Clarion Helsinki and “the friendly Russian” Troikka

Last weekend we finally got around to spending a night at Clarion Helsinki. The views were stunning and the heated rooftop pool was nice but other than that there was not much to impress me. They need to pay far more attention to detail for me to consider staying there again.

The whole thing went slightly pear-shaped right from the start. The check-in desks are arranged in a very peculiar manner which causes chaos and unclarity as soon as more people are waiting to check in than there are available receptionist. A more traditional set-up with one long desk would work much better. When we got to our room we could not find the robes that were supposed to be in the room but a phone call to the front desk fixed this in no time. The bathroom had a flickering light, which was quite annoying and the hallway lamp outside our door was not working. These are some of the details I would hope a hotel that apparently is classified as a four-star hotel would pay more attention to. I also found it interesting that the room had no place to put your clothes (no wardrobe or dresser, just a place to hang your coat). During a one-night stay this was not a problem but if I was staying even for just two nights I would prefer to unpack my things. The actual room was nicely decorated and had lovely views over the sea and part of the city.

Only place for your clothes in the room
 

After we got the robes and the pool opened we headed up to the 16th floor for a plunge in the rooftop pool. The pool has an open roof and glass walls so it is practically an outdoor pool. The water was warm enough that you could enjoy a dip even in below zero weather. The pool was really nice, the views amazing and taking a swim in the cold weather was invigorating. What I found strange was that the pool was only open in the morning and late afternoon. In my opinion, this is a very Finnish approach to pools that somehow is connected to the saunas that are kept heated only a few hours per day. In my opinion, hotels could keep the pools open even if the sauna is not heated and some hotels in Finland do offer all-day access to their pool. 

Picture from Nordic Choice Hotels site

I had made a reservation for us at a traditional Russian restaurant located in Töölö called Troikka. The restaurant has been operating since the 1920s and I have been visiting it for around 30 years. We started with aperitifs: I had a house-version of a Kir Royale with homemade strawberry juice, citrus liquor and bubbles, and hubby had a classic Bloody Mary. As it is blini season we opted for the blini palette. After we had placed our order we were served a small greeting from the kitchen – a lovely Crème Ninon soup. The blini palette consisted of vendace and burbot roe, onion, sour cream, cold-smoked salmon, tartar of cold-smoked horsemeat, mushroom salad, hardboiled egg whites and yolks, and as many buckwheat blinis as you could eat. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of French sparkling wine. These were by far the best blinis I’ve had and the fillings were delicious. I could only manage to eat two blinis but hubby polished off three. As I still had some room left I decided to have dessert; Strawberries Romanov.

A perfect blini
The roes and salmon, onion & sour cream
Horse tartar, mushroom salad and egg whites & yolks

The following morning we had breakfast in a very busy hotel restaurant.The breakfast was pretty standard with some specialties like over-night oats and a mango smoothie. All in all a nice break, but in future I will continue to prefer the boutique-style hotels in Helsinki.

Found this guy outside the hotel restaurant

One night in Haven & Dinner at Eevert

I had scored a good offer on a suite at Hotel Haven and so in early December we got to spend a luxurious night at the Helsinki Suite. The suite offered a king-size bed, 50 square meters of space, a cozy sofa and chairs, and a dining table. The bathroom had a full-size bathtub and a separate rainshower. We checked in on Saturday afternoon, had some champagne in the room and relaxed for a while before getting ready for dinner.

I had spotted a new restaurant to try out called Eevert that had opened in late October. Eevert is a design restaurant housed in a building designed by Alvar Aalto. The building was completed in 1952 and originally housed Mr. Aalto’s offices. The food philosophy at Eevert is Scandinavian and gets its inspiration from the Finnish seasons and the wonderful tastes and colors Finnish nature has to offer. The menus include a lot of Finnish ingredients like wild berries and mushroom, game, fish and reindeer. Small producers and ecological food are also featured. The restaurant is decorated with furniture, lighting, dishes and decorations form such Finnish designers as Alvar Aalto, Harri Koskinen, Yrjö Kukkapuro, Lars Sonck, Seppo Koho, Oiva Toikka, etc.

