I was more than won over when I attended Flow festival for the first time last year, it being an urban city festival offering the perfect mix of amazing acts, perfectly planned out logistics, great location, diverse food choices and a super cool and friendly crowd, with not a single drunk or gurning mess in sight. Of course, on this occasion I had been fortunate enough to win a festival experience that included staying in a nearby 4-star boutique hotel, getting VIP wristbands and plenty of food and drinks vouchers, which one could argue would have had an inevitably resulted in an above average experience.
However undeterred by how it would be without these freebies, I decided to make my way back to Flow for the second year running, sure that the festival would not let me down. And I couldn’t have been more right. I still stand by that Flow is the best festival in Europe.
The programming was once again excellent, offering a perfect mix across the genres- this year with outstanding performances by Kendrick Lamar, Arctic Monkeys, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Patty Smith and St Vincent, the food world class and so forward thinking in its sustainability and veganism that it became almost too healthy (one struggled at times to find actual meat or fish options at times), and the vibe so laid back, chic and friendly that you never felt like there were another 85,000 festival goers.
There was not one gig where I didn’t manage to get a great spot close to the stage, including on the Sunday evening at Kendrick, giving me probably some of the best views of these performers I am ever going to get without paying a fortune or waiting around for hours.
A weekend ticket will set you back around 200 euros and it isn’t the cheapest festival in terms of drinks and food but that is to be expected in Helsinki (think 12 euros for a glass of wine and no food bar fries under 10 euros with rather small portions) but somehow for me here it is worth it. All my Finnish friends have been coming to Flow since it started a decade ago and I can’t blame them. I for one will be there for Flow 2019 and I hope more Londoners and fellow Europeans will be too, trust me you will never think of festivals in the same way after!
NEW HELSINKI DISCOVERIES
A major plus of Flow is of course also its location, a 15-minute walk from the heart of the city in a former industrial area (which also means unlike most festivals held in fields NO mud if it does start to rain!), allowing you to get to know Helsinki whilst the festival is on. This was my third time in the Finnish capital and I have written about some great spots including where to eat pizza on your own little islandhere and here before, all worth a visit if you make the trip, with Helsinki offering an incredible array of culinary spots. There are also an increasing number of fantastic drinking venues right by the sea with incredible views to enjoy as you sip on your beverage of choice (for me an Aperol Spritz OF COURSE), with Alas Sea Pool and Löyly being my to go tos on every trip, although you can as easily perch on a few rocks by the coastline with some drinks and snacks to keep it all a bit more budget friendly.
Anyhow one of my dearest friends Emmi has always been my ultimate guide of where to find the newest and best spots to eat and drink during my Helsinki visits and once again did not disappoint! Below a few new favourites that we managed to squeeze in in my very short 2 days there and which come highly recommend, whether you come for Flow or just to explore this incredibly beautiful and vibrant city, that at least in my eyes can easily hold its own when compared to its cooler neighbours Stockholm and Copenhagen.
I knew I was going to need a decent brunch the Saturday after an evening flight from Heathrow on Friday night (which incidentally turned into quite the 3 hour delay disaster) and Emmi put Early Bird right on top of her list of new places in Helsinki to try that had opened since my last visit exactly a year ago. After a quick geotag search (best way to get a quick visual of what the food and vibe of a place is going to be like), I could see she wasn’t the only one, post after post raving about the brunch served here, which is why I didn’t need a lot convincing to make this my first culinary stop of the trip. Bleary eyed after getting about 3 hours sleep, I made my way to Early Bird which is located in the cooler part of town comparable to East London and only a stone’s throw away from the Flow festival area. It may only look like any run of the mill hipster café with its miss match furniture and make shift outside tables, at one of which we sat down, but oh boy Emmi was very rightly raving about the place, it easily serving one of the simplest yet most delicious brunches I have EVER had.
The menu is stupendously simple and build around just one rather outstanding dish – a fluffy and gooey cheese toastie to be dunked into incredibly creamy whipped eggs, served with crispy onion topped tangy baked beans and a perfectly dressed salad. It may not sound like much but this is the kind of dish people would queue for hours in London for, comfort food married together and prepared in absolute perfection, every bite an absolute delight. If you like it meatier you can add on some merguez sausage on the side or if you want a bit of sweet you can add an equally delicious berry porridge concoction. My basic (well not so basic) version only cost me 14 euros with a coffee and could honestly be eaten by me every weekend. A dish so simple yet delicious it would be infamous by now in London and is an absolute must try for anyone in Helsinki. This is brunch done the A+ way.
I knew I was going to like this place the minute we walked in, reminding me a lot in its quirky and Wes Anderson inspired interiors of another favourite of mine, London based Clerkenwell Grind, all pastel tones, neon lights and graphic wallpapers. In fact, Yes Yes Yes in many ways could literally have been in the middle of Hackney instead of Helsinki, with all the staff speaking and the menu equally. A bit random you may say but not when you know Yes Yes Yes is the brain child of Richard McCormick, a restauranteur with global experience an international upbringing, who has set out to bring modern and effortlessly cool dining to Helsinki and has since become known for opening the coolest spots in town, all with diverse yet perfectly executed concepts, much like is the case here.
