Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Muru

At one point a fellow blogger sent my blog a challenge collecting restaurant recommendations. Those I have listed in here. The challenge did get me thinking about all the aspects that need to come together for a dinner out to be good. Or, at its best, excellent. And there are many of them. Relaxed atmosphere (Yes, Tom Björck-restaurants, we all understand that with Helsinki prices restauranteurs need to have as many seatings as possible, but it does kills the luxury of not having rush), company, one's own mood that particular day, the degree of hunger, recent dining experiences, the service... there are so many contributing factors before one even gets to food itself: the quality of the ingredients, executions, innovativeness and - if dealing with the warped mind of a foodie - the harmony of the dishes' components and textures. 

When you add to that the expectations, that after months of waiting for a table sort of make you feel you're a brain tumour-patient waiting for the surgery or are actually about the take off to space, the quest for The Perfect Night Out becomes very time and nerve consuming venture. I'm sure Indiana Jones would understand. Were he not a fictional character in a funny hat. 

It was in the midst of this turmoil I set out for that long-awaited dinner at Muru. I'm not going to say that all this speculating and analyzing had catapulted my obsessive and neurosis-ridden personality to a whole new level. But I will say I had the outfit for that night's outing planned a week before the actual event. And when I say planned, I mean purchased anew. Yes, that's how pathetic perfectionist I am. 

And seeing how I'd familiarized myself with their book I'd just been given... Oh yeah, this stew was about to boil over. So how did it all go? Well. Everything I'd anticipated came true. Regarding both staff and food. 

The atmosphere, you ask? The company? Well, when the company is as good as Mari, a blogger in the #1 evening paper in the country it is so good even the waiters couldn't get a word in. Hence the somewhat sporadic nature of the notes. See, we were so busy admiring each others' blogs and photos and lenses and Spain and zucchini flowers and chicken blood and... 

For hot summer day aperitifs we had refreshing rieslings. Then we were greeted with home-made bread and Jerusalem artichoke spread. Good. 

To start with I couldn't resist paté en croute, which is a classic and always on the menu. And along with all its trimmings it was excellent. I can't wait to try this at home. The terrine mold eagerly awaits. The consistency was robust and delightfully coarse and the red onion jelly complimented it superbly. Rucola had good acidity (seriously, who talks like this?!) and though they didn't really bring anything extra to the dish itself, the cold cuts were outstanding examples of how the meat-eaters just have more fun. In case meat eating can be liked to global warming and desertification I'm afraid I'm personally responsible for a country the size of Iceland. Universe, I apologize. 

But turned out I couldn't resist the start on the menu of the day either. Thinly sliced veal with parmesan creme and pickled chanterelles just sounded to good to pass. And good it was. The parmesan creme supported the Vitello Tonnato-like dish so well for a moment I forgot I hate cheese! Praise the Lord for I am healed! The chanterelles might have benefited from a bit of edge that allspice (and perhaps even bitter orange?) would have lent. Cauliflower was a bit bland (though me and cauliflower aren't exactly friends anyway. Even on Facebook.) 

The recommended wine for both was a rather herby Pinot Noir. From Germany, of all the places.

Mari's risotto nero was big, black and beautiful. The squid ink (and without a doubt a very concentrated fish stock) packed such an oceany punch that my own Spaghetti nero (coming soon to blogs near you!) and black couscous don't come close. The scallop had a beautifully caramelized exterior and a good salt. Perhaps even a tad too much of it. You won't get a photo as mine was so damn ugly. Let's hope Mari's version works out better. 

If I had any self-restraint that getting into bikini shape in a week would require, I would have stopped eating now. But you think I did? I went for the meat of the day which was bavette of beef from Åland (big up for the use of domestic produce!) on a bed of stewed lentils, haricots verts and bearnaise sauce. The bearnaise sauce came second only to Kolo's version but even still had a deep, almost toffee-like  toasty sweetness. Meat was superbly cooked. Mushroom lovers were again spoiled with this seasonal produce - chanterelles made yet another well-received appearance on the plate. It was only the fear of ending on camera that stopped me form licking the plate. 

The wine for this was a well-rounded Syrah from France.

Mari's fish was roasted trout with truffel butter, new potatos and sugar snaps. Was good, I hear. But having just dined at that legendary Toca her standards had been elevated even further... 

Wine pairing for that was Italian Sauvingnon Blanc that surprised with its green leafiness. 

One of us continued with cheese. The other (and I mean me) didn't. The cherry compote worked together with the recommended wine like... well, fuchsia paired with orange at last year's Gucci shows. 

At Mari's request the wine for this came from Tuscany. The recommended wine was a Merlot-blend named after a one-eyed stray dog that guards the vineyards. And being the great animal lovers that we are (well, we had eaten at least 5 different species by now!) I had some too. This is how you protect the animal rights - one bottle at a time! Oh, and the winery? Owned by a Finnish guy. 

Like us, Muru stands behind Tahdon 2013- movement campaigning for legalizing same sex- marriage in Finland. They even have a dessert named after it! A glorious praline something something. Fresh berries and the sublime, deep sauce balanced the richness of the nougat-like dish. Harmonious combination, indeed. Hey, you religious loonies out there did you hear that? HARMONIOUS. Like society at its best. 

Mari's pud had blueberry, white chocolate, balsamico marshmallows (!) and Lord knows what else. Angel dust perhaps. Though obviously not the Hell's kind. Worked. 

Dessert wine was this delightfully fruity individual from Piemonte. 

Service was excellent from the start to the finish, though Mari (having experienced the place's charm already when it first opened) did pine for the enthusiastic and caring feeling of the early days when the owners Henry Alén, Samuil Angelov and Nicolas Theulon were regularly seen fixtures around here. Places like this very much the sum of their personalities. 

And the final tally? Four courses with recommended wines cost me 116 €. And the other tally? Oh, yeah. It has found a home in my heart. As has that companion of mine. 

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