As with most of my work trips, I don't usually do very much reading or planning beforehand for my leisure time, often relying on inflight magazines or hotel in-room guides for suggestions on what to do and see in the evening after a work day. So on my way to Heathrow in a cab, I was furiously searching for Helsinki-related apps and googling for a guide on interesting places there on my iPhone. I proceeded to download a city map, free city guide and also an app for the Helsinki Design District (did you know that it's the World Design Capital in 2012?). As I did my research, I realised that Iittala was Finnish (did you know that?) and came across another beautiful tableware design company called Arabia that you definitely should check out!
I also came across a blog and restaurant reviews that touted 2-star Chez Dominique as one of the best restaurants in Helsinki, and not surprisingly, it was also on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list at #23. I made a mental note to myself that even if I didn't do/see anything else, if I got to eat there, the trip would be worth it.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I asked the hotel concierge to make us a reservation on any of the nights we would be there. Luckily for us, we managed to get in (guess Helsinki isn't like London!) for the following night.
The restaurant was busy and full, mostly with suited businessmen, save for a couple of tables of tourists like us. Simple, elegant decor in black and white with some dashes of colour.
There were 3 surprise menus to choose from, the 4, 6 or 9 courses, and everything was supposed to be a surprise as the menu doesn't detail what they're serving. We were told by the waiter that even between diners who choose the same number of courses, the chef would sometimes prepare different dishes if items have run out. Guess that gives the kitchen plenty of flexibility! I went for the 6-course menu but like every Michelin starred restaurant, we got served plenty of amuse bouches, palette cleansers, pre-desserts and at the end of the night we weren't really sure which were actual courses and which weren't :) Sure seemed like way more than 6 as the photos will tell.
There were 4 amuse-bouches that were presented to us - Crispy bread with Philadelphia (yes, I'm not kidding, the waiter actually said Philadelphia like it was something exotic), fried pork skin with truffle, duck skin and mushroom pizza. These were delicious despite not being that creative and I definitely took some points off for them confessing that they use philadelphia cream cheese. For the rest of the meal, my companion and I kept wondering which of the items were made with Philadelphia (and many seemed like they were!).
The first appetiser we had was a red cabbage and truffle dish. This was very refreshing and tasted very familiar to me. I'm fairly certain they used sour plum powder in the dish, which is something common we eat with guava and other fruit back in Singapore. This was followed by a burbot soup. I haven't heard of this fish before (but then again I probably haven't heard of many types of fish), and thought maybe he meant to say turbot but I looked it up and it's basically a freshwater cod-like fish. It did taste like cod, but in general, I'm not a big fan of fish soup (too fishy), so this was my least favourite dish.
Next up was a mini interlude which was a reindeer tartar with sesame mayo and horseradish. My very first reindeer. It tasted like beef tartare, and wasn't as gamey as I thought it would be.
We then had an onion and parmesan dish. This might have been our first real course with all before this being freebies to work our appetite up for what's to come. The fried onion ball was amazing and went superbly well with the cheese but who can fault that combination? We were definitely suspecting there was some Philadelphia in here. But nonetheless, really liked this.
The next dish was also a classic combination of foie gras mousse with pear sorbet. The surprise element here was a pop corn mousse, which gave the dish a little bit of saltiness to cut the sweet and rich classic flavours.
This was followed by a sauteed scallop with scallop roe mousseline in a white wine veloute. Beautifully seared and done, I loved the scallop, and also the cracker that came with it. Give me anything that's crispy and fried and you'll win me over! Haha, not very hard to please nor sophisticated am I?
By now, we're moving onto the mains. The first main was a fish dish - pan fried cod with peas and mint and cod tongue. Again, a pretty classic pairing of cod with mint and peas so no surprises here other than the cod tongue, which I really was not a fan of. It was chewy and rubbery and tasted super fishy.
A palette cleanser of anis granite with tapioca pearls (sago) and dried caramel was served to prepare us for the second main. It did cleanse my palette but was a little too anisey for me, and the flavour lingered on in my mouth, which is not what a palette cleanser should do.
Our second main came into 2 parts. The first part was venison served with cranberry puree, black pudding and fried moss. I was pretty full by this time and so only managed a little of the venison and none of the black pudding. Loved the fried moss though, which gave the dish a nice texture. Part two of the venison dish (sorry forgot to take pics!) was a venison stew with truffle and pomme puree. Now this I really enjoyed, though again I couldn't really finish since I had to leave space for dessert!
I wasn't sure if this next dish was another palette cleanser or part of our courses. It was an oat honeycomb with a celery granite and parsnip sorbet. What is with using celery in desserts these days? Those who know me will know that celery is my least favourite vegetable so it's not surprising this dish didn't do it for me. However, I'm sure many others would approve so don't quote me on this.
The final dish and dessert was a pina colada inspired dish, with pina colada foam with pineapple cubes, coconut sorbet and rum meringue. Delicious and once again representative of what seems to have been the common thread throughout the meal - re-interpretation of classic flavours and combinations.
I enjoyed this meal, save for the few bits where the dishes didn't endear to my my personal taste preferences. It definitely wasn't cheap but I felt it was pretty good value-for-money, seeing how we got so many dishes even though we only ordered the 6 course. In total, with tax, service and few bottles of water, the meal came up to 140 euros (price for the 4-course is 89 euros, 6-course is 116 euros and 9-course is 136 euros) per person. Each dish was well-executed with good flavours and techniques but there weren't any big wow factors that make a meal memorable. Perhaps I'm just getting used to fine dining as I eat out more and it's going to take quite a lot to wow me.
So if you're in Helsinki, do drop by Chez Dominque but you probably don't need to get on a plane anytime soon to come here just to eat.