Eevert offers three set menus and an à la carte list. We chose Menu 6 that consisted of six courses and also enjoyed the wines paired with the menu. The courses were Homemade buttermilk cheese, beetroot and licorice, Venison, currant and parsnip, Cep, cauliflower and carrot, Arctic char, fennel and crayfish, Cheese, and Licorice, cranberry and oat. My absolute favorites were the venison and the Arctic char. The beetroot and licorice was an interesting combo but as I am not a huge fan of neither licorice nor beetroot it was not really to my taste. The cep was nice enough but quite a big portion that seemed to lack something. Cheese is always good so no complaints there. The dessert was also nice but again with the licorice it had no chance of making my top list. The service was good, and the restaurant space was very nice with interesting features. We will definitely go again when the menu is updated.

On Sunday we opted to have breakfast in our room to avoid the crowds in the restaurant as we were advised that the hotel was fully booked. The breakfast was really good and it was nice to enjoy it in the relaxing atmosphere of our own suite. All in all, a great relaxing weekend with great food.

P.S: Sorry for the half-eaten portions, it seems to become my trademark as I am always so excited to try the food put in front of me I tend to forget to take a picture and only remember halfway through. Well at least you know I actually ate what I am writing about and didn’t just take a picture. 😄

Aruba – a week in paradise

In mid-October we headed to Aruba to celebrate the fact that our marriage has lasted for 20 years. We had talked about a trip to an exotic beach destination for the anniversary for some time but pinpointing a good destination with sunny and hot weather in October proved slightly challenging. We had a few contenders on our list at the start and Aruba was not one of them. However, after some ifs and buts and certain things we wanted to avoid, like flying through Paris, we settled for Aruba. And I couldn’t be happier with our choice as we found paradise. Pristine beaches with sand that doesn’t get hot, hot and sunny weather that is not humid and with a constant cooling breeze, friendly and slightly cheeky people, good food, warm seawater that has no jellyfish, sharks or other nasties.

We arrived in Oranjestad on Monday afternoon after some 16 hours of travelling. After collecting our luggage (which was quite quick) and clearing customs we hopped in a taxi and headed towards Palm Beach and the hotel, Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. Once we got settled in at the hotel we grabbed a coffee from the Starbucks conveniently located in the hotel lobby (we would utilize this service almost every day during our stay) and headed out to check out the beach and hotel grounds. The hotel complex offered two pools (one was only for adults), a gym, a spa, a casino, six restaurants, a gelateria, two pool bars, a lobby bar, a smoothie bar and a sports bar. As the day had been long and we were struggling to stay alert we decided to have drinks in the lobby bar and an early dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. La Vista is an Italian restaurant that also serves as the breakfast restaurant of the hotel. As we weren’t really feeling hungry but knew we had to eat we opted for something lightish. I had a Caesar salad with shrimp and hubby chose the Citrus tuna salad with seared fresh tuna. This was our first touch with local seafood and boy was it delicious.

Partial sea view from our balcony

The next day we had breakfast at La Vista and then spent the day on the beach and at the pool just relaxing, swimming and reading. For lunch we enjoyed refreshing smoothies from the smoothie bar on the beach. Prior to dinner we utilized a happy hour offer at the hotel’s sunset bar and for dinner we headed to a beachfront restaurant called Hadicurari. October was Eat Local Aruba Restaurant Month and we chose the restaurant based on their “eat local” offer, however, once there we asked about this menu and they claimed they didn’t have it. We felt a bit cheated but decided to stay anyway and the food was nice enough. My starter was marinated chilled shrimp accompanied by a chilled gazpacho soup and hubby had the ceviche – fresh fish marinated with key lime, onions, cilantro and peppers. For the main, I opted for the catch of the day which (if my memory serves me right) was a red snapper. Hubby went for the Surf & Turf consisting of a 4oz filet mignon of beef tenderloin, mahi mahi and shrimp. Both dishes had a side of vegetables topped with grated cheese which I found a bit odd.

Hadicurari beachfront restaurant

As we had informed the hotel that we were celebrating our anniversary we found a nice card and two mini-bottles of Mumm champagne in our room when we returned from dinner. They were a nice way to round-off a perfect first day in paradise. The next day we headed out to explore the capital, Orajenstad, but more about that in another post.