My partner is originally from Rovaniemi, in Lapland, at the edge of the arctic circle, where Santa Claus hangs out (shhhh… North Pole apologists, you’re wrong). Since we got together 6 years ago he has wanted me to try some genuine Lappish food, and short of a long drive/train or trying to pack in an extra flight to an already busy trip, Lappi in Helsinki is the best place to get your mitts on it!
Both of us are predominantly pescatarian but in the interests of experience we put ourselves into a meat coma, and sorry guys but my, what a tasty way to get there!
While we waited in the bar for a table I chose some Lapland cider, dry and bordering somewhere between a delicious natural apple juice and a decent wine. When it came to ordering wine I decided to stick with the cider as I was pretty tired from a day of walking round the nearby sea fortress on Suomenlinna, and basking in the sun on the rocks. The resident Finn gave good reports on both his beer and wine.
To start, we shared a full-sized portion of the smoked reindeer carpaccio salad (Riimiporo salaattia), with blueberry dressing and tiny wild chanterelles. The dressing had a rich, almost balsamic sweetness which worked well with the smoked, soft meat. Apparently much less chewy and dry than the pet Finn remembers from his youth. The salad also had tiny wild chanterelles, and zingy, fresh blueberries that pack so much more flavour than the ones back home! The salad leaves themselves were romaine type, and were perfect for quietly refreshing your palate in a dish where everything else was shouting for your attention!
The starter was accompanied with a bread basket for Timo which had rieska, a traditional Lapland potato based flatbread and the ubiquitous ruisleipä (ryebread). I got some very tasty gluten free granary-type brown bread which was actually some of the most normal tasting and feeling gluten free bread that I have tried! And apparently the rieska was a little to soft for his liking, but it was good to take a look at some in the wild before I start figuring out a recipe for a gf version!
To be honest I wasn’t that hungry when the mains arrived, and as usual had done my trick of over-ordering like a queen. But we were there to eat, so eat we did! The sautéed reindeer (Poronkäristystä) with mashed potato and lingonberries was really more of a wintery dish but above everything this was what I was brought here to try. The sautéed reindeer had an iron rich taste and was lean and close to venison, the mash was super buttery and rich too, but the sweet-sharp flavours of the lingonberries brought it back to life, and it was wonderful to try fresh lingonberries, as opposed to the syrup/jam/cider products that you can find in the UK.
We also ordered a smoked salmon fillet (Savustetta Lohta) with boiled potatoes and what should normally have been a wild mushroom sauce. As the sauce is not gluten free, it came with an enormous pile of sautéed chanterelles, this I will not complain about one tiny little bit! It meant that we really got to taste the fragrant notes in the mushrooms, and it probably kept the dish a bit lighter too. The salmon was lightly smoked with the flavour clinging to the outside, lighter on the inside, and was moist and perfectly cooked. The boiled potatoes had lots of flavour and were coated in a spring onion butter which complimented the rest of the dish nicely and brought it all together in the absence of a sauce.
We were way too full for dessert, to the point where I couldn’t even torture myself by looking at the menu. As usual in Finland, dining out as a coeliac was very easy and I wasn’t made to feel like I was inconveniencing the chefs. The waiting staff were extremely helpful and it was great to relax and be able to enjoy great food!
Of the things I tried, the smoked reindeer carpaccio salad was my favourite, the flavours were so perfectly balanced and it really took advantage of the seasonal, fresh ingredients. The smoked salmon and its accompanying mountain of chanterelles was both generous and delicious, it is the kind of thing I would pick any day to eat. The sautéed reindeer was tasty but would have been a better dish for a colder day, and I suspect that visiting in winter I would jump to order it. The kind of total comfort food that would leave you feeling warmed and satisfied.
Though not cheap, the portions were huge, and when you consider the quality and expense of the ingredients, it actually made good value for money! we arrived a bit too tired and over hungry, and left stuffed and mellow, floating home on full bellies.
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