Just our luck, we chanced upon the coldest summer in Helsinki since 1962. No wonder almost everyone was off somewhere else on holiday. So many of Helsinki’s famed design district shops and galleries were closed for the season.

And so were a lot of restaurants – something to be noted if you’re planning on a July visit. Greedy Girl reached out to the staff at Olo where she’d enjoyed a splendid fine dining experience for insights into what was open for her final night in Helsinki. Sadly, there was no room at the inn, er, ravintola, for any of their suggestions.

So, a wider search was necessary. ‘Where to eat Helsinki’ was promptly Googled. One result that featured prominently was Hoku.

This is about a 10-minute walk from Helsinki’s main shopping areas (or the railway station, if that’s your preferred landmark), in a cool neighbourhood. We passed the ‘Brewdog’ bar, packed in the early evening with revellers and their fur babies. We sauntered past the ‘Brooklyn Cafe’ which was closed and made a note to return the next day to check out the coffee situation.

Hoku is a tiny place, down a few stairs from the roadway on Merimiehenkatu. It couldn’t fit in much more than 22 people so we were very relieved to have secured a booking, albeit an early one. Lots of hungry locals and travellers alike were turned away during our lease on the table.

Hoku does Asian fusion food and does it very well. The chef is Hawaiian expat Ryan Shibuya. Apparently his menu has been in place for the whole three years the restaurant has been open but, from the output, clearly he’s not bored with cooking the dishes and they were far from mundane.

Choices for alcohol were a bit limited but we opted for an Epic ‘hop zombie’ beer (which turned out to be from New Zealand; we commented we’d come a long way to drink Kiwi beer) and a Longboard ‘Island Lager’ from the chef’s home. Both went down a treat.

But we were there for a feed. Greedy Girl started with one of her all-time favourites, gyoza. Five minced pork dumplings were soft and crispy at the same time and the dipping sauce (which we esteemed to be mainly soy and mirin with a little bit of sugar thrown in) was delightful. An unqualified yum.

Where to eat Helsinki: Hoku

Gyoza. Yum

Gluttonous husband was intrigued by a salmon and whitefish tartare, served with seasoned goma (black sesame) wakame, cucumber and citrus. He was in heaven; the seasoning was just about perfect and the softness of the fish contrasted well with the crunch from the cucumber and the leaves. Another winner.

Where to eat Helsinki: Hoku

Salmon and whitefish tartare

It was time for mains. Greedy Girl chose something that looked intriguing to her – Bi Bim Bap. This was thin slices of beef teriyaki with picked vegetables, rice, a fried egg and a spicy ‘kocuchung’ sauce. Greedy Girl has no idea of what else might be in that but, wow, it packed a punch. The heat kept building but never to boilover point and the pickled vegetables went down a treat. The crunchy edges from the fried egg were also a beautiful texture. The one slight downside was the strong flavours made it tough to really taste the teriyaki. A very minor quibble.

Where to eat Helsinki: Hoku

Bi Bim Bap

Gluttonous husband had the dish pictured at the top of this blog – seafood and lap cheong-stuffed kuha, AKA perch. This delicate dish was full of flavour. The fish was presented in a ring and it sliced open to reveal a mix of prawns, crab and the Chinese sausage. It sat in a pool of lemon/tomato beurre blanc. He was a very happy camper.

We’d been warned we needed to vacate by 8pm but there was still a bit of time, so we plumped for a dessert. This was a macadamia nut and dark chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice-cream, with a few berries and a cumquat. Greedy Girl, despite a full belly, couldn’t resist rescuing one piece of the cooking from the ice-cream. The dark chocolate chips made all the difference, saving it from being too sweet. Gluttonous husband happily downed the rest, while sipping on a glass of Umeshu (wine made from ‘ume’ fruits, sort of like a Japanese plum).

Where to eat Helsinki: Hoku

Chocolate and macadamia nut cookie dessert

It was a spectacular meal and worth seeking out at any time of the year in Helsinki. We’re happy that many of our other possibilities were closed for the holidays, forcing us to scout a little further afield and find this. It was a real treat.

Like virtually any restaurant/cafe/bar in Helsinki, don’t worry about not having any facility with the local language. English is spoken almost everywhere; the wait staff here were personable, generous and clearly enjoyed the food as much as we did. A great spot.


Merimiehenkatu 18, Helsinki


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