Monday, 22 August 2016

SMAKU brings together the Taste of Porvoo (and it is sweet)

SMAKU - Taste of Porvoo is an event that for the first time brings together Porvoo's restaurants. The result is pure foodie bliss - much like Taste of Helsinki and Turku Food Walk. 

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For a town that small (and trust me - it is tiny) Porvoo boasts an incredibly vibrant restaurant scene. People in Porvoo, though, are apparently not very good at frequenting their restaurants and rather surprisingy majority of the clientele comes from the Metropolitan Helsinki. And why not - Porvoo makes for a ridiculously picturesque daytrip destination. Bus will take you there in less than an hour and at their cheapest one way ticket will only set you back €1 (for prices and timetables please see here)

One thing that makes the scene even more intriguing is the fact that chain restaurants are virtually absent here. Instead a foodie is spoiled with a variety of small restaurants taking great pride in seasonal and locally grown produce.

Now, for the first time ever, the restauranteurs have joined their forces and come up with SMAKU - Taste of Porvoo. That means 2 weeks of unbribled culinary feast, consisting of 14 participating restaurants and 22 tasting dishes, each costing €5. The expression "bang for buck" doesn't even begin to describe it. 

With the event Porvoo aims to raise and cement its profile as a foodie destination and as a long term lover of all things Porvoo I'm all for their efforts. Another thing that makes this such a dream is the logistics: most of the restaurants are conveniently located within a couple of minute walking distance from each other. 

I was a guest of Visit Porvoo and got to eat my way through this gem of a town. And festival. A very fine day to be me, I can tell you. 

One of the restaurants I was looking forwad to the most was Zum Beispiel, whose dish consisted of Northern pike, beetroot, roe and pickled veggies. Breathtakingly beautiful and every bit as tasty. One of my personal favourites... and everybody else's too. 

As we studied the dish, its size, ingredients and sheer work that's gone into it, €5 seemed like nothing. "And so it is", laughed the owner. "We're really not focusing on the cost now - the publicity this amazing event has generated already is worth every penny."

Another restaurant I couldn't wait to try was Sinne - being very familiar with them I know they never fail. And they didn't this time either. 

The way they so skillfully combine different textures, temperatures and contrasting flavours.... damn, these guys know what they're doing. 

PS. Don't forget they have a restaurant in Helsinki, too!

They participate with two dishes.

The first featured slowly cooked onion broth with more onion and things and was so pretty our Instagram accounts went wild. As did we - the flavours were so deep and wonderfully earthy. Oh, and it's vegan, too!

The dessert dish was...well, just look at it. Edible art? Hardcore foodporn? You choose. Seabuckthorn with liquorice. And then some. An amazing combo. Far better than... say, George Clooney and me. 

Sicapelle was another restaurant I quite justifiably had high expectations for. First dish (goat's milk yogurt and veggie patch) failed to impress, though. The tartness of the yogurt dominated the flavours, relegating the delicate veggies and herbs to the role of a very silent partner. 

But the dish that followed (spelt and pistacchio)... whoah. The depth of flavours! The glorious nuttiness! The textures! The better-than-perfect doneness! 

Sicapelle was also responsible for the boldest wine pairing of the day: on its own the Slovenian natural white was, well, special, as they tend to be. There was iron and buttery toastiness reminiscent of popcorn kernels, but when paired with the nuttiness of the spelt risotto, the combination wasn't so nuts anymore.

Sicapelle is one of those places that take their veggie-oriented local production very seriously. Already now, during the summer, well over 90% is locally grown, but they are aiming for a full 100%.

And while so many restaurants are busy flirting with street food trend and wooing customers with the concept of casual dining, Sicapelle boldly continues to steer their restaurant more and more towards fine dining. 

"It doesn't need to mean a million dots on a plate, though", the owner pointed out. "The fineness comes from top quality produce and highly skilled hands". 

The owners of Meat District are the same couple who also owns Sicapelle, the boutique hotels Pariisin Ville and Onni and the summer restaurant Johan's - quite an impressive empire, then.

Meat District's SMAKU dish was tartare made with local Bosgård beef. And not just any old tartare. The simple appearance was in fact a feast of excellent salty and acidic components and this happily raced to #3 in my tartare ranking (my #1 can be found here and #2 over here)

Meat District is another place very keen on organic produce, artisanal beers... and those natural wines.

One of the biggest surprises was Vanha Laamanni. I can readily admit I was expecting something a bit tired and boring, but everything in the innovative dish of smoked pumpkin soup with pickled mushrooms made it one of the most impressive dishes of the day.

They, too, have two tasting dishes on offer - the other one consisted of 3 small sweets (spearmint praline, apple marshmallow and blueberry financier), but didn't stand a chance next to its colleague. 

The pudding at Cafe Postres on the other hand was everything it could have been (ice cream with browned butter and pine nuts).

Psst - the place is worth a visit for their sandwiches and pastries as well. 

Another welcome surprise came in the form of baconey snail waffle at Fryysarinranta. Well and truly worth the €5, this, too. 

I had been slightly worried of possible discrepancies we witnessed in the quality of the restaurants at Turku Food Walk and I can't say that seeing Alba Rio's rather generic sounding dish (archipelago bread with warm smoked salmon mousse) filled me with excitement. 

While the mousse turned out to be wonderfully light without a hint of fattiness, with balsamico reduction lending the dish a welcome edge, I'd rather spent my money in one of the previously mentioned restaurants.

The restauranteurs have been given complete artistic freedom to design their own dishes and luckily there is great variety. Tiny Eloisa's (only seats 24) SMAKU dishes consist of their home-made chocolate cake and Toast Skagen. Tastewise it was very generic, but portion size definitely makes it worth your fiver.

Eloisa has made a name for itself as an interesting wine bar but its history is every bit as interesting too - originally the building served as a public restroom and a spare jail (!)

So far the event has been well received both among the diners and the restauranteurs and they're hoping to make it a yearly occurrence. The perks of synergy are obvious - the visibility and attention it has accumulated goes far beyond what any of the restaurants could have accomplished on their own. 

Even I didn't manage to try everything (how very depressing...), and one of the places that seem particularly interesting is Kannonnokka ja Vanha Navetta (their SMAKU dishes feature wild boar rillette and carrot puré and pancake terrine with lingonberries).

SMAKU's goal is to attract people both in Porvoo and further afield (Helsinki) and I can only applaud the fantastic people behind the event. Porvoo really kicks ass in restaurant stakes. 

The highlight of the festival takes place next Saturday August 27th at Culture centre Grand and the same weekend sees Porvoo also host Moon River festival and Skålfest so you're in for a real superstar weekend. 

Time to start booking those bus tickets, you think...?

* In collaboration with Visit Porvoo and SMAKU- Taste of Porvoo 2016*





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