Saturday 10th June, 2017 – Hämeenlinna/Ahvenisto, Finland
Saturday saw us mostly at the race track and mostly inside as it was extremely cold out there. We did emerge from the cafe for the SMP F4 NEZ babies, and for the Porsches, once we realised that the son of someone we used to watch race was out there in the pole position car. Roope Rinne-Laturi is all of 17 years old, which did make us feel a tad better about having been there when Hannu was a race driver and not an anxious racing dad. Hannu’s father was also there so we were reintroduced to him after 20+ years as well. It was fun to play catch up with them and to meet the rest of the family. And then it was back to the cafe for the traditional Finnish staple of doughnuts and coffee.
The circuit is utterly bonkers, utterly brilliant and has some highly entertaining aspects, such as the very cute media centre.
We spent the afternoon running into Mika Salo (after at least 5 years) and left him utterly convinced we are mad (“What are you doing here?” “It’s a race circuit – why shouldn’t we be here?” “It’s Finland.” “Yes. We know!”) and roaming into the scenery up towards the old TV tower, which is quite a climb but also provides some terrific views of the track.
It’s just a shame you can’t go up the tower itself. Or for than matter the disused ski-jump.
The flat area around it now seems to serve as a campsite for motor caravans, as well as a place to park hospitality units. Anyway, after the final race of the afternoon, by which time my hands were so cold I could barely hold my camera, we headed back to the car, which thankfully was now parked in full sunshine, and thus to the hotel to thaw out.
For dinner that night we were heading out of town around 15 minutes away to the rather lovely (and madly historic) Hotel Vanajanlinna, at the heart of a golf complex just outside town, where we were booked into one of the many restaurants, the Dining Room.
Dinner was not going to come cheap (not that it was likely to be anywhere – this is Finland after all) but the baronial hall we were ushered into suggested that no matter the food, the surroundings would be worth the pennies and pounds. It took a while to get organised, the service initially bordering on the so unobtrusive as to be non-existent but we eventually managed to persuade them that actually, yes, we’d really like an aperitif while we studied the menus. Some decent bread and some very lovely butter turned up while we were drinking our sparkling wine, and we tucked into that while we made our minds up.
An amuse bouches of pulled pork arrived shortly afterwards with a selection of gels and tiny little morsels of fruit and vegetable accompaniments, making it rather more substantial than your average amuse bouches.
We opted for a single bottle of wine, a Chateau Mornag 2012 Tunisian, on the grounds that you don’t often see Tunisian wines, and it was thus of interest. It was well worth the try, a fruit, full-bodied wine that went very well with the meaty first courses.
Lynne ordered, as I knew she would once I’d seen it, the grilled foie gras, with fig marmalade and brioche toast. It was lovely and the additional fig slices and pinenuts didn’t hurt either.
I went for the beef tartare, something I usually avoid in the UK on the very rare occasions it shows up, but am happy to eat almost everywhere else. To celebrate spring having arrived (not that you’d have known it outside that afternoon) it came with a healthy serving of asparagus and tomatoes, and a basil sauce, as well as some brilliantly crisp and crunchy savoury/sweet biscuits.
There was a nice long pause between starters and mains which we appreciated very much. And then it was on to the next level. We shared two mains between us as is our usual practice. One of them was a super quail (on the large size and bordering on a poussin in scale) that had been boned out and stuffed with duck meat, decorated with peanuts, with a creamy pear sauce, and sitting on a bed of perfectly cooked beluga lentils. The whole dish was strewn with tiny chunks of vegetables too. If we go back on our next trip I’m having that again!
The other plate was a very rich fish dish, quite old-fashioned in conception, delicious in the eating. This was a generous slab of cod, coated in a fabulous crayfish aioli, with citrus-flavoured mashed potatoes of perfect smoothness, the whole surrounded by a classic Sauce Nantua.
In the interim while considering dessert I nipped out to the Ladies’ and promptly bumped into Mika coming in with his girlfriend Hanna and their dog. He seemed to be following us around! Anyway. Dessert. Except we couldn’t possibly, so we ordered a portion of Finnish cheeses to share. I have no idea what they were; they were damn good though and just the thing to finish the meal.
And so, back to the hotel and to bed.