Having once been accused of a lack of imagination, of being bland and boring, Helsinki cuisine has made great strides in recent years, garnering rave reviews from food critics in international media such as the New York Times and Le Figaro of France. Effectively managing the influences of neighboring Scandinavia in the west, and Russia to the east, Helsinki cuisine is a paradise of locally produced vegetables, fruits, berries, fish and meat. Cooking is by turns inventive and playful, and the city’s rise in international standing can be observed in the fact that there are currently 5 restaurants proudly bearing a Michelin Star (one of which has 2 stars!).
While the city’s mainland restaurants continue to attract attention, one unique aspect of Helsinki dining seems to be omitted: the many island restaurants in the Helsinki Archipelago. Typically open only during the summer season, the archipelago restaurants often provide a delightful summer dining experience, and are particularly popular with locals during the crayfish season (usually the end of July and beginning of August). Here we look at 10 restaurants in the archipelago, including how to get to them.
Ravintola NJK is situated on the tiny island of Valkosaari in Helsinki’s main harbour, clearly visible from the main market place. Owned by Yacht Club NJK (Nylandska Jaktklubben), who moved to Valkosaari in 1885, the beautiful white villa was designed by architects Estlander and Zettergren and inaugurated on 31 August 1900, and the traditional style of the building has been carefully preserved over the years. An excellent location for summer festivities, and one of the most popular for the traditional Finnish crayfish parties, it boasts a tall and spacious Middle room surrounded by a covered veranda, with large windows offering fine views of nearby Katajanokka and the Market Square. The a la carte menu includes salmon, perch, and lamb from the Åland Islands, with herbs from the archipelago gracing many of the seasonings.
Getting There: There is a ferry from the Valkosaari pier close the Olympic terminal which runs every 30 minutes rom 8am to 2pm, and every 20 minutes from 2pm until midnight. The fee is 5€, which is included in the restaurant bill. Visit the Ravintola NJK site for more information, or call 09 6128 6500 to make a reservation.
Close by Valkosaari lies another small island, known as Klippan or Luoto, which is home to one of prettiest buildings in the archipelago, or indeed in the whole of Helsinki. This red domed Jugendstil villa is home to Ravintola Saaristo, and was built in 1898. It is known locally for being Finnish poet Eino Leino’s favourite place to spend celebrate Vappu (May Day). In addition to offering a wonderful view of the Helsinki ’empire’ skyline to the north, and of the marvelous and intimidating walls of the island fortress of Suomenlinna to the south, visitors are also fond of the delightful wood cuts and carved animals in the beams and in the balconies. The restaurant provides three set menus, ranging in price from around 49€ to 63€.
Getting There: There is a ferry from Saaristo’s pier, a little south of the Olympia terminal and next to the Peace statue, which runs every 20 minutes while the restaurant is open. It costs 6€ return, with the fee being automatically included in your bill. For more information visit the Ravintola Saaristo site, or call 09 7425 5590 to make a reservation.
Built by Sweden with French backing in 1748, a defensive fort was built on Särkänsaari as part of the Suomenlinna maritime fortifications, and in 1924 the same fort was converted into what is today one of Helsinki’s most distinctive restaurants. Designed by the architect Oiva Kallio, Ravintola Särkänlinna offers wonderful views of the open sea and of nearby Kaivopuisto park. One of the more unique features of the restaurant is a gently sloping floor, which harkens back to when cannonballs would be rolled down to the cannons which peered through the walls. Today, it is one of the best loved summer restaurants in Helsinki, with a menu designed by chef Tero Nummelin which draws on the finest of locally sourced ingredients, both from the mainland and from the archipelago itself, and is influenced by new Nordic cuisine. Särkänlinna is especially famous for its traditional crayfish parties, which will begin on July 22nd of this year at the end of summer.
Getting There: There is a ferry that leaves from the Ullanlinna pier at the bottom of Kaivopuisto park. Unfortunately, the Ravintola Särkkänlinna site doesn’t mention times, but you can contact the restaurant for more information, or to make a reservation at 09 1345 6757.
The islands that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna offer a number of dining alternatives. The first that most visitors will encounter is Suomenlinnan Panimo, both a restaurant and a micro-brewery, as it is located just beside the main dock where the ferry arrives. Originally a jetty barracks for the Czar’s army, it was built between 1868 and 1870. Famed for the quality of its handcrafted beers, including a very decent stout (Helsinki Porter), the restaurant offers both set and a la carte menus, where the influences of its Russian and Swedish past are blended into dishes featuring fresh, Finnish ingredients. More information can be found on the Suomenlinnan Panimo site, and reservations can be made by calling 09 228 5030.
