Farm-to-table cuisine comes with Japanese influences in the Estonian capital, where local staples like kohuke (a curd-cheese and chocolate dessert) are reanimated with novel flavours like sea buckthorn, green plum and spruce shoots. Fermented and preserved local vegetables take pride of place on the menus of cool, contemporary restaurants, while hearty meat pies, colourful dumplings and Nordic cream buns are venerable favourites.
Meaning ‘fireplace’ in Estonian, Lee is a Tallinn old town restaurant with a walled garden, Canadian-born Japanese chef Hiro Takeda breathes new life into Estonian classics such as kohuke — a staple snack that’s particularly popular among children. Traditionally a briquette of fresh curd cheese covered with a layer of chocolate, here the dessert is reimagined with fresher, Asian-style flavours. One version includes sea buckthorn, green plum, spruce shoots and persimmon, prepared using the traditional Japanese ‘hoshigaki’ method, whereby the fruit is peeled and blanched before being hung to dry.
2. Compost baked onions
When the inaugural Michelin Guide to Estonia was published in 2022, Fotografiska received a Michelin Green Star for its ‘sustainable pleasure’ concept of leaf-to-root cooking and low waste. Set on the sixth floor of the Museum of Photography, the kitchen is led by Estonian born ex-Fäviken chef Peeter Pihel. His signature dish of baked onions with local goat’s cheese, fermented celeriac and rye bread revels in the ingredients of Estonia’s so-called five seasons (the fifth being the thaw before spring). The onions are cooked in a homemade compost to create a tobacco-like smokiness.
3. Chichen & porcini mushroom pirogi
Not to be confused with Polish pierogi dumplings, pirogi are pies encased in bready pastry, with origins in Russia and Ukraine. They’ve long been a popular fast food in Tallinn, and Pirogoff sells some of the best, operating from concessions in several shopping malls across the city. Each beautifully decorated bake is filled to the brim and large enough to serve at least eight. Popular options are salmon with spinach, pork and cabbage, and wild blueberries, but the must-try is a classic Slavic combination of chicken and porcini mushroom.
Kurze is a national dish of Dagestan, a mountainous republic of Russia. Traditionally lightly boiled, it’s a type of filled parcel with a distinctive, snake-like seal. Sitting within converted sea containers, The Kurze was created by Nuriyan Navruzova, a Dagestani former journalist on a mission to share her home culture. The kurze come in a novel array of colours and the ‘mix of all’ plate features fillings including grass-fed lamb, mashed potato and blue fenugreek, fresh cheese and aromatic pumpkin. Visit in summer, when tables spill out into the courtyard.
5. Selma & sochni
A bread shop during Soviet times, T35 became popular in 2020 when its new owners gave the offering a shake-up. For one month before Shrove Tuesday, the thing to order is a semla, a Nordic cream bun that comes in fun flavours such as lingonberry and mascarpone, or even piña colada. At other times, try sochni (scone-like buns) with local kohupiim, a ricotta-like curd cheese. The basement cafe is set within one of the city’s ‘Tallinn houses’ — unique, pre-war three-storey wooden buildings — in the hip Kalamaja neighbourhood. It gets busy, so be prepared to queue for brunch, baked goods and speciality coffee.
6. Vegan Poke
Traditional Estonian food can be quite heavy, so lighter, veg-focused dishes have seen a huge rise in popularity, particularly among younger city residents. American-style poke is the latest craze: nutritious bowls of rice, topped with vegetables, lean proteins and umami dressings. Hawaii Davai makes some of the best in town, combining fresh, global flavours in highly Instagrammable presentations. Try the vegan bowl topped with avocado, red cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, carrots, ginger and pickled radish in a peanut salty, caramelised unagi-lime sauce. For a great-value weekday lunch, visit the branch in the leafy neighbourhood of Viimsi.
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