© Savoy Restaurant

Helsinki's culinary kings and queen

Falstaff's profile of the three people and their restaurants who have had the greatest impact on the Finnish capital's dining culture in recent times.

At first glance, the restaurants of Helsinki are no different from those of any other city in the Nordic countries. In each case, the emphasis is on local ingredients and seasonal cooking. The standard of restaurants here has always been high. But it is also predictable. There has been little daring to experiment and stand out from the crowd.

In the last two years, however, the predictable stability has clearly begun to fade, and the individuality of the different restaurants has rapidly begun to emerge. There are three chefs who have had the greatest influence on and are leading the restaurant scene in Helsinki. A visit to these restaurants will give you an insight into what's happening in Helsinki right now.

Hans Välimäki

Hans is a living legend in the Finnish restaurant scene. From 2004 to 2010 he was the king of Finnish restaurant chefs, with no one else coming close. For 7 years in a row, his restaurant Chez Dominique was voted the best restaurant in Finland in the local TOP 50 restaurant list. In The World's 50 Best Restaurants, the restaurant was ranked 17th. Chez Dominique already had two Michelin stars, and it was only a matter of formality to get a third one.

But Michelin's restaurant guide is still being stingy with the stars it awards to Nordic restaurants. Hans lost interest in the high art of cooking and concentrated on preparing simple food of the highest quality. But the change did little for his cult status. Quite the opposite. More and more people can now afford to visit one of Hans' restaurants. And, as a result of their visits, they are finding out that he has very few rivals who can compete with him in the preparation of simple dishes.

Hans owns three restaurants in Helsinki. The French restaurant Bardot, the Italian restaurant Bistro Gina and the British restaurant The Rook. An impressive interior, top-quality ingredients and respect for classic cooking methods are common to all three. Hans Välimäki has passed on his experience and skills to the dozens of chefs who have worked in his restaurants and who have gone on to become some of the brightest stars in the Finnish culinary scene. There is a neo-bistro boom on the Helsinki restaurant scene. Hans Välimäki is certainly one of its architects.

Hans Välimäki.
Photo provided
Hans Välimäki.

Eero Vottonen 

Eero Vottonen has taken over from Hans Välimäk as the king of fine dining in Helsinki. The restaurant he runs, Palace, has topped the list of Finland's TOP 50 restaurants for the past five years. Located on the top floor of the hotel of the same name, the restaurant has always been ambitious. The enchanting sea views from here provide the perfect setting for gastronomy that aims for heavenly heights. The Palace has been awarded two Michelin stars, and once again, it is said that not having a third star is a definite tease.

There is no doubt in the minds of local connoisseurs and aficionados that this is definitely the best restaurant in Finland. The restaurant is like a miniature Finnish model. There is a sense of grace and dignified comfort here, and for the impatient and hurried diner, dinner can at first appear to be unusually quiet and long. But the atmosphere of the restaurant takes over, bit by bit. It's a place where you can enjoy life the Helsinki way.

Helena Puolakka

Where there are kings, there are queens. The Savoy, which is run by Helena Puolakka, the queen of Finnish restaurants, is no less ambitious than the restaurants of kings. Helena has a wealth of experience from her work in top restaurants in France and the UK. Finnish restaurateurs were probably looking at her as lost. But an invitation to head the kitchen at the Savoy outweighed the prospect of working with Gordon Ramsey. Helena is back in Finland.

Savoy is not just a restaurant for Finns. Savoy is a legend that began in 1937 and continues to this day. Major political and business decisions were probably discussed in one of many private salons. And it still does so today. The most important anniversaries of Finland's most famous people are celebrated here, and their most important meetings are held here. Savoy offers visitors a refined, dignified and timeless dining experience. To give you even more reason to visit Savoy, Cafe Savoy has recently opened its doors and is likely to quickly become the flagship of Helsinki's café culture.


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Aivar Hanson
Aivar Hanson
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