Review: Karjase Sai and Barbarea World-Class Bakery + Pizzeria in Tallinn

The most exciting restaurant concepts in Tallinn right now are Karjase Sai and Barbarea from owner, chef, and head baker Kenneth Karjane. The sourdough bread and pastries at Karjase Sai have been drawing long lines of Estonian locals for years. Recently, the bakery has expanded to offer an evening concept, Barbarea, which serves small dishes, pizza, and natural wine. Karjane previously worked at NOA Chef’s Hall and at a few restaurants in Copenhagen and Stockholm before opening his own spot in Põhjala Tehas on the Kopli Peninsula. Not only is Karjase Sai Estonia’s best bakery, it’s also among the best we’ve tried around the world.

Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in Estonia’s capital? Check out our city map of Tallinn!

A selection of pastries at Karjase Sai in Tallinn.
A selection of pastries at Karjase Sai in Tallinn.
KARJASE SAI / BARBAREA

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Marati 5, Tallinn, Estonia
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Põhjala Tehas – Tallinn’s Unlikely New Hub

While Tallinn’s old town has its charm, it also has its tourist traps. Right by the train tracks, Telliskivi has been the hot neighborhood for the past few years; but it has become a bit overrun by partying teenagers. The newly developed waterfront area, Port Noblessner, shows promise, but it has a bit of a cookie-cutter feel. The neighborhood of Põhjala Tehas, however, is full of character – it captivated our attention on our recent trip to Estonia. The old rubber boot factory-turned-hipster-hub is just a ten minute drive from the city center, but it feels like a completely different world. A flourishing community garden with a swing set welcomes you when you walk through the gates. An open door invites you into a provocative art gallery, and there are ping pong courts and greenhouses as far as the eye can see. We wouldn’t be surprised to find a poetry slam, an outdoor yoga class, or a coffee cupping competition taking place.

Chef Kenneth Karjane and his partner Eva Korvas run Karjase Sai and Barbarea.
Chef Kenneth Karjane and his partner Eva Korvas run Karjase Sai and Barbarea.
The beautiful outdoor seating area and greenhouse outside the bakery.
The beautiful outdoor seating area and greenhouse outside the bakery.

The grungy warehouses have a certain kind of charm; there’s an allure to the rough, unfinished edges of the area. Brooklyn meets Downtown LA meets Bali in this urban jungle. But it’s taken a lot of time to get to this stage. What was once the worst part of Tallinn has been transformed into a vibrant, hip neighborhood. It took people with vision to recognize the potential of the area and turn it into something great. Põhjala Tehas is still under renovation – next year the area will include the addition of a tall apartment building. Construction crews are redoing the neighboring harborfront and opening up the seaside, which is currently fenced off. We expect the Põhjala Tehas area to be booming the next time we visit Tallinn.

But you know us, we’re mostly motivated by food – and yes, that’s why we trekked outside the city center to this Estonian utopia. Põhjala Tehas is a foodie paradise. The area is full of passionate restaurateurs and shop owners. You’ll find a burger joint (VLND Burger), a gelato cart (Gelato Ladies), a canteen (Kopli Köök), a coffee roaster (Kokomo), and a bar (Botik) that looks like a treehouse. And, of course, the best bakery and pizzeria in Tallinn…

Karjase Sai serves coffee from Prolog and April in Copenhagen, and from Paper Mill in Estonia.
Karjase Sai serves coffee from Prolog and April in Copenhagen, and from Paper Mill in Estonia.

Karjase Sai – A World-Class Bakery in Tallinn

If you speak Estonian, you might know that Karjase Sai means “Shepherd’s Bread” – but the name of the bakery is also a play on the owner’s name. It’s a double meaning which also translates to “Karjane’s Bread” (the possessive form of Karjane is Karjase). Kenneth Karjane started his cooking career in 2015, and eventually ended up in the kitchen at Tallinn’s best restaurant, NOA Chef’s Hall. While there, he became fascinated with baking. After he left the restaurant, he decided to go to Sweden for a few months and stage at Valhallabageriet in Stockholm. When he returned to Estonia, he began baking sourdough bread out of a racing car garage. Known only as “the guy who bakes bread in a garage,” the mysterious bread-slinger began selling his wares at outdoor markets, before starting regular Sunday pop-ups at Põhjala Tehas. His weekly pop-ups soon became the talk of Tallinn, drawing long lines of people who were curious about his baked goods. In January 2020, he finally opened his dream bakery: Karjase Sai.

Clockwise: the cardamom bun, cinnamon bun, and apple chausson from Karjase Sai.
Clockwise: the cardamom bun, cinnamon bun, and apple chausson from Karjase Sai.

