In part 1 of my Helsinki weekend roundup, I took you on a trip to the harbor market and on a boat cruise around Helsinki’s archipelago, which is how we spent most of our Saturday. But when the sun went down, we decided to try out some other places I had found. Now, you should know that I’m a planner. I hate being unprepared for something, so in the week leading up to the trip, I frantically searched the internet for great tips and recommendations, so that we could make the most of our trip.
In terms of my choices, I normally like to stray a bit off the beaten path and explore the city on my own terms. But since this was our first time going to Helsinki, I felt that some must-sees should definitely be on the program as well (hence the two churches from the first post). The boat cruise was chosen mainly because we love being on the water, and it gave us the opportunity to get some tanning (read: burning) done! Plus, if you ask me, any city looks better from the water!
For tips on restaurants and bars, I stuck to this website, where locals share they favorite places. I made a sort of long-list that I then presented to my boyfriend (I literally gave him 22 pages of reading material I had compiled, ranging from said list to various magazine articles and extracts from websites), from which we could then pick and choose depending on our mood.
We started the night off at a highly recommended place called Ateljee, a rooftop bar on the top floor of the Torni hotel in the city center. We came mainly for the amazing view over the entire city of Helsinki (see my awesome iPhone panorama below), and we were not disappointed! Their cocktails are also very nice. They have one which they serve in the famous Aalto vase (which you then get to keep), but seeing as this was our first stop of the night, I didn’t want to carry heavy glassware around!
Across the street from the Torni hotel, on popular bar street Kalevankatu, we stepped into Vin Vin, a (surprise!) wine bar. I immediately felt completely at home, and when I saw the cheese display, I didn’t want to leave at all! But we had a late dinner reservation, so I stuck to a lovely glass of rosé and ordered a sampler cheese plate, which was amazing! I honestly think that was some of the best camembert I’ve ever had! What I loved most about this place was the fact that they have an integrated hair salon (Salon Noir) – you can get a haircut appointment and sip a glass of wine meanwhile, or snack on some of that delicious cheese. How awesome is that?!
My boyfriend felt adventurous and went with a Finnish classic called “Long Drink”, a super popular mix with gin and grapefruit soda, that comes in these adorable little bottles. I’m a gin fan, so I definitely liked it!
PS: How cute is the interior of this bar?!
I could easily have spent an entire evening there, but we did want to make one more stop before our dinner: Liberty or Death, supposedly one of the best cocktail bars in town. We had tried unsuccessfully on Friday night, only to find a queue outside (people standing in line for a cocktail bar – that bar must be pretty darn good, we thought to ourselves, and decided to come back). This time, we were not disappointed. Much to our surprise (and that of one of the bartenders/ waiters), the place was half empty. But that meant that we could sit down and have a nice chat with the bartender about all the cocktails, and we got his personal recommendation. They change their menu every eight weeks, so things never get old. I chose two gin-based cocktails, one with mint, lime and egg whites, and one called “The Raven”, with blueberries and cucumber. Both were exquisite!
Super secret tip: There is a loose brick in the wall next to the bookshelf at the window. Staff sometimes hide little goodies there (like tiny bottles of liqor)!
Before we left, the bartender wrote the address of a new bar they had just opened on a scrap of paper. He didn’t tell us the name of the place, only that it had just opened about two weeks ago, and that it was a sort of speakeasy bar. “You won’t see it from the outside. You’ll see the blacked-out windows, and the door will be open.” Obviously intrigued, we added this to our list for after dinner!
Already slightly tipsy, despite the cheese, we headed around the corner to our dinner restaurant. It was mentioned pretty much in every article I read about food in Helsinki: Juuri, famous for their Finnish tapas, or “sapas”, as they call them, made from local ingredients like reindeer and salmon. We decided to go with the menu, which consisted of six “sapas” to share, followed by a main course of pike perch from Oulujärvi with chantarelle and spinach from Herttoniemi, and for dessert, Åland style pancake with strawberry mousse and fresh strawberries. But first, an amuse-bouche with goat cheese, salmon, and rye bread crumbs:
… followed by the six “sapas”, chef’s selection, which were:
- Char grilled rainbow trout with sour cream and malt
- Tomato vendace with smoked quark
- Egg cheese with lemon, thyme and birch sap
- New potatoes from Herttoniemi with onion
- Head cheese of organic pork with broccoli and mustard seeds
- Organic beef, dill and beetroot
The main course was just as delicious – even though my boyfriend normally doesn’t like mushrooms at all, he thoroughly enjoyed the tiny chanterelle. The fish was tender and the small spinach pancakes added some great flavor to the mix.
When we got to dessert, I was already kind of full, maybe due to the cheese platter earlier? But when I saw this beautiful creation, I knew I could trust my dessert stomach not to let me down! A thick and fluffy little pancake, covered in strawberry mousse, with fresh berries on the side – soooo yum!
When we left Juuri, happy and completely stuffed, we welcomed the opportunity to walk back down to the harbor, where this super fancy underground speakeasy place was supposed to be – the walk and the fresh air really helped after that amount of food! We quickly found the street, and, as the bartender said, spotted the place with the black windows and the open door. We stepped in and found ourselves in a small foyer room, with a locked door. We knocked and looked for a doorbell, but nothing… I’m not going to disclose the secret here, but we actually managed to get inside and were promptly led to our seats right at the bar – which I loved, because we again got the chance to chat up the bartender and learn a bit more about the place. Stepping into the bar was like stepping back into 19th century London (the place is also named after two detectives, Trillby & Chadwick) – dimly lit, big leather armchairs, dark corners perfect for sharing secrets…
We could only manage one more cocktail each without bursting out of our clothes, but boy were they worth it! I stayed true to my line and ordered one with Hendrick’s gin (my favorite!), cucumber and cinnamon (ah-mah-zing!) and my boyfriend, with his love for girly drinks, chose the one the bartender described as “dessert drink”. It actually comes with a caramelized meringue top and a spoon. How great is that?!
(I guess we should get points for reversing gender roles in terms of drinks, eh?!)
When we were ready to leave and crash in our hotel room, one of the bartender personally escorted us and locked us out of the back door – does it get more underground than that?! I loved the experience, and if you’re ever in Helsinki, do try it out. Their cocktails are the bomb!
Stay tuned for some Sunday explorations in part three of the series!