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According to Lonely Planet, Estonia was one of the not-to-miss destinations for 2016, and we're sure the trend won't end in 2017. So naturally we thought a gourmet stroll through the streets of its capital, Tallinn, would be in good taste. Marked by the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, the country has kept some Russian culinary traditions while maintaining its own culinary identity.
Overall, Estonian cuisine is fairly rustic, due to its geography. As half of the country is covered in forest, berries and mushrooms are an integral part of the country’s gastronomic identity. But Estonia is also a major agricultural land, where farm-raised meats and produce feature in its cuisine. Let’s set off now to find Tallinn's best restaurants where we can eat like real Estonians.
In search of authentic Estonian Cuisine
Pork is the favourite meat of Estonians. So it appears on virtually every menu in the city, where it is served as schnitzel with a generous side of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. The locals also love meat stews, also often found on restaurant menus.
To savour fine pigs feet simmered with garlic and fresh herbs, head for the Farm. This large place, simultaneously modern and rustic, features typical dishes at reasonable prices served in a supremely warm setting. You can also taste grilled reindeer, duck or lamb, meats with a pronounced taste much appreciated by Estonians. On the other hand, chicken rarely shows up on menus. Likewise, you can’t count on having your meal with white bread or a baguette.
Here, as in Germany and Finland, rye bread is king!
Müürivahe 27b/ Viru 11
Another Tallin restaurant in the moderate category, yet decidedly Estonian is Nipernaadi. Located just outside the centre of town, this restaurant is the place to go to. The chef searched all over Estonia looking for farmers and fishermen who do their work with respect for the environment. So the fish comes from Lakes Peipsi and Pärnu Bay, the pork and beef from southern Estonia, and many herbs and vegetables were picked at the Vihula Manor eco-farm.
Meals and food here are simple, fresh and seasonal and especially delightful in the spring, as Nipernaadi has an incredible terrace!
SEA BREEZE IN TALLINN
Estonia is on the sea and has several islands west of the country. Fish and seafood, though less popular than meat, are also an integral part of local cooking. A good place to start if you’re looking for coastal cuisine is Neh. Its chef, Matthias Diether, also heads up Alexander, on the island of Muhu, considered one of the country’s finest restaurants.
At Neh, the menu is short and designed around local, seasonal ingredients. While game is the main focus, there is also a large selection of fish such as salmon, zander and cod. If you’re booking sufficiently in advance, consider ordering the “chef’s table.” On a raised platform facing Matthias Diether’s kitchen you can see the team in action and admire their work.
Just a few kilometres away from the city, Noa is a venue with a spectacular sea view and a dual personality that founders Tõnis Siigur and Mihkel Rand have cleverly exploited to make it an attractive option for both those seeking a gourmet experience, or anyone simply wishing to enjoy dinner in the company of friends. In the restaurant area, you can either dine or order an aperitif accompanied with substantial nibbles made from a few essential ingredients, attentive to veggie needs and food intolerances (be sure to order the Eggplant “burnt end” with goat cheese curd, chive, and crispy onion).
In the Chef’s Hall, on the other hand, you can trust the chef to offer a gourmet menu (priced at 59 or 79 euros without wines), cherry picked from the specialities of Estonian cuisine, which even instils forest flavours in its desserts, like the amazing dish of chanterelles, sponge, cranberry and burnt butter.
WHERE TO DINE IN A UNIQUE SETTING
If the rays of sunshine make you want to eat outdoors, in a beautiful garden, Leib Resto ja Aed is the place to go. The cooking is simple and elegant – coq au vin, sturgeon fillet – but specially, the restaurant is hidden away in one of the old city’s loveliest gardens.
In winter, a large veranda gives you access to this bucolic setting. In summer, your table is set right on the grass for a meal enjoyed surrounded by nature. And you can’t leave until you’ve had a taste of the homemade blueberry liqueur, berries being a common thread in Estonian cuisine.
Leib Resto ja Aed
31 Uus street
Thanks to its elevated position overlooking the city, the Tuljak might not be surrounded by the picturesque medieval streets of the historical town centre but it does have the benefit of a spectacular view, tinged with a fiery colour palette at dusk.
Opened by the same team behind Noa (mentioned above), it manages to deliver impeccable service despite there being as many as 150 diners in the evening – booking is mandatory, especially at weekends – and offers a cuisine of scarce conceptual commitment and great satisfaction, with forays into the Estonian culinary tradition and a selection of fish and meat dishes. There is also an excellent wine list.
Finally, the Kaerajaan, in Town Hall Square, is a restaurant serving typical cuisine that likes to play with the national colours, both on the plate and in its décor. One of the specialities here is none other than the famous pork schnitzel, which you can enjoy under a ceiling decorated with multi-coloured local flags.
17 Town Hall Square
WHERE TO DRINK
Located in an old chemist’s shop, eclectically furnished with a medley of vintage elements, artworks and expressions of kitsch, that of Manna La Roosa is a not-to-be-missed venue for mixology enthusiasts. Sensational cocktails such as Gin, rhubarb and lime or Vodka, cucumber, dill and nettle cordial can be accompanied with small, simple, yet carefully prepared dishes.
Manna La Roosa
Also known as the Moonshine Bar, this pub is very popular with the Estonian locals and, thanks to its position in the Old Town, somewhat off the beaten track, its peculiar charm remains intact, without being too touristy. Here you will find a fine selection of international beers, for drinking on the spot or taking home. This is an ideal opportunity to get familiar with Estonian breweries such as Põhjala or Tanker.
The III Draakon – under the Town Hall portico in the main square – recreates a medieval atmosphere complete with waiters in costume, which some might find over the top, but it does offer quality at a surprisingly low price. We recommend the soups and savoury pies filled with game meat and vegetables, all priced well under 10 euros.
If you just want to drink vodka shots or local bitters, you can accompany them with gherkins fished out of a big pan, in authentic Estonian style.
Raekoja plats 1