Sunday, 15 March 2015

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: afternoon tea at Cafe Ekberg

Soooo much is happening in Helsinki foodie scene right now and I can barely keep up! More on that next week - now is time to take a moment to breathe and marvel at the golden oldies; the places that in some case have managed to stay in business for over a century. Especially ones that do it with the grace Cafe Ekberg does.

There's something so delightful about places like this: places that have seen trends come and go and have, year in, year out managed to remain the sort of oases that make me fall in love with Helsinki all over again. Oh, the things these walls must have heard; the stories and secrets shared over a cup of coffee (and their divine millefeuille!)

Cafe Ekberg is actually the oldest bakery in the whole of Finland. Still looked after by the very family that founded it, its story began halfway through 19th century. Even the current location at Bulevardi has served as its home for a century. Still today they make everything from scratch and, in many cases, still according to the original recipes.

They serve breakfast (which is one of my favourites in Helsinki!), lunch and sweet and savoury treats for smaller and bigger hunger (I already know what I'll be having next time: reindeer ravioli with portobello and porcini sauce!!!) and these days they also do afternoon tea, which we were fortunate to get an invite for.

The old Anglophile that I am I love the tradition that is afternoon tea and the sense of luxury it brings into everyday life. If ever in London, the tea at The Ritz is nothing short of an icon. One at Fortnum & Mason is definitely worth checking out, too. It's also a growing trend in Stockholm and Grand Hotel offers such grand settings it's impossible not to get a little carried away.

In Helsinki I've tried the afternoon tea at Brasserie Kämp, but feel that they have since gone a bit silly with the pricing (€37 pp). They also require one to book in advance (minimum 2 days) which is another thing one does not need to worry about here: just walk in when ever the mood strikes and the price (€18 pp) is more than right.

As The Boy Next Door was busy with his new job, I spent a leisurely afternoon with one of my Fussy Sisters, who still reminisces the rice pudding we had at our last breakfast together at Ekberg, These days Sister is not only fussy, she's gluten-intolerant, too. Not the greatest of starts, then...

The need for gluten-free treats was taken into consideration marvelously though and her selection wasn't the sort of sad afterthought that gluten-free options apparently still today usually are. Since gluten-free bread tend to be on the dry side, she did wonder why the gluten-free selection didn't have those triangle-shaped mini sandwiches where the filling would have provided much needed moisture.

The Fussy Sister certainly lived up to her name. Turned out she doesn't even drink tea (!). Though she was rather fond of the subtle green tea blend from Sweden we opted for. Turned our she doesn't eat shrimp either (?!) but the shrimp-topped sandwich scored points for richness. 

The sweet treats certainly left no room for improvement. Not only is everything made from scratch, everything is also made using only the best ingredients. No artificial flavourings here - it's all real. "And one can taste it, too", sighed the sister as she bit into her dreamily moreish zuleika.

The savoury treats in my selection included two kinds of mini sandwiches, a lovely shrimp-topped sandwich and a mini quiche with wonderfully thin and crispy crust the recipe for which I wouldn't mind having in my own kitchen too.

For sweets I had a briche-like scone with jam and cream (none of that heavy clotted stuff here that they're so fond of back in England, though)... 

... and all sorts of pretty little things. A.k.a. petit fours. And helloo, has anyone ever anywhere heard of anyone who would have ever had too much of macarons? Me neither...!

A fantastic way to spend an afternoon. They sure know what they're doing over here - both in the kitchen and on the floor. 

What really made our afternoon though was a lovely 92-year-old lady sitting at the table next to our curiously observing the camera action. Back in the day she actually used to live in the building the Ekberg family built for the cafe. "And still today I come back here every month!" she exclaimed triumphantly. What can you say to that? Can't think of a better testament to the timeless class this place stands for. Oh, Helsinki how I do love you and your landmarks  




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