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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The London Foodie Goes to Estonia - Tallinn


After a brief spell of independence between 1918 and 1940, Estonia fell under Soviet occupation until 1991, when it re-gained its sovereignty. Estonians were quick off the mark to restore the country to the beautiful and highly cultured nation it used to be, and today, Estonia is also one of most technologically advanced states of the European Union, which it joined in May 2004. In 2011, the country joined the Eurozone and its capital, Tallinn, was European Capital of Culture.

Tallinn Skyline

Possibly the main tourist destination of the Baltic Region, Estonia is sandwiched between Russia, Scandinavia and other Baltic nations. Home to Arvo Pärt, one of the giants of contemporary classical music, and the nation that gave Skype to the world, I was thrilled to be invited by the Estonian Tourist Board to this intriguing part of Europe to discover and report what culinary surprises the country had in store for Tallinn Restaurant Week.


In its 3rd year, Tallinn Restaurant Week is a festival that brings together some of the best restaurants of the Estonian capital - 35 restaurants were taking part in 2013. Like the London festival that we have come to anticipate each year, Tallinn’s offers a multitude of meals specially designed for the week’s festival; some of these are excellent value too. If you thought that all there was to Estonia’s culinary legacy were sauerkraut, pork knuckle and boiled potatoes, think again and read on.


Whether or not you will travel the earth for that perfect meal, Tallinn still merits a visit for it is one of the most beautiful and well-maintained medieval towns of Northern Europe. With direct, 3-hour flights from London’s Gatwick, Tallinn is easily accessible and a perfect City break for a long weekend away from home.

Russian Orthodox Church


The heart of Tallinn is its Medieval Old Town, a fairytale neighbourhood of gabled houses, gothic spires and cobblestone streets that dates back to the 13th century. But as much as Tallinners pride themselves on their city’s medieval heritage, it is the modern side of the city which I found most inspiring.

Tallinn's Medieval Old Town

In addition to being one of Europe’s most technology-oriented cities where Skype was invented, Tallinn offers free public wi-fi, and is where parking payment via text messages or sms was first introduced. Tallinn is also the first European capital offering free public transport for its residents since 2013.


Tallinn is a highly compact city, most of which can be easily explored on foot without the need for taxis or buses. Most of the sightseeing attractions, cultural events, dining, shopping and nightlife are located within the Old Town.


I spent the few hours I had between the various restaurant meals meandering up and down the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Town, taking in the sights of this enchanting place (while trying to burn up some of my newly acquired calories). With my TallinnCard in hand (€24 for 24 hours/€32 for 48 hours), I was hopping on and off one of the city’s sightseeing bus tours as well as enjoying free access to many of its museums, galleries and other attractions.


If you are planning a City break in 2014, I recommend Tallinn as a destination - you will not be short of things to do and see but most importantly, there will be plenty of fantastic food to enjoy!


Where to Eat in Tallinn

Tchaikovsky

One of the city’s fine-dining restaurants located at the historic, 5-star Telegraaf Hotel in the Old Town, Tchaikovsky serves a fusion of Russian-French cuisines in very plush surroundings.


The restaurant has been listed as Tallin’s no.1 restaurant (and Estonia’s 2nd) among The 50 Best Restaurants in Estonia, a list compiled by the country’s top restaurateurs and other relevant figures in the industry.


Executive chef Vladislav Djatuk, an Estonian of Russian parents, heads the busy kitchen and was kind enough to welcome me into his restaurant to try his seasonal 6-course tasting menu (€72/£60).


We kicked off with a refreshing and exquisitely presented crab salad with avocado and passion fruit hollandaise. The combination of colours and textures in this salad was truly a work of art.


This was followed by wild mushroom “pelmeni” and cheese gratin with potato espuma. The dumpling pastry was freshly made and very delicate, the perfect casing for the earthy mushroom – pelmeni like I have never tasted.


For main course, I had a roasted cod fillet with shavings of pumpkin, baby carrots, langoustine and beurre blanc, which again was beautifully presented and delicious.


