September 11th 2017 was the start of Restaurants Week in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. It is a week long celebration of good food and great restaurants. Over 50 restaurants took part in the event which showcased the culinary skills of the country’s chefs and introduced visitors to the variety of food on offer in the capital. During a short stay I visited three of the participating restaurants to sample their cuisine.
My first stop was Controvento Restaurant and Pizzeria. As the name implies it’s a little conflicting to find an authentic Italian restaurant serving great Italian food in the heart of Tallinn. However, locals have been enjoying this little gem since 1994.
The restaurant is spread over two floors. The ground floor where I enjoyed my meal was rustic in appearance and ambience. A low ceiling and a large fire place created the feeling of a Tuscan farm house. Upstairs, a more modern setting with bright lighting catered for groups of four or more.
What I Ate
Appetiser – Bruschetta
Now I am no food critic. As such, my simple test for Italian food is the unfussy dish of bruschetta. It also happens to be one of my favourite appetisers. I have tasted all of its incarnations many times over and, as such, have come to know that a well executed bruschetta will often lead you to a good Italian meal.
Controvento did just that. The bread was perfectly roasted and I could taste the garlic as I crunched into it. The olive oil blended wholly with the tomatoes and crunchy salt. I would have preferred more basil but combined with rocket leaves it was all utterly delicious. At €5.50 this was a great appetiser.
Main – Lasagne
Lasagne is a much more complex dish to judge. However, I can say that it was exactly as I like lasagne to be – thin layers of egg pasta which poise straight, slightly dry with a rich beef ragu and bechamel sauce. All of it topped with grated parmesan makes for a great lasagne in my book. Controvento’s lasagne was remarkably tasty and at €11.70 great value. I skipped dessert but enjoyed a glass of Sicilian Pinot Grigio (due to the absence of Malbec) which cost €6.
So if you happen to be in Tallinn, enjoy this wonderful Italian in the Latin Quarter of the Old Town where around €20 a head with a glass of house wine is a fantastic meal. Controvento is located in Katriina Kaik in the Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia.
On my second restaurant visit I felt that I had struck gold with Umami. The only setback was that the restaurant is on the outskirts of Tallinn with no ease of access. My drive there took around 40 minutes during rush hour. As a visitor to Tallinn it was a challenge to find the restaurant even with the best intentions. If you are visiting, take a taxi and let the driver do the searching for you. One thing I can promise is that once you get there it’s all worth it.
Umami is a gorgeous blue wooden property evocative of an old colonial house of New Orleans. It’s set within an apple orchard which simply gives the experience a magical feeling. The interior of the restaurant is light and airy with an unmistakable Scandinavian sentiment. The open kitchen with full view of my food being prepared added a pleasing aspect to my dining experience.
What I Ate
Main – Quail with warm leek salad and romesco sauce.
I chose black bread with butter to start my meal. This typically Estonian rye bread was a wondrous surprise with a heavenly home baked feel. My main was quail, from a local farm, served with warm leek and lard salad served with spinach and romesco sauce. All the flavours of this dish came together so beautifully that I was tempted to order it all over again. Delicious! At a mere €15.50 for this plate I really should have!
Dessert – Vanilla panna cotta with passion fruit
I do believe that a good panna cotta is as good a dessert as any if you’re willing to ignore the quirks of restaurant fashions. It’s simple, tasty and slightly reminiscent of your favourite childhood dessert (anything that involved jelly and custard in my case).
Umami’s offering had a perfect consistency, just the right amount of sweetness and the passion fruit complimented without over powering. Flakes of wafers added a welcome texture. A marvellous panna cotta for just €5.50.
It’s also worth mentioning that Umami has a grate range of craft beers, fresh juices and an extensive wine and cocktail list. I accompanied my meal with a freshly made sea buckthorn lemonade (€2.90) which was delightful. It’s hard to believe that this entire meal came in at under €30 a head (without wine).
So when you’re in Tallinn with a craving for a sumptuous meal of locally sourced ingredients crafted into great dishes, make the trip to Umami. It is located in Kadaka Tee on the outskirts of the city.
My final evening in Tallinn was spent in the medieval themed restaurant Olde Hansa . It’s located in the Town Hall Square surrounded by all the tourist attractions. I had never been to a themed restaurant before this and was unsure what to expect.
The interior of the restaurant was dimly lit using only candles in keeping with the medieval theme. Due to the location of the restaurant it was brimming with eager tourists who were enthusiastically taking part in the experience. The staff were outstanding and exceptionally knowledgable about the dishes they were serving.
What I Ate
Appetiser – The Monk’s Bride
My appetiser was a shot of a fragrant warm alcoholic drink known as the Monk’s Bride. Its rich colour and taste was the perfect introduction to the main meal and most certainly kick started my taste buds. It was included as part of the experience but there was a range of appetiser shots to choose from.
Main – Himalayan Lamb Dish
This was a mountain people style hearty dish. Even though I couldn’t clearly see what was on my plate it was spicy and warming. Chunks of braised, tender lamb were served with rice, garlic and a rustic dumpling. I never expected a themed restaurant would serve such a full flavoured, appetising meal. But it did. I thoroughly enjoyed my medieval dinner. The dish was €16.40 and I felt it was great value for money especially when combined with the experience of a candle lit medieval theme. I accompanied my meal with a glass of Chilean Rioja which was €8. The meal cost under €25 a head and I was full for hours.
Olde Hansa is a great place for family dining as it offers a fantastic experience which combines good food with a fun atmosphere. It is located in the Town Hall Square of the Old Town.
You can find out more at www.tallinnrestaurantweek