A Major Resurgence in Helsinki, Finland
By Ralph Collier
If time, money and calories were no object, this correspondent would go to
the Hotel Kamp on the Pohjoisesplanadi in Helsinki every day for lunch or
dinner. It was recently re-opened after a hiatus of many winters when it was
a glorious stage for artists and intellectuals, and once known as the site of
the most legendary restaurant in all of Finland. Today the hotel, its
brasserie and its main restaurant top anything else the city has to offer.
And Helsinki is no slouch in the food department.
The local restaurant genre has countless subtypes that include Russian and Lap cuisines as well as the eateries of two major chain hotels. All are comfortable havens for the traveler in pursuit of excellent kitchens. But the Kamp, with a superior location looking out on the Esplanade in the heart of Helsinki, is a turn-of-the-century masterpiece. Its understated elegance clearly aimed at folks who accept nothing less than the finer things in life, a palace built in the architectural style of grand continental hotels of its era, simply reeking of the atmosphere of other capitals from London to Paris, Berlin to Brussels.
It is also an integral part of a larger organization, the Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels which fairly guarantees the perennial enchanting surroundings and a staff to match its crystal chandeliers and rich draperies. Today it is a refuge for the travelers who enjoys refinement and when so desired, complete privacy. When we last dined at the Kamp, the feeling of impeccable luxury simply advanced by one great step. It was like being in a clock tower when one of the big cogwheels moves forward by one notch - a great, fundamental event.
Helsinki diners as well as visitors to this historic capital, which this year enjoys the Finnish presidency of the European Union, clearly enjoy this intricate theater of a dining experience. Diners are polite and eager to taste the chef's creations; there is no vulgar display in the room nor is there the neurotic behavior one sees frequently at home in our major restaurants. We love the restaurant's entire menu from its infitesimal marbled silken foie gras, decadent with armagnac peach and white truffled brioche to its legendary breads
We started with scampi gratin with avocado and ginger in a puddle of an intense orange sauce. Birtan Collier finding the ne plus ultra among alkuruokia or starters had an order of caramelized scallops built around a white bean salad, a classic rendition that included a poitrine fume and a hint of coriander oil. After visiting every church, museum and monument in the area including Sibelius' country retreat, (the composer wrote a song about The Kamp) our appetite for food was enormous and for an entree, we could not resist the tournadoes of beef, primarily since they were served with duck liver and a truffle ragout. Who doesn't find reason to order this delicacy when it is accompanied by artichokes and a sauce perigourdine? Nor was the veal in a warming beetroot pot a feu, scented with basil potatoes and celeriac to be ignored.
It is one of life's guilty little pleasures to sit in the Kamp's Restaurant in this gilded hotel that has held its head high throughout a complex century, surrounded by splendid frescoes. The furnishings and amenities are an expression of exquisite taste that matches anything the kitchen produces. In a word, the enchantment is back as is the renowned cuisine and the ability of chefs Turpeinen, Juvonen and the entire Kamp team. On a somewhat less formal note, there is the Brasserie - quality and tender loving service are evident here, too - serving delicacies such as duck liver and porcini strozzapreti or a monkfish and squid tempura with green curry shitake and sesame pak-choi for lunch. For the devoted fromage crowd, we recommend the Brasserie's whole camembert, baked in its box with red wine, walnuts and sweet potato. Here too the servers are young and eager to please the crowd of Helsinki business people, elegantly dressed women with their dogs, and fashionably attired visitors who come to The Kamp for a luncheon or dinner.
Having sinned tableside, it is reassuring to know that The Kamp's top floor provides guests with a unique experience at its Balance Club. While some hotels have fitness facilities of passing ugliness, here are the dreamlike sauna experience and the heated divans that allow our thoughts to roam as we enjoy the refreshing effect of the ethereal steam in the club's grotto, the grown-up serenity and assurance of the return of the elegant Hotel Kamp. It was high time. As they say in Helsinki, Tee sita, mista nautit. Do the things you enjoy!
For information, please call Hotel Kamp in Helsinki, Finland at 011-358-(0)9-576 111 or the Finnish Tourist Board in New York at 1-800-FIN-INFO.
Ralph Collier is a member of the American Society of Travel Writers, and has guided thousands of vacationers and business travelers to rewarding adventures with his widely syndicated radio series and newspaper columns.