Sea Horse, Ullanlinna

This 1930s gem is a long-time Monocle favourite. It’s one of the most traditional of Helsinki’s restaurants, loved by families, artists and in-the-know travellers alike. Speaking of artists, the mural of the sea horse at the back was painted by two art students in the 1970s. The classic, timeless menu is a good window on typical Finnish cuisine. Must-try dishes include fried Baltic herring with beetroot; cabbage rolls with wild mushrooms; and Sea Horse’s signature dish, beef steak with fried onions. Can’t decide? Ask the knowledgeable staff – most have been here for 10 to 20 years. 

11 Kapteeninkatu, 00140 
+358 (0)9 628 169 

Carelia, Taka-Töölö

Located in a former pharmacy with period interiors, Carelia serves excellent food and has a reputation for offering some of the best tipples in town. The wine list features rare imports from small European producers, focusing on France: ask for sommelier Laura Koskenkari’s help in pairing dishes with the right bottle. The cuisine weds French brasserie fare with classic Finnish. Highlights include pike with cauliflower and crayfish sauce, and roasted neck of veal with kohlrabi and mushrooms.

56 Mannerheimintie, 00260 
+358 (0)9 2709 0976 

Onda, Kallio

For a relaxed afternoon meal, look no further than Onda in the hip Kallio neighbourhood. The international menu – Italian, Indian and, of course, Finnish – changes daily and features plenty for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Every Saturday there is also a hearty Peruvian brunch. Expect colourful characters and good cheer but no tablecloths – Onda is all about the casual-dining experience. If the weather is favourable, head to the sizeable terrace. Onda serves dinner too but it has made our list as a laid-back lunch spot.

13B Hämeentie, 00530 
+358 (0)44 0660 530 

Ekberg, Kamppi

Run by the fifth generation of the Ekberg family, this Helsinki institution has been a meeting point for the Finnish bourgeoisie, philosophers, politicians and cultural high-flyers since 1852. It oozes historical charm, with smart waiters and sharp service. “Many of our customers have been coming for decades,” says owner Maj-Len Ekberg. “Our long-serving president Urho Kekkonen’s wife had her own table here.” Ekberg is best known for its pastries, which are made in-house from recipes unchanged in generations. Try the mille-feuille – sure, it’s French but it’ll give any Parisian café a run for its money.

9 Bulevardi, 00120 
+358 (0)9 681 1860 

Grön, Kamppi

Founders Toni Kostian and Lauri Kähkönen have a passion for Finland’s wilder ingredients. Grön’s meat and fish come from small Finnish and Nordic producers, while Kostian has foraged and studied herbs and mushrooms from the area’s forests for use across the menu. “It’s about returning Finnish cuisine to its roots, using age-old ingredients and methods such as fermenting,” says Kostian. The approach has paid off: Grön is packed on most nights – so book ahead.

36 Albertinkatu, 00180 
+358 (0)50 328 9181 

Images: Juho Kuva

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