Monday, November 30, 2009

Hella ja Huone - 09/11/2009

Salhojankatu 48
33500 Tampere, Finland
+358 03-253 2440

For my last night in Finland, I asked the President of the company I was working for to provide a recommendation for dinner. He directed me to his favorite restaurant in Finland, Hella ja Huone. The restaurant is run by chef-owner Arto Rastas and "is based on the idea of French food culture."

The restaurant resides down a nondescript side street a short walk from the Tampere train station. A fine dining hole in the wall, the street the restaurant faces was nearly pitch black; though the 38 seat dining room itself is brightly lit and manages to be inviting despite the stark black and white furnishings. We arrived at 8:45 and by that time my teammate and I were the only two diners in the entire restaurant.

The restaurant offers a single 8-course menu and had I been alone I likely would have opted for the entire 8-course tasting; however I got the sense my companion would be more comfortable with a smaller dinner so we selected the 4 most interesting courses instead.

Amuse: Foie Gras Pudding with Apple Foam
Anytime a restaurant offers an amuse, it is a good thing; anytime that amuse is foie gras, it is a great thing. The foie gras pudding was a bit lighter than a terrine, more like an ice cream in terms of texture, but still retaining all the unctuousness one expects from foie. The apple provided a crisp tart counterpoint which kept the pudding from being too monolithic. Magnificent.

01: Kateenkorva Club Sandwich - Sweet bread Club Sandwich
2006 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Perhaps the best single course I had the entire trip. Humorously when I asked my companion if he knew what this course was he looked at me quizzically and haltingly said "a club sandwich... with sweet bread." Ironically when I informed him sweet bread wasn't actually a description of the bread but organ meat, he seemed much more intrigued by this course. The sandwich consisted of toasted brioche, sautéed sweetbread, chanterelle butter and fresh chanterelle mushrooms, bacon ice cream, and a soft boiled egg yolk. This is one of those rare dishes where each ingredient contributes a distinct flavor profile and when taken all together form something wondrous. The brioche soaked with earthy chanterelle butter, rich savory sweetbread, smoky sweet ice cream, bitter greens tangy onions all enjoyable on their own combine to form a single bite of pure comfort and deliciousness. I would have gladly skipped the rest of the meal for 3 more servings of this course.

02: Hummeririsottoa - Lobster risotto
I never pass up the opportunity to sample a risotto and I was eager to see the Finnish take on the classic lobster risotto. The risotto came deconstructed, with a layer of lobster gelée topped with a lobster and celery salad, Parmesan ice cream, and lobster foam. My first bite was a bit weak with the rice a bit overcooked and tasting faintly of lobster stock. After mixing the Parmesan ice cream, I got something more akin to the rich creamy flavor I was expecting. The salad was surprisingly light and refreshing a nice contrast to the rice and ice cream. Overall, an interesting risotto, not the most balanced in terms of flavor but the innovative presentation more than made up for the lack of polish.

03: Poroa x2 ja savustettua voita - Reindeer x 2 and smoked butter
2005 Domaine de Mignaberry Irouléguy
The entree for the evening was reindeer prepared two ways, a tenderloin with smoked butter complimented by a stew of reindeer and lentils. The meat was quite lean with a smoky irony tang very similar to venison though a bit fattier, the sweetness of the pumpkin was a superb match for the austere flavors of the tenderloin. The texture and flavor of the reindeer stew was reminiscent to braised beef though the lentils provided a welcome starchy heartiness which cut down the heaviness of the meat. A fitting course to mark the end of our time in Finland.

Intermezzo: Strawberry Gazpacho with Apple Foam
A delicious interlude between the main course and dessert, the gazpacho had a jammy note to it while the apple foam again offered a tart-bitter punch to counter the sweetness of the strawberries. Very satisfying, I simply wish I could have taken a bottle of it home with me.

04: Passionhedelmä "Sweet Burger"
Somehow fitting after all the confusion over sweet bread, our last course is just that, passionfruit sorbet, menthol foam, arugula sandwiched between two sticky sweet macaron cookies with a slice of pear carpaccio added for good measure. A fantastic dessert, the chill whisper of the menthol foam and the bitterness of the arugula clashing sharply with sugary cookies, tart sorbet, and sweet preserved pear. My companion didn't care for the dessert but I found it to be one of the most interesting and complex desserts that I have eaten in quite some time.

Without a doubt the meal at Hella ja Huone exceeded my expectations by a mile. The kitchen ably combines complex ingredients into multifaceted dishes that exhibit a plethora of flavors and textures which are delicious individually but truly shine when enjoyed together. If I ever get a chance to visit Finland again I know where I'll be having my first meal.


sygyzy said...

Definitely one of my pet peeves. You are in a city or country you may not visit again anytime soon. You want to eat at the top restaurants, tasting menus all the way. But you don't want to eat alone and pretty much anyone you are with would rather get the hot dogs across the street. Or even if you convince them to try a "fancy" restaurant, they'll order the water and soup. No dessert.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey sygyzy,

I couldn't agree more, unfortunately I was traveling for work and couldn't really pick my travelling companion.

Having dined alone twice already on the trip, its hard to say which option is preferable, compromising to accommodate someone else, or eating alone.