Next up is the high-quality Restaurant Walhalla, which is situated on the southern tip in Kustaanmiekka. Walhalla opened in 1952, as a venue for entertaining guests to the Helsinki Olympics, and has been serving guests to the fortress island ever since. It features three different restaurants, the up-scale Walhalla Gourmet, Pizzeria Nikolai, and the Walhalla Sea View Terrace & Bar, all of which only open during the summer season, although they can be booked for private events throughout the year. Walhalla Gourmet features two main halls; the splendid dining hall Caponiere Delwig with its impressive vaulted ceilings, which can seat between 180 to 200 diners, and the cosier Cabinet Boije, which seats up to 40 diners. Walhalla Gourmet is known for its extensive and excellent wine cellar, and for its wide range of set menus. Pizzeria Nikolai features tables set in the labyrinthine casemate vaults and on the sunny terrace, and is named after Nikolai Sinebrychoff, the Russian-born founder of the oldest brewery in the Nordic countries, who had a residence on the island. For more information visit the Restaurant Walhalla site, or call 09 668 552 to make a reservation.
Finally, Café Chapman, located near the Suomenlinna Visitor Centre, is an unfussy and popular lunch spot for families, and in the evening provides an a la carte menu. The terrace is the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee or other refreshments. Again, you find more information on the Café Chapman site, and can make a reservation on 010 841 9195.
Getting There: Helsinki City Transport operates a ferry to Suomenlinna from the Market Square that runs every 20 minutes. From there it is a stroll of 1.5 km to Walhalla. There is also a waterbus that stops at the King’s Gate, which is just 50m from Walhalla.
Just a little west of Särkkäsaari, and close by Kaivopuisto, lies Uunisaari, which is actually two islands separated by a narrow channel. Originally, these islands were used mostly for agriculture, and later rented out for industrial use. The building that now houses the restaurant was built in the late 19th century, and was renovated in 1999 under the supervision of the National Board of Antiquities. Open throughout the year, Restaurant Uunisaari seats 120 people, with the Café seating 60 more. During the summer season the terrace seats a further 250 people. What really makes this restaurant stand out from all the others in the archipelago are the three saunas available for visitors, which can be reserved in advance. The saunas are designed for 8, 10 and 15 people, and can be rented for two-hour periods. In winter, the restaurant provides a jacuzzi, and for the really adventurous there is even a hole cut into the frozen Baltic sea where you can take an icy dip! Details of menus and the costs for renting saunas or the jacuzzi (diving into an ice hole is free) can be found on the Restaurant Uunisaari site, and reservations can be made by calling 09 636 870.
Getting There: During the summer months there is a ferry that leaves from Merisatama (no details available on the site), the journey taking all of 3 minutes, for a fee of 5€. In winter you can stroll across via a bridge.
Right next to Uunisaari, and connected by a bridge, lies the island of Liuskasaari, where Ravintola Boathouse HSS is situated. Open only during the summer season, Boathouse is particularly renowned for its crayfish parties. The restaurant offers a number of set menus ranging from 46€ to 62€, and the a la carte menu includes wild boar and duck alongside more traditional items like the catch of the day. For more information visit the Ravintola Boathouse HSS site, or call 09 1345 6766 to reserve a table.
Getting There: A connection ferry to Liuskasaari leaves from Merisatama, between restaurant Carusel and Kompassi pier. A return ticket is 5€ which can be charged to the restaurant bill. There is a connecting bridge between Liuskasaari and Uunisaari so it is also possible to walk from there.
West of Liuskasaari lies the island of Sirpalesaari, home to Ravintola Saari. Specialising in Finnish and archipelago delicacies, Saari menus include fresh fish, locally sourced meat, cheeses, and vegetables, alongside some original classics like tar-flavoured ice cream, salted salmon (also flavoured with tar), and Flisholmen pancakes. For more information visit the Ravintola Saari site, or call 09 7425 5566 to make a reservation.
Getting There: A boat serves the island twice an hour from the Saari pier located on Merisatama, the journey of 200m taking just a few minutes. The restaurant also provides a number of berths in its harbour for guests arriving on their own boats.
Finally, the restaurant furthest out from the city is Ravintola Pihlajasaari, located on the island of Pihlajasaari just 10 minutes by boat from Kaivopuisto. The island itself (actually two islands connected by a bridge) is one of the most popular spots for locals during the summer months, thanks to its north-facing long, sandy beach. The restaurant is located in the 130 year old wooden villa, Hällebo, which has been serving customers for over 80 years. There is seating for 190, 90 of which are inside the villa and the remainder on two exterior terraces. The front terrace has excellent views of the open sea, with the smaller rear terrace facing back towards the city. Pihlajasaari is renowned for its own smoked fish, as well as their home made pastries and donuts, and the menu changes every day, with between 5 and 7 options, with the most expensive items being around 20€. There is also a sauna available, situated on the beach, which is for 6 or 7 people, and refreshments can be ordered from the restaurant to be enjoyed there (it’s common for Finns to enjoy a beer and ‘makkara’ during breaks from the sauna). Unfortunately, most of Ravintola Pihlajasaari’s site is in Finnish, with only a short page in English, but reservations can be made by calling 09 6222 532.
Getting There: The island is accessed by boat from two locations: from Merisatama near Café Carusel, as well from Ruoholahti. The journey takes about 15 minutes and a round trip ticket costs €5.50 for adults, €3 for children (7-16 years) and pensioners. Children under 7 years old accompanied by an adult travel free of charge. There are also berths in the harbour for those who arrive on their own boat.