As we've hinted in our last two posts, Michael has some colleagues in Helsinki. They welcomed us to their city for touring, eating and working, and we set aside extra time for our own exploring. I've got a couple of Finnish colleagues of my own, and they were wonderful sources of information for sight-seeing and vegetarian food. We lodged in Kallio, less than a block from its striking Lutheran church (pictured above).
Our first stop was Kahvila Sävy. Here Michael was glad to buy the kind of coffee he drinks daily in Melbourne and I enjoyed dark, frothy hot chocolates that are harder to come by back home. Most customers are here for the hot drinks (and perhaps the wifi), but there's also a small selection of sandwiches, pastries and cakes for the hungry. We shared a sweetly homely apple slice with vanilla sauce on our second visit.
Michael did just enough forward planning to secure us a 2pm Saturday booking at Sandro Kallio. While we would surely have eaten well there at any time, this booking coincided with their weekly Vegan & Veggie Garden Brunch. For 28.50€ (AU$44.30) each, we were handed glasses of sparkling wine and provided a two-hour slot to feast on a staggering buffet.
A candle-lit bench groaned with Ottolenghi-style salads, breads, pickles, freshly cut fruit, pastries and jams. It took two plates to cover these bases, and still there was a further section of 'mains'. These took the form of half a dozen tagines featuring braised vegetables, lentils, stewed seitan and tahini-drizzled felafel. At the bar, we were free to help ourselves to sparkling water, berry smoothies and ginger shots. The dessert table was right by the entry, so we knew to save space for a little cheese and a sample of the cakes.
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, Just Vege offered more low-key meals. The staff preferred to speak in English and had easy-to-read menus laid out in two languages with clear vegan and gluten-free options. Though they boast about their felafel, we both preferred to try their mock meats.
Michael laid into hot'n'spicy burger meal (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slightly less sugary, disposable version of what he'd order at Lord of the Fries. It came with extra coleslaw, shredded lettuce, and some knock-out seasoned fries.
I chose the schnitzel (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slim and crunchy-crumbed cutlet that came with blander 'carved potatoes' (I may have taken Michael's dipping sauce), ratatouille, coleslaw and shredded lettuce.
Throw in a Club-Mate to drink, and Just Vege had us feeling rather nostalgic for the vegan fast foods we ate around Berlin four years ago.
On Michael's way in to work we stopped by Good Life Coffee for a small breakfast and a flat white (!). The menu - written decoratively in English on two mounted skateboard decks - includes granola & yoghurt, steamed eggs with avocado, avocado on toast, and (pictured above) peanut butter, sliced banana & maple syrup on toast (4€ ~ AU$6.20).
I worked quietly from our apartment and took myself out to lunch at a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant I'd walked past a couple of days earlier. The menu of 3 lunch specials was written in Finnish, but the staff behind the counter didn't mind verbally translating the options. I ended up with rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with tofu, carrot, mushrooms and either cabbage or iceberg lettuce (8.40€ ~ AU$13 for a 'small' [actually huge] serve), and a complementary bowl of salad with distinctly non-Vietnamese green olives.
The meal lacked the vibrant herbs and seasonings of the food we've enjoyed in Vietnam and, indeed, Melbourne. It was a reminder of just how great we have it at home.
For dinner after work, we retired to trendy pub Kuja. Vegetarian options rotate haloumi, eggplant and other roasted veges through burgers, crepes and 'white pizza's. We tested two of the burgers. Michael's vegan one (14.90€ ~ AU$23.20) featured a sweet potato-lentil patty that came off too mushy and messy; my haloumi one (14.50€ ~ AU$22.50) fared better with a thick slab of cheese offset by tangy pickles and chilli mayo. With a sturdier bun, mine just about held it together to the end.
With bags packed on Wednesday morning we fueled up at Silvoplee, a large, casual vegetarian buffet Michael had spotted earlier in the week. It's clearly a popular spot for healthy and varied lunches, where you can pick through dozens of salads and hot dishes, plonk 'em on a plate or in a takeaway container, and pay by weight (the ones above costs 16€ ~ AU$25 on the left and 8€ ~ AU$12.50 on the right). I most enjoyed the stuffed mushroom and the avocado hummus.
Kallio was definitely Helsinki's cool spot for coffee, veg-friendly eating and hairdressing. It seems that Europeans are fond of a good buffet and we've found that they're a great way to access a variety of vegetables and fruits. Though it's tempting, we can't survive this trip on haloumi alone.