Saturday, June 15, 2013

Taste of Helsinki 2013

Taste of Helsinki calls itself as a boutique pique nique. The idea is simple: 12 restaurants (including three Michelin star restaurants from Helsinki) are making their signature dishes and you can choose your own menu from all of the restaurants.

We visited the event also last year, when it was held for the first time. I have to say that this year the event was fine, but some how last year was better. Maybe it`s due to the weather, which was last year sunny and hot, this time cold and rainy. Piquenique in the rain is not anything you are fancying for.

Food was fine, but nothing mind blowing this time expect Juuri's Wild Boar and Salt-Caramel Cake were our teams favourites. Unfortunately no pictures - fingers were frozen at that time.  For the next year, let's hope better weather (or bigger and warmer tents + blankets).

Taste of Helsinki is open until Sunday afternoon! 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fjöruborðið, Stokkseyri

The legend says that many people lost their lives in the stormy winter season of Iceland, trying to reach this place to have what is suppose to be the best shellfish soup of the island.

So we went to check Fjöruborðið by ourselves, in the quiet and sunny spring season.

Located about 60km South East of Reykjavik in the little town of Stokkseyri  (very good roads to drive there), Fjöruborðið restaurant looks like a very basic local restaurant that nothing really let a newcomer think about its worldwide reputation. Again it is a place where it is advised to book ahead.

The restaurant is located near the sea. It is divided in 2 main hall. The sea side view hall which at the time we visited seemed to be allocated to tourists and large groups, and the other half facing the parking lot, which actually gives a warmer feeling and where tables seemed occupied mostly by Icelanders.

As, according to the legend, we risked our lives to go there we went for the full set:
Shellfish soup as starter
Langoustines and side dishes as main
Piece of one of the cake of the day as dessert

The Shellfish is really really good, and deserves its legend. Nevertheless, some rumors around the island says that the recipe came originally from a small place, closed nowadays, in Borgarnes (North of Reykjavik). Who knows the truth?

The plate of Langoustine was very tasty but as usual with this kind of meal: very messy to eat. This is expecially true for all these tourist who are not used to eat this dish. At some extent it almost feel that the waiters are more making fun of you than giving you tips on how to fully enjoy your meal.

Actually, and it is sad to mention it again, the service was again an issue in this place. Not that it is not professional in the act of serving you dishing and taking your orders but you may feel not really welcomed by some waiters there.

Anyway our main advice for this place is:
Go there but order only the shellfish soup as main course.
This is definitely the highlight of the place. You can have better plates of langoustine or lobster in Europe or in the US. The cakes aren't either anything special even if they look massive at first.

But don't miss the soup, it is a must try!

Friday, May 10, 2013

​Sjávargrillið, Reykjavík

 If you go to trip adviser and check what is the first restaurant listed for Reykjavik you will find ​Sjávargrillið. A place with so much good publicity was to be tried. Due to the little fuzz around the place, the only way to get a table for diner is currently to book ahead. So we went to ​Sjávargrillið with high expectations.

The place is located in the very centre of Reykjavík, you will pass by it many times, if you are sight seeing or shopping in the centre. The place is relatively small and decorated in a a kind of bistro hype style (the bow ties on the coaches are a good find).

We went for some of their full diner menu sets, because this was was suppose to be our (one of) the best food experience in Iceland. 

The Fish feast in one hand, which consisted of a shellfish soup as starter, the fish of the day and some white chocolate mousse threat for dessert. On the other side of the table we went for the so called 'Taste of Iceland' menu: a small sea food appetizer, a starter plate with what I will call 'forbidden' meat, an amazing Lamb dish and a Icelandic chocolate cake for dessert.

The fish menu was fine, no doubt on that, but wait a minute, wasn't this suppose to be the best place in Reykjavík? Then we have to admit that the fish dishes were only average. The presentation of the dishes is something they should improve a bit. The presentation is messy and the food journey lost a bit of its wonder.

About the 'Taste of Iceland', that is tricky one. What I called 'forbidden plate' consist of the main tourist meat attractions, puffin and Minke Whale. To be honest I will remember this dish forever, but not because I had an amazing food experience, but because afterwards I realized that even if whale meat does taste good (let's be honest), it is mostly hunted and prepared in restaurants in Iceland because of the tourists. And all this cause big damages to environment.

Another sad thing is that the Minke Whale meat tends to be one of the cheapest meat in the most of the restaurants. The reason is that it is cheaper to hunt these animals than to grow cattle on the island. That's not right. If you are interested in whales, more in their real habitat rather than in your plate take a look to

But let's talk back about the food.

The lamb course was probably the highlight of the evening. An amazingly tasty piece of lamb. Sometime soft  sometime crispy that was just delicious. Icelandic lamb is the best I ever tasted so far (but I found even better lamb dishes in other places around the island).

