Nolla is a newbie in the Helsinki restaurant scene and was only open for a few days when we visited. What’s special about this place? A unique story and concept: Nolla, which means zero in Finnish, is a completely zero-waste restaurant, and they take this mission to the next level while using only local and organic ingredients. How did that work out and how is that reflected on the menu? Let me show you.
The ambience in the restaurant is cozy and laid back, dark wooden furniture, decor and feeling that could be in an old fishermen’s hangout, combined with delicate and minimalistic tableware, set the scene perfectly for a fine dining experience that doesn’t feel pretentious. Also the music set the atmosphere, taking the high-end experience to a more down-to-earth feel, which I find really relaxing. I want to start with a shout-out to the service experience at Nolla, we were super well taken care of, the staff was extremely attentive, patient and helpful with questions, making us feel welcome and like a real treat. Not that bad service is something that stands out in Helsinki, but the guys and gals at Nolla really set an example here.
Zero waste really takes place all around the restaurant. From bulk purchases of kitchen supplies, a digital-only payment service to their own composting machine in the restaurant that we were proudly shown: the masterminds behind the concepts made it their mission to re-think the way the restaurant business handles waste management with the hope to inspire others to make an effort as well. The amount of food and resources wasted in hospitality is probably hard to imagine for many of us, so it’s good to see some are taking proper measures.
We decided to go all out, might as well, and ordered the full five course menu, one vegetarian and one omnivore version, with the non-alcoholic drink package to share. Starting off with some bubbles and the good old trusted currantleaf sparkling wine, along with some delicious sourdough bread with whipped butter. I got started with sugar salted pike perch from Oulujärvi mixed with winter apple and it’s own roe, cream flavoured with pickled blackcurrant leaves, and escabeched turnips, the veggie counterpart of this course were slowly roasted beetroots, grilled redcurrant vinegrette, pickled blackcurrant leaves and beetroot and blackcurrant cold broth. The plating arrangement was beautiful and the flavours played along together so well. The combination of the fish and the softened yet still firm apple along with the heavy cream was the perfect start to this dish. Alongside that came a cloudy apple juice, which was just right and not too sweet.
Up next was my favourite part of the dinner. A small piece of a sourdough waffle, onion relish, roasted and escabeched carrots and Serbian sweet paprika for the veggie, accompanied by a spelt and mulberry juice which was, let’s say, interesting. Definitely something special but probably not what I’d go for again. Anywho: I got the same sourdough waffle, onion relish, roasted Helsieni oyster mushroom, house cured Mangulitza pork lardo, and oregano – and MAN was that delicious! I could have easily had this as a main cource, just give me the whole damn waffle. The intensity of the lard and the mushrooms, the crispy onions and the own strong taste of the sourdough waffle was just a party in my mouth.
Whole roasted celery root seasoned with meadowseet and charred onions, apple cream, and escabeched turnips was up next in the vegetarian menu, I got the viltgård deer tartar, roasted beetroots, grilled redcurrants vinaigrette and beetroot sabayonne – kinda looked like the first course mixed up in the respective other version which was confusing for a second but the deliciousness made up for it! Coming from Luxembourg, where a good tartar is a normal thing to be found at every bakery, finding something comparable in Finland is still tricky. Also deer tartar was a first for me, but I loved it! Especially the combination with the tangy redcurrants stood out to me, a truly delicious pair, and worked well with the colour-matching beetroot and lingonberry juice, and also a glass of dry red wine.
Up next was Burbot grilled on the bone, roasted onions, oven bake potatoes, bread “migas“, and meadowsweet beurre blanc for me. And yes, that was one bony fish indeed. I also have to admit that I had to google it while sitting there still, because I had never heard of it before, in none of the languages I’m familiar with (Made in Finnish, Quappe in German. Quappe, what?!). This was a very meaty peace of fish, very thick and firm, yet prepared to be super tender. I think it was only prepared in butter, to leave its own flavour come out without adding a ton, which was a good call. I loved the roasted onions and the migas (fried, leftover rye crumbs from the day before, giving it a chewy consistency) together. The vegetarian across from me was served walnut praline, emmer bulgur, roasted sunchokes, grilled Helsieni oyster mushrooms, and porcini powder – and that was delicious as well and his favourite of the night.
At this point I was already really full even though I came in quite hungry, and I had to leave a tiny bit of the fish and potatoes, but knowing that there would be the composter taking care of it, I felt a bit less bad. I do appreciate a menu like this that actually leaves you satisfied and not like you could still go for a burger. Thumbs up. Finishing that off with some lemon verbena tea was a nice note to end it on.
After a bit of a break it was time for dessert and let this one sink in: Ohrana spent grain crumble, celery root ice-cream, celery root sponge cake and whey caramel. Celery ice-cream, yep. Quite a risky move given that celery is quite a controversion vegetable, but lucky for them, I actually really like that stuff. For sure the most positive surprise for me that evening! Even though the taste of the actual root vegetable cam clearly through, it definitely tasted like a dessert. The caramel really balanced the flavour out nicely. Dessert #2 was a Nolla take in french toast, toasted sunflower seed ice cream, and whey caramel – definitely a safe option, and super delicious. I’d recommend the celeriac ice-cream in a heartbeat though, if you like celery, that was quite something.
Overall: I loved the experimental take on so many of the dishes, and the waffle course will be dearly remembered by my tastebuds for all eternity. If you are open to surprises, this is a great place to visit, let yourself be pampered by the truly enthuastic team of Nolla and spread the word.