Stephen Travels

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Šašlik, Helsinki, Finland

Šašlik (Helsinki, Finland)

Šašlik, Helsinki, FinlandMy hotel, the outstanding Hotel Kämp, made a reservation for me at Šašlik, one of the best Russian restaurants in Helsinki. When I arrived several hours later, the host knew who I was before I had uttered three words and escorted me to my table.

In business since 1972, Šašlik is a throwback to imperial Russia, and I almost expected to see a czar and czarina walk by at any moment. Surrounded by small samovars, heavy drapes and gold trim, stained glass, wood wainscoting, green fleur-de-lis wallpaper, paintings of Russian landscapes and hunting scenes and autocratic czars, particularly the ill-fated Nicholas II, and waiters in red blouses with embroidery and epaulets, there was no mistaking that Russia ruled here for a century, and that you’re about to have an authentic dining experience.

Two dining rooms and eight private rooms can accommodate more than 200 diners, who may, at some point during their meal, be entertained by Russian troubadours playing live music. It’s a fine complement to the excellent meal you’re about to savor.

Fork and KnifeTry This: Whet your whistle with a cocktail of Kalinka lemon vodka with lime juice and a splash of Russian pickled cucumber. For starters, the borscht soup is a popular choice, but I opted for the buckwheat blini, freshly fried in clarified butter, and served with a forest mushroom salad with melted butter, smetana sour cream, red onions, and chopped egg. For the main course, the pork pluma and spicy sausage served on a skewer with dark prune sauce sounded tempting, but I wanted to try something I had never had before: bear. There’s a ground bear skewer, with flambéed lingonberry sauce, on the regular menu, but I went for the day’s bear special: braised bear steak (served like a pot roast) in a sour cream sauce, with a barley kasha croquette, berries, and red cabbage.