A small comment about the desserts: They were fine, but again we were expecting more from this place. For a chocolate lover, the chocolate cake was tasting very mild while I was expecting chocolate explosion in my mouth.

And last but not least, let's have a word about the service. First of all let's say here that Reykjavík restaurant scene seems to have a problem with its waiters and waitresses. It's not like the parisian waiter who won't even smile and be mean on purpose, it's just that even if they try hard sometimes to act professional there is this kind of distance which makes you feel that they don't really care about you as a customer. Also, the biggest issue we found with the service was the speed at which the dishes were brought. Kind of express service. We even observed that on some neighbors tables some warm dishes were brought to table while customers were outside for a smoke. 

As a conclusion, if you want to save money in Reykjavík, you can skip this place, it is not anything you will remember forever. As a matter of fact, by talking with many Icelanders, this place is mostly filled up with tourist, not with locals. So remember the basic rule of 'always go where locals are going'!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Café SÓLON, Reykjavík

One of the place you won't miss, if you are walking up and down Reykjavík main streets in city centre.

Café SÓLON is a brasserie type of place and also a art gallery. That's a good spot to grab a soup or a sandwich before you head to some afternoon excursion for example.

Their club sandwiches are massive and very tasty. You'll find Turkey, chicken and bacon in there, served with french fries, enough to feed a man for the day. Thee bagels are also a very good option there.

By the time we went there in the early spring, it looked a bit like a toursits place, but locals talk also about this place so when the summer days are coming it might be a pleasant place to have a fast and affordable simple meal. And more thing to add here, the staff is actually quite friendly and helpful!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Grillmarkaðinn, Reykjavík

Grillmarkaðinn (Grill Market) is one of the the best rated food place in Reykjavík at the moment, so we went to check it out.

The place is located in a nice old building in the very centre of Reykjavík. The walls are decorated with fish skins and it has a very nice design spiced with the cool atmosphere. The main part of the kitchen grill is open to the customers on the upper floor (the place has also more room downstairs), so as it is the trend now you can have a look on how your meal is prepared, if you like it.

If you plan to go there in the evening they recommend that you book a table ahead, we went there for lunch and no reservation was needed then.

The menu offers mostly products from local producers, and in most of case it is organic grown. Have a look to their website, there are interviews of the farmers, some may give you a smile (my favorite being the story from the skyr farmer and his motivation to start his business).

The menu offers a choice of meat and sea food, along with the typical tourist meal which is minke whale meat (see the post about Sjávargrillið, if you want to know more about minke whales. The post will be published in the end of the week).

So we went for the beef burger on one side and some monkfish and vegetables grill skewers and salad in the other. The burger was good, but to my taste the meat was too minced. Perhaps it was either made of a too good piece (not much fat to tied it up) or there was some liver part added to the meat. Nevertheless, the bun was sweet and crispy, and the fries coming along simply gorgeous. But that did not make it the best burger in town.

The skewers were very tasty. Especially the monkfish skewer melted in the mouth. Because mademoiselle was advised to take at least two skewers (they are rather small) the strong taste of grill sauce started be overwhelming. All this plus the dish dish salad, mademoiselle was very well eaten. So, this time we skipped desert. 

As a overall it a good place to have a meal, but we were a bit disappointed by the service, which seems to be a general trend in many places around Reykjavík. A very friendly and professional doorman will be waiting to sit you at the entrance, but then the waiters and waitresses seem a bit disorganized and not really dedicated to their job. Not really helpful in your choice, just giving you enough smile that you don't feel offended, but taking ages to answer your requests. The main issue we encountered was with the check which tooks long time to come and even longer to get sorted and paid.

We still do recommend the place, the food is good there and the place looks like they try very hard to give it a personality. Next time we want to try the place at the dinner time. Improvement on the service is the next challenge for Grillmarkaðinn.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Happ, Reykjavík

Graving for a health snack or a green smoothy in Reykjavik?

Happ is the place.
Located right in the centre, 5 minutes walk from the harbor, you will find here plenty of good sandwiches  salads, homemade juices and smoothly. They have also published a cooking book filled with the information of their food ideology. You can find the book, named after the restaurant, from the local book stores.

The place itself looks like a nice nordic café, and the staff is international and friendly.

We had some 'ready to run' veggie sandwich and a lamb sandwich, and this was exactly what we were expecting for a quick and cheap lunch in the Icelandic capital.

Monday, May 06, 2013

KEX hostel, Reykjavík

Iceland is for sure becoming the next 'place to be'.

In the past 10 years Reykjavík has expanded a lot, with s short break during the 2008 crisis. But Since a couple of years new places like KEX Hostel have been popping up, and more are to come. Only during the year 2013 four new hostels are going to be opened.

