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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Havis (Helsinki, Finland)

The day: 14th Deember, Dinner.
The place: Eteläranta, 16, Helsinki (FI) (tel +358 9 68695660)
The venue: Havis
Closest Airport: Helsinki (British Airways and Finnair form Heathrow)
The food: Fish
The drinks: do not know (but markups are so high in Finland, you really do not want to know)

We are in Helsinki for a few days. We were really not counting to review this place (nice friends on account brought us here), but it was too good to miss. And it was on our shortlist (reputedly the best fish restaurant in Helsinki), so why should we not tell you about it? Only, as we had no control on either the final bill nor the wine list, we’ll have to be sketchier than usual on some details. Moreover, as we were engaged in very pleasant conversation with our host, we failed to profit to break ice with the chef who brought one of the orders to our table, and might have been distracted in places (especially Man who, let’s face it, can cope less well with alcohol than Woman can...). We also apologise for the quality of the pictures, as with the exception of the one of the interior, is really grainy…but we thought it is still better than nothing!

The location is really prime, on the seafront and nearby the old food halls.

The interior is divided into several rooms, some of them rather remarkable for their vaukted and frescoed ceiling, all very warm, enticing.

The menu is relatively short: a la carte entrees on the first page, a la carte mains on the last page, and in the two internal pages two set menus. Starters go from the €9 of the beetroot soup with Parmesan and pine nuts to the €22 of the roe of lavaret and vendace on toast. Mains go from the €18 of the mushroom risotto to €32 of the monkfish with Parma ham and stewed lentils. The Helsinki set menu is three courses for €49, to which you can pair three glasses of wine for an extra €43. The Skargardssmak menu had five courses at €65 with a pairing of five glasses of wine at €49.

We both go for the Helsinki menu, apparently voted the best fish menu of the year – one of our host, though, believes they must keep changing this Helsinki menu, as he was here before with another guest, and hewould swear the composition was different.

Anyway, here we go. Before anything else, comes an amuse bouche:

- Watercress soup, served in an espresso cup.

Now, we do have to challenge the assertion that this was an espresso cup, as no handle was there to be seen...Be reassured, though, that this was the only complaint about this beautiful thin soup, with quite a hint of aromatic mushrooms (ceps we suspect, but what do we know), to warm up our stomach, quite necessary on this cold night (several degrees below zero, even if our Finnish hosts assure us it is mild for this time of the year) .

Here comes the first component of our Helsinki menu

- Cured salmon with dill and caper mayonnaise.

What can we say: this was thoroughly, almost shamelessly beautififul and good: three chunks of excellent salmon, itself fantastic, flavoursome, stereotypically melting in the mouth, complemented by its roe, some diced potato cubes, and finished off with a delicious tangy dill and capers mayonnaise. Pure soft colourful indulgence, delicately elegant.

Next up:

- Pan fried lake whitefish with fondant potato and ceps sauce.

Its perfectly crisp skin up, its moist, succulent, and tasty meat below, it was resting on an array of tender greens and what we think were ceps (but what do we know), and accompanied by a fondant potato with a dollop of some tangy yet rich and fat orange sauce which we could not identify. The fish, as you would expect, was very fresh, the whole dish supremely satisfying.

To conclude:

- Blueberry milk with blueberry muffin and vanilla ice cream.

Well, with subzero temperatures, so had to be the berries (though, to be fair, next morning we found fresh berries in the market). Nevertheless, this was again a comforting dessert, with its good ice cream and forward berry flavour; a nice ending to this light but gratifying dinner.

Here they do not do petit four, which is a bit of a disappointment given the prices, but there you go, and when in Rome… With two bottles of wine (which we could not identify, but one of red and one of white, both pleasing, is all we could gather) and some water, we stole sight of the total bill, and we are pretty confident it was a little over £200 for the four of us. So we unwittingly approximately met the £100 rule – and we were not even paying!

Service is kind, efficient and informal. We suggest you ask for a table in the last room, which will give you a good view of the open plan kitchen. Obviously we did not have a full trial of the cuisine, which might not be particularly adventurous, but solidly based on ingredients of top notch quality. Still, what was on offer displayed an assured and delicate hand, producing dishes which are at the same time light and rewarding, with well-defined flavours. If you want a fish experience in Helsinki, we definitely recommend you come to Havis.


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