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),Β 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 Β£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. Β 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? πŸ˜‰

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.”

18 Thoughts on “a taste of Finland in the heart of London? HEL YES.

  1. I wanted to go to this but as per usual was not organised in time! Is Panu Finnish?

  2. Please dont hate me catty?

    My uncle is a Finn and after many many home cooked Finnish dinners I think I am not cut out for Finnish cuisine. However, I ADORE Salmiakki and those black pitta type bready things and Finnish cheese is yummo too!

  3. Gourmet Chick: Yeah it’s not your fault – I wanted to make a booking literally the second day after the email first went out and they were booked out! And yes, Panu is Finnish (well, Australian, but Finnish!)..

    Old Cow: Hehe why would I hate you? Salmiakki is goooood isn’t it? I get so addicted to them! Especially the ones that come in the shape of a little fish hehe. I like some Finnish food… had reindeer in Helsinki once and it was delish! πŸ˜€ not to mention all the fresh berries they have up there in the Nordics!

  4. You had manna from Hel?! That made me smile πŸ˜‰ Sounds like the experience was better than the food – which chimes from other stuff I’ve heard.

    I too would love to know where they foraged their herbs, I’d be there like a shot!

    The place looks like a lot of fun though, and Β£25 isn’t an overdraft buster either. Mind you, i do like the look of that beetroot salad. Had the beetroot been pickled?

  5. Beetroot, that’s a food that’s Finnish and Aussie all at the same time. I need to forward this to my mate, who lives in Helsinki, to give him some ideas. When I met up with him last week in Manchester, we went for a curry, as that’s something he misses being out in Finland.

  6. It sounds like it was fun even if it wasn’t very Finnish…Perhaps next year they could make mock receded glaciers to realy lend an air of authenticity.

  7. Haha, the last line of this made me giggle!

    How interesting. The bake and the ox tongue look delicious. How can you afford to eat out all the time, lady?! You must make some craaazy monies.

    Jax x

    PS: Next time you’re going to one of these things, call me please?! I don’t make crazy monies but IT ALL LOOKS SO GOOD.

  8. The Grubworm: LOL yeah I had a manna from Hel πŸ˜€ And yes the beetroot was pickled – that was quite yum actually!

    Mr Noodles: Oh yes, I remember your incident with the Oz Burger πŸ˜‰ Yeah, while food in Finland is good, it’s not quite as diverse so I can totally imagine your mate craving a curry down here!

    Sasa: are you talking to the climate change nerd in me?

    Jackie: LOL that I certainly do not do. I think it appears like I eat out more than I actually do and for the record, I am broke as πŸ™

  9. This is so interesting! Firstly, it’s quite cool that they’ve opted for the Sami decor (the animal images), secondly I think it’s amazing they’ve used Iittala in their serving!! The selection of dishes seems very “Noma” like with foraging the local produce, I think it’s going to be a very popular concept in the coming years, Noma has taken care of setting up that trend very well! There are definitely elements and ingredients of Finnish cuisine, but obviously they had to come up with a fancier way of serving them πŸ˜‰
    “Manna” just means semolina in Finnish. The pink dessert is my favourite, made with lingonberries and semolina and whipped to have that consistency. Delicious! To me it looks like they tried a bit too hard with this and I can’t help but think they were opting for the Noma spirit. Thank you for sharing this Catty, it was really interesting!

  10. What a great experience for Β£25 – sounds interesting. Great post!

  11. How cool! I must show Mr NQN this story as he is a half Finn!

  12. AWWW WOW. Ok i honestly think pop-up anythings in London are awesome and infinitely cool. Shame that some of the dishes weren’t up to Finnish (Panu’s) standard. For Β£25 though, nice!

  13. Maria: I knew you’d like this post πŸ™‚ I guess there’s always a divide between traditional food and a modernised view of it and you won’t always be able to satisfy all. Overall I thought it was a good balance!

    Greedy Diva: Yeah for Β£25 it was good and interesting, and definitely something different!

    Lorraine: Oh yes he is too! Does he give you any Finnish recipes to try?

    diva: Yeah pop-ups are a great way to try different things. I haven’t been to many but did like this one for the experience. Hope you’re having fun back home xx

  14. this is SO COOL. and that beetroot looks hugeass. kudos to the ox tongue! quite delicious when i ate with cream in HK. yum. what’s the Finnish national dish though? did they have something like it? or a taste that is something super authentically Finnish? (like the french with butter or something)

  15. Now you just have to go to Turku in Finland to celebrate it being Design Capital of the Year (or something…). Though I think the cinnamon buns in the Nordic Bakery are better πŸ™‚

  16. Judy: Hmmm not sure if the Finns have an official National dish, but they eat lots of game like reindeer, and they have loads of bakes (eg potato bakes). And berries! And cinnamon buns!

    Tom: WELL. I decided to date a Finnish guy for the sole reason that he has cinnamon bun baking SKILLZ. so I don’t even need the Nordic Bakery! πŸ˜€

  17. there’s a lot stuff there in Finland…hopefully i can go there as soon as possible

  18. Mmmh Finland food.. something I’ve got to try.

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