Kex is located on the sea front of Reykjavik, almost in the centre. The place occupies 3 floors of what was in the past a biscuit factory, the ground floor being occupied by a gallery museum.

The owners of the place definitely put a lot of effort to make this place look like a home for all people coming here. It looks and feels at the same time like a great base-camp for backpackers, a nice boutique hotel (you could find this kind of place in Berlin or Brooklyn) and it simply serves as a local bar for people living close to it. Our friend, who happens to live just a block away from KEX, calls it as his living room. We perfectly understand that!

The place offers to all very nice Breakfast. Notice: not only for the hotel guests. It has all what you expect to get in a Nordic country as a breakfast (porridge, breads, ham, veggies, jam, musly, eggs, juice coffee, fruit juice...) plus the special icelandic touch, skyr.

If you never been to Iceland before and you arrive late at night, the breakfast at KEX in the morning will set your mood up for your whole stay. Big bonus is that you can enjoy it facing the sea and a beautiful mountain Esja.

KEX is also a bar/brasserie and along with the dry cat fish that you can order with your beer, they have a selection of quite descent and affordable food. Their burgers are among the best we tried in Reykjavík. The good thing is that the place tries as much as possible to use seasonal products. Of course we are in Iceland so in the winter they do some exceptions. Even if you are not staying there in the hostel, the place is worth of stopping by one evening. Have a beer with friends there, have some good simple food, and enjoy their (almost) daily music happening.

Indeed almost every night there is either a free concert in the bar/restaurant hall or a more 'organized' gig in their small concert hall.

Last but not least, few words about the Hostel itself. It stays relatively affordable (yes, this is Iceland), even more in off seasons where prices are cut by half. KEX offers accommodation from the large 16 people dorms for backpackers, to the family dorms (big bed for daddy and mummy and bunk beds for the tribe), and to finish with their 'suits', 2 person bedrooms with private bath and sea views. All rooms are decorated in a industrial/vintage look with old school maps from all over the world.

The staff at the reception of the hotel is extremely friendly and helpful. The staff at the bar is also friendly at the breakfast time, but turned back to Reykjavik standarts later (meaning you will get what you want but don't be offended, if some bartender don't seem to care at all about you).

As a conclusion a great place to stay over or simply to visit for a beer or gig, if you are in Reykjavík.

Loch Fyne, Cambridge

Loch Fyne is a small chain of fish restaurant in the UK which has had many good reviews by its visitors. Their Cambridge restaurant is located just opposite to the FitzWilliam Museum, making it a very good lunch option, if you were planning to visit the museum that day.

From inside the restaurant look like a typical fish restaurant, frame of fishes or boats are present here and there on the white walls. Nothing really original but the place looks good as it is.

As we are in the UK, moreover in Cambridge where part of the National and international future elite is studying, the service is professional and friendly. Also probably because they may get part of their wage from the tips.

Anyway the restaurant has a large selection of fishes along with the special of the day.
The way it works is usually that you order your fish choose a dip and a side dish (french fries, green beans, salad...)

We first ordered as a starter a dozen of oysters, to be shared by 4, some being natural some being braised with chili.

Then came the main course.

Most of us opted for the halibut in traditional way and one tried the sea bass cooked in Thai way. Both dishes were very well executed, the fishes were tasty and the presentation in the plate was simple but just as it should be, no try to be exuberant here. Loch Fyne does fish dishes (but also serves meat) and does it well focusing on this aspect of their work, what they do the best.

The dessert list is deserves to be checked, but if you see something you really want at when checking the menu when you arrive, ask to have it put aside for you, some of the most popular items go fast!

To conclude: a bit pricy place but you will have exactly what you came for here: a good fish dish!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Jamie's Italia, Cambridge

Jamie Oliver is probably one of the most famous English chef nowadays (after Gordon Ramsay?). It almost looks that before him, there was no food culture in the UK.

When we've been visiting Cambridge, we've also visited couple of times Jamie's Italian restaurant there.

The Jamie Oliver restaurant in Cambridge is an italian inspiration restaurant. Built in a former library, it enjoys the fantastic main room with very high ceiling and plenty of light all over the place. In another hand the downside of this place is that is was built at first to be silent. Its new role as a major restaurant of Cambridge does not fit it totally as the place may feel too noisy sometimes (the sound reverberation is high).

It is simply, but nicely decorated. Italian inspiration, exactly as in Jamie's books about italian food. The place is organized with its bar/kitchen all open on the dining room so that everyone can at anytime observe how his meal is prepared. It is pretty easy to get a table for lunch there, but perhaps for diner a booking is preferable.

