This is my second post about our wintertime weekend visit to Tallinn, Estonia – and I’m so excited to share the discoveries we made while there.I’ve already covered the many beautiful attractions and sights within the city’s Old Town (and beyond), but now I get to talk about one of my absolute favourite subjects: food.
One of the most surprising aspects about Tallinn – apart from just how busy sightseeing kept us – was its food and drink scene.
It wasn’t just the amount of options we had every time we wanted to go out for a meal, the food itself turned out to be something different to what we expected.
I thought I was in for typical Eastern European fare: potatoes, stews and sausages. Don’t get me wrong, those staples are definitely present in Tallinn but there are strong Scandinavian influences as well. Conclude this trifecta with the fact that the city boasts an active beer scene, and you’ll understand why Tallinn turned out to be one of the most interesting culinary spots I’ve ever visited.
If you’re planning to discover this city for yourself, then these are some of the places that need to be on your food/drink radar.
We ate at a number of top-notch establishments during our stay in Tallinn, but these turned out to be our favourites.
The medieval theme is omnipresent in the Old Town, with many restaurants and bars claiming to do this best. But no one takes this quite so seriously as the people at Olde Hansa.
|Olde Hansa from the outside.|
Undeniably touristy, this is a place where the staff are dressed in appropriate attire and, without fail, stay in character with the most extraordinarily polite and old-school language possible. Chris and I normally shy away from touristy food stops, but every local we met and all of the travel blogs we read insisted that we experience Olde Hansa for ourselves.
Arriving at the white building just a few steps away from the main square, we were met by cavernous wooden-ceilinged feasting halls. It’s an atmospheric venue, with the lights dimmed down over the seating areas.
Once seated, we had the challenging task of choosing what to order. There are set menus, quirkily dubbed as the ‘Royal Hunting Feast’ or the ‘Town Councilmen’s Game Feast’, but there is an a la carte menu too.
Although I almost ordered a dish called ‘Neptune’s Feast’ purely for the name alone, I decided to go with grilled salmon with forest mushrooms instead. Chris chose the duck in saffron sauce. We also got to try some medieval-inspired drinks; my other half went for a dark honey beer, while I had cinnamon-infused white wine. With regards to the wine, it was so delicious that I’m convinced that cinnamon wine needs to become widely available – preferably by tomorrow.
|Olde Hansa’s duck in saffron sauce.|
|And my salmon with forest mushrooms and more.|
The portion sizes of the food are hefty – both of our dishes were accompanied by grains like lentils, bulgur wheat or spelt, as well as vegetables. It was excellent value for money and we felt like we had had a filling yet healthy meal by the end of the evening.
Of course, this health spin was somewhat marred by the fact that we ate dessert too, but calories don’t count when you’re on holiday, right?
|The extremely appetising finale: apple-and-honey pastries served with almond milk.|
If you’re in Tallinn, don’t miss out on Olde Hansa. It’s fun and touristy yet I guarantee that you won’t have experienced anything quite like it!
There’s also a shop on-site if you feel like walking away with a medieval souvenir.
Another recommendation from fellow travellers, I doubt we could’ve simply walked by this place after reading the wooden sign by the front door.
Quite simply, it read, in English: ‘Decent bowl of elk soup’.
|And a rather affordable one at that too.|
Ill Draakon is a continuation of the medieval theme but on a much smaller scale. Set within the side of the Town Hall, it’s signalled by no more than a couple of benches as well as the previously mentioned wooden board.
As a side note, I am completely taken by the fact that Tallinn’s official Town Hall happens to contain a medieval tavern, of all things.
Dimly lit, Ill Draakon is full of wooden tables and benches, most of which are covered with animal hides. The fare on offer is simple: soup, sausages and pies.
|Inside Ill Draakon.|
|The medieval kitchen of Ill Draakon.|
The most popular order here is the elk soup accompanied by one of the Ill Draakon pies – so that’s exactly what we got. We also bought beer, which turned out to be some of the best we drank in Tallinn.
I’m not even a fan of red meat or game dishes, so I didn’t expect to love the infamous elk soup as much as I did. Full of vegetables, broth and tender pieces of meat, a bowlful of this soup is the perfect remedy to the cold weather outside. The pies were outstanding too.
Pickles are also offered free of charge with every meal but getting hold of these turned out to be a rather hilarious event. After being handed a wooden bowl, we were told to get the pickles out of the massive barrel near the counter. How were we supposed to get them? Apparently, by using an almost-two-metre-long stick with a metal tip. We were literally spearfishing pickles.
