Heads up, foodies! If you’ve been searching for traditional Finnish food in the capital but coming up short, then we have a tip for you. Restaurant KarlJohan is a hidden gem that is known mostly by the locals, and which offers a menu that contains several hard-to-find Finnish classics.
The street-level restaurant is on Yrjönkatu, between the Forum Shopping Centre and the historic Hotel Torni. Despite its central location, its position on a quiet street bend makes it easy to miss, particularly as it’s surrounded by the impressively distracting historic architecture all around.
Far more difficult to find are the old, European classic dishes that you can find on the KarlJohan menu, which consists of authentic Finnish cuisine with a personal touch. Many of these dishes originated in Eastern Europe and having been introduced to Finland, evolved into Finnish traditions in their own way.
You would be hard-pressed to find restaurants offering sweetbreads and offal delicacies in the city centre. These dishes form a core part of KarlJohan’s daily menu, together with vorschmack, a classic dish which can be enjoyed as either an appetizer or as a main course.
Vorschmack’s introduction to Finland has a bit of legend attached to it, as the recipe was purportedly brought to Finland in the early 1900s by Marshall Mannerheim, the famous Finnish statesman and war hero who was also a food connoisseur. The dish comprises ground beef, lamb, herrings and anchovies, along with onions and other seasonings, and is considered to be a truly traditional Finnish dish, though surprisingly absent from the menus of most restaurants in the capital.
KarlJohan’s lunch menu has a wide range of options, with around 10 dishes, and the à la carte menu offers 7 starters and 8 main courses and 5 different desserts. You can also select from one of the three set menus, which includes the 5-course chef’s tasting menu.
A Family Affair
KarlJohan’s personal touch extends beyond their interpretation of the dishes. The restaurant is still owned by Karl-Johan’s family, and Karl-Johan’s widow Tuula Sundell can be found in the dining area, in her role as head waiter. Their sons Alex and Hans continue the family tradition, also working in the restaurant.
Service is friendly and relaxed, and the restaurant setting itself is laid back and light-filled, creating a comfortable, homey atmosphere that compliments the food. It is worth noting that Restaurant KarlJohan often has a full house at lunchtime, and bookings for lunch cannot be made in advance. Happily, they have recently introduced a dinner service, for which you can make reservations.
Restaurant KarlJohan is open from Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 5 p.m to 11 p.m. On Saturdays they open from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m.