Stuart Forster experience home dining in Estonia at the highly rated Home Restaurant MerMer.
“I was always interested in cooking but I’m not a professional chef,” says Merrit Kiho demurely. She’s putting the final touches to a plate of homemade rabbit pate and black bread in the kitchen of her house, which doubles as one of the top-rated restaurants in Estonia.
Home Restaurant MerMer stands on the Juminda Peninsula, about 30 metres from the shore of the gently lapping Baltic. Part of the restaurant’s name is derived from the name of my hostess and the other half comes from meri, the Estonian word for the sea. From my seat at the heavy wooden table, at which up to eight people can dine together, I can see into the open kitchen and out through the patio windows, onto the bay. The living room, in which Merrit and her husband Jaan relax after their guests have departed, is just behind me.
Dining in an Estonian home
I’ve previously eaten in both homes and restaurants, but this is my first experience of dining in a home restaurant. For an explanation of what they are I turn to Elin Priks, a manager at the Estonian Tourist Board.
“Home restaurants are quite common in Estonia, they have been a trend last six to ten years. Usually they seat 10 to 20 people and have to be pre-ordered. They usually don’t have a ‘normal’ menu but serve food made from the delicacies fresh from the garden or local farms,” explains Elin.
She goes on to explain how a handful of the country’s best dining spots are home restaurants. Along with MerMer, Ööbiku Gastronomy Farm and Tammuri Farm feature on the list of Estonia’s top 50 restaurants. MerMer opened in 2009 and has been in the prestigious list for each of the past five years.
One of Estonia’s top 50 restaurants
A handful of other home restaurants – including Mull, Nautse Farmm Kuusiku Farm and NamiNamaste – are also making a name for their combination of warm hospitality and gourmet fare.
Neil Taylor traces the origins of this style of dining venue back to 1991, when Estonian’s independence was re-established. “Home restaurants are one of many reactions to the inertia of the communist era…They showed Estonians how much can be achieved in the small business sector, with little capital but with plenty of enthusiasm,” says the author of the Bradt Guide to Estonia.
Watching a cook at work
When I get outside Merrit explains that the Baltic herring, served with beetroot and rye bread as one of our starters, were still swimming early this morning. They were landed by a local fishing boat just hours ago.
I can see that a mixture of green vegetables are about to be baked and served alongside duck fillet with a tangy cherry sauce and a Carpaccio of Estonian beef, with rocket drizzled with olive oil and shavings of Parmesan.
A brass samovar, traditionally used for making tea, stands on bookshelves packed with recipe books. It catches my eye because Merrit and Jaan’s home is otherwise strikingly modern. The hospitality they offer is, in contrast, of the good old-fashioned variety.
Home Restaurant MerMer is at Jaaniranna farm in the village of Kolga-Aabla in Kuusalu parish, close to Lahemaa National Park, a 45 minute drive from Tallinn. Call +372 5134 590 to make a reservation.
MerMer is listed by Flavours of Estonia among the country’s top restaurants.
See the Visit Estonia website to learn more about the country’s attractions.