A meal at Olo takes you on a culinary journey through Scandinavia using some of the most creative and inventive techniques in gastronomy…and it tastes good, really good!
There are some restaurants that aim to give you a little more than just food, and these are the places we seek. We want a unique experience – a large part of which is expressed through food for sure – but that gives us something more than just a satisfied stomach. We discovered a perfect example of this in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.
Now Finland (and the Scandinavian region of which it forms a part) isn’t the first place you think of when you list the world’s greatest local cuisines. It can be especially overshadowed when you consider some of the other countries in the neighborhood. France, Italy and Spain are renowned for their food, but I think it is fair to say that most people would struggle to name a Finnish dish.
Like the rest of Europe however, it has a long, colorful history and this has given its inhabitants millenniums to fine-tune the art of cooking with their local ingredients. Hoping to learn a bit more about the Nordic region via our stomachs – as well as to try some excellent food – we booked a table at Olo. We had heard about this restaurant through some of our chef friends, and although it is not actually on the list, it is mentioned on the world's top 50 restaurants website, and also has a Michelin star, so we felt confident that it was worth a visit.
Being in Helsinki in the middle of winter was an adventure to say the least! Just getting around the city was a challenge, and within seconds of going outside we were usually covered in snow and soaking wet. We would never let difficult conditions get between us and a good meal, so we took a taxi and braved the short walk from the cab to the door.
Thanks to the weather, we were already starting to develop an understanding of what life is like in Scandinavia, but we were about to deepen our knowledge even further through its food. As I hinted earlier, Olo is a restaurant with a concept - not just a menu. Through its many rounds of tasting dishes (referred to as 'the journey'), its staff takes you on a culinary tour of the Nordic region.
As we were seated, the first thing we noticed was a pot of dough sitting in front of each of us. Our waiter informed us it was freshly made and we got to watch it rise while we began eating. We had finished our third course when our waiter took it away for baking. We settled in and started to look around, noticing the elegance of the room and the comfortable atmosphere…this was our kind of place: romantic and elegant all without the pretentiousness!
White linens and candles lend a quintessentially Scandinavian minimalist feel . There is no dress code - which is always nice when you are eating at a fine dining establishment - but it is probably best not to dress too casually, as despite the friendly ambience, it is still a classy place. On one side of the room, the open kitchen provides a fun distraction, and I found my attention drifting over to the chefs time and again as they worked with meticulous precision - often using tweezers to arrange the plates!
Several restaurateurs and chefs combined efforts to create the Olo concept. Jari Vesivalo is the creative force behind the menu, and he takes his inspiration from his country's natural beauty. He says that he gets his best ideas while jogging through Finnish forests, and the arrangement of his dishes certainly has a minimalistic and organic aesthetic to it. Heikki Liekola, who fills the role of executive chef and who confesses to spending much of his spare time studying food culture online, executes Vesivalo's vision.
You have two options when eating at Olo: either you opt for the full fifteen-course journey, or go for the 'shorter way.' The food is as excellent as it is varied, and we definitely recommend going for the full experience. Long tasting menus can sometimes leave you feeling slightly sick from overindulgence, but this was not a problem here. Don't get me wrong, you will leave feeling full, but each step on your journey will leave you excited to see where you will be visiting next.
There wasn't a course that we didn't like, but a few stood out. The fermented potato flatbread with white fish roe was both salty and sour, and it was a uniquely Nordic combination of flavors. The bread, which had been rising in front of us as we sat down, reappeared as part of the ninth course accompanied by homemade country butter and a hearty onion soup. It was an incredibly intricate and time-consuming dish to prepare, yet it took on the appearance of a simple and hearty meal.
I have to admit that I didn't have high hopes for the king crab with fermented pea puree and seaweed, but found myself pleasantly surprised. The crabmeat looked like strands of egg white (it was that delicate and tender), and the broth was delicious - nowhere near as fishy as I had feared it might be. Every course was great but they saved the best for last, serving white currant cream with yogurt sorbet and black current. It was sweet, sour, tangy and cold all at once! The flavors were complex, and the sorbet perfectly offset the strong taste of the currants.
We had a great experience at Olo. Every dish was exceedingly tasty (and extremely photogenic) and we left with a deep appreciation for the artistic and culinary prowess of this talented team of chefs. Olo is without question worth a visit - even if you have to make your way through a snowstorm to get there!
For more information about Olo please follow the link below: