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A Foodie’s Guide to Tallinn, Estonia

I didn’t have many expectations of Tallinn – capital of Estonia, the northernmost Baltic country on the border with Russia. And yet this quiet, compact, clean and efficient city enchanted me. Its walled, cobbled Old Town is much like many others throughout Europe, but the relative lack of tourists make it far more enjoyable to explore. The Kalamaja neighbourhood to the north is a combination of traditional wooden workers’ homes, hipster street art and modern docklands. While surrounding the centre and to the east in Kadriorg Park, there’s so much green that I really wished I’d been able to bring my dog with me – she’d have loved it as much as I did.

The food was also unexpected: I had great recommendations from a friend who used to live there, but still I hadn’t anticipated how big the flavours would be. The Estonians are no strangers to spice and citrus, smoke and salt. Big game, like elk and mousse, feature on lots of menus, as do smoked fish and salted anchovies. Bread is dark and malty with rye, and served with salted butter. Vegetables are fresh and in season, which during our visit meant plenty of beetroot and late-summer leafy greens. The craft beer scene also seems to be hopping (pun very much intended). In short, Tallinn has much to recommend it. Here are just a few of my favourite spots…

10 of the Best Tallinn Restaurants, Bars and Cafés

Rataskaevu 16 / Rataskaevu-väike

In Tallinn’s Old Town, Rataskaevu 16 is in fact just the street address of this restaurant that couldn’t come up with a name. But that need not matter, because the food speaks for itself. The original restaurant was fully booked, so we went to Rataskaevu-väike (little Rataskaevu) around the corner – where the menu is almost the same but a touch smaller, and the interior is all warm brick, wood and tile.

Beetroot tartare at Rataskaevu 16

We tried the beetroot tartare and the three-cheese pie to start, both of which were popping with big Baltic flavour. Mains included cod with fennel and a buttery lemon sauce, plus braised elk with sweet potato, mustard seeds and blackcurrant. The service was as warm as the atmosphere, and we had a delicious bottle of rosé which (surprisingly) went well with almost everything. A perfect first night in Tallinn.

Salt

On the spectrum of what I suppose should be described as Estonian-Asian fusion food is restaurant Salt – a tiny space near Kadriorg Park, with tables crammed together, an even smaller kitchen and a menu that leans heavily on seafood. As you might anticipate from my description so far, the dishes at Salt are a veritable flavour bomb: scallops ceviche came with mango and a green foam that tasted of both shiso and ponzu. Okonomiyaki was authentically Japanese but with (presumably) locally caught shrimp and squid. Octopus with crispy potatoes and salad sounds more pedestrian, but was elevated by a feisty dressing of basil and olives. And Thai-style mussels were genuinely spicy, but worked perfectly with our bottle of Weissburgunder. I couldn’t get enough of this place.

Thai-style mussels at Salt

Bonus tip: if you arrive early, pop into Faelmanni Café for a pre-dinner drink – they have a few nice craft beers and wines by the glass. I’d go back there for brunch, too – the menu looked lovely.

Lore Bistroo

Out on what we dubbed “Tallinn Houthavens” (the gentrified docklands of Kalamaja), you’ll find Lore Bistroo in a roomy, industrial space that’s casual and relaxed at the same time as having recently been awarded a Bib Gourmand from Michelin. In fact, Lore is so relaxed that they have toys and books for children dotted around the restaurant and (when we asked) they said they welcome dogs inside too. Bonus, if you have babies or fur babies!

Lore Bistroo, where dinner is served like afternoon tea!

We chose the “Lore Experience”, which is made up of six courses to share. The first three came stacked on the kind of contraption I usually associate with afternoon tea, and included an excellent beef tartare, marinated Jerusalem artichokes with leeks, and burrata with avocado-chimichurri. Again, all three were bursting with far more flavour than I’d have expected from their descriptions on the menu. Mains included lightly smoked trout with peas, fennel and potatoes, plus beef tenderloin with roasted carrots, chanterelles and a cognac-pepper sauce. They were a little less innovative than the starters but still well made. And the atmosphere made for a special evening out.

