Gluten free Helsinki: Food firmly rooted in the Nordic Winter at Juuri

On my last visit to Helsinki it was high summer, the city was baking and I wandered into Juuri via a dramatic police shoot out, on the hunt for something lighter to eat… Their Sapas menu, giving a choice of small plates focused on showcasing the best local food and traditional food culture, framed in a seasonally focussed, fresh modern style drew me in. These dishes are all priced at €8.20 and are a wonderful way to get a taste of Finland, particularly if you’re only on a weekend break!

This time, a few months later, and about 35C colder I was back to try their recently launched winter menu. As with last time I was nursing a hard-won hangover and again opted for a cider. This time there was a Finnish-made black currant cider, bone dry and beautiful, you can banish those tooth desolvingly sweet alcoholic Ribena type fruit ciders to the back of your mind. The wine list is smartly edited but with some excellent looking choices, I was tempted by a lot of them but was pacing myself for once, and for the gluten guzzlers amongst you, or joining you, they have a choice of 3 craft beers they brew in their own microbrewery on site.

As with last time I picked three small plates and was brought a generous helping of gluten free bread which seems to have had a serious upgrade since my last visit. Gone was the sweetish white bread and there were now two types of darker more flavourful bread which felt a far better fit with the Nordic flavours. Accompanying the bread was a dreamily light pot of butter whipped with quark, which I think has now utterly destroyed standard butter for me… I’m stealing this one hundred percent!

First up, and somewhat appropriately, Juuri meaning root, I tried the winter root based “Punajuurta ja piparjuurta” aka beetroot with horseradish. The beetroot had been prepared in two different ways, and the sweet earthiness was perfectly balanced with the fiery grated horseradish, all mellowed luxuriously with whipped cream cheese.

Next up was “Silakkaa ja sinappia”, the Baltic herring with mustard, a beautifully cured, wonderful marriage of sweet and sharp, with butterily soft fish. Mustard seeds and razor thin slices of raw turnip adding spice and freshness in turn. If the idea of raw, pickled herring terrifies you, this plate of food is the gateway drug. If like me you’re a veteran of the Baltic herring market and your friends’ home pickled delights it’s still pretty exemplary. A perfectly clean plate of food which felt to take some serious cues from Japan, the turnip was particularly daikon-esque but at the same time could belong only here in Finland!

For my third choice I had been torn but went on the recommendation of my server, who remembered me from my last visit and honestly looked after me like royalty. She steered me in the direction of the “Siikaa ja sienta”, a whitefish tartare with wild forest mushrooms. I’m very happy she did because it was magical. The mushrooms were served as a rich, velvety purée, sweet and lightly pickled, and chopped finely in a nod to the traditional mushroom salad/dip sieni muhennos. Each and every part of this plate was mind blowing. The fish tartare was light and perfectly fresh. I got some serious inspiration of what to do with the five vac-pacs of wild mushrooms my forager friend gifted us! Honestly I would have happily had three or more plates of this with no complaints.

After three rounds I was quite full but maybe felt there was room for dessert. I had time to kill, the Pet Finn was buried away in a basement rehearsal studio for the next few hours. They did have a gluten free option but it was chocolate orange, controversial I know but I really dislike chocolate orange as a flavour combination. A part of me wanted to order the whitefish again…

… ultimately I chose to have the “muikunmätiä ja sipulia”, vendace roe with more of the velvety whipped cream cheese and lightly pickled red onions. It was the other option I’d been toying with when I plumped for the whitefish tartare. Was it quite so exquisite? No. Was it delicious? Hell, yes! Jewel-like and a perfectly decadent end to my meal, with a generous second round of the gluten free bread. I think I know what I want for Christmas dinner!

After being quite so greedy and I can confirm that they also make a damn good coffee, very necessary to prevent me falling asleep while I waited at The Riff for the boys to finish making noise! I can also confirm that I will now be getting serious fomo every time I miss one of Juuri’s seasonal updates, rather like the Japanese tourist who had collected pictures on her phone from their previous season’s menus!

Just as eating here in July the food screamed Nordic summer, the winter menu was deeply rooted in its season, if you’re visiting Helsinki in the next couple of months it is a must try!

B. xx

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