Fine dining in Finland? Helsinki had never been on the food radar for Greedy Girl, but looking for a special restaurant to celebrate catching up again with our Swiss friends, the research pointed to Olo.

Glory of glories, it was one of the few top establishments open in this city during July – something travellers should be aware of if they’re planning a trip. Securing a table for four in the early evening, we wandered along the stretch of Helsinki’s waterfront that houses an open-air market during the day, or Pohjoisesplanadi (literally, north esplanade in Finnish).

At this time of year, it’s light and bright very late into the evening which is wonderful for taking photographs of food, with abundant natural light. While the restaurant is across the road from the water, not all rooms look onto the street. Our table didn’t have a view but it was a very pleasant room to start our journey in this one Michelin star restaurant.

And a journey it was – that was the name of the menu for the evening. We took the smallest number of courses available on the tasting menu, a mere 19 of them. With our Swiss friends in charge of the wine selection, we settled in quite comfortably and, despite some weariness attributable to jet lag, we stayed very comfortable throughout the evening. The food here was incredibly light and easy to digest, despite there being rather a lot of it.

The philosophy here is to showcase the best in Scandinavian cuisine. Being Finland we hoped to see some reindeer, or similar, but Greedy Girl is getting ahead of herself. First up was the picture at the top of this post, sea buckthorn berry with yoghurt. We were recommended to pop one of these balls in our mouth and crack it open to unleash the liquid centre. A refreshing start.

Next was Swiss chard with goat cheese from Saloniemi, way up in the country’s north. This was also served with dried beetroot for the rest of the table, who relished the dish, but Greedy Girl was less enthusiastic – that’s what you get when you divert from the chef’s vision, one supposes.

Best restaurants Helsinki: Oro

Swiss chard with goat’s cheese

We then moved to a fermented rye cracker with lemon sour cream and egg yolk. Wow. Light, crunchy, tangy. Exceptionally pleasant in the mouth and worked well with our first sips of white wine, a 2012 Cuvee EWA by Elena Walch from Alto Adige, in the south Tyrol region of Italy.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Rye cracker, lemon sour cream, egg yolk

Next up was a very Scandinavian ingredient – herring. This was pickled Baltic herring with malt and watercress. Greedy Girl isn’t fond of strong fish but this was pretty special. The malt was a flavour that held its own and really complemented the dish. You can see how it is used in the dish (below) as thin reddish strips.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Pickled herring with malt and watercress

From one typical ingredient to another – reindeer heart served with onion, creme fraiche and linseed. Having searched the market earlier in the day for reindeer meatballs or sausage (and come up empty handed) the heart wasn’t really on Greedy Girl’s agenda. Hey, when in Rome … the meat had been shredded and sat on top of the other ingredents. It was a fairly strong flavour and quite rich, so we were quite pleased to only be offered one morsel each.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Reindeer heart

Cleverly, we moved to something a bit plainer next but it was still a wow. These were roasted summer potatoes with Vasterbotten cheese. This is a hard cow’s milk cheese from northern Sweden, near the Gulf of Bothnia. It’s akin to parmesan and worked perfectly with the potatoes. Absolutely delicious.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Mmmm, potatoes …

Next was Emmer (also known as farro) semolina porridge with mushroom consomme and quinoa. Fresh chanterelle mushrooms are everywhere in northern Europe this time of year and these topped one of the most delicious dishes Greedy Girl has ever fallen upon. OMG. Please serve that for breakfast every day. The quinoa gave the dish additional texture and the chanterelles were utterly sensational.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Quinoa and chanterelle mushroom porridge

This was followed by another vegetarian dish, cauliflower done several ways with cabbage stock and spruce oil. What sounds particularly bland was actually quite a refreshing plate.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Cauliflower in cabbage stock with spruce oil

The food just kept coming. Greedy Girl was starting to wilt, especially as we’d moved to red wine by this point, a 2011 Scarzello Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region of Italy. Next up on the table was king crab from Norway and Finnish tomato. A very attractive dish, the tomato had plenty of flavour and the crab was to die for. Greedy Girl understands why fishermen would brave those cold waters. An unqualified yum.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

King crab and tomato

The menu is dominated by fish and vegetables. Next up was described as ‘sugar salted’ whitefish with cucumber, nettle and sour cream. The egg yolk and sour cream were presented as little pearls and the fish had a gelatinous quality. It was an interesting dish and the elements worked together well.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Whitefish with cucumber and nettles

It was time for some bread. Our loaf was baked in its own cast iron pot and served with various butters and a pea puree.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Bread baked in its own cast iron dish

Next was almost a palate cleanser – strawberries and wood sorrel granita. The strawberries were incredibly pale but they packed plenty of flavour and the dish was a delight.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Strawberries and wood sorrel granita

Seriously starting to droop, Greedy Girl asked where we were on the menu. Just a couple more, the wait staff said reassuringly … before desserts. Next up we had wild salmon with trout roe, apple/cucumber consomme and fennel. The presentation here is just beautiful and with a dish this appealing it was impossible not to want to stick a fork in. As you’d hope in such northern climes, the salmon was perfection and the freshness of the accompaniments were a perfect match for the slight oiliness of the fish. Delish.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Wild salmon

Next was our only other meat dish of the night – a Hereford beef tartare with roasted leek, bone marrow oil and beef stock. The meat was soft and luscious and the depth of flavour provided by the bone marrow was sensational. Sigh. So much food …

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Beef tartare

And then we were back to fish. Fried pike perch with turnip, green peas and a whey sauce. The sauce was a tad heavy but that could have been down to Greedy Girl’s weariness by this point.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Fried pike perch

And there endeth the savoury courses. Huzzah! Next stop, sweets. First was another ‘cleanser’ – more sea buckthorn, this time as a cream with sour milk and dill. The sour milk was crystallised and although Greedy Girl didn’t enjoy the dill, the rest of the dish was very good.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Sea buckthorn berry cream

Next was rhubarb with goat’s milk ice cream, ‘roasted’ white chocolate, quinoa, oat and almond crumble with cured sweet egg yolk. What a combination. Not overly sweet, entirely delicious.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Rhubarb and goat’s milk ice cream with crumble

Our ‘final’ dessert was aerated milk and honey mousse with gooseberry rocks and whey jelly. White on white presentation was very clever although the honey flavor came through brilliantly.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Aerated milk and honey mousse

But there was still one treat to come. Declining the offer of coffee (because nothing would keep Greedy Girl awake for much longer), we were brought salt caramel ice-cream sandwiched between blueberry biscuits. Weakly Greedy Girl took a nibble and gluttonous husband was very happy to polish off the rest. still sipping on his dessert wine, an Alois Kracher Eiswein from Austria.

Best Restaurants Helsinki: Olo

Salted caramel ice cream sandwich

Done. Amazingly, none of us felt bloated after such a marathon event. We stepped out into the still reasonably bright light (it was close to 11pm) and headed for a much-needed sleep.

This was excellent food and incredible value. Including our share of the wine, the bill amounted to less than A$500 for the two of us. Olo is a great find. If you love fine dining (and you’re prepared for a fish-heavy menu) this is really a must-do in Helsinki.


Pohjoisesplanadi 5, Helsinki

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