Classic Dining at Carelia – Helsinki

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.

Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
The restaurant and bar
Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
Old apothecary deco
Carelia Restaurant Helsinki
Decorations at Carelia

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.

Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
The beef tartar
Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
Tarte Tatin
The Carelia Sommelier Iisa showing us around the cellar
The Carelia Sommelier Iisa showing us around the cellar

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.

Champagne at Chateau Les Crayéres – Reims

It is finally Friday and I am in the mood for some champagne-talk. So reminiscing our visit to Chateau Les Crayeres seems like the topic to take up today. Les Crayeres is a Chateau, a hotel and a restaurant located close to the center of Reims right next to Vranken Pommery. Sounds fancy? That it is, but also a pretty good place to stop by for a glass of bubbly. Regardless of the shiny exterior, it is a relaxed and warm environment to sip on your champagne.

It was a few weeks back, a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in Reims. We were walking around getting a feel for the city and taking the opportunity to tour some champagne houses (the few ones that were open). We had been walking all day, mainly because the other option was taking a taxi, and with the last drips of energy we headed towards Les Crayeres located on the “other side” of the small town. We got a little lost on the way, which added to the tiredness, but finally found our way to the mansion.

courtyard at Les Crayeres
The courtyard and terrace of Le Rotonde Bar
Inner yard Les Crayeres
I would not mind resting my legs on one of those chairs
Le Rotonde Bar
Le Rotonde Bar

Exhausted after our walk, we were shown to the inner yard, the terrace of Le Rotonde Bar. The view was amazing, like from a movie. A beautiful garden, black iron tables and chairs and an international crowd sipping bubbly with posh staff trotting around. All sweaty from the long walk I felt slightly out of place, but what the hell, I was thirsty for bubbles.

The champagne list was not long, however it was interesting. They had the Jaquesson 737 NV as their basic cuvee, a Henriot Rose Millesime 2008 and a few other interesting vintages by the glass. We did not even browse the list for full bottles, but I can imagine it being long. We opted for the first two, Jaquesson and Henriot and sat down to relax on the sunny terrace. The service was spotless and our champagne tasted like a million dollars. All was well!

Le Rotonde Bar
Le Rotonde Bar
Les Crayeres entrance
The front door

Even though Les Creyeres seems very upscale, the price list was only moderately high. We paid around 14€ per glass, which was acceptable.We also received some complementary snacks to have with our bubbly. I am a sucker for snacks, so I was sold.

After we were finished with our glasses we had a look around the beautiful bar and courtyard. We chatted (as if we could afford it) that next time we come to Reims it would be fun to stay here. The restaurant at Les Crayeres, Le Parc has two stars and they also have a Brasserie that has perhaps slightly more humane prices. Now browsing at their webpage I can see that they do some quite moderately prices packages for hotel stay and restaurant, so that could in fact be an option. Now I know what I want for my birthday!

Memories from the Luggage Room – London

It is Thursday, the day of the week when I start thinking about the weekend and cocktails. I must admit, I have nothing new. Cocktails are often my second choice (if good wine is not available). However I do have some memories to share from the time I lived in London. It was a time that wine and cocktails did not single each other out, but it was rather common that one followed the other.

One of our favorite late night hangouts was the Luggage Room at the Marriot Grosvenors Square. Yes, I know, a Marriott sounds a bit boring. However, as with Punch Room (review here), the Luggage Room is not your average hotel bar. To start with it is a speakeasy. You enter the bar by knocking on a door (with the letters LR) on the side of the building. A little window slides open, true speakeasy style and you are escorted in by a well dressed host/ hostess. There is an entrance from inside the hotel as well, but it is just a pair of closed doors that in no way give away that there is a bar behind them. The Luggage Room is a rather silly name, but that is what the space used to be, the room where luggage was kept.

The bar is 20’s inspired with leather couches and fine furniture. There are initials on all of the tables and they are there after the famous Bentley Boys, a group of wealthy British motorists, who brought the Bentley brand on the world map. The staff explained that the group used to cruise around the area. The staff are also dressed accordingly to the look of the 20’s and 30’s with flap-dresses and smart bow ties. The ambiance in the Luggage Room is fancy but comfortable.