Karjane has found inspiration at bakeries around the world – sometimes without even traveling to them. He has an incredible knack for recreating pastries he’s eaten once, or sometimes has only seen on the Internet. After devouring a rosemary sea salt twist at Pophams Bakery in London, he knew he had to put a tribute to this pastry on the menu at Karjase Sai. He also created his own variation on this classic pastry – a cacio e pepe twist. This is typical of Karjane; he often refines these signature pastries with his own personal touch, sometimes rendering them even better than the original. An example of this is his croissant dough-wrapped sausage roll – tastier than any we’ve had in Scandinavia. His cardamom and cinnamon buns are soft and fluffy, definitely on par with what you find in Sweden. The almond croissant was next level – the pastry’s rich layers were filled with a juicy almond paste. The pastel de nata was also mouthwatering, with a great vanilla flavor; buttery, flaky croissant dough encircled the custard. We were particularly impressed by this pastry, considering Karjane has yet to visit Portugal.

Of course, the bakery also has its own signature items. The savory pastries especially blew us away, because they were so unique. Our favorite of the bunch was filled with caramelized onions and cheese; another had bacon and ‘nduja, and one had tomato and goat cheese. Another memorable selection was the Tosca, with caramelized nuts and marzipan. Karjase Sai offers a wide selection – and they bake throughout the day, so you can always find hot, fresh pastries on the counter. You’ll need some java with your pastries, of course; Karjase Sai serves coffee from both Prolog and April in Copenhagen, and from Paper Mill in Estonia.

While Karjane is in charge of everything regarding the food, Eva Korvas handles everything else – from social media to interior design. Korvas studied art and design before finding herself in the food industry. Korvas and Karjane are partners in business and in life. “We were good friends before we were soul mates,” Korvas said, describing their relationship. This passionate power couple employed only a handful of employees last year, but now they have 25 dedicated team members, whom they refer to as family.

Chatting with Kenneth and Eva in the greenhouse.
Chatting with Kenneth and Eva in the greenhouse.
Looking down into the Barbarea kitchen from the second floor.
Looking down into the Barbarea kitchen from the second floor.

Barbarea – The Evening Concept at Karjase Sai

In the beginning, Karjase Sai shared their venue with Kokomo Coffee Roasters, so when Kokomo moved next door (and they suddenly had a lot more space), Karjane and Korvas decided to start an evening concept. Barbarea is the Latin name for rapeseed, a flowering plant that grows when the sun first starts to shine. It’s a simple plant, yellow and summery, with a bright color that makes people happy. The restaurant aspires to have the same sunny disposition as the plant. “We aim to have one of the nicest restaurant experiences in Tallinn. We want it to be super homey and casual, but we also want it to be really nice,” Karjane said.

For a sourdough bakery, developing a pizza restaurant just made sense. Just like with the bakeries, Karjane looked to the best; he staged at Surt, Copenhagen’s top pizzeria, to learn some tricks of the trade. Barbarea’s pizza is sourdough-based, with a higher hydration than most pizzas. The dough is a mix of Estonian and Italian flours. If you’re a pizza purist, you’ll find the classics (margherita, marinara) on the menu, but Barbarea also has some nontraditional offerings. We loved the pepperoni pizza with fennel seeds and spicy honey, (which reminded us of Roberta’s pizza in NYC!) and we were intrigued by the mapo tofu pizza (although we didn’t get to try it this trip). A good excuse to return…

The fluffy pita bread with creamy hummus was our favorite dish.
The fluffy pita bread with creamy hummus was our favorite dish.
Fresh burrata with pesto.
Fresh burrata with pesto.

But Barbarea is so much more than a pizzeria. The small dishes were our favorites, actually. You can’t miss the hummus served with warm and fluffy pita bread, and the malawach (a flaky, layered bread made from croissant dough) served with a dip of labneh, alliums, and whitefish roe. We also loved the burrata and pesto, the Estonian tomatoes and cucumbers with whipped lemon ricotta, and the beef tartare with mustard aioli, sourdough crumble, and sliced squash. Most of the ingredients come from local Estonian farms and their greenhouse. Craving something sweet? Barbarea’s “tiramisu” is made with cardamom monkey bread, and they also serve classics like Basque cheesecake and crème brûlée.

To drink, Barbarea offers natural wine and Mikkeller beer. (It’s a little slice of Copenhagen in Tallinn!) This is the only restaurant in Estonia so far that serves exclusively natural wines, and they even import Lammidia (one of our favorite winemakers) themselves. If the weather is nice, there’s outdoor seating in the sun and inside the greenhouse, and there’s a whole second floor of seating overlooking the bakery and kitchen. It’s especially fun to watch the chefs bustling around the pizza oven. If we lived in Tallinn, we’d eat at Barbarea every week.

Whipped lemon ricotta, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread crumbs, and olive oil.
Whipped lemon ricotta, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread crumbs, and olive oil.
Malawach (a flaky bread made from croissant dough) served with a dip of labneh, alliums, and whitefish roe.
Malawach (a flaky bread made from croissant dough) served with a dip of labneh, alliums, and whitefish roe.
The pepperoni pizza with fennel seeds and spicy honey, and chili oil on the side.
The pepperoni pizza with fennel seeds and spicy honey, and chili oil on the side.
Chopped logs ready for the wood-fired pizza oven.
Chopped logs ready for the wood-fired pizza oven.

Have you visited Karjase Sai or Barbarea? Leave a comment below!

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