The roasted venison fillet was next. This was served with chokeberry, Jerusalem artichoke, fondant potato and cauliflower in a rich Madeira sauce. This was a wonderful main course, the venison was tender and flavoursome, and was a perfect partner to the Chateauneuf du Pape I enjoyed it with.


As would be expected for a restaurant of this calibre, the wine list was well designed and comprehensive. I enjoyed a 2010 bottle of Mersault by Louis Jadot with my starters and roast cod, which was a great suggestion by the sommelier.

After the cheese course, I had one of the restaurant’s signature desserts – the Pavlova à la Tchaikovsky. This was a ravishing concoction of crumbly meringue, fresh cut fruit and flowers, and raspberry sorbet which was refreshing and a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.


I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at Tchaikovsky, shortly after landing in Tallinn. The tasting menu I tried at the restaurant was of 1 or possibly 2 Michelin starred quality (the Michelin Guide has not yet ranked any restaurants in the country), and it cost a fraction of any similar meal in London.

Neh

Neh is the city bistro of the country’s much acclaimed Pädaste Manor, a historic 15th century Baltic estate located in an unspoilt nature reserve on Muhu Island in the Baltic Sea. The small luxury hotel and spa at Pädaste Manor houses the restaurant Alexander, listed as the top restaurant in the country.


At Neh, respect for Nordic Islands’ cuisine is clear, with food and produce from Muhu, as well as other neighbouring islands.  This style of cooking makes great use of smoking, pickling, drying and salting which is part of the indigenous heritage. Excellent quality lamb and pork, as well as game such as venison, moose and wild boar are abundant. Neh features fresh fish from Pädaste Manor, as well as wild greens and herbs from the forest, fields and beach of the estate.


The dining style at Neh is rather more casual than at Alexander I am told, and prices are more affordable. We sat at the Chef’s Table in the restaurant kitchen, which can be reserved for parties of up to 5 people for a set fee of €295/£244 or £49 per head for a six-course dinner. Other menus and price options are available.

Chef's Table at Neh

Danish Head Chef Yves Le Lay is the man in charge of Neh’s kitchen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting to chat about Nordic islands’ cuisine, but more importantly to try some of his creations.


We started with a platter of local tapas, aptly named “Made in Muhu” (£15 for 2 people). This consisted of a delectable selection of Muhu’s best bites - smoked moose, cured venison, smoked Baltic herring, smoked cod mousse, chicken liver mousse, whipped butter and pickled cucumber.


The beef heart tartare (£12) was served next. Beautifully presented and well seasoned, it also had marinated wild garlic and droplets of sous-vide egg.


This was followed by the “free-range egg 100 minutes” (£8), a gently sous-vide egg, served with salt roasted tuhlis potatoes (a local variety) and spiced Baltic sprat. Packed with flavour, this was a creamy, warming and comforting dish.


For main course, I had a pan-fried pike perch (£16) served with a parsley chlorophyll dressing, roasted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. This was a simple and very well made dish with the quality of the ingredients coming through perfectly.


The sea-buckthorn posset (£6) with burnt butter-spelt crumble was a refreshing dessert that ended a perfect meal on a good note.


The meal at Neh was not only delicious but also an amazing educational experience for me – I learnt and got to try the Nordic Islands’ cooking and some of the native ingredients used by Chef Yves Le Lay. I could see some resonance to Japanese cooking, particularly in the use of pickling, drying and fermenting, which bring out the umami and concentration of flavour of ingredients. As with Japanese food, the ingredients were key to the dishes we had and were also of excellent quality and freshness.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Neh; the restaurant is a must for anyone visiting Tallinn and who would like to learn about the native Nordic Islands’ cuisine. I cannot wait to try Alexander at Pädaste Manor on another occasion soon.

Leib Resto ja Aed (Bread Restaurant  & Garden)

If I only had one meal in Tallinn, I would probably make Leib Resto ja Aed the one.


This was my favourite restaurant in town – it was also the 3rd restaurant that I visited for lunch that day (yes, my 3rd lunch that day), and I still remember vividly, every mouthful I had that afternoon.

