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Help with Helsinki

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My husband and I will be in Helsinki for 4 days in 2 weeks. We have done some research, but have been finding it hard to find recommendations for restaurants, so comments on the proposed below would be appreciated.

We are adventurous eaters, but I am 6 months pregnant and will be much more cautious than usual, so super-weird or set menus will be difficult this trip. Bonus points for great wine lists.

We live in London and will have just visited St. Petersburg, so are looking for "only in Finland" experiences for the most part and won't need to eat Russian food (which we hear is quite good in Helsinki). We would also appreciate options for a fun, hip dinner (where food doesn't suffer at the expense of ambiance).

We are currently considering:
Ravintola Nokka
Kosmos Restaurant
Lappi
Restaurant Perho

We would also appreciate lunch suggestions.

Thanks to everyone in advance!

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  1. Hello!

    Helsinki is a great city! You're in store for a great trip...

    My personal favorite is The Fish Market ( Pohjoisesplanaadi 17, +358 9 1345 6220 ). Great atomsphere - Euro-modern. The seafood platters for a started is a must-have! The lobster bibs make a fun souvenir.

    Enjoy!

    -PilotGT

    1. I'll include my write up from our trip last Oct.

      First dinner was something easy around the corner from the Scandic Marski (excellent location, good breakfast), Mandarin Court where I felt the need for vegetables. The dish was spicy enough but the veggies were the most basic bamboo shoots and peppers, so not too exciting. A's beef in red curry was a little better, 10€ for my dish but I could have kissed the guy for bringing us a whole pitcher of ice water to quaff down. Very old fashioned Chinese looking place with lots of red and gold. The sunny day brought us to Suomanlinnan Island and since I just missed the ferry back, got lunch at the brew pub Panimo. They had a lunch buffet with a kind of scalloped potato/ham dish and a salad w/ cucumbers and shrimp for 8€ with a bunch of bread. The best deal there and hit the spot while wasting time. That nite we resorted to Hessburger and since I'd eaten some junk during the day, just had a fair side of fries and their Big Mac equivalent looked pretty typical. I was on my own for what ended up being the nicest dinner in Helsinki, Sasso on Pohjoisesplanadi which was in some 50 Best Restaurants in Finland book (I discovered while eating there). I have to say, they don't really know about bar dining in these cities and I walked around looking for that but not having luck. Vespa had been packed on Sat. but no one was there on a Mon., liked the looks of a French place by Stockman's where mussels and frites sounded good (if overpriced) but even tho they had two bars, no one was eating there and there weren't even bartenders at the bars. I thought Sasso would be different but it's just the waiters coming to bar mixing/pouring their own drinks, so I was odd man out. Plus there was some zany performance dance going on, maybe a Halloween thing. But the place had a hip feel to it and the menu had an Italian influence. I went with a grilled red rish entrée with an anchovie potato side, some foam (have never been into the foam pheonomenon), calamari and a little veggie with a glass of nice white wine. A relative bargain at 19.95€. The last nite we went to Baker's a couple doors down from the hotel where I got a lamb burger, which was basically lamb cutlets on a nicely grilled bun with goat cheese and aioli, okay fries, 14€. A. had a basic burger that he thought was fine (I avoid burgers in other countries, never seem to be as good). They had a bread station too if you wanted. And some much fancier entrees. A nice place that's open til 3AM even on the weekdays, something we're sure not used to in Boston.

      Quick hits: Had a nice snack in the midst of downpours at Café Esplanade, weird overly cardamom tasting sweet at Café Lotsplotsa on Mannerheimintie and good cap. at Café Java also on Mann. Like Bar Loose on Fredrikinkatu for a rock scene. Hard to deal with all the smoke after living in a non smoking city for so long.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Joanie

        "Café Lotsplotsa" ...umm... did you mean "Café Lasipalatsi"?

        "Hard to deal with all the smoke after living in a non smoking city for so long."

        You do not have to deal with that anymore:

        A smoking ban in Finnish restaurants & bars took effect in June, 2007.
        See:
        http://www.suomenash.fi/sivu.php?arti...

        I know that due to quirks in the law, there are a few places where smoking is still allowed, but a vast majority of Finnish restaurants & bars are smoke free now, so there are plenty of smoke free choices now. So you do not have to patronize restaurants & bars where smoking is still allowed.

        1. re: Joanie

          "weird overly cardamom tasting sweet ..."

          Joanie, maybe what you had were Cinnamon Buns (korvapuusti). Very popular in Finland. I love them with coffee.
          Here is a link http://www.viisitahtea.fi/content/vie... to a Finnish foodie page, where, if you scroll down a bit, is a series of pictures of baking the buns -and the end-product. (Look at photo numer 3: that is a lot of cinnamon. But it is healthy.)
          Was that what you had?

