Helsinki: great for gourmets

by James.Luckhurst

Jacques Chirac was once very rude about Finnish food - but just ignore him. Head for Helsinki and you'll find some great places to eat

Helsinki has established a great reputation as a 'cool' capital in recent years. This is underpinned by a wide range of nightlife, a distinctive energy and pulse. Barely a week goes by without the opening of a new bar or restaurant, ensuring high quality and a great variety in style, tradition, architecture and entertainment.

The HelsinkiMenu project, established in 2000 as part of Helsinki's 450th anniversary celebrations, is still in full swing in 2009, with the aim of promoting the culinary offering of the city. The goal of the project is to contribute to the cultural aspects of food, make Finnish gastronomy better known, and promote the use of high-class Finnish ingredients on the restaurant menus at a reasonable price.

There are many restaurants to choose from, but here are some that warrant special attention...

Chez Dominique: this is quite simply the best Helsinki has to offer - and the restaurant boasts two Michelin stars to prove its point. Hans Välimäki presides over the kitchen and serves a top quality blend of French and Scandinavian fare, such as pigeon stuffed with foie gras or roast Pyrenees lamb. (Rikhardinkatu 4)

Olo: the menu here is devoted to modern Nordic cuisine (think Arctic char, morels and berries) and pairs a different wine with each course. (Kasarmikatu 44)

Havis: the older part of this restaurant is the perfect venue for excellent fish dishes in a classic setting. (Eteläranta 16)

Juuri: if you like tapas, then try sapas, Finland's traditional little appetisers, served to perfection here. Choose from nettle-marinated whitefish, smoked Baltic herring paté and rainbow trout marinated in brandy. (Korkeavuorenkatu 27)

Saari: one of the finest locations in Helsinki, on an island in the harbour reached by a short ferry ride (€3.50 return). Their famous crayfish menus start on 20 July (pre-ordering essential). The restaurant itself is open from May to October. (Sirpalesaari Island)

Suomi on the Plate: this is another recent addition to the culinary landscape. The accent here is on Finnish specialities. (Lönnrotinkatu 13)

Loft: situated in Yrjönkatu in the heart of the city's design district, Loft is a relaxed and inexpensive venue. (Yrjönkatu 18)

Savoy: the emphasis here is on elegance, tradition and the best of formal Finnish cuisine. The Finnish military hero and statesman Field Marshal Mannerheim was a regular guest. Elegant surroundings created by renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. (Etekiesplanadi 14)

Kasakka: one of Finland longest-established Russian eateries, serving superbly authentic Russian delicacies at reasonable prices. The set menu is €39 per person. (Meritullinkatu 13)

Where to drink
Finnish magazine Viisi Tahteä (Five Stars) recently announced its first list of the top 20 bars in the country, based on visits and votes by professional judges. Not surprisingly, Helsinki was very well represented with 13 establishments named in the list, including the top five: A21 Cocktail Lounge; American Bar, Hotelli Torni; Sling In; Olutravintola Pikkulintu; and Kämp Bar & Club.