Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Restaurant Purpur - a whimsical piece of Georgia in Helsinki

Restaurant Purpur takes a diner on a whimsical tour of Georgian and Caucasian cuisines.

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A little while back I visited restaurant Purpur, owned by a another avid culinary crusader Ville Haapasalo - famous for both his massively popular acting career in Russia and his journeys around Caucasus repeatedly documented in Finnish TV. 

Located in the the city centre at the corner of Korkeavuorenkatu and Richardinkatu, the restaurant is a whimsical mix of mismatched chairs, plastic fruits, samovars, colours and eclectic details that cheerfully verge on kitch.

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

The owner is a crucial part of their marketing strategy; his face, devouring local delicacies, is plastered all over their website and in photos framed on the restaurant walls. 

He's much more than just a name, though: he's actively involved in running the operation. When he's in Helsinki, he can often be seen shuffling back and forth in the restaurant. 

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

"I've been dreaming of a restaurant of my own for more than 15 years so it would be weird if I didn't take any kind of interest in it now that I finally have one", he smiles and admits he'd like to open another one, too, showcasing the gems of lesser known Caucasian cuisines. 

(I would looooove his next venture to be an Uzbek restaurant -I can't get enough mantis!)

The lively sense of humour he's so famour for adds its own spice on the menu, too. Pelmenis, for instance, are said to be his own invention; something he came up with while fleeing from wolves somewhere in Siberia (!)

Delightfully the emphasis on the wine list is on the Georgian wines and native grapes which to me are a largely uncharted territory. The country has long traditions in viticulture, though for long they were not exactly known for their quality.

White Tbilvino Rkatsiteli (€7/ €9/ €39) with its gentle herby notes and dry spiciness was a nice new acquaintance. Red Askaneli Mukuzani (€9 / €11/ €52) comes from the same wine region of Kakhet and surprised with its smoothness. 

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Probably the most famous thing to come out of Georgia is khinkali (€12), a meat-filled dumpling - my personal favourite. 

Juicy and oh, so good.

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Another well-known classic is hatsapuri (€12), a billowy bread oozing local cheese.

Theirs was good, too, but strangely thin and can't compete with the one you can get at Little Georgia at Fredrikinkatu

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Haapasalo admits that the food they serve is not exactly authentic, but their own interpretation of the delicacies sampled by him during his many Caucasian excursions. Due to difficulties with work permit process there aren't for instance any Georgians in the staff at the moment. 

In any case the menu takes one on a culinary journey of dishes and flavours one doesn't often come across in Finland such as tsihirtma (€ 12), a tangy chicken broth the earthy spiciness of which is surprisingly reminiscent of Middle Eastern cuisines. 

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Another local specialty that became a firm favourite of mine is Kuchmachi (€ 25), a sweet and tangy offal stew also echoing flavours I've learnt to love during my Middle Eastern escapades. 

Oh, and in case you like that, you'll love my new book's recipe for Syrian chicken livers!

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

I was invited to come back to sample the new menu in my own time,and so I did; armed with Gothenburger, the man of many talents who, as it turned out, also used to live in Georgia. 

The restaurant has clearly found its audience: at 7pm on Saturday evening all the tables were booked. And greeting customers at the tables was none other than Mr. Haapasalo himself.

We started our date night over some cocktails: Purpur martini (€9 for him and Purpur Tonic (€11) for me. Use of herbs made for a slightly more bitter result than we expected, but they kept us refreshed as we enjoyed our ringside seats to the very lively conversation the couple next to us was having about their very conflicting views as to what exactly had happened the night before. 

Hell really hath no fury like a woman scorned...

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Feeling all nostalgic about eggplant he'd fallen for during his time in Georgia the Gotheburger opted for grilled eggplant with tomato and Suluguni cheese (€10).

Simple and good.

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

My choice was kharcho (long stewed beef shoulder, rice, and green beans in spicy broth; €13/€20) and in its fiery richness it was exactly what my throat; ravaged by bronchitis, needed right now. 

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

The date's choice for main course was a done deal before we ever even walked into the restaurant. 

"They'll have shashlik, right?" he enquired already on the way in. "In Georgia we always had shashlik. Where ever we went, shashlik. All the time - shashlik. "

Either he's a little autistic or he really likes saying that word; shashlik. 

And sure enough, they had shashlik. 

We had beef (they also have pork, chicken and vegetarian options), which was very good (€27). To accompany the juicy skewers we had Caucasian peanut sauce, garlic yoghurt dressing (our absolute favourite) and spicy tomato sauce (all the sauces €3 each).

A big thumbs up for generous use of fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds but a massive thumbs down for the anemic pile of "bread" perched on the side of the plate. 

According to the menu it was lavash (a soft flat bread originally from Armenia, these days widely comsumed all over Caucasus) but based on the the plastic texture and generic taste I could swear it was a shop bought, vacuum packed tortilla instead. 

Not happy.

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Based on our waiter's recommendation I went for teftelis, lamb meat balls in herby tomato sauce (€21). After lengthy convincing even the date finally managed to pluck up the courage to taste them. 

"No, not lamb balls. Meat balls; made of lamb".

(Apparently in Georgia you can't always be entirely sure of what it is you're actually eating.)

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

Gotheburger's pudding (€10) featured ice cream, sultana compote and oven roasted quince.

"Not too sweet. Tastes like apple", was his verdict on this fruit related to pear. 

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

My walnut pannacotta (€11) was easily one of the best performances all evening. 

The texture managed to avoid the pitfalls of excessive gelatine that usually plagues pannacottas everywhere and in spite of its creamy richness it had a delightful fresh tanginess reminiscent of pasha; a Russian Orthodox Easter pudding.  

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_ravintola Purpur_Helsinki

With a bottle of Mukuzani the total came to €173. Rather jolly culinary excursion indeed. 

You guys familiar with Georgian cuisine? What are your favourites?

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Restaurant Purpur
Richardinkatu 4
00120 Helsinki

tel. 010 229 4016

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* In collaboration with Restaurant Purpur 



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