The Menu offers a very wide range of Jamie's italian's classics, hamburgers/ sliders and salads. Seafood dishes are especially good there. The daily chef's offer are often a solid bet.

As starter you can always go for a selection of Italian breads and why not some fried squids and dips.
On our last venue we picked as a main the shellfish raviolis. Very tasty, perfectly cooked, and in a just big enough proportion. Our host got some wild poultry (sorry, don't remember what it was exactly), which she loved.

Desserts are also to be recommended at Jamie's. Except for the chocolate brownie, which I tend to find too mild in its chocolate taste.

Jamie's place in Cambridge is place to recommend. You won't have a three stars meal there, but you will be pleased. The place itself, easygoing and simple food just wont let you down. This place is also perfect with kids!

You may dislike the serious business around Jamie Oliver, but we must acknowledge him and his restaurants that many British families (and now families around the world) have started to like cooking decent food at home. Jamie's manifests are selling pretty well and that's a good thing!

Peacock Tearoom, Ely

If you are visiting the English countryside North of London, studying at or Visiting Cambridge or if you are a Pink Floyd fan, then you should make a day trip to Ely.

Ely is world famous for its cathedral, and should also be for its Peacock Tearoom.

Located along the river this small tea house, looking like a doll house from the inside, is a perfect place to experience the typical (or cliché?) English afternoon tea.

It is tiny but its lovely staff will do everything to make you feel welcome. It is family run and almost and as much as possible is done by them.

And what about the afternoon tea experience?
look at the pictures: 4 trays filled up with scones, sandwiches and cakes.
The scones are home baked and gluten free! And they do taste awesome with the cream and the homemade jam.

The sandwiches are quite tasty as well, and if you happen to be vegetarian, just ask your waitress they will sort things out for you.

And last but not least, the cakes. Well most of use went for the lemon cake but our chocolate lover had to go for the courgette and chocolate cake, a very nice variation of the carrot cake (it's quite similar).

The only downside of this afternoon tea experience would be that it is so much sweets at once!

Maybe not the best to have as your late lunch, but definitely a must try.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hietalahden Kauppahalli

Since March the 1st of this year the Old Market hall of Helsinki, one of the highlights for tourists, but also a good place to get some poro (reindeer) or a fish soup lunch, it is now closed for renovation. It will reopened only in 2014.

Helsinki couldn't stay that long without such a place (yes, we have also Hakaniemi Market hall), and the city had the great idea to give a new life to the Hietalahti Market hall, few tram stops away from the city main landmark: Stockmann.

Hietalahden Kauppahalli was for many years a place for expensive antique stores, and for a couple of restaurant, depending of the years and the season (lately it hosted a Greek restaurant, Knossos, and a small Thai booth).

The Market Hall is now 100% dedicated to its first aim: Food, in retail from or as lunch places.
As in most of the Market Hall you will find fresh vegetables, a Butcher corner, a fish stall, bakeries, coffee, and also many lunch options. Many of the sellers seem to have taken this removal as a new beginning and they do kick now!

We went around and found our old favourites like the soup place (Soppakeittiö, which you can find also in Hakaniemi Market hall) and fish sellers. If you are looking for a cup of coffee or some sandwiches, you will find some in here. There is even a place, which is specialized to make all kind of food of shrimps: there are skagens, jacket potatoes, shrimp cocktails etc.

For this first visit we sat down in the table of The Fish store called Marja Nätti. They proposed mussels, blinis and other sea food based dishes. We went for the blinis. Good honestly not too fat not too dry, but a bit pricy. And of course you can also buy your fish from there or other fish sellers and cook your meal at home.

In the neighbor booth you'll also find a sushi, oysters and some more fish. A butcher Roslund in the corner seems to serve amazing looking burgers (we'll have to try them next time) for example "Heppaburger", which means a real thing made of horse meat.

If you want you, can eat on the few tables next to these food kiosks, or take your order (or wait that it is served to you) upstairs where many table are set, but hardly available on Saturdays.

The place gets easily crowded, and the age of the building makes also the ventilation system from another era. It has some very good point, a mix of nice smells coming from everywhere around, making you graving for any food proposed there. On the other hand, your clothes may smells a bit after your visit, and we will have to see how it will be in the summer time when the hot days are here.
But the place looks very nice, renovated just as it needed, not too modernized, not too tacky (in the way it wants to look too much like a postcard), and most important this place simply has a good atmosphere.

We will definitely go back and write more about this place. We are now looking forward the summer as this place might become a hotspot of Helsinki's summer 2013. When the open air adjacent flea market will start again, we bet that many restaurants of the market hall will open a terrace on the Hietalahti Market square, which is by the way just along the sea.

Verdict: Even if it is a bit overpriced, it is a go!