Eating My Way Through Helsinki
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
With seemingly endless restaurants, cafés, and bistros to choose from, Helsinki is certainly a key player in Europe's modern food scene. Amidst a few days spent in this Finnish city, editor-in-chief Emily Fata reflects on her culinary explorations this past week in the Nordics.
It's been a mere couple of days back in Toronto, and I'm still unable to shake the thought of Helsinki's amazing food from my mind. For the last week, my travel partner/photographer/friend Kourtnie and I have been traversing the lovely city in partnership with #MyHelsinkiResidence; one of the many aspects that made us feel right at home (or, to be honest, even better than 'at home') was the endlessly amazing restaurants, cafés, and bistros that we had to choose from on a daily basis.
In fact, the most difficult part of being in Helsinki during my very first trip to Finland was deciding on where to eat next, when there were so many viably enticing options to choose from. Of course, we managed to decide on the best of the best, which I've decided to outline for you in a day-by-day outline. I would highly recommend each and every place mentioned below, and would be happy to answer any questions that you may have about any of them in the comment section at the end of this post.
Fazer Café (Day 1: breakfast)
Our first official meal in Helsinki was breakfast at the Fazer Café located within Kauppakeskus Citycenter (Kaivokatu 8, 00100 Helsinki). I ordered a slice of rye toast topped with a beet spread, slices of avocado, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. To accompany this, I ordered my all-time favourite European morning beverage: a big cup of hot cocoa with whipped cream. Our first meal in Finland was so delicious that we knew we would visit again before we headed back home.
On our last evening in Helsinki, we visited the oldest Fazer Café at its Kluuvikatu location (Kluuvikatu 3, 00100 Helsinki), thanks to the recommendation of Helsinki's PR extraordinaire — and our newest friend — Elisabeth Rundlöf. We were all too eager to make our way to her self-proclaimed "happy place"; indeed, this location is truly the beginning of Fazer Café's story.
The story began in the autumn of 1891, when Karl Fazer opened his French-Russian café in Helsinki at this very address. This was within a property owned by his father, located centrally in the heart of Helsinki. Fazer himself lived on the upper floor, directly above his shop. To this day, the coffee, pastries, biscuits, cakes, and chocolates are famous in the city for their high quality. During his life, his eagerness to do everything possible for his customers, to exceed their expectations, has continued to this day by being the core of the company's operations.
Ateneum Bistro (Day 1: lunch)
After spending several hours discovering the beautiful art pieces housed within the walls of Ateneum Art Museum, it understandably worked up quite an appetite. Thankfully, Ateneum Bistro is located within the gallery itself, on the main floor adjacent to the museum's gift shop.
I was lucky enough to come in on a day where they were serving a vegetarian buffet consisting of chilli, soups, salads, and plenty of roasted and raw veggies. I sampled a little bit of everything off the buffet, and ordered a mouth-watering glass of freshly pressed orange juice. There is also a menu with meat and seafood options to choose from, which Kourtnie ordered from.
Essentially, Ateneum Bistro serves classic Finnish bistro dishes, but with a modern twist. You can really grasp the flavours of the city within the modern, artsy walls of this eatery.
Ultima (Day 1: dinner)
Having just opened in May 2018, centrally-located Ultima restaurant is a global pioneer in high-tech hyperlocal production of food. So local in fact, that much of your meal is growing right around you. From the herbs and spices lining the front window in neatly stacked rows, vegetables pickling in jars within the floor-to-ceiling glass refrigerator, and even crickets hopping inside the spherical light fixtures dangling from the dining room ceiling, this "hyperlocality" has never proven more true than here at Ultima.
Dining in this modern and sustainable restaurant was truly my favourite culinary experience while in Helsinki. It's mix of fresh local ingredients (90% of which from from the city), the global inspiration for the food itself, and both the execution and presentation of the dishes all served to create the ultimate experience.
Despite my vegetarian diet, they easily accommodated me by tweaking the original menu (Menu V), which Kourtnie also ordered. I'll outline each course below, including the extras we added on during our several hour time in Ultima.
