Tallinn may not be a culinary capital but there sure is some good food being prepared in the city. Food in Tallinn is more than traditional, there are different ways of interpreting Estonian cuisine, traditional, classical modern you name it. We sampled a cross-section of eateries that gave us a taste of the modern Tallinn palette.
Ill Draakon ($), for a taste of medieval Estonian food
Perhaps part of the reason for the popularity of Ill Draakon was the low price point and a cosplay style dining experience of in the centre of a medieval old town. The candle lit tavern stocks only a few dining options made up of traditional Estonian food. This was truly Estonian food at its core, almost every dish being meat based. Instead of more common meats such as chicken, beef or pork the animal of choice was the ox and other wild games.
There was a meaty broth of Ox Soup with some vegetables mixed in for an extra sweetness, a main of Ox Ribs and sides of wild game pasty’s (pirozhki) served with a side of preserved cucumbers that you had to spear on your own. The preserved cucumbers were an important addition to the meal because they cut the heaviness of the soups.
ON THE MAP (Ill Draakon)
F-hoone ($$) – for hip and modern food with less traditionally Estonian roots
F-hoone was the first restaurant to set up in Telliskivi Creative City and continues to thrive today with its hip take on Estonian foods. For example this starter plate of bruschettas with grilled bell pepper and goat cheese; duck confit and teriyaki aioli; spicy aubergine and herbs; cod liver with egg and chives, rather tasty those were.
The star of the show for me however, was mushroom varenyky with sour cream and herbs. Varenyky is not an Estonian dish but of Russian-Ukranian origin, brought into Estonia during the Tsarist Russian period. These Central Asian dishes are essentially dumplings made by wrapping unleavened dough over sweet or savoury fillings and then boiled.
ON THE MAP (F-hoone)
Tallinn Beer House ($$) – for good hearty classical Estonian food
Located near the centre of the town square in Tallinn’s old town, Tallinn Beer House is a microbrewery that serves its own brews the top choice to acccompany food in this country. Estonia belongs to the beer, vodka, rye bread and pork belt of Europe and the food in this Beer House was an homage to that.
We ordered food that spoke to that heritage, Pork Shank, Blood Sausage (verivorst) and Chanterelle Soup. The two proteins were also served with sides of Estonian sauerkraut (hapukapsas).
Blood sausage as its name suggests are sausages where the filling includes blood, such that when the meat is cook the dish comes out black. It is served as a traditional winter/Christmas dish Estonian blood sausages are filled with rye and therefore have a grainy texture to them when eaten into. Our blood sausages were served with a dipping sauce of lingonberry jam, a interesting sweet-savoury combination if you ask me.
Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented with lactic acid bacteria so it is sour and refreshing. Just like how preserved cucumbers were used in Ill Draakon to cut the heaviness of the food so too are sauerkraut used to cleanse the oil from the palette especially after consuming heavy meaty foods.
ON THE MAP (Tallinn Beer House)
Väike Ratsaskaevu 16 ($$$) – for fancy renditions of Estonian food
And then we come to Väike Ratsaskaevu 16, which translates as Little Ratsaskaevu 16. Why Little? Because Ratsaskaevu 16, the original restuarant is the most popular in town serving some of the best food but is therefore always full, hence the owners set up another resturant with the same menu and same name to serve more people, and you can tell that the staff take pride in serving their customers (absolutely brilliant service).
What was served at Väike Ratsaskaevu 16 were Estonian classics made fancy.
An apertif of Kvass to begin the meal. Kvass is a Russian/Slavic drink made from Rye bread, sugar, yeast and raisins. It is a sort of light beer just that it is practically alcohol free. I don’t quite know how to describe it except that if you enjoy fermented wheat based drinks you would probably be able to appreciate kvass, if not stick with beers.
Here is a really funny video by a vlogger how kvass is made.
A traditional Estonian meal is always served with a side of rye bread or whole wheat bread (Sepik). This particular brown rye bread was freshly baked with a home made recipe and tasted awesome!
We next followed that with sauerkraut soup, the white complexion of the soups comes from a blending of the sauerkraut with sour cream, milk or yoghurt (I’m not too sure which) a traditional way to serve soup in Estonia, but made more classy with a dash of vingeratte, some seeds and chives. It was a wonderful appetizer for the heavy pork leg that was to follow.
It was a wonderful appetizer for the heavy pork leg that was to follow, a modern fancy take on the traditional pork and potatoes cuisine.
ON THE MAP (Väike Ratsaskaevu 16)