsinki late, greeted by warm, humid weather… After the slow train ride from Vantaa (if there was one great thing about getting to/from Kastrup is how fast the trains are…), I had to hop onto a cab to my hotel as I was already running late for lunch with an old friend.

The aforementioned lunch was excellent and I had to rush back to get onto a conference call, but all was good by early evening. I hadn’t planned on dinner ahead of time as many of Helsinki’s best eateries close not just Sundays but Mondays as well. I decided to take the tram to a place that was recommended by fellow blogger Reijosfood as something simple and locally excellent — Aito.

Now having been to Helsinki many, many times (especially from my days living across the water in Tallinn) over 2 decades, I’ve never really understood who planned the transport system with so many overlapping services forcing many transfers. One reason I went with Aito was that it was just 1 tram from the west-centre part of town I’m in.

I got to the small, relaxed, casual eatery and sat down at a corner table — next to a large group of central bankers. What a difference a day and a country makes! Instead of a loud and annoying group of Americans I got a group of very nice European central bankers enjoying themselves without making arses of themselves.

With glass of wine in hand they guided me through the menu on the blackboards. I could read enough of it (thanks to my Estonian) but they filled in some gaps. I ordered and chilled out with the nice wine. Was still sipping on some wine reading some tweets when the first course arrived, the goose.

01-goose

Excellent dish, the goose from the specialty Hauhala Farm north-east in the lake-strewn region near Mikkeli. Delicious and rich, with just a wee bit of smoke to bring out the best of the goose. Lovely stuff, with a small addition of korvasienifalse morels, beloved in Finland, illegal in many places as a toxic foodstuff. Much like fugu I never got the appeal of it… But this was an excellent start and I was very happy now.

I switched wine to a red for my main, which arrived soon — and my smile widened.

02-lamb

Lamb from Ahvenanmaa (or better known as Åland), the Swedish-speaking islands off the western coast of Finland. Deep and rich, again tasting of lamb not like some of the stuff you get that are so dietary controlled it tastes utterly bland. The sprouts were also excellent, all working well with the jus. A lovely dinner!

I skipped the dessert but had a calvados with my coffee, fully enjoying this first night in Helsinki. I’m so glad to see Finnish gastronomy improve so much as it’s been quite a few years since I’ve done fine dining here. Local goose and lamb were fabulous, showing local is always best. Finland often stresses me out for many reasons I won’t go into here, but this has been a wonderful day and evening. Aito is highly recommended!

Aito
Museokatu 29
Helsinki, Suomi

Review: Bror

12 June 2016

Last night’s fine dinner at Kokkeriet* — especially that poussin — lives on in my head this morning. No hangover, no jetlag, thank goodness. That’ll come later! Had a busy day in Copenhagen running around, including a visit to Assistens Kirkegård where I visited the grave of one of my heroes, Niels Bohr.

Hiked quite a bit on my second and final day in town, and I dropped into my haunt for 22 years — the Apollo Bryggeri next to Tivoli. My last visit a few years back saw its quality deteriorate badly after its merger with A Hereford Beefstouw next door, and sadly that remains the case. Horrible quality ribs, nothing like the ones I had for the first time in 1994 when I fell in love with Danish pork. The beers remain excellent, however, I wonder if these are the same vats as 22 years ago when I was drinking my kwaks shoeless (they took your left shoe as deposit for the glass!). Sad, leaving there felt like the final time after many drinking sessions over 22 years…

Anyway, later that night dinner was at the place I was really anticipating an interesting dinner — Bror. I read about this place last time I planned to visit Copenhagen and loved the offal aspect of this place. However, I’ve heard some very mixed reviews about this place. Frankly it’s more polar opinion-wise than Geranium. But I went into this dinner with an open mind.

The night didn’t begin too well as I was in the downstairs section and there was a large group of very loud Americans — some happily banging the table and did not care about annoying other patrons. I like the ideas of my fellow yanks travelling, but please, not as Ugly Americans… In fact that played a big part in how this dinner went…

It’s a standard tasting menu despite the casual nature of this place and with some wine my first snack arrived, the bull testicle.

AB1-bull testicle

I usually do not eat genitalia, but made an exception. Nothing too special, I would have much preferred other parts of the animal from sweetbreads to intestines. I wonder if they do this for shock value and not for the taste, as the breading was so thick that’s all you taste — plus that very heavy tartar sauce… Oh well. Next up looked far more promising, the ox heart.

