Balthasar Restaurant Tallinn

I found this restaurant simply by strolling through the streets of the medieval city during my visits of the day. The concept intrigued me, so I did the usual checks on the net and what I read made me want to try it.

A divisive concept: the “garlic” restaurant.

We might as well start here because this is perhaps what will (wrongly) dissuade some of you from trying the adventure.

Why garlic? Apparently because it is a region where garlic is one of the easiest things to grow and at a time when spices were not so easily imported it was one of the pillars of the local cuisine, a bit like salt or pepper here. Over the centuries this constraint has gradually faded away but garlic is still very present in Estonian cuisine as you will see in other articles to come.

From there to making it the main ingredient of all the dishes in a restaurant, it was only a creative step that was taken in 1999 with the opening of Balthasar.

The setting: a medieval inn.

We are in the medieval city of Tallinn so logically it is in one of the ancient buildings that Balthasar is located.

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On the other hand, the interior could have been revisited with more modern arrangements…but no. They played on authenticity to the end and that’s a good thing. The dining room is also in a traditional style, without fuss, a bit like a family dining room or a table d’hôtes.

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The reception

When I arrived I was invited to go upstairs. There I find a first room with the bar and a waitress who takes me in charge.

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She takes me to my table. It is early, the room will only start to fill up a little later.

I can see a second room a little further on.

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Restored vintage ceiling or ….?

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The menu

It won’t take long to bring me the menu. Due to the local context, it is in five languages: Estonian, English, German, Russian and Finnish.

Starters

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Main courses

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Snacks

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Desserts

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This is my very first experience with Estonian cuisine. As the days go by, I will learn that there is obviously no Estonian cuisine as such: it shares characteristics with Finnish and Russian cuisines, but mainly because of geographical and meteorological criteria that make them share the same basic ingredients.

In short, even if it is a caricature, simple vegetables, fresh fish and venison. Here is the authenticity pushed to its paroxysm. As expected garlic is everywhere, there is even a garlic ice cream for dessert! Do I dare to try? You will see it in a few lines.

The dishes

To keep me waiting I was served traditional bread with garlic butter.

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First favorable impression, the garlic butter is succulent.

As an appetizer I take a plate of the sea in order to taste a maximum of things: grilled tuna, lightly smoked salmon, octopus, tiger shrimps, marinated ginger, capers, smoked fish cream, marinated garlic and cherry tomatoes.

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The presentation is simple and pretty

Melting smoked salmon, good octopus (even if it’s not my cup of tea, but that’s personal) and a tuna whose appearance evokes a pink duck breast and which literally melts under the tongue. Original: the accompaniment with ginger that we are more used to tasting with sushi! I test and I do not regret this assortment that is not usual for me. And of course, pieces of garlic to nibble on.

Nothing to complain about so far.

Then comes the “oxtail soup”, which is logically a broth in fact.

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It’s simple: vermicelli, vegetables and oxtail in broth. It’s good, just a little spicy, I would have liked more (yes I have a weakness for spicy dishes).

Then the choice was difficult but I couldn’t avoid trying the game: grilled venison filet with celery root cream, vegetable stew, roasted garlic, tomatoes and black currant sauce.

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The presentation of the venison is very successful. The “medium” cooking is perfect and the meat melts. The presence of the herbs is felt very well. The celery purée is light and creamy.

A success.

I’m up to 3 courses but no heaviness in this cuisine, so there’s room for a dessert. Brave but not foolhardy, I pass on the garlic sorbet and take refuge in a white chocolate and mint mousse with cherry jam.

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The meeting between white chocolate and caramel always makes wonder. I was a little worried about the presence of mint, but it is finally discrete and gives a little fresh and nice side to the thing.

Once again, nothing to complain about.

The service

The staff was smiling and very friendly, something recurrent in Tallinn as I will realize later.

The dishes arrive quickly without making you feel rushed: the perfect rhythm.

On the other hand, I once again encountered a “bug” common to 95% of restaurants: the pace of service is good (and sometimes urgent) and suddenly you are forgotten at the end of your meal and you have the worst difficulties to order a dessert or to get the bill. This was the case here to such an extent that it almost made me skip dessert as it happens too often.

Needless to say, the English of the staff is perfect.

The atmosphere

Even as it filled up the room did not become noisy. The wide spacing between the tables contributes to this impression of tranquility and certainly limits noise pollution, even at the cost of a smaller room capacity. But in Tallinn they do qualitative hospitality, not industrial. Let’s hope it lasts.

Bottom line

It’s difficult to judge a cuisine that you’ re just discovering, even by what you know. Anyway it was a pleasure and an excellent discovery. And to the only question: “Would I return there if I returned to Tallinn?” the answer is yes.

To know to impress people

The restaurant was named after a notorious writer and chronicler, Balthasar Russow, who wrote his masterpiece “Livonian Chronicle”, while residing in the rooms that are now the restaurant.

On the picture you can see that a pharmacy occupies the same building. The “town hall apothecary” which opened here in the 15th century is still in business today, making it the oldest pharmacy in Europe and in my opinion sees more tourists than customers every day.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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