As the cooler weather arrives, it’s a good time to embrace a cuisine that promises to warm you from the inside with its spices, aromas and steaming tagines.
North African food is riding a wave of popularity in Helsinki with everyone talking about Sandro in Kallio. Recently voted Best Restaurant, Best Ethnic Restaurant and Best Brunch by City-Lehti, their buffet is definitely worth a visit. If you miss out on a table however, I’d recommend jumping on the metro and visiting their cousin, Cafe Stoa.
About 20 minutes east of central Helsinki, Cafe Stoa is in the same building as the library and Cultural Centre. Each day the hot lunch menu changes and as usual you have the option of going the whole hog or paying less for soup and salad. (Guess what this little piggy did).
The menu caters really well for vegetarians, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant diners. The hot mains the day I dined were Roasted vegetables with tofu & soy miso sauce, Lentil & coconut casserole and Beef, olive & thyme meatloaf with tomato sauce.
The settings are lovely and the plates beautifully patterned and mismatched. The tables are large and solid with big comfortable armchairs you could get lost in.
There is also hot tea and coffee on offer, to go with dessert. I enjoyed mine with slices of watermelon, taken from a plate piled high, with quarters of pomegranate lounging upon them.
One of the best parts of the visit was the warm service I received from the man behind the counter. His smile was as wide as the buffet bar and he threw his arms open to take it all in as he asked me in Finnish how everything was. I suspect he may have been Ezzeddine Farag, who the website describes as ‘head chef/live wire and the heart and soul of Cafe Stoa’.
Cafe Stoa and Sandro offer cooking classes together. These can be held in Finnish, English, French Berber, ‘North African’ or Spanish. I would definitely recommend Sandro as a place to visit in the city, but if it’s an unhurried, relaxing experience you’re after, take the time to go east for a warm welcome and lunch, North African style.