With only 18 seats, SPIS stands out from the crowd with their artistic interpretations of Nordic cuisine, and their laid back comfortable attitude.
There is a growing collection of restaurants in Northern Europe which are combining international fine dining trends with local traditions. This movement has become known as ‘New Nordic’, and it is something which we wanted to taste for ourselves. Some of these restaurants have attracted the attention of respected food critics and writers, with four Scandanavian establishments making the recently released top 100 restaurants list for 2017. SPIS in Helsinki is at the forefront, so during our trip in Helsinki, we had to visit.
SPIS does things a bit differently, and I have to say it is endearing. For one thing, it is tiny - there are only eighteen seats, and it is only open for dinner. Coupled with its reputation, this makes it quite hard to actually get in and eat there, but it is worth the effort and patience.
Another of its quirks is the prominence of vegetables in its dishes. While it is not a vegetarian restaurant – you will find some meat amongst its courses – many offerings are built around veggies, rather than using them to supplement something else. This is a bold move, but one which they manage to pull off and it hasn’t dented their popularity.
Perhaps even bolder however, is the informal atmosphere which they have created. When you are serving food of this standard, there is often an expectation that your restaurant will have a matching high-class ambience to it. This can mean a high level of formality which, although classy, can sometimes be a little stifling. You will not find that at SPIS, and this was made apparent from the moment we made our reservation and received the instruction to ‘come as you are’. No need to dress up, just bring yourselves and enjoy some great food.
When we entered, we noticed the theme continued in the decoration. Simple black and white furniture fills the small space, and great music plays in the background. The plaster on the walls is faded and peeling, exposing the brickwork behind it in places. It’s a nice place to be, and is a long way away from the white table cloths and swanky artwork of many top restaurants… yet there is still an elegance in the air. The team is quick to talk wines and recommend the best craft beers, if that’s your preference. They know their food, they know presentation and in all comes together in creative, laid back space. It’s our kind of place.
There is an open kitchen and we were lucky enough to be sat facing it. Chris and I both watched in amazement as the chefs moved around with such finesse in the tiny space they had to work in. I will never be able to use the excuse that my kitchen is too small again!
There is no a la carte menu at SPIS, instead they offer tasting menus of differing sizes. Our meal was somewhere between 10 - 13 courses and each dish seemed to be more delicate and artistically plated than the next and the flavors were just so interesting and delicious. While the atmosphere might be relaxed, the chefs certainly take their food seriously. The level of precision that goes into the presentation of each plate is astounding, and without fail they were works of art.
My favorite course was the root celery with apple foam and sunflower seeds, although the reindeer tongue with tenderloin, beetroot and red cabbage was also pretty special – and how often do you get to try reindeer? Many of the dishes were vegetarian (I love how they glorify something that often gets overlooked) and when they do cook meat it’s amazing... like the delicate pheasant wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with mushrooms. All the food is locally sourced – which I love – and a local berry known as sea buckthorn was used in many of the dishes to give them a sour yet fruity flavor.
Each course is paired with a drink, which is specially chosen to compliment the food with which it comes. Beer was a strong contender for paring, as well as wine (something you don’t see too often in top restaurants). The waiter asked us what type of beer we liked, and brought over something to suit our tastes (IPA for Chris, and sours for me). It was just another example of the care which is put into giving the customers the best possible experience. A good experience really is all in the details and SPIS has that concept down. Even when I ordered tea, I watched our waiter brew it for about 10 minutes to insure that it infused properly.
SPIS is one of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at in recent months, and I was really glad that we had the chance to experience it. It was one of those places that we genuinely had fun at, felt delighted and just really had a memorable experience. The emphasis on vegetables and the use of local ingredients, gave us a different perspective on what fine dining can be, as did the down to earth atmosphere. So next time we have a layover in Helsinki, we’ll make sure to stay long enough to visit SPIS! Until next time :)
For more information about this restaurant, please follow the link below: