Friday, 26 April 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Pure Bistro

So far our restaurant club, with its members scattered between Helsinki and Rovaniemi have made the most of our reunions by checking out chef Tom Björck's restaurants. Our verdict from the experiences so far:

Farang: superb
Gaijin: watered down version of the previous establishment but still very ok
Bulevard Social: Place that mostly seems to ride on the reputation of the previous places. In its inconsistency it doesn't really nail it and is by far the weakest of these three.

The menu, trying to stretch all over the Mediterreanean it really doesn't get anything just right and is lacking the authenticity that Farang with its South East Asian cuisine does so fantastically. And those watered down Asian flavours seemed totally out of place here.

But until Björck & Wikberg open their next restaurant we had to think of something else. And what a difficult choice that was! Ask, Spis, Pure Bistro, Luomo, Pastis, Meche... There are much more places to try that the waistbands of our jeans (or our wallets!) can accommodate.

Inspired by the Tyreman's travel guide's latest edition we ended up somewhere none of us had yet tried: Pure Bistro at Pohjoisesplanadi.

Located on the picturesque tiny alleyways in from if the Cathedral Pure Bistro promotes itself as a modern bistro and surprised with the Scandinavian minimalism that it took to a whole new level.

Like the restaurant itself, the menu was equally compact. Three choices (vegetarian, fish and meat) for the starters and mains and two choices for dessert. And what do you know: the first thing that caught my hungry eye was Pulpo a la Gallega - that Spanish treat that in this blog has been featured both in a restaurant and in the test kitchen. But Dios mios what pulpo it was...


Accompanied with bay leaf mayonnaise the dish came with roasted potato and smoked paprika, capers, perfectly juicy and tender pieces of octopus tentacles and crispy roasted onion to give the dish a wonderful texture.

Upon its arrival the dish evoked admiration but also serious (and well deserved) envy. Others had chosen lamb with grilled cucumber and fennel-infused sour cream. The lamb was incredibly succulent and perfectly seasoned, but in the fellow diners it didn't evoke similar passions.  

For mains we had all of the options. My pot au feu was extremely deconstructed version of this usually very rustic and robust French stew. The stock was excellent, though at times the meats were missing the succulent, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that slow cooking usually lends these cuts.

The vegetarian option, linguine with smoked mozzarella and artichoke was rich both in its size and flavours. Simply superb. Though at first glance the dish with its pesto and sun-dried tomatos might not seem very original it did manage to create buzz and a lively conversation on some of the components on display such as tomatowaterjelly.

The unequivocal winner of this round however was the fish: Arctic char with blood orange and mushroom dashi. The stock that accompanied the soba noodles and fantastically meaty shiitake mushrooms was in all its spiciness so beautifully balanced. Juicy char, just like everything else on the menu was cooked to creamy, perfection and again the roe made sure that the texture was varied and interesting.

We didn't waste any time choosing the desserts. I simply had to have the one with milk chocolate, salted caramel and yoghurt ice cream. Milk chocolate, the consistency of which reminded melted chocolate ice cream,  seemed perhaps a tad redundant but salted caramel at the bottom of the bowl, in its gooey gorgeousness was pure gold.

Lemon pie with tuttifrutti sorbet and meringue was an absolute delight - both with the play on textures and flavours bursting with fruitiness.

Three course dinner costs €44 and is well and truly worth every euro. The flavours in each dish are so beautifully balanced and the textures keep them intresting on so many levels. The wine list too, is interesting and carefully selected.

And the service... the service  is professional and outstanding. It is such a joy to discover places like this (some others worth trying are Kolo and Ateljé Finne) where the passion for quality ingredients and healthy pride over own expertise is so tangible - both on the menu and in the staff. Definitely worth the visit!

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