Helsinki is a beautiful Baltic city characterised by clever, minimalist Finnish design and grandiose Jugend architecture from the Art Nouveau period. The air is fresh, the streets are neat as a pin, but it’s certainly not boring. Helsinki is full of quirky surprises. There’s plenty to explore over a long weekend and all within easy walking distance of the centre.
Over the last few years, young and enterprising Finnish chefs have started to transform the capital’s dining scene. Whereas once Helsinki may have trailed behind its Scandinavian cousins, it’s now becoming a foodie destination in its own right. Unlike London, Paris and New York, there isn’t the same heritage of starchy old-fashioned fine dining restaurants and so Finnish chefs are championing a more laid back experience to showcase their New Nordic cuisine. This has resulted in no less than 6 one-star establishments in the city.
Should you find yourself heading to Finland, here are our recommendations for exciting places to eat:
Ravintola Story is a charming casual restaurant in the heart of the city’s covered market. Owned by four of Helsinki’s hottest restaurateurs, it serves fresh locally-sourced cuisine with a fantastic selection of wines. It’s a great place to get lunch before you explore the old town.
Demo was the first bistro in Helsinki to be awarded a michelin star. This 45-seater restaurant has a relaxed, almost jovial atmosphere. But don’t let that fool you, when it comes to gastronomy Demo’s two chef-owners Teemu Aura and Tommi Tuominen are deadly serious. These classically-trained chefs serve tasting menus which change every day, depending on what’s fresh and in season. Since opening in 2003, Demo has paved the way for modern fine-dining in the city.
Grotesk is the cooler sister restaurant to Demo and opened in 2007. The interior has a distintcly urban feel, housed in a former newspaper office. You can expect to find dishes such as Sea urchin and Organic finnish lamb tartare on the menu, but their main claim to fame is their dry age Australian beef steaks which can be seen hanging up in their very own ageing cabinet. Grotesk’s bar is also reputed to serve some of the best cocktails in the city.
Restaurant Ask is a minuscule restaurant offering a choice of two set menus in the style of New Nordic cuisine. Opening in 2012, Ask was Finnish Restaurant of The Year in 2013 and shortly afterwards also received its first Michelin star. The ingredients chosen by chef-owner Filip Langhoff are often organic, sourced from local farmers and food producers and you can see inflections of time spent at El Bulli and other top kitchens in his work. Because everything is so local you know where exactly where it’s come from – almost down to the name of the pig – all of which is explained as part of the gastronomic experience.
How to get there.
When to go.
In late August and early September you can avoid the tourists and still get good weather and plenty of sunlight. There’s an annual Design Week in mid-September and if you want to see Helsinki in full party mode, then check out Flow Festival – an urban music and arts festival in late August which also brings together the top restaurants and street food trucks.
Where to stay.