Somewhere in the hustle and bustle that was September, London hosted a Design Festival. It would have completely blanked on my radar except for the fact that during this fortnight of avant-garde design, a little Finnish pop-up restaurant also well, “popped up”, and brought to my attention an event called Hel Yes! ~ showcasing Finnish cuisine and design in the most unlikely of places.
In the midst of last Friday night’s downpour, Panu and I heaped onto a steaming bus 55 and made our way down somewhere between Angel and Old Street (but painfully not near either of them) and wandered through an urbanite area to find our venue – a warehouse decorated at its entrance by a very much Iittala style upside down rabbit.
We knew we were at the right place (strange Finns).
Having been booked out within days (I was on a waiting list for ages), Hel Yes! is the brainchild of the Finnish Institute of London, bringing what they coin as traditional Finnish living to London, from building furniture from forest trees to creating menus using foraged herbs straight from the woods. It sounds kind of cool but unfortunately I think it’s a misrepresentation of Finland, like you know, when people picture that in Australia, we have kangaroos hopping down the street.
I mean, there is industry in Finland people. They can buy ready-made furniture.
Anyway, Hel Yes! hijacked the Londonewcastle Depot and for two weeks, turned it into something of a quirky restaurant-slash-design studio, with tables flanked around and above by wood from thinned out forests and we all ate beneath the watchful eyes of a lit up bat/bird thing, clutching in its claws a big fat pike. I know the fish is a pike because Panu tells me this is what the birds catch in Finland. Pity he didn’t clarify what the bat/bird thing actually was.
With a three course set menu priced at £25, we (especially Panu) were really keen to see if they could deliver some real Finnish grub. Here goes!
Beetroot, sour cream & dill ~ not unlike my beetroot salad (which is a recipe from Panu’s mum), this starter was very traditionally Finnish. Light, refreshing and something about the sour cream was absolutely delicious.
Ox tongue with wild mushrooms ~ ox tongue isn’t something you immediately think of when you think Finnish, but it turned out to be my favourite dish of the entire night. The tongue was unbelievably tender and this starter was probably more of a main course than my actual main course.
Wild mushroom hash, egg and foraged herbs ~ again, not a particularly Finnish dish, except you know maybe they foraged the herbs straight from the woods. A funny thing: the Hel Yes! website talks about daily ingredients that are sourced by their team of “hunters and gatherers” from around London. Like, foraged from Borough Market? Maybe Tesco? 😉
Anchovy and potato bake with granny’s cucumbers ~ aside from the beetroot salad, this was probably the only other Finnish dish. They do love their bakes, the Finns, and Christmas dinner often involves a number of big baked dishes involving potato, carrot and swede. I loved the pickle and cucumber and the potato bake would have been better if I could actually taste some anchovies.
Licorice custard ~ onto dessert and Panu ordered the licorice custard. Another thing Finns are big on is licorice, in particular salmiakki (salted licorice). Salted licorice I like, but this dessert didn’t do it for me.
Whipped raspberry manna with vanilla milk ~ another Finnish dessert (served in this bowl). I’m trying to find y’all a link to “manna” on google but it’s all too hard. It’s basically a glutinous consistency and according to Panu (who had it for breakfast as a child) tastes like rice or porridge when it’s plain. This was raspberry flavoured, and served with fresh raspberries and vanilla milk. Very yum.
The verdict? I reserve my uneducated judgement on this one and pass the mic to Panu. He thought the whole pop-up thing was cool but didn’t think my starter (ox tongue) or his main (wild mushroom hash) were particularly Finnish. He would have preferred to see some game with lingonberry sauce, which apparently would be the most Finnish thing they could have served.
Well, it was fun anyway and while we were eating, the DJ rocked out some waltz music in the background. I raised an eyebrow at Panu and he was all like “yeah, Finnish people like to waltz. Shut up.”