At the junction where Russia meets Scandinavia, Helsinki is a mash-up of wide-reaching and inventive culinary talents. But it is also at the frontier of modern practice. In the Finnish capital, notions of zero waste, seasonality and local sourcing are not indiscriminate buzzwords, but deep-rooted philosophies. The country¡¯s connection to nature, climate and agriculture informs unreserved respect for ingredients and a desire to celebrate them. Whether you¡¯re fuelling up for a stomping architectural tour across the city or settling into a 10-course evening, you¡¯ll find reverence, warmth and surprise at these Helsinki restaurants.
A stalwart of the bakery scene, Levain is an airy caf¨¦ in the T??l? area of Helsinki that rustles up hearty brunch, pastries and coffee with the enthusiasm of a Californian brunch joint and the finesse of a Parisian patisserie. If pausing for more than a takeaway pastry en route to the Church of the Rock, then look no further than Levain¡¯s cheesy, sriracha-y egg and spinach brioche bun ¨C excusable at any time of day ¨C or a bursting prosciutto sandwich in the bakery¡¯s signature sourdough. For ramped-up charm, Levain¡¯s miniature Punavuori outpost is where all the baking magic happens; grab a soul-sweetening kouign amann pastry and make a beeline for the city¡¯s southerly shore.
Address: Levain, Kankurinkatu 6 00150 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 10 322 9384 Website: levain.fi
A short ferry hop from Helsinki¡¯s Market Square, pocked-sized Lonna island (aka the ¡®little sister¡¯ to historic fortress island of Suomenlinna), is a charming lunchtime retreat. With views across the Baltic Sea, Lonna¡¯s summertime terrace restaurant and caf¨¦ focuses on wholesome cooking, notably the restaurant¡¯s own take on the local ¡®archipelago¡¯ bread (saaristolaisleip?) ¨C an unmissable rye-molasses loaf traditionally paired with fish. Once fed, visit the island¡¯s elegant sauna, set in the restored historic Mine Storehouse on the water¡¯s edge. It is convention to sip Finnish lonkero, a refreshing gin-grapefruit mix, as you sit and swelter.
Address: Lonna, Lonnan saari, 00190 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 44 7199410 Website: orarestaurant.fi
Way Bakery & Wine Bar
Its pairing of hearty breakfasts and lunches with home-roast coffee and seasonal evening dishes with wines makes it easy to forget that Way is in essence a local bakery, producing upwards of 100 organic sourdough loaves over a weekend from its pint-sized kitchen in the Kallio neighbourhood. The collaboration between Gr?n restaurant and Good Life Coffee was never going to disappoint, but Way¡¯s offering is somewhat sublime as well as category-redefining, with a serene ash and marble interior from Studio Joanna Laajisto. Follow up a morning¡¯s forage at Hakaniemi (the city¡¯s best food market), with a cosseting bowl of rice-cinnamon-butter porridge; or, come evening, settle into oxtail, tomatoes and hibiscus cooked overnight in the bread oven. In summer, Way¡¯s Lippakioski in the adjoining park spreads more joy with homemade soft ice; toppings include rhubarb syrup, chocolate malt cookie and summer flowers. Neighbourhood Nordic at its best.
Address: Way Bakery & Wine Bar, Agricolankatu 9, 00530 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 50 4702 388 Website: waybakeryandwinebar.fi
Helsinki may have a wealth of Japanese-inspired restaurants, but only one can lay claim to cinematic history: as the set for 2006 Japanese film Kamome Shokudo. Japanese owner Hideki Ogawa has been a Helsinki resident for more than two decades and opened this lively restaurant in 2015 to connect the two cultures with Finnish ingredients, Japanese hospitality and a homely menu. Kamome¡¯s nourishing ramen menu extends to seven varieties (try the refreshing yuzu-shio). Meanwhile, for the more inquisitive, a delicate bento-style Oishii Finland box is a bento that gives a refreshingly unique introduction to Finnish flavours.