The food was exquisite and unpretentious – local, fantastic produce, simply but beautifully cooked and paired with some great wines. Partners Kristjan Peäske, an award winning sommelier, and head chef Janno Lepik a former Londoner who worked at Rhodes W1 and Babylon, have a winning formula and are bringing a fresh and modern perspective to Estonian cuisine.


I met Janno who was kind enough to explain the idea behind Leib Resto ja Aed and chat about Estonian cuisine. The food menu is very reasonably priced with starters costing from £3.75 to £6.70, main courses around £7 to £17.50 and desserts from £3.50 to £7.50. The wine list is also comprehensive and well thought out reflecting Kristjan’s contribution to the partnership. Every dish on the menu can be paired with a matching glass of wine available to order.

Chef Janno Lepik

The restaurant opened two and half years ago and has a large garden, which I am told is the place to be during the summer months. In addition to the freshly baked bread for which the restaurant is famous, there is always, weather permitting, something being cooked on the garden grill.

I started with a dish of potted trout (£6.50) served with bread and a salad of pickled onions, cucumber and beet leaves. The combination of flavours was really well thought out, with the different elements of the dish complementing each other. The potted trout was paired with a 2011 white Rioja by Luis Cañas made from old Viura and Malvasia vines, which had enough body to work a treat with the trout and pickled onions.



I have a real weakness for bone marrow, and so Leib’s roasted bone marrow (£5.80) served with gherkin-onion salad and toast had to be ordered. This was also fantastic, the meaty flavours heightened by the addition of horseradish cream and a concentrated red wine jus. I had this with a glass of 2009 Chardonnay by Chateau Ste Michelle from Washington State (US), an unusual pairing which worked well in my opinion.



For main course, I had Janno’s overnight cooked lamb neck from Rägavere Manor (£13.25) served with pearl barley and beetroot cream. Flavoursome, tender and very succulent, words fail me to express how delicious this was. Expertly matched with a 10 year old 2003 Laudum Gran Reserva from Alicante, made from Cabernet Sauvigon, Monastrell and Merlot varietals aged in French and American oak, it was a combination made in heaven.


I was sadly too full for dessert, but hope to be returning to Leib Resto ja Aed in the near future for more of Janno’s top nosh, Kristjan’s faultess wine cellar, and the best of Estonian hospitality (and of course dessert!). Very highly recommended.

Chedi

Singaporean Goh Wee Boon, a former Hakkasan sous-chef (aka Simon), heads the kitchen at Chedi. This is Tallinn’s answer to Chinese fine-dining championed by Hakkasan and Yuatcha in London.


Chedi is a beautiful and elegant restaurant with prices to match. The food was exquisite, the dim sum made on the premises, and the service second to none. The pricing however seemed not in keeping with similar establishments in London.


The baked venison puff (£9), was as good as I remember having at Hakkasan – the pastry was fresh and the meat filling, sweet and well seasoned. The price however for 2 dumplings (not 3) was in my opinion excessive.


The dim sum platter contained prawn-bamboo with XO sauce and goji berry and prawn-scallop filling (£9.50) which were light and very delicious, but again eye-wateringly expensive.


I met Head Chef Goh and visited his kitchen to watch him prepare one of the restaurant’s signature dishes - stir-fried, black pepper rib eye beef with Merlot sauce (£19) which was delicious and gorgeously presented.


Bocca

A couple of doors down from the Chedi, Bocca is one of the most popular and highly regarded Italian restaurants in Tallinn. I met Italian Head Chef Nicolo Tanda, a native of Sardinia, and had a fantastic meal with him there.


We started with a magnificent dish of scallop and king prawn with asparagus in a delicate white wine and ginger sauce (£13). The foie gras with cognac seasoned fig and melon in blackberry sauce (£13) was also delicious and beautifully presented.


The grilled rack of lamb (£22.50) flavoured with a crust of almonds and myriad herbs including parsley, thyme, oregano and basil was sensational, the meat perfectly cooked. It was served with a delicious goat’s cheese terrine and blackberry sauce and a glass or two of San Jacopo Chianti Classico, one of Chef Nicolo’s favourite wines on his menu.



