Helsinki – new Nordic capital of culinary cool

Helsinki has well and truly joined its hip Scandi siblings at the gastronomic party, with French- and Turkish-Finnish fusion menus the latest stars

Palace is located on the 10th floor of a modernist former hotel built for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics
Palace is located on the 10th floor of a modernist former hotel built for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

A mere 15 years ago, the idea of taking a gastronomic holiday in the Nordic countries would have been seen as distinctly eccentric. No longer. Copenhagen is now as hip as a Brooklyn barbershop, chockful of artisan bakers, craft breweries and New Nordic restaurants, as are Oslo and Stockholm, and all three cities can now boast restaurants with three Michelin stars.

Helsinki has joined the party, with six starred restaurants in the 2019 guide: the latest of these is Palace, on the 10th floor of a modernist former hotel built for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. It is a chic and spacious venue to sample the many delights of the Finnish larder, harmoniously entwined with classical French technique by head chef Eero Vottonen. 

It sets out its stall with some light, colourful, elegant canapés: 100-year-old sourdough (the “starter”, not the bread itself) with Baltic herring and a distinctly Nordic whisper of spruce in tiny dots of cream; salted trout with smoked trout roe and potato; and a delicate pike tartlet. 

Various textures of earthily scented Lappish potato with a dollop of caviar followed; then pressed duck liver with cubes of apple in a sparkling duck jus; and a fat, sweet langoustine, grilled and slathered with lemon beurre noisette.

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More classicism arrived with a dish of veal sweetbreads richly sauced with mushroom broth and black truffle; it was followed by snow-white turbot with a delicately creamy mussel sauce flecked with chives and tarragon; then pink Anjou pigeon, the sauce made with its offal, vinegared plums a perfect partner. The sweetness of a daring liquorice dessert was subverted by little blasts of sourness from finger limes. Palace now has one Michelin star: I think it is worth two.

Andrea, the restaurant in the basement of the stylish Hotel St George, isn’t aiming at the stars – it is far too cool and laidback for that – but it is nonetheless a splendid place to eat. It is a new venture from the Finnish-Turkish chef Mehmet Gürs, whose flagship Istanbul restaurant, Mikla, is one of the best in that city.

The menu at Andrea is as captivating a hybrid of Finnish and Turkish as Gürs himself: zander (pike-perch) marinated in tahini, cumin, red pepper and lemon juice, with sumac and crisped buckwheat; a sublimely piquant, rye-crumb-studded tartare of horse with horseradish (a joke that probably only works in English); and slow-cooked lamb neck with caramelised cabbage and blackcurrant. The menu is designed for sharing, and my dinner companions and I devoured everything put in front of us: not everything was Finnish, but everything was finished.

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