Appetizer 1 (paid extra): (Kourtnie) Cricket paper with seafood emulsion
Appetizer 2 (paid extra): (both) Onion bread with whipped butter
Course 1 (extra, bonus): (both) Creamy potato soup with drops of olive oil
Course 2 (extra, bonus): (Emily) Square dumpling filled with pickled cabbage and mushroom // (Kourtnie) Square dumpling filled with dried reindeer heart and onion
Course 3: (Emily) Barley waffle from Malmgård with a side of root celery garnish and pickled cabbage, skewered // (Kourtnie) Barley waffle from Malmgård with a side of grilled burbot, garnished with pickled cabbage, skewered // (shared) Smoked sour cream with grated horseradish, for dipping
Course 4: (Emily) Roasted potato topped in a cheese emulsion and sprinkled with crisped rice, pickled mustard seeds, and onion. Balls of cucumber on the side (pictured on the right) // (Kourtnie)
Crispy vendace “huancaina” on a bed of pickled mustard seeds and onion, topped with a cheese emulsion and roe
Course 5: (both) Jerusalem artichoke with an artichoke ganache (this consisted of sunflower seeds and pralines), caramelized onions, and pickled apple for some acidity on the side. Fun fact: we were informed that the artichokes are stored in soil to be enjoyed fresh during the winter!
Course 6, main entrée: (Emily) A potato croquet surrounded by pan-fried mushrooms and root celery shavings, topped with a button and champignon mushroom stock butter (pictured on the left) // (Kourtnie) Pan-fried pike perch on a bed of root celery shavings with roasted sweet onions, topped with a smoked fish cream sauce
Course 7: (both) A bed of carrot marmalade topped with Finnish cheddar made into a pudding (aged a year and a half), topped with grated cheddar and marinated walnuts
Course 8, dessert: (Emily) Black Finnish liquorice disk on a bed of rose cream, framed with frozen rose and tarragon juices (pictured on the right)
All in all, it's obvious that this was a restaurant far exceeding the quality one would expect in its mere eight and a half month existence. This is the epitome of luxurious dining in the Nordic region.
The salads grown within the restaurant itself, using cutting edge Finnish technology, along with a closed and controlled hydroponic system that circulates the irrigation water (thus reducing water consumption by 95%), eliminates a need for pesticides. You truly are having the cleanest, most sustainable meal you possibly can.
Further, we were informed by Helsinki's aforementioned PR woman, Elisabeth Rundlöf, that the restaurant grows potatoes aeroponically in a sci-fi looking method in which the root vegetable receives its nourishment from the fine mist in the air. This method is being looked at further by NASA, who wants to utilizes this same technique in their mission to bring human civilization to Mars!
Coming to Ultima truly was an experience of a lifetime, one that I hope to partake in once again, on my next visit.
Juuri (Day 2: lunch)
Another gem of a lunch spot, Juuri offers patrons authentic Finnish cuisine brimming with flavour, artisan ingredients, and undeniable passion. Their website says that they "want you to enjoy being [their] guest and to leave in good spirits", and they certainly deliver on this claim; from the moment you walk through the door, the staff is super friendly, directing you both to their coat rack (where you hang up your snowy winter coats) and table where you will be dining. The service is prompt, efficient, and extremely informative.
Once again, I requested vegetarian substitutes for the predominantly meat-inspired menu, and I was not disappointed. While Kourtnie started with black sausage and ordered lamb as a main, I received roasted rosemary potatoes topped with fresh parmesan to start and two potato croquets with a thick sweet sauce (I regret not making note of what this sauce was!) and white béchamel, topped with a few rings of onion, diced white onion, and sprigs of dill. My starter is pictured above on the left, my main on the right.
I was comfortably full by the end of my meal, but the prospect of dessert was too tempting to pass up. When it arrived, both Kourtnie and I were greeted by a dollop of apple pie ice cream atop a scoop of the creamiest sweet mascarpone (pictured below). It took all the effort in the world not to swoon off of my seat.
We had to wait a few moments after finishing for the food to settle, before we could even think about leaving the restaurant to continue exploring the city. Once our meal was done and paid for however, we were able to wander around the surrounding Art Nouveau district, which Juuri is situated within.
If you do choose to dine at this restaurant, be sure to check out Tove Jansson's — the Swedish-speaking Finnish author, novelist, painter, and illustrator — apartment on the opposite side of the block.