To round off, I had a deliciously zingy and refreshing Sorrento Lemon Tart (£5). Creamy and very moreish, this was also expertly made.


Italian food is one of my favourite cuisines but I am rarely impressed by Italian restaurants in London or abroad. My meal at Bocca was however exquisite – the food was faultless and as delicious as (if not better than) a lot that I had while living in Italy. Highly recommended.

Travel Essentials

Estonia Tourist Board
Lasnamäe 2
11412 Tallinn
Estonia
Telephone +372 6279 770

Visit Estonia

Visit Tallinn

Tallinn Restaurant Week

The 50 Best Restaurants List (Estonia)

Tchaikovisky
Vene 9, Tallinn
Phone: 6000610
tchaikovsky@telegraafhotel.com

Neh
Lootsi 4, Tallinn
Phone: 6022222
info@neh.ee 

Leib Resto ja Aed
Uus 31, Tallinn
Phone: +372 6119026
info@leibresto.ee

Chedi
Sulevimägi 1, Tallinn
Phone: 6461676
info@chedi.ee

Bocca
Olevimägi 9, Tallinn
Phone: +372 6117290
bocca@bocca.ee

11 comments:

  1. Glad to read you enjoyed dining in Tallinn - and you certainly managed a lot during your trip!!

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  2. Tallinn is certainly really gaining a Foodie reputation. You can take a gastronomic tour with Baltic holidays http://www.balticholidays.com/holiday.php?holiday=612

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  3. Wonderful post, thank you! Great review not only for foreigners but for Estonians, too! :)

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  4. Great review :) Found a little mistake in it tho. The chefs name in Tchaikovsky restaurant is Vladislav Djatšuk. Hope you come back for round 2, lots of great places still to discover!

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  5. Wonderful review, I couldn't agree more - Tallinn has a lot to offer!

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  6. I'm glad you enjoyed my beautiful hometown :)
    You also gave me some motivation to try out Leib Resto myself- something I'd been wanting to do for quite a while now.

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  7. I don´t eat this kind of food (expencive and with weird components, i like simple foods), but your pictures and explanations made my mouth water :D

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  8. superthanks ...it is always heartwarming to hear good words about my homeland :) even if i know we deserve it ;) .............you are always welcome to come back :) ...

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  9. Great post, thank you! You have been to many nice places but there are so so many restaurant to discover! Welcome back! ;)

    And if you come back, then visit Alexander, Rataskaevu16, Salt, Sesoon, Kolm sibulat, Kohvik moon, Olde Hansa, Korsaar and Texas.

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  10. Definitely made me hungry :D Lovely photos!!

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  11. Even though I can see how some people may like some of those restaurants in the list (in Tallinn terms) it is a pity that this blog bases its criteria in Tallinn's Restaurant Week and the Best 50 restaurants in Estonia. The former is organised by two of the main restaurant chains in the country. Restaurants have to pay to take part (any restaurant can take part in fact, there is no pre-selection whatsoever), restaurants do not offer their regular menu, etc. A scam. The former is a heavily politised list with many eateries not even qualifying as a restaurant (and where service and food leaves much to be desired) and the criteria to be part is based on how much you pay in advertising the the gentlemen that own Flavours of Estonia (the company organising the list). All in all Tallinn is light years behind a European city like London, Paris or Barcelona. There are some good places, but many of them are run independently and you will hardly find them in any list or publication.

    Tchaikovsky: they pretend to be something they will never be. A good restaurant but nothing outstanding
    Neh: overpriced and over complicated Estonian food.
    Leib: commonplace food hyped up to the unimaginable, small portions and a ridiculously short menu. I tried the bone marrow a few months ago. It was simply not good at all! I'm sorry. Very young and amateurish service.
    Chedi: overpriced asian food. I have eaten cheaper and better in posh places in London. Wine is ridiculously expensive.
    Bocca: good italian I would agree. Not my favourite in Tallinn, but good to impress a blonde or two as it is a known posh place. Food is good, wines, as with Chedi and Tchakovsky (same owners) are expensive though.

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