As you sit down, the host brings you a seasonal aperitif and snacks: crispy veggie chips and gourmet nuts, all served in a beautiful silver platter. Food – no better way to be greeted. The selection of drinks is also mirroring what was popular at the time: punches, swizzles, juleps and coolers. The ingredients are fresh and every drink is made with enormous care at the bar. The price tag is rather high, 12-14£. However, I at least feel that it is worth it. All the small extra snacks and spotless service is worth the extra buck. They also have some champagnes on the menu, however I am not convinced of the value for money (especially with the strong Pound). A bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee is 95£, so I would rather invest that money into many many cocktails.

The wonderful service and good drinks are enough to convince me to visit. However there is something extra with the luggage room, and that is that it is open until 2 am. Now this might sound like nothing for us Finns and Swedes. However in Great Britain bars often close already at 11 pm. Yes, I know, it is really frustrating. But the Luggage Room is the perfect place to go for a drink after a late dinner in the center.

Guided Tour at G.H. Mumm

While in Reims, we took up the opportunity to do some tours at the big champagne houses. Perhaps if it would not have been a Sunday or we would have had a car, we would have opted for something different; something more personal. However, with the restricted availability we opted for G.H. Mumm. The Gordon Rouge is one of the first champagnes I have tasted and we have rather liked the blanc de blancs, Mumm de Cramant. We also visited Mumm Napa while in California and remember it being, “ahem”, let’s call it a cheerful experience.

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We booked the tour a few hours before at our hotel and off we went, secretly hoping that it would be a small group. It was not. However, the experience was quite well organized, so it worked even with the twenty something people. We started off by selecting the type of tasting we wanted to have at the end. There were three options:

  1. Basic glass of Gordon Rouge
  2. A surprise glass with an aroma set.
  3. The “Black and White” experience with two glasses of very different Mumm champagnes to compare different grapes: The Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

We were not that interested in the Gordon Rouge, nor was the surprise option very inviting from a control freak like me. So we chose tasting number three (3). The price was also a nice surprise, 25€ instead of 39€, as our hotel (Mercure Cathedral) had a significant discount for all of the tasting experiences. Sweet!

The tour started off from the cellars from the process steps when the grapes had already been pressed and made into wine. The guide explained the first and second fermentation, mixing of the wines and the removal of the yeast after maturation. She explained the process of quality control and “dressing”, labeling of the bottle. A fairly comprehensive introduction into the making of champagne. To our (mine and Ms) disappointment, we did not see much production equipment, however the guide used the help of pictures and videos to describe these parts. As it was a Sunday we also were not able to see the people at work at the cellars. Next time I will definitely come on a weekday. The tour ended in the tasting room, where our glasses were already being poured. After spending some time in the humid cellar, the glas(ses) of bubbly felt very welcome.

Even though I was not that enthusiastic about the surprise tasting, I was a little bit jealous when I saw what they were having. I guess I just expected the organizer to cheap out, but they had selected a decent bottle, a Vintage Mumm from 2006. They also had a few snacks, and seeing them made me increasingly hungry. The Black and White tasting was of course good, but the blanc de blancs I was already familiar with (review here), so it was more the 100% Pinot Noir that I was curious about (review here).

After the tasting we headed for the shop. This was perhaps the most disappointing part of our tour, the selection was just plain boring. I was hoping to have the opportunity to browse some vintages and perhaps see some rarer bottles, but the “factory shop” was nothing of the like. The selection consisted mainly of the Gordon Rouge and a few other bottles: the 100% Chardonnay and 100% Pinot Noir that we had tasted earlier. Additionally one could buy some Mumm labelled accessories.

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Even though the tour was not perfect, it was in line with our expectations. We got what we came for which was to hear more about the producer and see the cellars. So if in Reims, G.H. Mumm is not a bad option for an activity. Kids were also welcome, so it is a great opportunity to have some family fun.

The Three Star Experience at L’Assiette Champenoise

A three Michelin-star experience is rare. We are foodies, so we do grab the opportunity when it presents its self. However, I am not expecting it to be the best (value for money) meal I have ever had. I am expecting it to be an unforgettable experience. And that it always is, for one reason or the other.