Every detail here has been thought through and though it may not be the cheapest place to enjoy a proper dinner, this is small plate dining with no plate really under 10 euros, with its bright interiors and delicious cocktail list it is the perfect spot for a light dinner or snack accompanied with a drink to start a summer night. The menu, which focuses on vegetables and includes influences from around the globe, sounded fantastic (zucchini feta nuggets with lemon chili yoghurt or whole artichoke, cherry vinaigrette, and corn cashew hollandaiseanyone?!) and I could have EASILY ordered the entire menu here, but eventually settled for the one dish that immediately caught my eye in the end. I mean who can say no to halloumi fries with pomegranate and coriander?! And they did not disappoint, crispy and salty with a hint of sweetness from the pomegranate, they didn’t just look like insta foodie porn, they also tasted the part. Emmi was equally impressed with her cauliflower tempura with sweet chili and tellicherry pepper and we all washed it down with a refreshing berry fizz cocktail which was far from cheap at 12 euros but in its prettiness only seemed fitting with the rest of our dining experience and was damn tasty at that.
Service super friendly and attentive and if Yes Yes Yes was in my London neighbourhood I would very quickly befriend them during my regular visits. Yes Yes Yes is not cheap but is a truly innovative and international foodie paradise with that cool factor that will make you want to tell your friends about it.
Following a rather late Saturday night and a lot of day drinking, I knew I needed a cup of decent coffee and something sweet to kick start our Sunday (Kendrick was to come after all in the evening) so we ditched our original plan for a more traditional brunch spot across town to go to this Japanese run café a short walk from where I was staying. There is a real air of calm inside Andante and be warned your order may take quite some time to prepare, the staff seemingly wanting to perfect every coffee and avo on toast leaving the kitchen, but the wait is worth it.
Emmi’s avocado on toast with pink Himalayan sea salt did not only look incredibly pretty and neat but according to Emmi is one of the best of its kind Helsinki, while my raw and vegan white chocolate and berry cheesecake saw me at first critical but once sampled turned out to be one of the best slices of cheesecake I have had full stop, vegan or not, lacking the sickly richness you can often get with your conventional versions. The coffee was also outstanding and the whole place offered a welcome moment away from the hustle and bustle of the festival. Even their granola bowl was easily transformed into dairy free, making this a great find for people with intolerances or vegans.
Bocca Di Lupo had been on my to try list for quite some time now, preceded by its reputation of serving some of the most authentic and high quality Italian food that London has to offer.
What had put me off until now was both the difficulty of securing a table during peak times and the slightly higher prices when comparing it to similar London Italian dining focused establishments like Polpo and Padella. However, after I heard my Italian colleagues raving about the place, calling it the real deal when it came to their cuisine, and when I happened to be looking for a place in Soho for a late post theatre dinner I thought the time had come to finally give Bocca Di Lupo a go.
We managed to secure a reservation for 10pm and made our way there on a Friday night after our chosen show for the evening had finished (incidentally we saw Everybody is talking about Jamie which was a camp feel good delight I can’t recommend enough). We were seated at the counter which suited us fine, I for one always enjoy seeing some live cooking action, and studied the menu. I quickly gathered how the bill can easily add up here, with sharing recommended and the menu split into raw and cured meats, fried starters, pasta and risotto, grilled and fried fish and meat and vegetables, with each dish not particularly cheap for the portion size you get, meaning that you inevitably end up ordering quite a few dishes.
Not that the food isn’t worth it per se. Starting with a few fried bits (the sage leaves filled with anchovy were particularly delightful), we ordered across the menu sections to experience a real taste of Bocca Di Lupo and, at times, were served some real flavour sensations. The trofie (a small, thin and short type of pasta) with potato, green beans and garlic pesto for example was a zingy and vibrant revelation like I have never had before and the cream of langoustine and red prawn risotto was probably the best risotto I’ve ever had, so perfectly balanced in its delicate yet punchy flavours.
That said there were also some rather mediocre and unremarkable dishes served as part of our selection, the mushroom tagliatelle with girolles, garlic and parsley was pricier than similar dishes I adored at Padella and Via Emilia and lacked a wow factor and the aubergine pamergiana was almost laughable in its sad and tiny portion size, particularly considering that we paid £8 it. Our last savoury dish, the crab bruschetta with samphire, whilst very edible again didn’t blow me away and rounded up a meal of culinary ups and downs.
Another issue was the staggering of the dishes. We ordered everything in one go but rather than make sure we would have time to make the most of each dish everything arrived at once and overwhelmed us a little. Overall I can see why my Italian colleagues love this place, it has a much broader range of dishes than most Italian restaurants in London and doesn’t cave in to English tastes, staying far away from serving up bastardised versions of Bolognese, carbonara and the like. Menus change often at Bocca Di Lupo and maybe in their defence me and my dining companion were a little unlucky in what we ordered. However considering the money we paid I have been to far better and cheaper Italians in London (Polpo and Via Emilia being my favourites) and couldn’t help but be a little disappointed after the many good things I had heard about this place, even the canolli we shared to finish lacking the crisp outer shell and slightly grainy ricotta filling that I fell so in love with when I had this sweet treat in Italy.
Overall I like Bocca Di Lupo’s commitment to serving interesting Italian dishes with a difference but the quality of the food served needs to be consistent across the board, with more attention to detail paid to the overall dining experience, not just a few stand out dishes, particularly when considering the prices and portion sizes here.
TOP TIP: We headed to the bar at Roka Aldwych for happy hour drinks before the theatre. It may have a Boujee reputation but you can get wine and prosecco for £4 a glass and select cocktails for £7 a pop every day between 4-7pm, making it a cheaper option than most pubs in the Covent Garden area in a sophisticated yet fun environment, away from the tourist masses. It also happens to be right by my office so has become a firm after work favourite! They also serve some great bar nibbles such as their vegetable tempura and a selection of sushi rolls which tied us over perfectly until our post theatre dinner.