AB2-ox heart

With some fermented mushrooms this wasn’t bad — but it really didn’t have the strength of good ox heart, like I had a few weeks back at Black Market in Indianapolis. Now that was a fantastic heart dish. This was mediocre…

Ab3-peas

The third snack was a tasting of peas. Nah…didn’t taste very fresh to be honest… I know they want to balance all the meat-centric stuff but… Then the final snack, which was extremely photogenic…

AB4-cod collar

The cod collar and skin. Very nice, though the skin started to droop a bit by the time it got to me. A good end to this section, and I was hoping — like last night — that the snacks are not really representative of the main dishes. With some nice wine, the first dish arrived…

01-mackerel

Mackerel with green strawberries and tomatoes, all with tomato water. The mackerel was extremely bland, almost tasteless. I love mackerel and eat it all the time, but this one if I closed my eyes I could not tell what kind of fish it was. Throw in a very acidic wine, this whole dish felt like the pH has dropped off the chart…

BTW I was really struggling to hear anything because of that ultra-loud table and the way the acoustics are in this space. And why they don’t speak louder even when I ask them to repeat and I’m leaning in… Sigh…anyway, next up is a chicken offal dish.

02-chicken heart

Focused on chicken heart and skin, with some grilled asparagus. The asparagus was nowhere as good as last night, though the chicken hearts weren’t bad. But the skin? Awful, like it’s been sitting there all afternoon. Not crunchy, no flavour, it just acts as a dessicant in your mouth… Starting to worry here. Plus that big table was giving me a real headache…

03a-belly-leek salad

The third dish was pork belly with a leek salad. Okay, this just killed any last bit of hope in this dinner. The belly was AWFUL in quality. Utterly overcooked, but it was also of poor pork quality. Almost inedible. On my notes I wrote “godawful” next to this… And the leek salad was so utterly sour it was not edible — and more of those dodgy chicken skin! Best thing on this dish? The cucumbers… If I did a list, this would be near the top of the “worst dish of 2016” list… I’m sorry, this was…ugh…

I was really not enjoying this meal at this stage (those following me on Twitter were laughing by now as I live-tweeted the antics of the big table) and just wanted it to end. Of course we’re into desserts now… But nevertheless the best item of the night came out, the marrow brûlée.

04-marrow brulee

You may wonder but this worked damn well. The marrow really added so much depth to the humble brûlée, it was one of the best dessert dishes I’ve had all year. Nice! Then the final dessert based on rhubarb and tarragon.

05-rhubarb-tarragon

After that very strong marrow brûlée this was curious as an example of poor flow. I was still tasting the marrow at this point, so I’m not sure how good this dish is…

At this point I ordered a cup of coffee but this large table of people started singing Michael Jackson out loud… Every other table in the downstairs area had abandoned their tables, and I was next. I left the half-full cup of coffee and went upstairs to pay — and never looked back.

What a terrible end to this Copenhagen trip. I honestly can’t wait to get to Helsinki tomorrow morning… After 22 years and coming here over a dozen times, I have a strange feeling this may be my farewell to this lovely city… Farvel, København…

Bror
Sankt Peders Stræde 24A
København, Danmark

Review: Kokkeriet

11 June 2016

I’m not sure why I planned this trip, but it came about in a matter of days and I thought, why not. I usually don’t like travelling in Europe during this time because it’s lousy with tourists and places start to dream about Midsummer and shutting down, but nevertheless something worked out and I hopped over the Atlantic for a quick trip through 4 countries where I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past 20+ years.

My first stop was Copenhagen, almost no thanks to Norwegian Air. Cheap it may be, but there’s a bloody reason why it is. Plus, you get the insult-on-foundation called Terminal 1 at JFK to deal with… We got into Copenhagen late, but no problem as it was already a busy Saturday afternoon in holiday-minded Denmark. Nice to be back somewhere I’ve been visiting many times for 22 years…

That night I headed out for a nice dinner Kokkeriet. Although it boasts 1 Michelin star, it seems to be the restaurant that gets little or no love from the various food bloggers and the usual “Noma is fucking beyond amazing” crowd who are in a circle jerk over the same half dozen places in this city. That’s why I purposely chose Kokkeriet. I wanted to see beyond that blog-smeared haze.

It’s a relaxed upscale restaurant and I got a great table in back all set up like a throne for the lone diner. Excellent service at the onset and they went through how things work. I went with the big tasting menu as I hadn’t eaten anything since a really bad sandwich at JFK the night before, and the full wine pairing. Soon the series of snacks began.

AB1-sunchoke-mushroom

First up was a sunchoke waffle with mushroom powder. The latter made a big difference here. Then next up (not too quickly, thank goodness, unlike the indigestion-inducing Kadeau a few kilometres away) is a wee potato cake.

AB2-potato cake-cheese

A bit dry and the promised cheese was lacking, but the combination of flavours including ramson and especially onion was very nice. Next up is an interesting looking morsel.

AB3-cod bacon beet ball

Obviously beet involved — just crusted. Inside is a cod and bacon concoction. Worked okay, a bit on the bitter side and the beet seemed more visual than flavourful. So far the snacks are mixed, and next is chicken skin.

AB4-chicken skin-pate

This worked far better, the liver pate added a lot to the dish. Texture is good too, retaining crispiness. And then the final snack arrived, the pork riblet.

