Nero Sails against the Wind
What to expect from a restaurant of a hotel belonging to a shipping company? The safest move is not to expect anything, since with a large number of people moving about, everything that requires even the least amount of time or effort is usually “optimised”.
Judging from that, the Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel restaurant Nero BBQ should not even have an oven. But you can see it does. Having an oven like that means the opportunity of cooking meat slowly. But of course, one has to be ready for anything. Because Nero is a restaurant with a master chef. And the chef Andrus Laaniste finds it more exciting to sail against the wind on his own than to flock together with everyone else.
At a time when practically every chef out there is singing praise to fresh local produce, Andrus would rather talk about techniques – for him, using fresh local produce is a given. The restaurant’s menu shows that the main courses are mostly in the same price range as other dishes. Because all produce stands equal before different techniques.
There are no taboos in a chef’s kitchen; the only limits are set by the fantasy of the chef. Therefore, everything previously deemed absolutely incompatible can be combined, just like the photo proves – meat jelly in soup!
The dish is called “A spicy tomato broth with meat jelly made of lamb, spheres of goat’s milk cheese, basil extract, smoked paprika and garlic oil and sorbet of roasted salt lemon and horseradish”. A title of that length is necessary so that the eaters could, if they wished, make a note of all the main nuances.
Merging incompatible foodstuffs and tastes is not just a matter of going ahead and doing it. Our ancestors were adamant: food is not meant to be played with. Or is it? Only when playing is your true passion and calling.
Even a simple garden salad is not that simple in a chef’s kitchen. Rhubarb vinaigrette for a salad dressing does not succeed in shocking (if not for the fact that rhubarb juice is used instead of the traditional wine vinegar), but ice cream made of basil, ramsons and yoghurt is a more special kind of invention. Not so much as plain ice cream, but certainly so when served with salad.
And as the photo illustrates, Andrus’s version of a "Salad from fresh Estonian seasonal vegetables" is something that surely cannot easily be found anywhere else. The world of green plants and herbs contains a lot more than what we have seen on our plates so far.
They go well with radishes, cherries, cucumbers and lightly marinated carrots. Soon, the ice cream melts into a revitalising sauce. This is a salad best consumed slowly, literally piece by piece.
And with pasta, too, the chef is able to add a personal touch or two. “Conchiglionis with rabbit confit and oven-baked Talleggio cheese, ajoblanco sauce". This feast is again combined of two well-known dishes. Except the Ajo Blanco cold soup so loved by the Spaniards has been turned into a sauce for the pasta of Italians.
The sauce is not much visible in the picture; small puddles of it are hiding under each conchiglioni.
Everything on offer in Nero cannot and does not have to appeal to every guest, but one thing is for certain – no soul would find dining there uninteresting. What they do in Nero is definitely sailing against the wind in the Estonia of today. But to Andrus – may the headwind continue to blow!
While the names of other meals in the menu tend to drag out, it is a completely different kettle of fish with desserts. A single word is enough for a title, just add emotions.
This dessert is called Brown – eucalyptus chocolate, cocoa. There are an additional three desserts called White, Green and Pink in the menu. The eucalyptus chocolate is a warm and intense-tasting chocolate cake flavoured with eucalyptus. The cocoa in the form of an ice cream does try to tame the cake, but does not entirely succeed. Perhaps the helping was too big. As a hint, we would suggest adding a full-bodied red wine to the dessert to provide the necessary acidity.
The best way to visit Nero is to do it several times in a row and always try different dishes, but no more than one or two at a time. The servings are not huge, but many new and diverse tastes and combinations at once could be more than you can handle.
The White dessert is a work of miracle, made of floating islands dessert and candyfloss, smelling like tutti-frutti gummy candies. If our traditional perception of the floating islands dessert is a sweet and fattening bomb for our taste buds, then Andrus has opted not to make the flavour stronger, but rather tone it down a notch.
The different shades of white intrigue both the eye and the mouth. A heavenly experience for the eater, a hellish one for the photographer!
Coming to Nero for the first time and only trying a few dishes, it can be tricky to understand the restaurant. But if you decide to go again, your appreciation and interest will grow. And then, when in a few months you have eaten your way through the whole menu of Nero (which is not long), you may develop an addiction. Consider that!