Kappeli: The pearl of the esplanade
By Mia Halonen | Photos: Ravintola Kappeli
Kappeli, in the centre of Helsinki, is one of the oldest and most charming restaurants in town. The lacey glass pavilion was the favourite of composer Jean Sibelius and many other important figures of Finnish history. This is a place to travel back in time while tasting modern Finnish food at its best.
If you have ever taken a stroll around the centre of Helsinki, chances are you have seen Kappeli. Nestled in the Esplanade Park, the beautiful restaurant is ideally located right next to the Market Square, the old Market Hall, Helsinki City Hall and the Presidential Palace.
Kappeli is one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki – or, actually, a restaurant, a bar, a café and a cellar that can be reserved for private functions – but is by no means stuck in the past. In fact, nowadays it is one of the best places to get a taste of modern Finnish cuisine. “This is a great, historic setting, but we want to keep it casual,” says restaurant manager Santeri Uusitalo. “We serve tasty, unpretentious Finnish food. The menu changes with the seasons, so at lunch you can practically have the market place on your plate.” Finnish classics such as salmon and reindeer are staples on the menu.
The history of Kappeli goes almost 150 years back in time. In the mid-1800s Helsinki was still just a small town, the newly appointed capital of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland under the rule of the Russian Czar. In the middle of the pasture that is now the Esplanade Park, there was a small kiosk serving milk and cakes. The kiosk was called Kappeli as a wordplay: the word for a shepherd in Latin also means a pastor, and naturally a pastor needs a chapel!
In 1867 the wooden kiosk was replaced with a stylish new building. The new Kappeli quickly became the hotspot for young artists such as composer Jean Sibelius, painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela and poet Eino Leino. The restaurateur felt sympathetic towards the struggling artists so the bills were often paid in paintings. That is why there are still valuable pieces of art in Kappeli, including a mural in the kitchen.
There are countless stories about these artists, many of which became the core of the Finnish national movement. Perhaps the most famous anecdote is the one about Sibelius’s wife calling Kappeli to ask when her husband might come home. “I am a composer, not a clairvoyant,” Sibelius reportedly replied. This year Kappeli celebrates the 150-year anniversary of Sibelius’s birth with a special menu and several musical events.
Around the clock, all year round
You could easily spend a whole day under the same roof. Have your morning coffee or some pastry for lunch at the Kappeli café in the Market Square side-wing of the building, dine at the restaurant and have a few drinks in the cosy bar. The kitchen serves food until late every evening of the year except Christmas, which is a relief for people looking for a place to have dinner in Helsinki on a Sunday night when most restaurants are closed.
In the summertime the Kappeli terrace is arguably the most popular terrace in town. The Esplanade is a perfect place to socialise and do some people watching and the outdoor stage with daily live performances is a great attraction. But Kappeli is attractive every other time of the year too: on a dark night, Kappeli lights up like an exotic lantern in the midst of the autumn colours. Pure white snow with Christmas lights make it look like something straight out of a fairytale in the winter. And around the spring fest on the eve of May Day, Kappeli is conveniently located right at the centre of the festivities, next to the statue of Havis Amanda.
The changing Kappeli menus reflect the four seasons perfectly. After the abundance of fresh summer vegetables, there is Baltic herring on the lunch menu during the Herring festival in the Market Square Harbour. During the festive season, Kappeli is the perfect place to enjoy traditional Finnish Christmas delicacies, at the beginning of the year it is popular for enjoying blinis, and spring means it is time for the restaurant’s famous asparagus weeks.
A real gem
Kappeli works closely with a number of cultural institutions. Ask for the excellent package deals if you want to check out the newest exhibition at the national art museum Ateneum or the hit show at Svenska Teatern at the other end of the Esplanade.
But how can any restaurant stay so successful decade after decade? “It is the combination of a great location, a unique building and the focus on Finnish food,” Uusitalo sums up. “Kappeli is a real gem – there is nothing quite like it.”
For more information please visit: www.kappeli.fi
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