AB5-pork rib

They used a currant-based sauce for this tasty little snack. I love Danish pork, and this was a fine example to close the opening part of this meal. I’d say it’s so-so, some good some weak. I’m looking forward to the full meal as the menu looked quite excellent. I don’t judge places much by this snacks segment, but it did its job — it’s gotten my attention. Then it begins…

01-quail egg-broth

The first dish was a feast for the olfactory sense as the herring broth was just divine. The first 30 seconds all I did was breathe it in… Nice poached quail egg, really works with the salty broth. The aroma remained intoxicating… A good balance here, a good start! The wine pours, by the way, was quite generous — especially for Denmark. We move onto the second dish in a few minutes and it’s a feast of shades of green.

02-celery-apple

The celeriac rose was evident of the cider vinegar it was pickled with, of which the apple and pea base complemented. Perhaps too tilted to apple (which was splendid) than peas, still quite a nice dish. Worked well with a wee bubbly too. So far am enjoying this dinner, good pairings and service. Lots of other folks enjoying dinner this Saturday evening too.

03-squid-pork

Next up is a dish focusing on squid, complemented by wee bits of crispy pork and a delicious ramson-centric sauce. I usually don’t like my squid sliced so small, but this worked very well, almost like a wee pasta dish. Sauce was excellent, the pork may have been the less necessary part of this excellent dish. Delicious!

04-scallop-chicken skin

The fourth dish is a scrumptious scallop topped by some fried chicken skin. The scallop was delicious, tasting of that stealthy sweetness you get with a really nice scallop. Only negative — the chicken skin really didn’t work and were actually something I scraped away. Like in the last dish, it was in my opinion somewhat unncessary and not done very well in this case. But the scallop? Excellent.

I was enjoying this tasting menu very much, complemented by good wine and excellent service. Fellow diners were a mix of locals and foreigners, and the staff does service in various languages with little problem. The joys of the Nordics. Back to the food, the next dish was a puzzler at first…

05-cured beef-radish

It was labelled as cured beef with roe and cheese, but it seems everything is housed in this daikon construction. It’s cute for sure, but not very practical to eat as it’s hard to use daikon to “wrap” anything. But the beef was excellent, as was the roe and cheese — just hard to get everything into one bite even after deconstructing the daikon tower… Delicious, cute, but not too practical…

06-klippfish-potatoes

Next up was the miss of the night, the klippfisk — Norway’s famous dried salted cod. This dish unfortunately was overwhelmed with a clashing potato mess on top. The egg under this helped, but the star really was the sauce. A little lacking in the fish tho. Sadly, the weakest dish all night. Then the momentum returned with the next dish, the humble beet.

07-beets-hay cream

I love beet but this really was gorgeous with hay-smoked cream that really brought out a divine aroma. Just a very nice dish for all the senses here as we start the transition to heavier items.

08-veal

Next item was a tasting of veal — this time the tongue. One of my favourite parts, and they did a fabulous job with it. Amazingly tender but without losing the consistency that makes it tongue. The oyster-parsley sauce added even more to this excellent dish. The dish of the night so far, but that’s about to change.

Chef brought out then a wee poussin and carved off a piece and plated it for me for the next dish, and it was a beauty…

09-poussin

I have to say this was the best poussin I’ve eaten in many years, amazingly delicate (as they are) but full of flavour. The asparagus selections complemented this dish perfectly, and at this moment this dish is a candidate for one of the top 10 dishes of 2016. Fabulous! I was smiling quite nicely now as we move to the final savoury dish.

10-oxtail

Perhaps the poussin was too good, this oxtail dish was a bit mediocre. The broth, which brought out the essence of marrow, was nice as the terrine was a little dry otherwise. I think I was still on a high from the last course so it’s not very fair of me to judge this course…

Well, that was a nice dinner. They let me relax a wee bit before we started on the dessert courses. I had passed on the cheese course as I was feeling a bit full. The first of the three desserts paid tribute to the cucumber.

11-cucumber

Very nice, worked as a palate cleanser. Touch of white chocolate to make it more dessert-like. Good start.

12-lemon-caramel

Next up a tribute to lemon and sorrel, with a strong appearance by caramel. I’m not a dessert person as you all know, but this worked very nicely and balanced tart and sweet successfully. The sorrel gelato was a big plus.

13-chocolate-prune

And finally, the final dessert was a chocolate mousse, complemented by prune and hazlenut and lots of flowers. A bit all over the place with flavours, almost chaotic. Maybe that’s the way they wanted this meal to end?

I enjoyed the dinner very much and asked about something local to complement this fine meal, and they decided to give me a tasting…

Brændevine

Oh my! A rather generous “tasting” of each of the 4 brandies. All excellent full of flavour, but the one that got my attention was the one of crown dill! I had to have more of that as I closed the evening.

Now Copenhagen has disappointed me many times in the past fine-dining-wise, but tonight was a solid one. The poussin will live on in my mind for a long time. Excellent service, a relaxed but upscale feel, no pressure — unlike so many of the blogger-infested places in town. This was lovely. I see tons of Instagram posts of the same radish rose from Noma near the water, and I think of my poussin and smile… #winning

Kokkeriet
Kronprinsessegade 64
København, Danmark