Magazine

In the summer, Alexander is on Muhu and in the winter, at Toompea

November 28th, 2016

If the downtown in Tallinn’s old town is literally packed with restaurants, then up at Toompea there are a lot less of them. For some, you need to know the location beforehand, otherwise you will have a hard time finding it. Hidden in the house pictured is Alexander Chef’s Table. The only indication of it being there is a small sign by the doorbells.

If you ring the bell, you will first find yourself in a small courtyard. And as soon as the gate closes behind you, the first mood has been set. The closed off courtyard is enchanting. On the other side of the yard, behind a green door, lays the smallest restaurant in Tallinn.

There is only a single table here. It seats fourteen people around it. There are already some single-table restaurants around the world. In contrast to the ultimate privacy of luxurious restaurants, here the companies meeting each other by chance for an evening are encouraged to be social. It is simply rude to be by yourself and tap at your phone under the table in a restaurant like this.

Alexander Chef’s Table always has time for its guests. And they expect that in turn every guest will take time for other guests, meals, drinks, and the restaurant. The dinner starts at the same time for everyone and that forces everyone to be considerate towards the others. Matthias Diether, the head chef of Alexander, also has to, in addition to cooking, play the part of a host.

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There is no other way. The company is small. The environment is homely. It is an interesting contrast to the most private atmosphere offered in the summer by the Pädaste Manor on Muhu Island. The clients are the same in the summer and winter, but the environment and the behaviour it evokes are quite different. The people of Pädaste and Alexander are masters at creating a grand atmosphere. You simply cannot imagine Chef’s Table at another location.

The dishes at Toompea are the same as in Pädaste. During the summer on Muhu Island the cuisine stays strictly within the concept of Nordic Island cuisine, only cooking with ingredients that can be found on the islands. However, at Toompea during wintertime, things are a little more relaxed and foodstuff from elsewhere, which is not banned from the islands either, also ends up on the plate.

The chef’s welcome is still genuinely Muhuish. Lightly smoked tartar made of either elk or venison – depending on which animal has ended up on the other side of the hunter’s barrel.

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The first dish on the menu – beetroot, pigeon, and apple. The ingredients are nicely listed in order of importance. Different techniques are enlisted to create various tastes and textures out of beetroot and apple. Including dusts and gels, which are lately receiving more and more criticism.

Still, there is a big difference between true gastronomy and simply showing off different techniques. Dust has a unique taste that is hard to describe and that cannot be achieved with other techniques. Gel melts in your mouth. You cannot repeat such flavour and physical sensation with other techniques either.

Second dish – trout, lemon verbena, tomato. Trout can have incredible flavours. Especially if it has grown in Pihtla and been prepared by Matthias’ hands.

Pihtla trout grows in water that has been pumped from deep underground. The fish has an especially fine taste. Pihtla trout is even sold in supermarkets, but you have to know how to ask for it.

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Eel, red cabbage, and mustard. This dish is addicting. It took Matthias three years of fine tuning until he presented it to the guests of the restaurant for the first time. The results were worth the efforts.

Eels are synonymous with Saaremaa and could be on a much important position in modern Estonian cuisine. We really know how to grow it well, but then we sell the live fish on to Europe and lose out on the bigger benefits.

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Ox, potatoes, lovage. More and more of Alexander’s flavours are born from the cooperation between the chef and Pädaste’s own herbalist Anna-Liisa Piiroja. These are the best and most distinct flavours of Alexander.

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Braised veal cheek, Jerusalem artichoke, and pear. Jerusalem artichokes seem to be one of Matthias’ favourites. It can be tasted in his dishes at different times in different ways. However, it is rare to see it combined with pear.

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Tangerine parfait, white chocolate, and ginger. Ever week Alexander Chef’s Table invites a few well-known people in Estonia to join the meal. The people involved with the film “Tangerines” should definitely receive an invite at some point.

Goat cheese and pumpkin chutney. Goat cheese with beetroot is the bread and butter of the modern Estonian cuisine. At last, there is a chef in Estonia that has the courage to combine goat cheese with something other than beetroot.

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It is good, that Alexander is on Muhu Island during the summer and at Toompea in the winter. It is good that Alexander remains Alexander even at Toompea. The previous winter-variation in Tallinn was the much simpler Neh, which created a lot of confusion.

Alexander seems to be made to create and cultivate new culture. The utmost privacy on Muhu Island and at Toompea, the most social restaurant table you can find in Estonia.

Matthias Diether feels comfortable following in the grand steps of Alexander’s previous chefs and has made them even bigger within a single season. From here on it can only get even better.