Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara
Stepping into Sky Ounasvaara, it was crystal clear that the International Style had an impact on Finland. Even a Lapland hotel set deep within the woods, high on a hill overlooking Rovaniemi, Lapland’s capital, had bought into the architectural movement which epitomizes Modernism in a big way. It was no surprise to me since Finland’s Number #1 design son, Alvar Aalto, had been a leading figure in this style, ever moving the needle of modern design even further along. A couple of his early projects in Finland, the Turun Sanomat newspaper offices in Turku for one and the Paimio Sanatorium in Paimio for another, are landmarks of what today we simply call “modern”. So how did a small hotel in the forest outside of town, seemingly put there for nature buffs, manage to invent a daringly modern restaurant recognized as one of the best in Finland? I wish I knew the answer but honestly the mystery of that culinary experience at Sky was part and parcel of the pleasure.
Located a hair below the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is not exactly top of mind for most travelers but the restaurant at Sky Ounasvaara, a drop dead spectacle of cool, should be. Built in 1967, it boldly exudes the Mies van der Rohe sensibilities with floor to ceiling glass windows giving on to panoramic views of the woods. Simple contemporary chairs and a stark minimalist décor are a foil for the outstanding show of nature just outside as well as the world class out-of-the-box cuisine coming from the kitchen. Dining here gives you the sense that you’re part of something so uniquely original and each and every moment is wonderment.
As we approach our table next to the wall of windows, late on a warm summer’s night, dusk is just descending and it’s almost 10 pm. We settle in with perfect aperitifs evoking Lappish culture – a Sky Royale, sparkling wine tinged with Arctic Bramble Liqueur and the Red Glow, a knock-out combo of Cranberry Vodka, Cranberry Liqueur, cranberry soda & cranberries. I wish I got the “how to” on that one for next Thanksgiving! Master Chef Tero Mantykangas has ingeniously devised a menu of Lappish delicacies then transformed them into an international gastronomic experience. His homeland sensibilities are elevated to artistic status in his food.
Home baked breads and a tantalizing amuse bouche of cauliflower soup with soy toasted sunflower seeds got us started. The dollop of soup was so delicious we decided on another as one of our starters, a soup of fresh asparagus served with a crabmeat and fennel salad. The chef’s technique was most visible with the second starter, a salmon steamed in birch leaves. Here he created at our table a mini sauna around the dish to dazzle us. Main courses were a yummy stuffed cabbage with deep fried seeds of rye and a wild perchpike from the Arctic waters served with barley and angelica, so light it disappeared from the plate in seconds. Desserts emphasized the endlessly interesting locale and were presented with panache, especially the strawberry pudding in a clear glass globe with dark chocolate and lime basil foam and a subtly sweet rhubarb cake set off by rhubarb sorbet and a sour milk glaze, a bit like sweet and sour but infinitely better.
The supremely professional service was worthy of a showman and Moet & Chandon by the glass quenched our thirst nicely throughout the night. It was still light outside when we exited back into the forest for our taxi and hikers were coming back from their treks. I wondered if they had discovered anything as surprising as we had.
Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara
96400 Rovaniemi, Finland
+358 (0) 16 323 400
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