09 Apr Minn’s Munchtime – Tallinn holiday!
The most common reaction to telling people about my Easter break to Tallinn was ‘This might be really bad but…where is Tallinn?!’. The Estonian capital might not be the number one destination that comes to mind, but with cheap flights under three hours and the Old Town being a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, it’s a perfect city break location. Neither my partner (let’s call him Mr Munch for ease) nor I have explored any Baltic countries so we were looking forward to learning about the history, experiencing the unique Estonian culture and finding delicious food spots!
As you’d expect, there are many restaurants providing traditional Estonian home cooking, grandmother style. Think beetroot soup (borscht), hearty stews and a meat feast including moose and wild boar! We also came across a fantastic contemporary dining scene. The focus is on local organic produce, incorporating botanicals and wild herbs into the mix.
Being sushi fanatics we inevitably found our way to Sushi Silk, handily next-door to the Tourist Information Centre. The menu was more expensive than we’d anticipated, particularly for the sets, so we went for the more reasonable ‘cuisine maki’. These are around €12 for eight pieces of maki. We enthusiastically ordered three different maki (various combinations of salmon, prawn, crab, avocado and cucumber). You really only need two between two people – the maki are pretty sizeable! We had this with miso soup served in an extravagantly pointy bowl, which had a strong umami flavour. The fish was good quality and we left feeling as round as the rolls themselves.
In terms of contemporary fine dining, we had a reservation at Kaks Kokka, in the northern part of town. The feel here is Scandinavian, with a clean wood, white and grey design. The staff are the epitome of smart casual with their slightly unbuttoned white shirts and light denim aprons. Kaks Kokka prides itself on using the freshest ingredients, mostly from Estonia. This plus the wonderfully artistic presentation gives it a sophisticated touch. Our starter was elk tartar with a selection of bright sauces (pea, tomato blackened with squid ink, smoked egg yolk). The surprise was the locally foraged dried moss which had remarkable flavour, like the damp aroma of a country garden after the rain. I followed that with perfectly cooked quail, slightly saddened by overly salty buckwheat. Mr Munch couldn’t resist the Japanese lure of their take on ramen with pork belly. Their menu reads and eats well, full of ideas that intrigue the diners.
Another restaurant we happened upon turned into our favourite lunch spot – Von Krahli Aed, whose promising logo is ‘The Embassy of Pure Food’. The concept is that each dish has both a vegetarian and meat option, so you can choose according to preference. Allergens are clearly listed and vegan options are also available. We ate here twice as we loved it that much! The house-made bread has a warm malt flavour, dunked in olive oil or butter sprinkled with pyramid crystals of nettle and parsley salt. Simply stunning! Mr Munch opted for soup of the day – carrot, potato and leek, with coconut milk and herbs. He enjoyed it so much that on our return trip he had the soup again, this time a cauliflower and carrot concoction. For €4, it’s an absolute steal!
I chose the rabbit with carrot and sea buckthorn cream (€14). It was served with crunchy beetroot noodles and roasted carrot skewered with a length of branch! The title of the dish is aptly ‘The Carrot’. The other mains are similarly named ‘The Onion’, ‘The Root’ etc which I think is bold and fun. Dessert was a juniper and garden thyme panna cotta with blueberries (€5.50). The BEST panna cotta I’ve had in a long time! Perfect wobble consistency, and after seeing so many Masterchef panna cotta fails, I can appreciate when it’s done well. All Von Krahli Aed’s dishes have the most well considered textures which take them to the next level. The crisped buckwheat on top of the soft panna cotta was a delightful addition.
My menu for the second lunch was roasted garlic hummus to start, served with black pudding chips (crunch central), braised red cabbage and grilled radicchio (€6.50). You get a big mound of silky soft hummus, potent with garlic. It will linger in your mouth for the rest of the day! I then chose the lunch offer: €5 for the veggie burger (cauliflower, chickpea and lentil). With sides of beetroot and parsnip chips and layered with gherkins, courgettes, tomato, this is a lunch deal of epic value. I’d honestly give 10/10 to Von Krahli Aed! Their textures and flavours are so carefully thought through, delicious and unexpected.
In all the restaurants we visited, the service was impeccable. Not overly formal, but very personal. Staff look you properly in the eye when talking to you and have a super positive attitude. They’re also informative, giving details about the provenance of ingredients and the inspiration behind dishes. Training here must be top notch!
On to shopping and gifts! We discovered the cheerily named Chocolala on one of our wanders through the Old Town. We were given a sample of their hot chocolate and were hooked into buying some straight away. You only get a small cup due to the richness, but for €2 it’s well worth it, quality not quantity! Deep and pure molten chocolate is a perfect mid afternoon treat. The award winning luxury chocolate is handmade in Estonia and often uses herbs like juniper and spruce as well as reindeer moss. For bringing home, they do colourful slabs ranging between €3-15.
Another chocolate heaven we found was Bear Farm Chocolate Shop. At €2 a piece, you get big chunks of handmade vegan chocolate. The shop has a welcoming retro vibe, decorated with quirky posters and quotes such as ‘Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions’ and ‘I only eat chocolate on two occasions – when I am in love and when I am not’! I love their humour and clear enthusiasm (obsession?) for their product. We bought three varieties – chilli, Baileys and coffee. They look like a chocolate brownie but are really like a block of ganache!
No holiday would be complete without a supermarket sweep. Our nearest one had the biggest cheese selection I’ve ever seen, absolutely marvellous! I’m currently obsessed with goats cheese and found two great varieties – one soft and very sweet, almost berry like, the other a handmade cheese with a bouncier texture. Continuing the local ingredients theme, I found dark chocolate coated gooseberries and sea buckthorn berries. The gooseberries are my 100% favourite and I will have to buy them in bulk next time I’m in Estonia. The chocolate contrasts with mouth wateringly tangy berries making them extremely addictive! Other delicacies that made their way into my basket included heather and meadowsweet tea, elk sausages and whole smoked mackerel.
Old Town Tallinn is really manageable to get around by foot. Most places are within ten minutes walk from each other, and you could cross town in under twenty. There are many theatres dotted around as well as the Estonian National Opera and Concert Hall which are part of the same block. Everything is in such close quarters you won’t need to worry about finding food in a hurry. Whether you’re visiting on tour or on a mini city break, you can be assured that good food is only minutes away!