A visit to Ill Draakon is another novel experience and we loved it so much that we returned here on our last day for one last bowl of decent elk soup!
We wanted to go somewhere that locals would frequent and the same name kept popping up during our search: Must Puudel.
|The funky interior of Must Puudel.|
Translated to ‘black poodle’, this bar/restaurant is a favourite with locals (we were the only non-Estonian folk there) and we initially only intended on coming here for a drink. This idea soon changed once we’d had a proper look at the menu, which was full of temptation.
Even though both of our dishes relied on Estonian staples, they also featured an inventive twist. I had pork tenderloin with creamy risotto, onion jam and a generous helping of red wine sauce. It was rich and flavourful without being stodgy in any way.
Chris decided to go for the ham-and-sage chicken, served with potatoes and salad. I took a sneaky taste of his meal and thought it was delicious too.
|Pork tenderloin, risotto and onion jam.|
|Succulent sage-and-ham-filled chicken with potatoes and salad.|
After we had our fill, we couldn’t resist but have another drink. Must Puudel is a relaxed spot filled with colourful modern art; it would’ve been easy to stay here all night.
The restaurant does tend to get busy, as it holds regular events, so you may want to book ahead for this one.
Since I hail from South Africa, it should come as no surprise when I say that I consider myself a wine girl.
Nonetheless, I knew that I would have to put this preference aside when it came to Tallinn’s drinking scene. In this city, it’s all about the beer.
There are many places to choose from to enjoy a drink, but we came across two venues that immediately won our affection.
So we ate an excellent meal at a place called Must Puudel (‘Black Poodle’) and then we followed that up with a couple of beers at Hell Hunt, which translates to ‘Gentle Wolf’.
Canine-related names aside, this is an immensely popular bar near Old Town Square. With its own range of beers available, as well as branded merchandise like t-shirts and mugs, Hell Hunt was filled with both tourists and locals when we walked in the door.
|Enjoying the beer on offer at Hell Hunt.|
With many types of beer on tap, the bar also offers bottled versions from a number of countries, including Mexico, Belgium, Iceland and the UK.
Hell Hunt is the ideal introduction to Tallinn’s beer scene.
Situated in the shadow of St Nicholas’ Church, Porgu offers a quieter drinking option, especially during the early evening.
Porgu is set within a stone-walled basement below the streets of Tallinn, where the passionate folk behind the wooden bar are eager to help you find your perfect beer.
Again, a number of beers are available on tap, while many bottles are also sold here. Combine this cold drink with the bar’s historical vibe and you simply couldn’t find a better drinking venue in the city.
I have an incorrigible sweet-tooth that cannot (and will not) be ignored, so I’m always bound to search for something that might appease this longing.
Fortunately, Tallinn provides many options for people suffering from this affliction. Tasty desserts feature on every menu, but these are two additional stops for the fellow sweet-tooths out there.
Oh boy. Where do I even begin?
You’ll find Pierre Chocolaterie in a small courtyard in Old Town, and it’ll feel like you’re a million miles away from the main drag.
|Snow falling outside Pierre Chocolaterie.|
The cafe itself is very cute, with tiny tables and rich decorations, but it’s the chocolate counter that we were after.
Pierre chocolates aren’t cheap by any means, but the individual pieces are fairly large. With flavours like nougat, praline and a variety of liquer-filled options, we spent a lot of time trying to pick one of these.
Ignore the price tag, take a bite and enjoy – I would go back to Tallinn just to consume one of these chocolates again!
Many countries fight it out when it comes to deciding who invented marzipan. I am not entirely interested in this debate, but I definitely am interested in the treat in question.
|A marzipan museum!|
|Sugary sculptures on display.|
Since Estonia also lays claim to the aforementioned title, the Old Town of Tallinn is home to a marzipan museum. It’s here that you can take a look at marzipan sculptures, take a marzipan-decorating class and, most importantly, buy and eat the sweet.
With an emphasis on the latter, this is exactly what we ended up doing.
In the intro, I mentioned that Tallinn’s food and drink scene turned out to be a pleasant surprise for us and I think this post shows a little of why it did so.
If anything, I hope that my guides on Tallinn’s sights and cuisine have convinced you that this city needs to become a priority item on your travel list. I know that I’m already looking for excuses to return to Tallinn just so that I can discover more of its surprises along the way.
If you’re keen to visit the foodie venues listed above, I’ve plotted them on this handy map; enjoy!