Last Sunday I was (shortly) writing to you about Carelia, a restaurant and wine cellar in Helsinki. Carelia is one of those places that has been where it is for a long time. It is an old apothecary turned restaurant almost 20 years ago located in my childhood neighborhood of Töölö. A popular venue among opera-goers and athletes as it is located near to the stadium and the Opera of course. I can’t believe that this was the first time I visited as it for sure will not be my last.
Today I will be mostly concentrating on the restaurant part, but just so you know Carelia also rents out a private wine cellar. There are several tasting rooms you can use if you are a member and catering can be arranged from the restaurant kitchen upon request (basically you can just order of the menu). What a perfect concept to be able to enjoy your own wines with some classic food.
We were invited for dinner by an old friend of mine, Iisa, who is also the sommelier of the restaurant. She had picked an aperitif for us, a bottle of Pierre Gimonet Oenophile Premiere Cru 2008. We don’t often see each other with Iisa, but it is like she read my mind with selecting a 2008 (one of my favorite young vintages) and a non-dose. It tasted like yellow apples and brioche and was absolutely perfect for the start of the dinner. I peaked at the menu and noticed another Gimonet (Cuis1) only around 13 euros for a glass, that is a definitely a fair price here in the Nordics. For food (starters) we ordered the beef tartar and asparagus with Hollandaise accompanied by some semi-sweet Riesling. Both dishes were very good, but I must say the asparagus was perfect, a simple dish with no compromises.
For mains we had the classic entrecote with Bernaise, fries and salad, and some tasty small chicken (why is it that the smallest are always the tastiest?). The meat was wonderful and made exactly like we ordered, medium rare (almost mooing). To accompany the mains Iisa selected a nice Pinot Noir from Chambolle-Musigny. For dessert we shared a platter of cheese, the rhubarb sorbet with almond and rosemary sauce and the Tarte tatin.
After the dinner things started getting “out of hand”. I am not talking drunken wild, just that we ordered a great many wines for tasting (we ordered one glass of each and split them by four people). We tried several Rieslings from Auslese and a Muscat de Rivesaltes Grand Guilhem. The Rieslings were served from beautiful Magnum bottles and tasted fresh and fruity. The Muscat was interesting with light notes of port wine but a very low alcohol content. A nice dessert wine. We also took a “short” tour down stair in the wine cellar. A friend of ours was arranging a tasting there and we stayed a bit. To end the evening, we moved to the bar (to get out of the way from hungry opera goers) and ordered a bottle of Blanc de Blancs (2007) from Lilbert & Fills.
All in all Carelia is a beautiful restaurant. The wine list is awesome with closer to 30 different champagnes and prices are not a rip-off. Of course champagne is always quite pricey, but Carelia has clearly positioned its self as a place for wine-lovers, and most wine-geeks will stay home and drink from their cellar if the restaurant aims to rob you blind. I must say I had similar feelings or reasonable pricing at Sinne Helsinki (review here), so it seems like the Helsinki wine-scene is really starting to get on its feet. The food is nothing innovative (it does not aim to be), but it is classical dishes made extremely well. My salute to the kitchen! Last but not least, the sommelier at the place is really something, so if you visit, I recommend leaving your wine-adventure into her capable hands.