III Draakon

So far, so fancy. But you can’t come to Tallinn without indulging your inner tourist just a little. Housed beneath Tallinn’s Town Hall, in the heart of the Old Town, III Draakon means stepping into a dark Medieval tavern, complete with terrifying Medieval landlady. She’ll sell you meat pies, elk soup, ox sausages and local cider – and you’ll pay not with euros but with “monies”. Just don’t forget to save one extra money for the landlady…

Medieval pies and landladies at III Draakon

Must Puudel

Also in the Old Town, Must Puudel (which definitely has something to do with poodles, from the looks of the sign) is a cute café for a pitstop as you explore Tallinn’s centre. In the end, we only had a coffee there – but the flat white was excellent and the breakfast menu looked enticing. Just make sure to get there before 12 noon or you’ll miss it! (I speak from experience…)

Beer House

My last recommendation in the Old Town, Beer House looks like a German beer hall with its long wooden tables and ginormous handled beer glasses – not to mention the costumes of the waiting staff. But don’t let all that cheesiness put you off because the beer is fantastic. My favourite was the Medovar Honey – an easy-drinking amber ale – soaked up with a few juustupallid (fried cheese balls). We went looking for Estonia’s answer to bitterballen, and we found them.

R14

Just east of the Old Town is a sort of downtown area, full of what look to be converted factory buildings (again, if an Amsterdam reference helps, this is the Westergasfabriek of Tallinn). We didn’t get time to explore this area at any great length, not least because it was raining while we were there. But we happened to dive into a fantastic wine bar/shop/restaurant called R14. The building itself feels almost like a church… but a wine church – well – that’s my place of worship! We drank an excellent glass or two of pink bubbles made from the Sicilian Nero d’Avola grape, but then only lightly pressed to create a sparkling rosé rather than a fruity red.

Wine bar, shop and restaurant R14

Bonus tip: afterwards, we had dinner just opposite R14 at restaurant Pull, which I was debating whether to include in this guide or not. For various reasons, I decided not to give Pull its own listing, but steak lovers will definitely appreciate the so-called “marble steak”. Go there for that, but don’t blame me if you order anything else!

Põhjala Tap Room

We’d tasted one of the beers from the Põhjala brewery by accident at Faelmanni Café (see above). But it was coincidence that we found ourselves at Põhjala Tap Room the very next evening. In fact, the site – near the coast in Kalamaja – is home not only to the tasting room but also to the brewery itself. It’s a huge operation, as you can see from the photo!

Põhjala Brewery and Tap Room

Upstairs, you can taste 24 Põhjala and guest beers on tap, so we worked our way through six of them (it would be rude not to). I particularly enjoyed the Prenzlauer Berg, a raspberry-flavoured white beer, and the Original Dark Porter – the first beer Põhjala ever made. From the bar, we could see a kitchen and dining room too; so if you go, please report back on the Texas BBQ!

TOPS

On our walk back through Kalamaja, we stopped for a late-night drink at TOPS – a quirky bar that would look thoroughly at home in East Berlin. The service was kind of moody, but I think that’s their schtick. The whiskey sour was great, however. (We also tried the local liqueur – Vana Tallinn – not for the faint of heart!)

Fika

And finally, if you’ve ever been to Sweden, you can probably guess what Fika serves. We stopped in for a cortado and a brownie while wandering around Teleskivi – a highly hipster, street-art-clad sub-neighbourhood that’s dubbed the “Creative City” of Tallinn. Somehow, it’s not as annoying as it sounds. I’d have loved to spend more time in this area – browsing the vintage shops, visiting the photography museum, eating at a couple of the other cafés there – but alas time was not on my side. Something tells me I’ll be coming back to Tallinn, however, perhaps next time as a digital nomad…

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