Finland is a country that captured my heart both easily and early. As a child, my fun loving parents organised an unforgettable adventure to The Santa Claus Village of Lapland in the very north of the region. The experience was the stuff of childhood fantasies filled with magic, sparkle and dizzying excitement. The village was Whoville incarnate, awash with Seussical creatures, twinkling lights, frenzied elves, hand painted sleighs and snow covered Christmas trees. I have never forgotten it and have associated Finland with fun, frolics and fairytales ever since.
Returning as an adult last year, I’m delighted to say that my ludicrously high expectations were easily met. Helsinki is a playground and one of my favourite aspects of this capital city is the profusion of incredible restaurants and the popularity of tasting menus. Tasting menus have a mixed reputation in the U.K. and, as they are seldom found outwith the Michelin realm, can often call pretentious food, exorbitant prices and a staid atmosphere to mind. In Helsinki, however, tasting menus are stylish, contemporary and firmly positioned at the cutting edge of the social scene. Below is a list of favourites;
The exposed brick walls are white washed, the custom place settings are copper, the cut glass tumblers and monogrammed plates sparkle, candles flicker and the well dressed crowd that surrounds the solid wood cocktail bar is both buoyant and boisterous. Two globally inspired tasting menus with optional wine pairings are currently available, the ‘Social Tasting’ and the ‘Menu Boulevard’. The food is predominately inspired by the Mediterranean although Tunisian harissa, North African tahini, Middle Eastern labneh and Lebanese kafta also feature, with each far flung dish more delicious than the last. My partner opted for the deluxe wine pairings while I chose to stick with cocktails, namely the Burned Orange Sour and the jam infused Boulevard Royal. We both agree it is one of the best restaurants that we have ever set foot in.
This warm and welcoming venue is decorated in a similar style to Boulevard Social and equally as inviting. When owners Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg opened the doors early last year, they set out to create a space where customers could enjoy themselves while feeling relaxed and right at home, an aim that has certainly been achieved. The food is fresh, seasonal and the à la carte menu is designed to be served in sharing bowls, lending the venue a uniquely homely edge. There are three listed tasting menus, the ‘Menu Bronda’, the ‘Menu Esplanad’ and the ‘Menu Green Esplanad’, each affordably priced at under €70 per person.
Gaijan brings the intense and aromatic flavours of northern Asia to the Helsinki streets in a luxurious and contemporary setting with Beijing duck, Japanese sashimi and Korean kimchi available. Two tasting menus, the ‘Menu Gaijan’ and the ‘Menu Ikebukuro’, sit alongside the à la carte selection with a third tasting option available every Sunday. We opted out of the set tasting menu on our visit as there was so much from the small plate menu that we wanted to try, namely the beef, foie and truffle nigri, the salt and pepper soft shell crab and the truffle pork dim sum, all of which were incredible.
Another Asian inspired restaurant, the Ravintola Farang, was widely recommended to us but unfortunately we did not have enough time to try it. While I can’t personally recommend the food, I wanted to highlight it as an ideal option for those with food allergies or aversions to meat. A vegetarian tasting menu is readily available, a vegan option is available on request and the soy sauce is prepared in such a way that it is suitable for the gluten free.