Chef & Sommelier was the spark that triggered the entire trip to Helsinki. As I explained in my previous post on restaurant Ask, I met the owner Sasu in Stockholm earlier this year. We discovered that we shared a strong passion for food and exploring exciting restaurants. That night, Sasu suggested I should come to Helsinki and dine at his one Michelin star restaurant Chef & Sommelier.
A few months later the plans were made, flights tickets booked and restaurant bookings secured. Unfortunately, faith did not want me to meet Sasu again this particular time. Due to some last-minute changes of dates on my part, I ended up visiting at a time when he was doing a guest performance at another restaurant. He assured me, however, that his team would cater to our every need and treat us well.
With the amazing meal from restaurant Ask fresh in mind, we entered through the doors of restaurant Chef & Sommelier on a Saturday evening. Situated in the area of Ullanlinna in Helsinki; an area which reminded me a bit of Östermalm in Stockholm or parts of Frogner in Oslo. Areas which can be a bit impersonal, quiet and cold if you judge from the exterior. The first thing that struck me was how tiny and intimate this place was. It can’t have been more than 8 tables, seating about 20 people. Peeking into the kitchen, it looked even tinier than the one at Pjoltergeist in Oslo! The interior revealed a very warm atmosphere, which was further reinforced by the wonderful staff smiling towards you.
Just like restaurant Ask, the team at Chef & Sommelier had prepared well and Andrea’s gluten allergy was not a problem at all this night. We had a waiter and sommelier who took care of us the entire time, explained all dishes, talked passionately about each wine and told us quirky fun facts about the food we ate. The service level here almost bordered to the experiences we had at both Noma and Maaemo.
As the various servings came out it dawned on me that this was one of the most hardcore new Nordic restaurants I had ever eaten at. An extreme focus on organic produce and wild plants foraged in nature. Odd herbs, roots or other vegetables in almost every dish. However, besides a few exceptions, it really worked out quite well. The meal reminded me a lot of the first times I dined at Manfreds and Noma in Copenhagen.
Showcasing the various local produce seemed to be more in focus than the actual dish as a whole, or the complete meal. The classic French, heavy flavors that punch you in the face, are almost entirely gone. What looks up at you from the plate is a single vegetable, begging you to taste its independent essence. Just slightly lifted up by some contrasting flavors or textures.
Chef & Sommelier is the restaurant for those who truly want to experience the New Nordic cuisine, and get a feel of the Finnish nature, vegetables, wild plants from the forest, locally bred meat and artisan cheese. I am really looking forward to going back, and next time I will make sure that Sasu is present!
What is the most typical New Nordic restaurant you have been to? Feel free to leave a comment below.