The L’Assiette Champenoise’ is the restaurant and family business of Arnaud Lallement, the ‘chef of Champagne’. Followed by the footsteps of his father and trained by world renowned chefs, Arnaud has not attempted to innovate, but concentrates of perfect produce. His food is also characterized as a beautiful dance between the product of the region, Champagne and traditional French cuisine. The restaurant also possesses one of the most interesting wine cellars of the region holding a wide range of vintages from Krug, the Rolls Royce of Champagne. The restaurant is located close to the center of Reims in Lallement’s old family home. Sounds very exquisite, and rather pricey, but we reserved a table anyway.

Aperatiffs at L'Asiette Champenoise
Aperatiffs at L’Asiette Champenoise
My menu without prices
My menu without prices

We arrived at the mansion early evening and were greeted by not one, not two, but four people talking to us at the same time. It was a confusing start to the experience. After being seated, we were handed menus and offered an aperitif from the champagne cart. We were faced with a dilemma: a cart full of wonderful champagnes (Pierre Paillard, Drappier non-dose Rose and several Krug vintages), but no pricing. Our experiences in Paris had made us careful, a champagne could cost anything from 7 to over 40 euros a glass. It is not like we cannot pay for it, but I am a sucker for value for money. And what if the Krug -96 in that cart was something of a bargain, what then? Through all of this contemplation, asking for a price list still felt a bit cheap, so we opted for the two non-Krugs on the list and held our fingers crossed that we would not regret it when we received the bill (we didn’t, but you never know).

After ordering the aperitifs we received menus. I cursed (in Swedish) as I saw the menu was missing prices again. However this was just my menu. I had received the discreet girl-menu, and prices were only visible for M. I am not sure if I object to this, but in our equal-rights obsessed Sweden, it feels a bit funny. Anyway, there was a choice between set menus and a la carte. The Heritage menu has a focus on Arnaud’s fathers legacy, excellent sauces, the Truffe D’Alba is a tribute to truffle and the Saveur is a flight through the a la carte favorites. We opted for the Saveur as it was the only one that could be served without seafood, a notion well appreciated by M who is not a fan of anything that lives and breather underwater. The a la carte was a viable option as well, but the set menu clearly better value for money (as some dishes were nearing a 100€ a piece, just feels wrong).

Amuse bouche mini-pies
Amuse bouche mini-pies
Langoustine with curry spices and ginger
Langoustine with curry spices and ginger

All in all, the food was amazing, by far some of the best I have ever had. I will not go into too much detail regarding the the individual dishes, but I would like to mention a few of my favorites: the pie-shaped amuse bouche with pate, the langoustine with curry spices and ginger and the fruit tarte that we had for dessert. The bread was crusty and warm, the butter perfect with a light saltines and the ‘cheese chariot’ offered a selection that can compete with a many specialty boutiques. As with many French-style fine dining restaurants, the petit fours were plenty and delicious. It is just that at the point where you receive them, you are already stuffed like a little pig. We finished our meal with some tea at the bar. The venue was very stylish and I could see a wonderful selection of bottles behind the counter. We were just too tired to opt for any more bubbly.

The dessert fruit tarte
The dessert fruit tarte
The bar
The bar

Regardless of the wonderful food, service was slightly sticky throughout the evening. We were wondering if it was due to the language. Our French s non-existent, so all communication was in English but at this type of establishment I would expect them to master English. So, compared to some of my previous experiences, this was something lacking of the three star experience. However, the venue is beautiful, the food amazing and the sommelier will not rob you blind; so well worth investing in if you are in the region.

Coffee Bar Review: KuppA, Bangkok

Located a few minutes walk away from Asok (take exit 6 for the smoothest walk). They are in a really pleasant and airy space and I can just see myself lounging for hours here be it morning, afternoon or evening (if my phone had not gotten legs in Singapore there would have been some nice pictures here as well) and the free WiFi also encourages lingering. They are much more than a cafe so rather an all day restaurant serving both food, cocktails, wine and coffee. They have a roaster on-site and they at least want to give the impression coffee is in focus here.

