The last five years have seen a phenomenal shift in the Finnish culinary scene, with Michelin-starred establishments and a burgeoning street food scene satiating a variety of palates. Now these tastes are heading abroad, from the top shelf to the street.
In 2003, Chez Dominique became the first restaurant in Finland to receive two Michelin stars, a revered stamp of approval the fine dining establishment held on to until eventually closing its doors ten years later. Its influence on the local culinary scene was unprecedented, yet it was also in its kitchen where the next stage of dining in Finland was born, thanks to two of its former chefs.
“When we opened in August 2009 there weren’t many believers in our concept,” explains Matti Wikberg, who owns and operates modern Asian restaurant Farang in Helsinki with Tomi Björck. “It actually took off very quickly; it didn’t take many weeks for customers to find us and to be doing a full dining room basically every night.”
A change of faith was rapid among their fellow restaurateurs, as flavoursome dishes served in a relaxed environment swiftly became the local culinary benchmark.
Rather than rest on their laurels, subsequent years have seen Wikberg and Björck establish a further four restaurants. However, when Farang opened its doors in Sweden in 2013, the duo’s trend-setting upped the stakes to unprecedented levels.
“Going abroad was always an idea that we had since the beginning,” Wikberg states. “I thought it would be a good challenge and interesting to do. Stockholm was a natural choice, being close by and having a very similar culture.”
Turning the tables on the typical industry trend where new culinary discoveries are often made in Stockholm and then brought to Finland, the Finnish duo successfully imported a fresh idea to Sweden. Actually, scratch that – the response to Farang has been…
“Phenomenal could be the right word,” Wikberg exclaims, with a smile. Resultant great word-of-mouth has since seen the duo mulling over bringing another of their Helsinki-based restaurants to Stockholm.
But why stop there.
“Farang is a concept that is strong enough to be taken anywhere. Obviously there are plenty of interesting cities: London, New York, Sydney. Right now they are ideas, but everything else has started just from ideas.”
From the streets
Farang’s cocktail of tantalising taste buds in a casual setting also quickly filtered down to Helsinki’s street level. Opening its doors in 2012, Fafa’s serves fresh and fast takes on falafel in a stylish setting. Its bright interior resembling a beacon of light and quality amidst a sea of greasy spoon ventures, customers have responded in their droves.
Together with a trio of Finnish investors, Israeli expat Doron Karavani has gone on to open a further three Fafa’s in the capital city to meet demand. Given its success, one might assume the next logical step for Fafa’s would be national expansion. But Karavani has bigger plans on the menu.
“We have such a good product and it’s very international,” he explains. “We want to take it outside. Copenhagen was the first place that interested me.”
Opening in March, Fafa’s Copenhagen employs exactly the same concept: fresh ingredients served in pleasant surrounds in a manner far removed from pretentiousness. Mirroring Fafa’s Helsinki success is just the beginning – Karavani is aiming for up to 10 establishments in the Danish capital. Unsurprisingly, given his restless ambition, this is merely the tip of the culinary iceberg.
“London would be a challenge,” he states. “I want to build a business that will last for years.”
Text: James O’Sullivanfarang.se www.fafas.eu Good News from Finland