Time well spent!
Yes Yes Yes (Day 2: dinner + drinks)
The perfect late-night food joint, Yes Yes Yes is the ideal location for both tourists and locals of Helsinki alike. This retro interior restaurant and bar is located in what used to be a McDonald’s. The best (and most ironic) part of this story? Everything here is vegetarian! Though this fact remains, the focus of the restaurant is on the delicious food itself — its ingredients, flavour, and presentation — and food just happens to be vegetarian.
We were immediately greeted at the door in English, something that had initially took me off guard. It was then that I realized how we were surrounded by many tourists, in addition to the typical locals. A Finnish-speaking couple sat to our left at the bar, while a group of Peruvian friends sat to our right, and a few Mandarin-speaking young women ate at a table behind us.
As we took out seat, our server recommended that we order a few different items to share amongst the two of us, as serving sizes were small (as opposed to larger, full entrées). Of course, thanks to a combination of our massive appetites from touring around all day and this more-than-helpful suggestion, we began making our way through the menu and picking off items to try out.
Moving through their menu, we ordered a plate of Halloumi fries topped with pomegranate and coriander; tandoori flatbread with a beetroot, aubergine, blood orange and olive oil dip; Jerusalem artichoke with cashew hollandaise; and grilled cauliflower topped with shiso hollandaise, a poached egg, and popped black rice.
Once we decided on our food order, we finished off with a drink each: the Paloma cocktail for myself (Ancho Reyes, tequila, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, ginger, and turmeric) and Finland's own Lapin Kulta Pure Organic lager for Kourtnie.
The meal itself, as a whole, was delicious. If I were to visit again, I would definitely re-order the Halloumi fries and cauliflower "eggs benedict". I would also aim to try out their tandoori flatbread with cauliflower, black truffle, and lavender dip; heart of palm, spinach, broccoli, parmesan, miso, and truffle; cheese, persimmon pepper jam, and blackcurrant cracker; and a baked Alaska with matcha ice cream for dessert.
If Yes Yes Yes sounds like the restaurant for you (and I can't see how it wouldn't be!), I highly recommend making a reservation either by phone or online in advance, in order to secure a table. We made the mistake of simply walking in unannounced; thankfully though, we were able to sit at the bar to eat, which is just as much for eating as it is for drinking. The bar allows for dining with no reservation, but is first come first serve!
Ravintola Lasipalatsi (Day 3: lunch + drinks)
Our last dine-out experience in Helsinki was at Ravintola Lasipalatsi with our new friend Elisabeth Rundlöf. This restaurant is situated in a subdued Art Deco style building, built in the 1930s in preparation for the Olympics (which were cancelled due to the Second World War) and is currently furnished with a modern interior design, reminiscent of the 1970s.
Further, because we were visiting Helsinki during what's known as their "Blini Season", we went to this particular restaurant at Elisabeth's suggestion. According to Helsinki Times, blini are of Russian influence; round and golden, this pancake-like buckwheat dish symbolizes the sun and a promise for a new beginning as the long Nordic winter finally comes to an end. They're served fresh off the frying pan with an array of toppings; traditionally, this is smoked salmon and sour cream (or smetana, in Russian).
Pictured above, I ordered the unlimited blini plate with toppings of (from left to right) Russian style ghergins, smetana, forest mushroom salad with marinated red onion, beetroot salad, apple tartare, and a small bowl of honey.
When I saw that they offered gin and tonics on the menu, made with Napue gin (which had been recommended to me by Elisabeth), I decided to try it out before buying an entire bottle*. When it arrived, it came with a spring of rosemary and a sprinkling of fresh cranberries — you can see it in the top right-hand corner of the photo above. Truly a cocktail masterpiece!
*Yes, of course I ended up buying the bottle of gin before I headed back to Toronto.
Though Helsinki certainly gave me the ultimate culinary experience in the short time that I was there to explore the beautiful city, it is without a single doubt that I would love to come back and further sample my way through the extensively unique restaurants, cafés, and bistros that they have to offer.
Have you ever been to Helsinki? Where is your favourite place to eat there? If you haven't, which of these eateries would be on the top of your list? Let me know in the comments!
To read more of our posts on Helsinki, click here.
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