Staff were friendly and English speaking but almost a bit shy or at least hesitant to chat. I did not manage to get a lot of information on the coffee but after a while settled for a french press on Kenyan beans. A bit disappointing presentation and execution, the French press arrived at my table, no instruction on how long to wait until to push down the press. A decent tasting coffee, not the best I had but not nearly the worst. No bitterness, but the other flavors a bit indistinct and blended together. I am looking for a cleaner cup and this was just ok not more. A macchiato was delivered and it was fairly well executed but not great. Would still opt for the milk based coffees here as it was better than the French press. No drip, Aeropress or such on offer which is a shame as it may have produced a better coffee from the variety of beans they had.

Wine list looks promising and decently priced (cava at THB 295 a glass) and an extensive food menu. Really appreciated the scrambled eggs, fresh and well made so I think this would be more of a brunch spot than just a coffee place.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 1.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 4
Vs local competition: 2.5

Wineweek 24: The Beginning of May in Helsinki

If last week I “complained” that there was not that much wine-action, this week there has been an abundance. The start of the week was very slow, but starting from Thursday, it has been a continuous celebration. May 1st is a day of spring and festivities in Finland, when the students as well as almost everybody else hit the streets to enjoy the start of the warm season. As every year, it is too early to rejoice sunny weather, but that seldom stops people from having a picnic. The Finns don’t believe in bad weather, it is something the right amount of clothing can solve. We did not go for a picnic this time (it was cold and at times a bit of rain), but did some friendly sabering in the backyard on May eve instead.

We were not in Finland to celebrate spring though, we were there for a friends wedding. And what a wedding it was! The bride was beautiful and the speeches moving, but what really set this wedding party apart from many others I have been to was the selection of wine. It was the wedding of some equally winecurious friends and they had made sure that the drinks were interesting. You cannot go wrong if you serve a vintage Palmer & Co. champagne as an aperitif. There was also a wine quiz (mainly with questions about the couples wine trips) and the winner got to go and select an interesting wine from the couples cellar to enjoy with the main course (the bottles were pre-selected so not the entire cellar). We were in groups of 4-6 people and there was a different bottle for every group.  Good that we were seated next to the best man (and an oenology student), so we got to select our wine second, right after the wedding couple.

We also attended a brunch on Saturday at the couples wine cellar. It was a private cellar in the residential neighborhood of Töölö with around 60 wine cabinets you can rent. There was also two tasting rooms and a kitchen that all the members could use. It was not as fancy as Magnussons Fine Wines we visited in March (Wineweek 19), but a very practical space with all the equipment (nice glasses, cutlery) for holding tasting events. If we lived in Finland, I would definitely want to have a cellar like this. There are not that many, but they are not too badly priced.

We were also lucky enough to visit another cellar the same evening while having dinner at restaurant Carelia in Töölö. A good friend of mine is the sommelier there, so she was able to give us a tour. Carelia is a very traditional restaurant that has been built into an old apothecary. It is located next to the Opera, so it is very popular pre- and post shows. We spent the whole evening there, from five to almost midnight trying wines and eating some great food. All the dishes we tried were a positive experience, nothing innovative, but traditional food made exceptionally well. The white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce was perhaps the best I have had in a long time. I will write a separate post about Carelia and the wines we tried, but to give a taste of the nights wine list, we started the meal with a Pierre Gimonet 2008 Champagne, and finished it with a bottle of Lilbert & Fils Vintage 2007. We also had some amazing Riesling from Thomas Haag.

Sunday came fast but not a moment too soon. Three evenings in a row meeting with friends, having wine and staying up late have taken their toll. While lugging our bags to the airport (way too early) this morning, M and I reminisced about all the great wines we had this weekend. There was not a glass that we could have skipped (maybe just the refills) or an event that would not last in our memories for a long time. However I am glad that not that many weekends this coming summer will be as eventful.

Wine Review: Mumm (de Verzenay) Blanc de Noirs

We recently visited Mumm when in Reims and in addition to a small tour of their facility we also sampled their Blanc de Blancs and the Blanc de Noirs. Having previously reviewed the Blanc de Blancs it is also appropriate to the same with the Blanc de Noirs. I will not reiterate the story of Mumm so check the previous review for that.

