Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dining at 1800's Paris in 2014 Helsinki

A while back I got an invite for a dinner at G.W.Sundmans, bastion of fine fining that not so long ago still had a Michelin star. The expectations wan understandably high: surely with culinary finesse such as theirs along with the glorious settings that the historic building lends to the restaurant I were in for a memorable evening?

And sure enough I was. Though for completely different reasons. 

The recession has hit the restaurant industry particularly bad and especially fine dining has taken a massive blow. Some Michelin-starred restaurants have even resorted to bowing out while some, such as Sipuli, have felt the need to totally reinvent themselves in order to stay in the business. 

Sundmans has chosen this path too and at least for the coming months is trying out a new, more laid-back approach (and pricing). One of the new ideas they're trying out are different pop up- venues. 

The last Friday of each month this magnificent venue is taken over by a bar squat going by the names of Son of a Punch (or Soap Bar Squat). The series were kicked off by La Fee Verte concept in collaboration with one of the best cocktail bars in Helsinki, Liberty or Death.

Inspireb by Paris nightlife of late 1800s, the evening was a lot of fun, though a very confusing experience for someone who literally didn't know where she'd just walked into. Strangely dressed men at the door, lurking in the shadows of thick velvet curtains were enough to make one's head buzz.

The drinks they welcomed us with are perhaps also the reason for some of the things we witnessed later on in the evening, such as tiny green fairies... (?)

As one would expect from Liberty or Death, the cocktail menu was great. But, there was dinner, too!

If the whole ambiance was absurd, so was the dinner. Most of the time I didn't even know what I was eating. The menu wasn't much help either - mostly it just offered quirky anecdotes.

It was strangely exhilarating an experience though (oh no - is this now an example of those performances I criticized earlier where the food is relegated to a mere footnote?) and really challenged us to explore the dishes in a whole new way. Though all the while also inspiring us to start conversations about what we (thought) we were eating! 

To start with a decadence dish of sublimely succulent foie gras and wonderfully rich and buttery brioche. Washed down with some Champagne, no less.

The wines (gotta love those subtexts) came from Les Vignerons in France. One was white, the other red. No fuss there. Then again, same went with the pricing.

Next dish was such a treat it drew gasps of admiration all over the table. Wonderfully light.

What I did learn of the main course was that it was "Napoleon's favourite. Without herring" (?). Corn-fed chicken, apparently. Well executed, as was everything else on the menu.

Dessert proved to be the star of the whole dinner and at this point the debate on the ingredients reached rather lively proportions. In the end I think we agreed we'd definitely discovered beetroot in it (?). A great finish for a great night.

Service was outstanding, as was food. Bizarre, yes, but memorable, definitely. And what's in store for tomorrow? Nobody knows yet. The whole event is so very hip and underground the only way to be sure is to turn up. With an open mind (and an empty stomach)!




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