Address: Ravintola Kamome, Pursimiehenkatu 12 00150 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 9 657 422 Website: kamome.fi
Old-school Southern European cooking meets Serbian-inspired design at this hallowed zero-waste restaurant. Inspired by Finnish ingredients, the team is scrupulous in its sustainability drive, from replacing imported lemons with local rose quince to using water glasses recycled from the ends of old sparkling water bottles from the presidential palace and its efforts to tackle the industry-wide problem of plastic-covered receipts. And still they succeed in creating an experience as convivial as you could imagine ¨C starting with a half pint from the in-house brewery.
Address: Nolla, Fredrikinkatu 22, 00120 Helsinki?, Finland Telephone: +358 40 163 9313 Website: restaurantnolla.com
St George Bakery & Bar
There is something reassuring about a design-destination hotel that has bread craft as the cornerstone of its offering. At St George¡¯s, artworks by Ai Weiwei are accompanied by in-house bakes, from both light and dark sourdough to setsuuri, a traditional Finnish sweet-and-sour loaf. Tempting bakery counter aside, the ground-floor caf¨¦/Monocle-shop is a lively jumping off point for the design district, serving homemade yogurts and cheeses. But St George¡¯s Finnish, Estonian and Swedish pastries are worth a detour at any time of day ¨C grab a cardamom bun before they sell out.
Address: St George Bakery & Bar, Yrj?nkatu 13 00120 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 9 4246 0060 Website: stgeorgehelsinki.com
As the jet-setting son of an airline stewardess, chef Sasu Laukkonen¡¯s influences may be eclectic, but his ingredients are whole-heartedly Finnish, and much of his produce has travelled only a few miles to reach the kitchen. The 10-course tasting menu might include beetroot cooked over pine with warm caramelised cream and blackcurrants, or beef with green tomato and Ora¡¯s own exceptional ¡®porcini-soy¡¯. Sit at a counter table for a close-up on the performance: as carefully choreographed and polished as the menu. If bookings are scarce, try for an early sitting on Friday or Saturday (from 4pm, lasting around two hours).
Address: Ora, Huvilakatu 28, 00150 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 400 959 440 Website: orarestaurant.fi
The rambling former studio of 20th-century sculptor Gunnar Finne is now home to this classic Finnish restaurant within striking distance of the city¡¯s major cultural institutions (HAM, the Kiasma, the Kunsthalle). Finne makes a point of celebrating each of its individual vegetable, meat, fish and even bread-flour producers, with considered, unfussy dishes that might include spelt and broad-bean arancini with turnip, or black rice with parsnip and pear. Quiz the staff on the restaurant¡¯s latest wines, and sit back to enjoy supper in the refined company of Finne¡¯s mid-century artworks.
Address: Atelj¨¦ Finne, Arkadiankatu 14, Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 10 281 8242 Website: restaurantnolla.com
Exposed brick and plaster belie the colourful creativity behind this cosy, 18-seat dinner spot, championing modern Nordic cooking. Plating is inventive, the ambience is informal, and vegetables take centre stage (albeit with a hearty chorus of local meat and fish). A rowan-berry pudding inspired by a childhood sweet and petits fours served on a giant Lego block display the playful curiosity at work in the kitchen. But flavours are grown-up ¨C perhaps carrots with burnt-butter sour cream or sous-vide scallops with leek. Don¡¯t skip off home before you¡¯ve had the devilish salted fudge.
Address: Spis, Kasarmikatu 26, 00130 Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 45 305 1211 Website: spis.fi
A favourite among the city¡¯s chefs, Kuurna is one of Helsinki¡¯s most understated dinner spots, yet is no less imaginative in outlook than its shoutier counterparts. Focused on modernising Finnish classics, the fortnightly menu showcases fresh (often raw) ingredients to memorable effect ¨C especially when it comes to pudding. In winter months, diners might encounter parsnip parfait with peanut crumble and caramel, or pastel de nata with pineapple-weed ice cream. The wine list is equally confident, spanning vintage, organic and biodynamic bottles, and there¡¯s natural service in spades.
Address: Kuurna, Restaurant Kuurna, Meritullinkatu 6, Helsinki, Finland Telephone: +358 44 755 4555 Website: kuurna.fi
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