Helsinki cafés

Your daily eating schedule in Helsinki is going to be a bit different from what you’re used to. Here, it’s the norm to eat a simply gargantuan breakfast, then to skip lunch altogether or eat something very, very light in one of the city’s cafés.

Most hotels offer a large buffet breakfast. Whenever I’ve been in Helsinki I’ve ended up at one of the Radissons in town. This visit found us at the Radisson SAS Seaside, about ten minutes’ walk from the very centre of town. The hotel is also right next to a tram stop – €2 will buy you an hour’s use of the city’s tram/bus network, and a ticket can be purchased from the driver.

This hotel is less seaside than harbourside, but has extremely comfortable memory foam beds, clean laminate flooring in the rooms (marvellous for allergy sufferers) and great black-out curtains. This being Finland, there are also saunas, including two complimentary ones and one on the roof which can be rented by the hour for parties. Radissons always seem to offer great spreads for their buffet breakfasts, and we conscientiously filled up each morning on little sausages with sweet Finnish mustard, bacon, eggs, organic porridge (cloudberry, raspberry and strawberry jams and maple syrup were on hand), smoked salmon, several different crispbreads and rye breads, soused herring, cucumber both fresh and pickled, salads, continental meats, cheeses, yoghurt, muesli, smoothies, juices and vat upon vat of fresh coffee.

Coffee is good in this city – there seems to be a degree of national pride in serving a really good cup. The best I found (unfortunately, it’s priced accordingly) was at Fazer, a café and bakers dating from the 1890s on Kluuvikatu. Fazer is great for the kind of light lunch that is typical here – get food from the counter and pay for it, then sit by the window to watch the crowds go by. We found open sandwiches (be aware that when you order a sandwich in Helsinki, it will be an open one) made from the bakery’s own rye bread topped with concoctions like rare roast beef and tzatziki, or smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese. Pastries here are also a winner – I liked the Bebe, a tiny pink-iced oval of hollow pastry piped full of pureed fresh strawberries and whipped cream. When you’ve finished your meal, head over to the other side of the large room to pick up some chocolates, sweets and baked goods to take home with you.

Near Fazer you’ll find Kämp Café at the Kamp Hotel (this is where I’d be staying if I was feeling a bit richer – there’s a library, a glorious sweeping staircase leading up from the lobby and a palpable sense of history). You can sit outside on the Esplanadi in spring and summer – this is one of the nicest spots in the city for people-watching. There’s a thoughtful wine list and excellent raw seafood. We really enjoyed the lime-spiked beef carpaccio, the wild mushroom risotto, a sweetly fresh king prawn and lemon open sandwich and an extraordinarily good club sandwich. Kämp Café is also open in the evenings for supper.

Kappeli, at the harbour end of Esplanadi, is worth a visit just for the building. It’s a belle époque glass conservatory, overlooking the sea and Esplanadi’s lovely avenue of trees. Again, the café is self-service. Try the smoked reindeer open sandwich and the excellent coffee. Desserts here are also good.

We also ate at Café Ekberg on Bulevardi. Ekberg has been serving pastries, salads and sandwiches since the 1850s – but although there is table service here, we found the service slow and rather rude (astonishing for Finland, where everyone is usually as nice as pie), the food…OK…and the prices rather high for what we were given. We went with friends, and my egg and anchovy open sandwich on rye bread was probably the best of the four lunches ordered (a chicken sandwich was, peculiarly, a sea of superheated Coronation Chicken on a slice of white bread). If you’re an anchovy sort of person, anchovies are usually a good bet in Finland and elsewhere in Scandinavia. They’re unlike the ones you can get in the UK and US. Scandinavian anchovies are sweet and delicately spiced, and match wonderfully with hard boiled eggs and rye bread. Ekberg still wins points with me for the profusion of nice old ladies in hats who shared the dining room with us.

I’ll wrap this up now. I am suffering a dreadful craving for coffee.

6 Replies to “Helsinki cafés”

  1. Have a pint of the pear cider found many places on draft over ice. It’s a refreshing change of pace on a long summer’s day. (fell in love with the stuff when I was there last June.)

  2. The pear cider didn’t find as good a friend in me as it did in you! I had a couple of pints in order to build up the courage for some post-sauna skinny-dipping in the Baltic (don’t ask), and thought it was actually pretty repellent, especially the sweeter kind. Perhaps I had a less-than-good variety.

    One thing that I really did appreciate, drinkswise, was the water. Tapwater isn’t at all bad to drink, and I really love the local fizzy mineral water, which is heavily mineralised (like Vichy water).

  3. I love Helsinki and have really enjoyed your recent posts. We were there the summer before last and visited Fazer (for coffee and ice-cream). We have promised ourselves a stay at Hotel Kamp at some point in the future.

    Did you eat at Nokka at all? This was the venue for our one “posh” meal out (a fish-phobic child can seriously impair your eating experience in Finland!) and I’d be interested to know what you thought. One thing I do remember about it was that the kitchen staff all seemed to be female, which made a pleasant change and seemed very Finnish somehow.

  4. Hi Marsha! Haven’t made it to Nokka yet, but it’s on the list of places to try. (I’d actually meant to go this time, but was so knackered towards the end of the week that we ended up in the hotel restaurant on the penultimate night. Bah.)

  5. Hi Liz,
    I´d like to know of you have, by chance, a couple of recipies from Finland. One of them is that of rye bread, the dark looking-old one; and the other is that of a cream (kind of chantilly cream) that you get after mixing cream, some sour cream, sugar…. it´s really soft and tasty, I tried it for Easter. I thank you in advance. I´m writing from Argentina and was in Helsinki two years ago. Larisa

  6. Hi Larisa! I’ll do my best – I’ve just sent an email to a friend in Finland to ask about recipes. I do know that you’ll need to get your hands on dark rye flour, which can be hard to find here (it’s sometimes available in certain delis or health food shop) – I’ll try to track some down and make some. If you want to drop me an email (link at top of page), I can let you know if and when I manage it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *