Thursday, 5 February 2015

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Sipuli

Fine dining is out, fun dining is in, I keep hearing everywhere. I do firmly believe there's the right time and place for that, too, but in case the price one has to pay for those occasionally downright phenomenal culinary fireworks  is certain uptight awkwardness, those moments are rather few and far apart.

For 30 years Restaurant Sipuli ("Onion" in Finnish) has held on tightly onto the glory of starched white table cloths and chandeliers, but now even they have decided to "peel off all the excess layers" (see: onion, layers...?) and "get rid of all the unnecessary pomp" and instead are putting a new, no frills take on their all-time best sellers.

Like at Sasso, I got to sample the new menu over press launch.

The expectations ran high after we realized neither one of us had ever eaten at this culinary institution. Shame on us. Shame. 

Sipuli's location is nothing short of glorious, what with Uspenski's Cathedral's golden domes guarding it. We were sold on the spot.




In the spirit of the seaside neighbourhood of Katajanokka it's located in, the restaurant has a very nautical feel to its decor. There were moments when I genuinely though I was on a boat! But in one like, say, Titanic. 






Cabinets and rooms, full of the charm of a world gone by, are available for hire, too. There are rooms to suit any size party. No wonder then the restaurant has year in year out been one of the most popular venues for parties and such.





And (for no special reason, especially not in the view of any plans we might or might not be making for the end of this summer...!) I also found myself thinking what a great venue this would make for a wedding. The attic has a more casual vibe for a more laid-back and intimate affair, whereas the Winter garden's stylish atmosphere would suit a bigger and more glamorous party...





Out of all the changes though this is what I was most excited about. Located in the wonderfully airy and beautiful main dining hall, there's this wine table!

The new concept has been designed in collaboration with Vindirekt with the aim of stripping wine, too, of any unnecessary mystery. Wines are brought out of the pages of wine menus with their ambiguous descriptions no-one fully understands anyway and into the open. Diners have the chance to discuss the wines with the sommelier, learn about them, sample them and then choose wines that suit their dinner. And taste! And then there's this:  all the wines (apart from Champagnes which cost €75 each) only cost €40 a bottle (a very welcome change in Finland where the price of wine can easily constitute half of your final bill)





And they haven't forgotten about the dessert wines either...!






Though those starched white tablecloths, too, are giving away to a more casual dining experience we still got to enjoy the air they bring. And sure enough they make one sit up straight, cross one's legs and lower the volume to a more civilized level. Yes, me, too.

Against backdrop like that I did get to thinking though how twisted the world of a blogger is. All the embarrassingly bad behaviour that goes against any dining etiquette such as hovering over the table with camera ("no - don't touch until I've got the photo!", "could you move out of the frame please, like, all the way to the next room?" "who the hell is using a flash?!") and fidgeting with one's phone "wait until I'm done Instagramming", I wonder if I tweeted already?" "do I remind me to Facebook, too!") are pretty crucial in this line of business. It's actually encouraged!




Our lunch consisted of the classics that have made Sipuli such a legend. After porcini consommé and a wild mushroom cannoli (!) we started with caramelized onion quiche served with goat cheese, pomegranate seeds and lobster (yeah... it's hard work this blogging business...!)




For wine I settled for Garganega-Trebbiano di Soave-Chardonnay-blend from Veneto, the aromatic acidity of which worked very well with the dish. The Boy Next Door on the other hand was very happy with his Riesling (Becker Langraf from Rheinhessen). As he always is...




Veal liver (served with fingerling potato mash, crispy bacon crumbs and pickled red onion) was so succulent it must have been the best liver I've ever had. All the components rocked and worked well together.




Coeur de filet was another traditional dish, but very well executed. Just the right doneness and I never would have though something like kale (me! Kale!) would make me go all ooh and aah. But it did.




Both dishes were served with this Tempranillo which in its soft fullness was a very pleasant surprise. With liver dish it was in such perfect harmony one couldn't tell where the dish ended and the wine started but with coeur de filet it was even better. Excellent all-round wine for red meats.





Though we were spoiled with some culture too (I'm talking opera singer, pianist, violinist and an aerialist...!) it was the preparation of the dessert (apricot savarin flambĂ© with blueberry  parfait) that made the cameras go crazy.





As one would expect from an old fox like Sipuli, everything was very good. Quality ingredients and excellent execution. Nothing particularly innovative, but I suppose that's the price of taking fine dining down a notch? But hey - the world needs these classics one can always depend on, too.





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ANYONE FOR SECONDS?



      



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