          1. re: FoodWine

            It's hard to remember a year later, but I think that's what I had. We have a Finnish bakery in the part of Boston I live in where I can double check (altho it's hard to tear myself away from the other awesome nearby bakeries).

            1. re: Joanie

              Joanie, I got intrigued by the Finnish bakery, so I googled it. Is it the "Sweet Finnish" -bakery on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain?

              We are probably going to visit friends in the Boston area in February, and I thought that if we happen to drive by the bakery, we will stop in and see if they sell some of my favorites.

        2. I am sorry this answer is late for the OP, but for other possible Helsinki travelers, I want to add a link to this "Helsinki restaurants" web page: http://www.mybesthelsinki.com/Helsink...

          There are three pages of restaurant reviews, plus a lot of links to different restaurant lists.

          "KaCHing", please let us know where you dined in Helsinki, and what you thought of the different restaurants.

          1. We actually ended up at all four of the places mentioned above and were pleased to VERY pleased with our choices.

            We went to Perho for dinner our first night - it's a teaching restaurant so EVERYTHING from the service to the food was uneven, but we had expected that to be the case. I had a crayfish soup and a very nice cut of meat, however I wasn't asked how I wanted the meat cooked and it came much rarer than I would have liked. I'm currently pregnant so am cooking my meat longer than I normally would...my husband had to eat the center of the filet, sadly (note: had I not been pregnant, this would have been beautifully cooked, but I didn't like not being asked). We were tired and skipped dessert. This was definitely not a destination, but fun for what it was.

            We ate at Kosmos the second night and really enjoyed it. I had artichoke soup and salmon (I think), my husband had a Finnish appetizer plate that was lovely (smoked fish, roe, a potato, some sour cream) and reindeer. We had a lovely bottle of Barolo (he had most...we've now become fans of Barolo with game) and enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. It's rare for a "classic" restaurant to retain the classical atmosphere but still feel buzzing and updated. Would definitely recommend.

            I was disappointed with Lappi - we liked the interior and it was buzzing, etc., but I was not "feeling" the menu (again...pregnancy has messed with my foodie-ness somewhat, so take me with a grain of salt). I had a mushroom soup that was nothing special and fried Lappish cheese that was OK. Not great, but I was sick of fish and game isn't my favorite. My husband had a roe sampler which he loved (definitely delicious, the highlight of the meal) and elk.

            Just a note on Lappi - despite what we thought was a smoking ban, the table behind us lit up after their appetizers, and EVERY SINGLE TABLE around them, including a birthday party of about 10 people followed suit. This ruined my meal entirely - we hadn't thought to request non-smoking, as it hadn't been an issue anywhere else and I am super-sensitive to smoke lately. Normally I would have borne it much more good naturedly, but this was oppressive. We did not have dessert.

            The highlight of our Helsinki trip was Ravintola Nokka - we had wanted to do a high-end meal that was Finnish (as opposed to French or Asian, which we can get easily in London or San Francisco). We both had the "Helsinki" menu (http://www.royalravintolat.com/nokka/...) and enjoyed it immensely, along with a lovely bottle of Riesling (Zeltingen Sonnenuhr Spätlese Trocken 2002 from the Mosel). It was an extremely well executed dinner, probably not quite at a one star level, but exactly what we were looking for as far as comfort, service, quality of food, and a great way to end our trip. As northern Californians (living in London), we were quite taken with the commitment to "local" (read: Finnish) produce and farmers and found the quality of the ingredients to be outstanding. Also, this meal made me quite a fan of cloudberries and bilberries...the yogurt sorbet with marinated berries was quite sophisticated (cloudberries have a unique perfume-y flavor) while still being light and fresh.

            We also had a quick lunch at Sundman's Krog - herring bar and pike perch...unplanned and quite tasty (though a bigger lunch than I might have liked). I did like the number of "serve yourself" lunch places and cafes in Helsinki - it was a nice change of pace.

            1 Reply
            1. re: KaCHing

              Thank you, KaChing,
              It was great to hear about your experiences.

              We also love Nokka (mmm, the current Helsinki Menu looks delicious) and we have also liked Sundmans Krog (and Sundmans; the more formal part of the operation).

              I never dined at Kosmos, even though I knew it was good, since Kosmos, the historic "artists joint", used to be too smoky. I have not been to Helsinki since the smoking ban took effect.

              Too bad about Lappi (Lapland). I have heard about these weird quirks in the law. Of course, it is possible that some restaurants have decided to defy the smoking ban...

              I guess one still has to ask a restaurant in Finland if they are 100% smoke-free. If they are not, we will not patronize them.