For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

May 7, 2012

A Hole of Deliciousness

It has been a while since I’ve been this delighted to praise a restaurant. Unfortunately often the experience of eating out in my city leaves me lukewarm. Boy do I hate to say “I could’ve done that so much better myself” after having eaten a mediocre meal and paid a fortune for it.

This time though, I wanted to French kiss the chef! The restaurant called Kolo is a relatively new addition to the current, ever so vibrant restaurant scene in Helsinki. Literally, “The Hole” is worthy of its name. It’s a tiny joint with only five tables or so and ‘cosy’ just wouldn’t be enough to describe the lovely atmosphere. It’s well planned to be unorganized and spontaneous; nothing in the décor really matches but still the idea it seems so natural and perfect. From old school cotton napkins all in different styles, to delicate vintage porcelain coffee cups sets… The only thing that rubbed my circles was the African style masques that stared at me the whole time.

On a Friday, at lunchtime only one table was free – we got lucky. “It’s a slow day today”, said the waiter. I could only imagine. Hyped small places like Kolo are usually always packed and you end up asking yourself how it’s possible, where do all the people come from? And it doesn’t matter what day of the week or at which hour it is… Personally, I think it’s a big turn off, as waiting and breathing in other diners’ necks, sighing of discomfort is not my idea of a nice start to a delicious meal.

Like I said, this time my Mother and I got lucky. As the purpose of the treat was to celebrate me handing in the draft of the final version of my thesis, it would’ve been a bummer to be rejected with a “Sorry, we’re full”.  Since I had done four months worth of research on Finnish culinary culture, I was particularly excited to try the food in Kolo. I must admit that there were notable expectations and a certain intuition guiding my judgement. I was about to be reassured regarding the conclusion I made for the purpose of my thesis of Helsinki being the hot spot for new exiting culinary experiences, I just didn’t know it yet.

Helsinki, being a small capital on a European scale, can’t seem to keep secrets when it comes to new bars, cafés, restaurants and other trendy hangouts. Even though many businesses pop up in total silence without any fuss around them, people talk. And when people talk, people like. It’s just a matter of seconds before the hype is unleashed. The funniest thing is that many people simply go on repeating what they hear from a friend of a friend without making sure the rumours have a solid basis. That’s Helsinki for you. When it’s hot, it’s hot, even if it’s not.

Kolo is one of these places. I don’t even remember how many people assured me: “I’ve heard it’s awesome”. I happen to be very critical when it comes to such claims, especially when they’re about new restaurants and food related happenings.  Also, I’m not the easiest person to impress when it comes to restaurant food, even though I love all kind of food and tastes. I consider myself extremely lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing kitchen-talents that most often the best food is made in a group of food loving friends sipping on some nice wine. It’s just not worth it to pay for mediocrity. When it comes to food, I hate to be disappointed. What I hate even more is ending up paying for it. So in order to avoid bad mood, I usually play it safe and cook at home. Then again, I do love to be catered for and do nothing else than relish in flavours brought to me by a lovely waiter. What is more heavenly than taking the first bite of a dish prepared with care, love, know-how and good judgement all in accordance to your choice?!

Kolo’s lunch menu was simple but luring, at least to my taste: Three choices among which I found the one that tingled my taste buds the most – a risotto verde and  blue mussels. Actually, I took a risk. I think I’ve never had such perfect risotto as I had during my three month stay in Italy a while ago. So let’s say that the stakes were high. I wanted to see if the claims about Kolo were true. If the kitchen was to wow me with a risotto, I’d be extremely enchanted. You got to bet high to win high.

The thing about a risotto is that it’s a relatively simple dish. It’s pretty easy to make a decent risotto. The problem is that too many ignorant chefs rely on the simplicity and end up ruining the whole thing thinking who could possibly mess up a risotto. Well, most performances are poor. It’s always either too solid or too liquid, either tasteless or tasting only wine. And don’t even get me started on the right meaning of “risotto all’onda”! (When talking about risotto, one shouldn’t say ‘al dente’ but ‘all’onda’. The first one is reserved for arguments over cooking pasta  )

Any way… to my surprise the risotto verde at Kolo was close to perfection! I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing as I was licking the fork after the first mouth full. Simply delicious! And the foodgasm just got better when I tasted the blue mussels… I wanted to bathe in the plate. When I washed it all down with a sip of white wine from the culinary region of Langhe, I found myself in the most divine state of mind.

I rest my case. Helsinki indeed is blooming when it comes to culinary experiences. You just have to know what you want and be lucky enough to find a free table. I can certainly recommend Kolo with a clean consciousness when saying I KNOW it’s good. And you know what, it's even totally affordable!

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