Eat and Drink

Famu & Bar brings together a modern Nordic atmosphere with a touch of granny's kitchen.Recipes from a little, black, metaphorical book.

FAMU is an urban granny who has travelled around the world and throughout her travels has collected recipes in to her little black leather bound recipe book. When she gets home to cook the food from that notebook, however, she doesn't remember exactly what the food looked like and how it was when she ate it. So the end result of her cooking is a dish that has elements and ingredients and main flavours of a classical dish, but may look different.

This is the concept behind the à la carte restaurant Famu & Bar, according to head chef Antti Isoniemelä, whom I sit down with just after lunch time. With the capacity to seat 380 people, the seating area is certainly spacious.

Famu & Bar opened on 5 August, making it the third restaurant to open in the Scandic Park hotel in 2014. The hotel has undergone renovations for the last two years, and Famu is the first restaurant to open in the fully renovated kitchen and restaurant area of the hotel.

Who is the urban granny?

Isoniemelä tells me that he and his team had an empty canvas to begin the business idea. They wanted to do something unique.

"We had a vision from our grandparents, but the grandparents who live in downtown Töölö," says Isoniemelä.

'Famu' is short for farmor, and means father's mother in Swedish. Isoniemelä tells me they used the Swedish name because the Töölö area is known for being bilingual, the older generation in particular.

The granny-inspired theme is not only evident from the recipes from Famu's little black book, but details in the décor. Above a long table hang shiny brass pots and pans, and scattered around the hall are stuffed animals reminiscent of a hunter's den. The plates that the food is served on are something your granny might have at home. Yet this is the dining room of an urban granny, and a modern theme is also heavily present – the hall as a whole is presented in a clean, simple Nordic style.

I wonder if they have had many urban grannies involved in the project, and Isoniemelä responds with a laugh.

"We love our own grannies, but no grannies were involved except in the past. We've only had the cooking of our own grannies to inspire us."

A meal dressed in smart casual

"It's classic food in different clothing," Isoniemelä sums up the restaurant's culinary theme. The classic dishes they use as a base for their menu items originate from Europe – mostly Scandinavia – and include traditional Finnish dishes and inspiration from Russia and the US. They also have had dishes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

"It's not classic Finnish boring grey and yellow food," Isoniemelä says. "It might be bouillabaisse which granny has eaten on her trip to Nice. It can be a burger. Nowadays people like to overcook everything and name it as pulled, so we have a burger which is made from pulled reindeer." The chefs, he says, are playful, and don't necessarily follow gastronomic laws strictly.

"And our desserts are ridiculous," adds Isoniemelä.

They also use modern technology to construct their dishes and add modernity to them. Isoniemelä describes their overall style as smart casual, with a rustic element distinguishing them from fine dining. Everything is also made on site. Isoniemelä compares it to a small independent restaurant, saying that they use natural products and shop organic and local when they can.

Famu & Bar
Mannerheimintie 46
00260 Helsinki
Mon-Fri 11.00-17.00
Mon-Sat 17.00-24.00
(kitchen closes at 23.30)
Sun 18.00-22.00
tel. 050 402 7337

Save space for a ridiculous dessert

For the starter I try a modern version of granny's steak tartare (€11.50). A knuckle-sized mound of raw organic Finnish beef rests on top of pickled beetroot; the meal also has fried capers and salt pickles. On top of the meat sits an egg yolk which has been cooked to 64.7 degrees Celcius in a water bath. The smooth egg yolk and the seasoned steak tartare are an excellent combination. For the main I taste their grilled pikeperch with scallops, shrimps and mussels in bouillabaisse sauce (€25.50).

The dessert was a baked Alaska (€8.50) – and was, as promised, ridiculous. The sheer amount of dessert in front of me would have sufficed for the entire meal. The Alaska is a hearty portion filling an entire soup bowl to the brim with cookies, forest berry jam, ice cream and creamy meringue, the top of which was lightly roasted. Keep in mind that you'll have to save space in your stomach if you want to finish it!

Despite its theme, the main audience of Famu & Bar is not grannies. They have attracted locals, their target being 30-40 year old 'restaurant heavy users', who have happily praised the curiosities found in granny's little black book. It's certainly the first of its kind, and promises a great treat for dessert.

Alicia Jensen
Helsinki Times