A Restaurant from Old Yellowed Recipe Book

When the Hõlm was launched, it shot straight to the top of Tartu’s restaurants. Lauri Ülenurm, its head chef, is well known from his previous career as a sportsman, and it is with a sportsmanlike discipline and determination that he improves the Hõlm, bit by bit and year by year. By now, the previously somewhat obvious ambition and effort have faded into background, replaced by the self-confident work of an experienced professional. Many of the dishes at the restaurant have their roots in the owner’s grandmother’s hundred-year-old notebook with recipes. Last year, the restaurant published its own recipe book to showcase what the dishes used to be like back in the day, and what their current incarnations are like now. Both in the book and the restaurant, the plain old fare is barely recognisable. Century-old “fine” dining of remains fine, but in a different fashion altogether. And even so, the dishes are underpinned by the same old familiar flavours. The plain, cream-drenched potato gratin of the yore has become a modern vegetarian meal, where a little potato and cream are dominated by vegetable-stuffed squash blossoms and fermented pine shoots. The atmosphere is formal and elegant from the beginning to the end. The experience is crowned with the longest champagne list in town and precious wines available by the glass. The story of the old recipe book is a living history of the last hundred years in Estonia. It came into being through a love of fine dishes and a desire to make excellent food. When the owner was deported to Siberia, the notebook went along; it withstood the test of time and returned to Estonia, weathered the difficult transition years and now continues the good old thing in a new way.