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

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5 thoughts on “Review: Finnjävel

  1. Pingback: My Top 10 Dishes of 2016 | melhuang1972

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