by Faris Almussallam
When one thinks of Helsinki, Finland, one might immediately tend to the stereotypes: reindeer, cold winters, snow, saunas, northern lights, Santa Claus, etc. What one rarely thinks of, is the high end gastronomy offered over there. Don’t forget that with Finland’s abundant farmlands, one can assume that with that great food comes as a direct result.
One of the restaurants I booked was Olo, which is the Finnish word for “feeling”. The chosen word was quite apt, as the culinary journey would bring up a number of feelings along the way – astonishment, wonder, curiosity, and the feeling of tasting deliciousness – whatever that word is.
Situated just across from the main harbour, I walked the pleasant 15 minute stroll from my hotel to the restaurantand was immediately welcomed by a member of staff, and was taken straight to my table. Here, the waiter who would be taking care of me that evening introduced himself, in perfect English, and explained how the evening was about to proceed. There is only one menu, but there is also a shorter version in case you are pressed for time, as dinners at these sorts of establishments can drag on for up to 3 hours. As I was in no hurry and wanted to enjoy my first evening in the Finnish capital, I chose the regular menu.
Once I was at my table, a pot of raw dough was placed in front of me, and I was asked not to touch or poke it, as it was there to “breathe” before being fully baked in the oven. Although this step wasn’t essential, I guess it adds to the theatrical element that usually accompanies the dining experience.
The evening began with an array of foods encouraged to be enjoyed by hand. Utensil-free, I enjoyed the first course: broccoli dripping with herb puree, and the salad that followed: containing edible flowers with varied creams of salmon cream and oyster. Next up was a carrot accompanied with a seaweed emulsion – once more, this dish was also to be consumed with your fingers.
Following the carrot dish, chicken liver with blueberry shaped into the form of an egg was placed in a bed of hay, accompanied by a chicken skin cracker. Hard to eat without cutlery, I was able to pick up my knife and fork for the first time all night.
During the course of the meal, I was also served a number of interesting juices, one of which was spruce juice. Spruce is a kind of tree that grows in cold northern climates, and is also commonly known as a Christmas tree.
As the evening progressed, I was served an interesting mushroom pie, which was perched nicely on a bed of wild greens.
During this time, the dough was taken away to the oven, and brought back for the bread course, which came with homemade butter, lamb tartare with sour cream and dried egg yolk, broccoli puree, olive oil and a cucumber puree.
After the bread interlude, came time for the next dish, which was a red tomato and a pickled green tomato with tomato water and frozen goat’s cheese.
After the flurry of vegetarian dishes, came time for the Icelandic sole fish, which came with bock choi, beurre blanc, and peas.
What came afterwards was another fish dish, this time in the form of a very artistic perch fish “mosaic”, with honey turnip and caviar
Now that we entered the “fleshy” section of the food journey, it was time to go a bit further, with the veal sweet bread, accompanied with a symphony of grilled onions in a divine chicken broth.
With the meat dishes out of the way, came time for the trio of desserts, which featured key ingredients such as strawberries and chocolate in a variety of forms.
All in all, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this food trip, and liked that although everything was elevated to a really high level of cooking, and the techniques used were very precise, everything felt very rustic and down to earth. Everything from the fact that a number of dishes were meant to be eaten with your hands, to the relatively “common” ingredients, which were spun to create a real haute cuisine experience.