The Blanc de Noirs is however much more what I would have expected from Mumm as their own production of grapes is heavy on Pinot. This specific cuvee is however not any Pinot Noir, it is made entirely from Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Verzenay. The vineyard is on the north facing slopes of Montagne de Reims. It is one of the more exclusive cuvees from Mumm so quantities are somewhat limited. It spends 6 years ageing in Mumm’s cellars.

Pouring the Blanc de Noirs
Pouring the Blanc de Noirs

Having been very positively surprised by the Blanc de Blancs I had high expectations on this on as well and perhaps that was part of the issue. The first look showed a intense gold color and especially side by side with the Blanc de Blancs it was significantly darker.
The nose was powerful with nougat, dried fruit mixed with hints of coffee and vanilla. On the palate there was a mix of yellow fruits, honey, brioche and the nougat from the nose also is present here.

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The flavors are not at all unpleasant but for me it was still a bit disappointing as it did not at all match the quality of the Blanc de Blancs. This was more power and less subtle and complex flavors. I suspect it would need some food alongside it to be at its best and I could imagine it with some stronger cheese or some salty food.

It is selling for around €60 in many parts of Europe and looking at that price I do not see it as good value for money as there are many better champagnes at lower prices. So how does it rate:
Quality: 3.5
Value for money: 2.5

Wine Shopping in Reims – Les Caves du Forum

I love wine shopping! These days, I can go on for days just touring wine boutiques and lugging around bottles in a backpack. Or usually it is M who does most of the heavy lifting, but I am there for moral support. As this is an activity we enjoy, we made some time, while in Reims last week, to go around browsing in a few boutiques. Our agenda was to find some nice souvenirs for taking home that could not be bought in Sweden, and also finding a wedding present for a couple who is getting married this Friday. Reims can be quite touristy when it comes to wine, but we got some nice tips from the staff at G.H. Mumm and found a place that well suited our consumption needs.

Les Caves du Forum is a large shop in an underground cellar next to the Reims Center (10 Rue Courmeaux). You need to first enter an inner yard before you see the entrance, but after that it is quite obvious, the red blinking arrow gives the location away. The wine shop is a few sets of stairs down in a cool cellar. The temperature and humidity are almost optimal for storing wines and the space gets no sunlight. Browsing around you can see that some of the bottles have been there for a while, judging from the amount of dust they have gathered. It is like a cave of treasures awaiting for the winecurious to rummage around.

The entrance
The entrance

Stairway to heaven
Stairway to heaven

Bottles gathering dust
Bottles gathering dust
Regardless of a great selection of French and other red and white wines, we headed directly towards the section for sparkling wines. We were in Reims and there to source champagne, so that was what we were there for. And my oh my, what a treat! The champagne room, located another set of stairs down from the main floor was big and plentiful. The big brands were of course represented, but the selection consisted mostly of small producers and grower champagnes. I am not sure, but I don’t think I saw one bottle of non vintage Möet or Veuev Cliquot on the shelves. Instead I saw names like Eric Rodez, Savart, Laherte & Fills, Marie-Noelle Ledru etc. Many of these producers we had just met at Terres & Vins de Champagne a few blocks away. It was truly an inspiring view.

The champagne room
The champagne room

Prices were marked on top of each bottle
SOme vintages – prices were marked on top of each bottle

Laherte & Fills and other treasures
Laherte & Fills and other treasures

In the champagne chamber
In the champagne chamber
We could have gone crazy in this store. I am sure it would have been no problem to find 20 or 30 bottles that we would have wanted  to bring home. However, that was not really an option. So we settled for a bottle of Savart and Francis Boulard and made our way to the cashier. We did not see that many vintages on the shelves, so the wedding present would have to be found somewhere else. But all in all a wonderful selection of grower champagnes for very affordable prices.

All in all a wonderful shop. I was not only impressed by the selection but also the conditions the wines where kept in. We did not have that much time to browse through the white and red wines, but we did see some interesting stuff peeking out from amongst the shelves. For example, the section for non-traditional wine countries, while small, featured not only Canada but also Slovakia and Palestine; this is really a shop to feed ones curiosity. The strength when it comes to reds and whites did however, understandably, appear to be to domestic French wines. So if in Reims and in the mood for some shopping, Les Caves du Forum is the place to go.