I know very little about Helsinki. Say, this capital city of Finland wasn’t founded by the Finnish but by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden. It fell under the Russian power from the grandiose court of St Petersburg (now a 2-hour-or-so commute by train); one of the good influences was that opera has been popularised in Helsinki ever since. And the massive alabaster cathedral that we see today on tourist postcards was the creation of Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludwig Engel who also rebuilt the whole of Helsinki after a fire in the mid 18th century. But (of course) I didn’t learn of these facts whilst in Finland because I spent nearly three F**KING hours being lost in a park and another two at a restaurant…
Fact. I went to one restaurant during my half-day trip in Helsinki. Fact. I knew the restaurant is a possessor of two Michelin stars and ranked #35 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011 (which makes it the best restaurant in Finland). Fact. The restaurant isn’t Finnish but French. It even has a French name of “Chez Dominique”.
And.. FACT.. I liked my meal there very much ^_^
Chez Dominique by the talented chef-patron Hans Välimäki offers a blind tasting experience to its guests from 3, 4, 6, 9 to the super grand “Menu Dominique” of 25 odd dishes. Chef Välimäki’s style of cooking can be described as an innovative coupling of French techniques with Nordic produce and sensitivities. The line between the French and the Nordic is blurred, turning the cuisine into something both familiar and foreign. In a large white and icy dining room, the FOH are sleek, formal but caring. Due to wintery produce shortage, the biggest tasting menu I could opt for was the 9-course priced reasonably at €155.
It began with many amuse items – pretzel with French cheese, vinegar and cress, pork scratching with mushroom cream, and duck skin crisp. Salty and fluffy sardine was half buried in a cloud of chilli-ed candy floss. The floss, also infused with popping candy, provided layers of taste (sweet, vinegar-y and spicy) and texture (fast evaporation and tickling sensation), a ingenious contrast to the more traditional flavour of the sardine. Raw and slightly textured shrimp (as in sort of frozen) arrived in a wonderful entourage of frozen local cheese, beetroot and borage leaves. The combination of sweet, creamy prawn with lightly salted milky cheese and intensely sweet beetroot was very enjoyable; the borage left a refreshing touch in my mouth. Also agreeable was cream cheese with malt crackers and bleak roe. This was a interplay of salt and sea salt (cheese and roe), elevated by by cleansing, multi-textured celery (compressed stalk cubes, I think, and fresh leaves).
Artichoke was served as if a French pate – a rectangular block toppled with jellified vegetable surface. On one side was a miniature of wintery garden where colourful pickled roots and fresh radish shoots sprang from edible soy. There was a well-thought out contrast between the pickle acidity and the peppery freshness; the “pate” itself had a distinct velvety mildness. “Onions” was the most outstanding dish of the meal. It was a plate of onions, many onions. There were onion carpaccio, roasted onions, onion tapioca, onion consomme, and onion-infused madeleine (!!). The dish showcased how varied the flavours of onions could be through cooking. The essence was, nonetheless, the umami sweetness that was enhanced by aromatic chrysanthemum petals and distilled by creamy mozzarella mousse and bitter leaves.
Foie gras with pear was a more traditional delight. The foie gras parfait was glazed with a pristine layer of pear jelly; the pear sorbet became juicy ice numbing the palate but at the same time releasing intense fruity freshness; the assortment of muesli, quinoa and biscuit created a sparkling texture contrast. Scallop was expertly seared and plump. Its remarkable pureness was made complex by the rendition of two-texture squid (seared, rolled and spaghetti-ed), the squash puree and the precisely aerated beurre blanc foam. On the side was multi-texture cauliflower – mousse, carpaccio and tartar.
The meal continued with two fish and one meat. “Cod” was nearly a gills-to-fin dining, featuring cod cheek, shaved roe, tongue and skin and finished with parsley oil, while “Amber” was roasted and paired with pea puree and pea broth. Comforting. There was a pause insinuated by a rich cleanser of chocolate mousse and fennel sorbet in a pot. The indulgent chocolate-y depth was skillfully adjusted and maximised by the aroma of fennel and star anise. The spices lingered a while on the palate. Pigeon flew from Anjou (in a plane) to become a very rich main course. The breast was faultlessly roasted; and its game-y taste was brought to live by the entourage of black olive, salsify and blackberry-infused classic jus. The toast on the side was very much a liver filled croquette.
Chocolate panna cotta was drizzled with frozen beer drops and toppled with malt ice cream. Citric potato ice cream was encased in a hard, malt-dusted white chocolate shell; the soil of malt crumble and chocolate provided sweetness to contrast. The last course (I really didn’t want the meal to end!) was chocolate cake covered in dark and sexy chocolate gloss, with pistachio puree and sesame ice cream. The playful take on nutty combination resulted not only in a pungent scent but a complex and wonderful sweetness, which was balanced off very elegantly mildly bitter Japanese green tea milk sauce. The meal concluded with the petit four.
While my meal at Chez Dominique was not the most heart-stopping of my life but definitely one of the most reliably delicious, I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed both the dishes and the construction of the menu. Chef Välimäki’s cooking is mature and very well-informed of both Nordic and French traditions that become the ethos of Chez Dominique. (For some reasons, this brings to mind another very enjoyable meal at Passage 53 in Paris where the Japanese kitchen dashed out modified French marvels). And there will be no doubt that I will return to sample the ultimate “Menu Dominique”. Fact.
Tel. +358 9 612 7393