Standard travel advice for Europe is to get off the beaten path if you’re hoping for more than mediocre, over-priced tourist fare. Yet many of the best restaurants in Tallinn, Estonia seem to be centered around the bustling Old Town Square, where we enjoyed meals at four different restaurants. The scenery was just too pretty for us to consider dining elsewhere!
We chose Restoran Kaerajaan based on its menu of modern Estonian cuisine. While my appetizer of buckwheat pancakes, trout roe and sour cream was very traditional (and delicious, I might add), our other dishes had more contemporary flair. Lightly salted whitefish was served atop a mixed greens salad with pomegranate seeds and pita crisps. The standard salmon fillet was given new life in fish bouillon with sugar snap peas and mussels. Red wine and organic vegetables elevated a succulent wild boar stew. My entree was the sea bass fillet, served with a creamy celeryroot puree and julienne vegetables. The dish was light but so incredibly flavorful! For dessert, we went with a selection of Estonian cheeses – the dark salty blue was my favorite! – and the chocolate lava cake.
While we lingered over our meal, the sun slowly set behind the Town Hall and tour groups gave way to wildly dressed stag and hen parties. Kaerajaan’s waiters turned on heat lamps when the temperature began to drop and handed out blankets as needed. It was the perfect way to spend an evening in Old Town Tallinn!
Balthasar is billed as Estonia’s first “garlic restaurant.” It opened in 1999 in the former Town Hall Apothecary, and boasts an upstairs dining room with an excellent view of the square. Garlic, as you may have guessed, is the star of the show, though not all Balthasar’s dishes feature the pungent herb. Deciding to go all-in, I started with the garlic and parsnip soup with roasted bacon. It was rich and creamy and only subtly garlicky.
Of the entrees, house specialty “The Balthasar” featured the most intense garlic flavor. An eight-ounce steak was served on a sizzling pan alongside a whole head of roasted garlic and scalloped potatoes so garlicky they could have knocked out a vampire. I opted for the chicken breast stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and dressed with a wonderful brandy mushroom sauce. It came with a side of garlic risotto, which we all declared the best component of the night. As curious as I was about the garlic-infused desserts, a bowl of refreshing mint lime sorbet was the smart choice after such a feast.
I’ve eaten plenty of delicious food around the world. There was all the pho in Ho Chi Minh City. Paprika everything in Budapest. But it’s not often that I’m still dreaming about a particular dish weeks after enjoying it. Allow me to introduce you to smoked Saaremaa cheese soup with crispy bacon. Trust me, you need this in your life. It tasted like the cheesiest, most flavorful baked potato soup I’ve ever had. Enjoyed at Rae Restoran, the soup paired perfectly with a light Estonian beer.
I’ve since learned that Saaremaa is a large island off the coast of Estonia, and dairy farmers have been producing cheese there since the 16th century. The island apparently has a long history of beer production as well. I will be planning a visit.
Another memorable soup was had at Ill Draakon, a medieval-style pub tucked underneath the Town Hall. The wafting scent of cinnamon and warm spices enticed us as we climbed to the top of the spire, and we rewarded ourselves with hearty bowls of elk soup and mugs of cider upon our return to ground level. The pub’s costumed barmaids also serve meat and vegetable pies, elk jerky and homemade pickles you spear with some sort of pitchfork from an old beer barrel. Go early to avoid the lunchtime rush.
Afternoon tea totally counts as a meal, right? Maiasmokk Cafe, supposedly the oldest in Tallinn, has cases filled with impossible-to-resist treats. I highly recommend the fruit tart with a cup of black tea. Maiasmokk (which means “sweet tooth” in Estonian) is located around the corner from the Church of the Holy Spirit, making it the perfect spot to take a sightseeing break.
Last but certainly not least, there’s Chocolats di Pierre. The cozy cafe serves up an array of chocolate confections, from truffles to elaborate cakes that look like works of art. Of the ones we tried, the Marc de Champagne was my favorite. Bonus: Chocolats di Pierre is located in the charming Master Craftsmen’s courtyard, which is lined with shops selling locally-made handicrafts.
Have you ever tried Estonian food? Which of these dishes sounds the most appetizing?Restoran Kaerajaan Address: Raekoja plats 17, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: dishes range €8.00-19.00 Balthasar Address: Raekoja plats 11, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: appetizers €7.00-20.00; mains €10.00-29.00 Rae Restoran Address: Raekoja plats 10, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: dishes range €6.90-18.90; the cheese soup was €7.90 Ill Draakon Address: Raekoja plats 1, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: all food is €1 per serving, drinks are €2 each Maiasmokk Cafe Address: Pikk tn 16, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: pastries average €2.00 Chocolats di Pierre Address: Vene 6, Tallinn, Estonia Pricing: cakes are €5.00; truffles average €2.50