Every now and then, one finds a tourist spot that more than lives up to the hype.
In this case, I was pleasantly surprised by the cuisine and ambience of Olde Hansa, perhaps Tallinn’s most well-known restaurant catering to tourists. I expected a heavy hand of kitsch and cheesiness, but my experience was more understated than I ever expected. Yes, your servers will greet you in costume, you will be serenaded by a minstrel-like trio or quartet, dine in candlelight dim enough to cause a major accident if you don’t watch your footing (!), and have the option of choosing medieval-sounding options such as wild boar, elk, or bear – but everything was surprisingly delicious. Unlike a Medieval Times in the USA, the experience felt much less contrived and campy. It seemed to be the sort of place a local might take foreign guests – and actually enjoy the experience him or herself, time after time.
The berry schnapps aperitif was a great start to the meal. Try the cinnamon or honey beer – lightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The herb bread with homemade herbed cream cheese was delicious; this cream cheese – which I found in other versions – is much less salty and lacked the tanginess Americans are used to tasting with the traditional bagel spread.
For my entree, I chose a food adventure of game sausages that supposedly contained elk, wild boar, and bear. I’m not much of a sausage or game fan, but these sausage links tasted like…sausage. I questioned whether they legitimately contained those exotic meats because the taste was so, well, normal! I really enjoyed them, along with the onion jam (if a bit cloyingly sweet, certainly it did not lack in flavor), horseradish cream, ginger turnips, and crushed, mixed berries. While quite full at the end of the meal, I felt much less disgusted with myself than after a typical overprocessed chain restaurant meal back home in the U.S.A. I’d definitely recommend Olde Hansa as a must-try in Tallinn.
This experience inspired me to create my own hearty sausage dinner when hosting friends for dinner soon after my return. Instead of game sausage, I used Trader Joe’s uncured, uncooked Turkey-Cranberry Sausage, which I paired with a cranberry relish. I made a wonderful, garlicky pureed cauliflower in lieu of potatoes or turnips, and roasted, truffled Brussels sprouts. While my meal had a slightly more American, food-trend heavy slant to it, my friends and I enjoyed the wintry, rustic flavors, inspired by Olde Hansa and the flavors of days gone by in Estonia.