In the past year, I have visited four of the five Nordic countries (I’m coming for you soon, Iceland, I promise), and I have noticed the same phenomenon in each: they all seem to be having a moment, culinarily-speaking. In Stockholm, I met the world’s most enthusiastic and knowledgeable cheesemonger, in Copenhagen, I had the tastiest organic hotdog from a street cart you ever did find, and in Oslo, I visited a newly-opened food hall, a delicious spot that locals are increasingly beginning to embrace and enjoy. And in Helsinki? In Helsinki I discovered a robust culinary scene that was much more delicious than I ever would have imagined it to be.
In fact, I loved every single meal I had in Helsinki, which surprised me: I would not have pegged Finnish cuisine as one I would so enjoy. Yet enjoy it I did, and that all started at Restaurant Ask, where I had my first big meal. In perusing travel blogs, I had seen Restaurant Ask mentioned several times. And when I learned that the restaurant had just earned a Michelin star in 2014, that sealed the deal; I knew I needed to try the restaurant that seemed to be hitting its fine dining stride.
I went to Ask for lunch, where each day they offer a 49 euro four course menu, a menu that changes depending on what ingredients are available that day (always a great sign). In terms of my typical travel budget, 49 euro is more than I usually spend for lunch, but I thought this meal was a fantastic value, as everything was super high quality and delicious.
To begin, I was served a few little nibbles: buckwheat and millet crackers with a yummy elderflower yogurt dipping sauce and fermented carrot with cumin mayonnaise. They also brought me sourdough bread with organic Finnish butter in the cutest butter dish one could imagine – a small touch that I adored.
For the first course, they served a lamb tartare with wild herb salad and radish. I’m generally not a fan of tartares, but this was excellent – and I loved the dressing on the herbs, too.
The second course was another winner: nettle pancakes (in a vibrant hue of green) topped with a brown butter sauce, yogurt, and egg. This was the second dish that contained yogurt, and I noticed that yogurt was often a component of dishes throughout my stay in Helsinki, a trend I can definitely get on board with.
For the third course, they brought out a smoked pike-perch (caught on a nearby island) topped with butter sauce and served with leeks and ramps. The butter sauce was rich but not overwhelming, the fish was perfectly cooked, and I liked the smokiness of the dish. I also adored the veggies, and while I wouldn’t typically say something so rapturous about vegetables, I thought these were incredibly flavorful.
Before the fourth course, my waitress brought out what she dubbed “a little pre-dessert”: a blueberry sorbet with carmelized oat muesli.
Then, the real dessert arrived: a lingonberry parfait with deep friend buckwheat and a licorice sauce. The ingredients here – the lingonberries and licorice – were quintessentially Nordic yet unexpectedly wonderful (to my palate, at least). I am not typically a big licorice fan, but its tartness provided a great counterpart to the very sweet lingonberries. In fact, though I’m generally licorice-averse, I spooned up every last bit of the licorice sauce!
The meal ended on another high note: a tiny piece of spruce fudge with spruce jam. This really did taste sprucey and tree-like, but not in a weird way!
I loved my meal at Restaurant Ask from start to finish (er, Finnish?). Every course was on point, and I loved how they took Finnish staples – berries, fish, licorice – and made them creative and modern. The service was so well done, too, with perfect timing and helpful explanations for each dish. Restaurant Ask may have been a bit of a splurge meal, but it was one well worth making.