Friday, 22 August 2008

Chocolate and cakes a la Baltic

There is, however, a more sophisticated, a more interesting side to the Estonian restaurant scene. And we had to drive whole (!) 2 hours to get there.

It was in the breezy, white and blue town of Haapsalu where we encountered this little wonder of a place - by pure chance, as you do, when you least expect it, as you do:) We were planning to have just a quick stop and, as it was an in-between hour of 3 pm, we were prepared to have any Estonian pork cutlet, but we were rewarded for our meat-only obstinence of the previous week..

As I walked in I knew straight away that the place would serve good food - firstly, this little cafe was decorated in the most charming and romantic style possible (stylish, elegant signs and menus; rustic but very cute plates and cups with big cherries and flowers painted on them; different chairs and tables in that light and airy end of the 19th century fashion); secodnly, the place was packed in spite of the odd hour and changable weather.

We ordered three dishes to begin with that sounded fiarly 'normal' on the menue, but came out to be exactly what I love about modern food: light, witty, with an awareness of its roots. We had a plate (no Masterchef jokes please!) of nutty and slightly moist rye bread, topped with lightly salted anchovies from the Baltic sea, a poached egg and thin slices of parmezan - I loved the taste, but I adored the fact that this was the kind of dish I used to have in heaps when little, but now it was sort of 'upgraded' to take in the world influences. I also had a delicious and quite unusual carrot quiche, served with sourcream; not like your classic French quiche, but something quite...Estonian:) - a very light omelette, baked as a pie with a crusty top. Jonathan had a salad of salmon and 'iced lettuce' (iceberg of course:). But it was the ending of our meal that completely blew us away - THE cakes.

In our usual piggy style we ordered three: two marengue like pies with the most airy and light cream I'd had in my life (honest!) and one cheesecake with the biscuit base that I was prepared to eat on its own. I admit the defeat, I cannot describe the beauty of these creamy creatures but they were so good and they made me so happy that I started breathlessly talking to the owner of the place (a smily Estonian woman who seemed to be melting under my compliments). We came back for more cakes the day later..Jonathan was trying to entice me to come back again (naughty;), but I was a bit worried that the lovely little waitresses would start suspecting something...Oh, and the place was called Muureaare (with dots over the letters). I promised the owner to spread the word around;), so if you are ever in Haapsaalu..hehe

The other place that is so special to me that I visit it every time we are in Tallinn is called Shokoladnitsa ( I can't remember the exact Estonian name). This place is all about the looks (with some chocolate thrown in of course;), but not he kind that many Estonian places seem to prefer - very modernestic, clean and spacious - no, this place is cluttered, slightly shabby and generally all over the place.

Whether you come in summer when there are wooden tables in the courtyard and a band playing violins, or in winter when it's pitch black outside and inside there are warm velvety table cloths and flickering candles, it always feels like you are visiting your aunty - the one that is quite old-fashioned, but still shows great style and loves feeding all her grandchildren with dark, syropy tea with home-made cakes....

As the name suggests, it is a cafe that serves chocolate, and not much else. How do you feel about hot, thick chocolate with some added orange and ginger; or gorgonzola and grappa (lovely actually - the really sweet chocolate goes really well with slightly souryness of the cheese); or, my favorite, rum and chilly?

Tallinn restaurants are, unfortunately and in my opinion, mostly about empty style and no soul, but then, when you do come across places that are a bit different, where the owners have thought about making people smile, not just look cool and pay the money, these places are on a par with the trendiest Crouch End boulangeries...even better.
I am leaving the comforts of my home town tomorrow and head for Riga and then Vilnius. My real adventure all the way to Turkey is about to start! I am nerveous, but am also very excited. Think of me warmly, will you?:)

1 comment:

Pille said...

Well, though there are soullless places in Tallinn (as in any other place), there are also lots of lovely restaurants selling good food - you just have to know where :)
The café in Haapsalu, Müüriääre, is well known and liked - we had a lunch there just last week.
The place in Tallinn is called Chocolaterie - another place I've written about. I also adore their 'shabby-chic' interior a lot!!