THERE IS A LOT MORE TO ESTONIA’S CAPITAL CITY THAN JUST CHEAP BEER AND RAUCOUS STAG PARTIES, SAYS LIZ CONNOR
E VERY so often, you land at a destination that steals your heart and has you rhapsodising about it for months afterwards.
Boarding my morning flight to Estonia’s capital city, surrounded by stag parties shooting miniature spirits and drinking the airport dry of lager, I wasn’t sure whether Tallinn and I would get along.
But there are two types of Tallinn: the one that appeals to lads on tour looking for a dirt-cheap weekend, and the one that’s quietly asserting itself as one of Europe’s most exciting gastronomical cities.
While bachelors tend to roam the bars around the Town Hall Square and the cruise ship crowd tour the city’s UNSECO-protected Old Town, it’s the outskirts of the medieval defensive walls that are becoming trendy.
The hipsters have Kalamaja – a former working class suburb that’s been transformed with craft beer bars, fika cafés and art galleries.
It’s here you’ll find Telliskivi Creative City, an old industrial area that’s become a beacon for Tallinn’s new vibe. Decaying warehouses have been coated in street art and converted into studios, design shops and gig venues, attracting a young crowd of artists and tech entrepreneurs.
Scratch the surface and you’ll find more of the same creative energy in pockets of the centre.
Smart Finns have been hopping the boat over from Helsinki to gorge on Estonian food for years, but a smattering of new openings are breathing new life into Tallinn, with acclaimed chefs like German Michelinstarred Matthias Diether setting up shop on Estonian turf, alongside a younger generation of up-and-coming cooks.
Its cross-cultural geographical location makes it a melting pot of foodie influences – most notably Baltic, Nordic, and Russian – so plates are often as diverse as they are delicious, serving up everything from meat-filled dumplings and fermented foraged vegetables, to fresh and zesty pickled fish.
Mixing light with heavy, raw with comfort, it’s a new type of cooking style that puts an Estonian twist on the ‘new Nordic’.
Thanks to minimal bombing in World War II, Tallinn also has one of the best preserved Hanseatic town centres in the world. Unlike the grit of Berlin or the seedy underbelly of Amsterdam, its streets are a living fairy tale; all pastel buildings on cobbled lanes, medieval turrets and nooks to steal away in.
Since Lonely Planet named Tallinn its best value destination of 2018, more people have been flocking here, so prices are slowly going up, but you still get a lot of value for each euro you spend. The cost of a pint is around £3.50, while a three-course meal for two will set you back around £35.
It’s also a snip of the price of popular Copenhagen, yet still irresistibly undiscovered. Everyone’s fought tooth and nail for a table at Noma, but ORE? Less so. Whether you’re in it for the travel kudos or not, it’s a place to relax, eat well and drink yourself merry.
IF you’re staying in the Old Town, ORE (orerestoran.ee) offers fusion Baltic cuisine. We devoured an excellent six-course tasting menu with wine pairings for £75 including Japaneseinspired shiso leaf tempura with salted mackerel and yuzu, and a delicious Peruvian ceviche-style dish of seabass tiradito. FOR something special, 180 Degrees (180degrees.ee) offers fine dining. In Port Noblessner, it is newly opened by Matthias Diether, who has led restaurants to a Michelin star eight times. A six-course tasting menu costs £80, and additional wine pairings about £75.
A GOOD brunch is never too far away in Tallinn, and the fresh and aromatic small plates at Sfaar (sfaar.ee) are a safe bet (a dish with a glass of bubbly costs around £22. It’s a cool, Scandi-inspired place with high ceilings, hanging ferns, potted succulents and ceramics you’ll wish you could cram in your suitcase.
ULO ([email protected]), a vegetarian café across the street from the Baltic Station market, is the place for experimental flavour pairings, like wasabi falafel and seaweed watermelon (part of a snack sharing selection for around £9) and kimchi sweet potato fries (£4.80).
Order a glass of the delicious rhubarb sparkling wine.
WHISPER SISTER ( facebook.com/ whisper sisterbar), on central street Parnu maantee 12, is one of those bars you walk past and don’t notice.
Instead of a sign, there’s a number on the door which you have to call to be let in. It’s a 1920s-style speakeasy where the jazz music is free and cocktail prices start from £7.50.
BOTAANIK (botaanik.ee) is a small artisan cocktail bar located in the Old Town nominated for Top 10 Best New European Bar 2019. Cocktails cost around £9.50. As the name suggests, plant infusions are big on their menu, and the décor is as dark and moody as it gets. As it’s tiny, you’ll need to book in advance to get a table.
The door of speakeasy Whisper Sister Tallinn’s vibrant hipster district, Telliskivi Creative City Cobbled streets and pastel painted walls in Tallinn’s Old Town Kaja Pizza Kook in Tallinn Venison with chanterelles, savoy cabbage and a quince goat cheese roll, served with a beetroot and red wine sauce at 180 Degrees and Shiso leaf tempura at ORE in Tallinn’s Old Town A view of Tallinn looking out from Toompea hill