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RiGastronomy – Latvia is moving up the culinary ladder

23 May

Lunch at Elements. Lightly smoked and grilled salmon, duck eggs and grilled vegetables in a lemon curd sauce. Photo: Ewa Beit

I recently made a trip on Tallink Silja’s ship M/S Romantika, across the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Riga. If you’re a bit picky with your foods, as I am, instead of eating the buffet dinner, I recommend that you dine in the ship’s Russian á la carte restaurant, where I enjoyed great service and a very nice meal. And the great food continued as I arrived in the Latvian capital. It was all sunshine for mind, body and palate.

The inviting bar at the Tallink Hotel Riga. Photo: Ewa Beit

I stayed at the Tallink Hotel Riga, which is conveniently located close to the railway station, a big shopping mall and the huge market, housed in five old Zeppelin hangars. Tallink Hotel Riga offers excellent rooms and good service. I had a “quick”  three course lunch in the hotel’s own restaurant Elements, where Chef  Svetlana Riskova prepares tasty and elegant food from local produce.

I had a Caesar salad with bacon, followed smoked salmon with horseradish, grilled spring veggies with a tangy lemon sauce and duck eggs, which was actually a first for me. A feast for my eyes as well, lunch left nothing to be desired, it was simply a perfect harmony of flavors, colors and textures.

The Swarowski stone ornate stairway at ESPA in Riga. Photo: Ewa Beit

After a quick guided tour of Riga in-between lunch and dinner I went to the Skyline Bar, located on the 26th floor of the Radisson Hotel. This bar offers a breathtaking view of most of Riga, the largest city in the Baltic States. Another great amenity at the hotel is the five star, six story ESPA spa, offering a full range of luxurious treatments, health and gym facilities, pools and different saunas in a very relaxing atmosphere.

For dinner, I decided to try out Kalku Varti, on Kaļķu ilea 11a (Kalku Street)  This turned out to be an excellent choice and three hours later I was full of not only food, but positive vibrations for Rigan cuisine. For starters I had the basil-marinated spring carrots with white fish mousse, rhubarb (!) and sorrel sauce.

Starting the meal off with basil-marinated carrots and white fish mousse. Photo: Ewa Beit

As is customary in eastern and middle Europe, after salad comes soup, which I really enjoy. At Vincent’s I slurped down a creamy fresh goat cheese soup with wood sorrel. Then a strawberry sherbet to clean the palate, before the main dish – a masterpiece; roasted chicken ballottine with mashed potatoes, fresh harvested tomatoes and a mushroom velouté.

The delicious chicken ballottine at Kalku Varti. Photo: Ewa Beit

Time for dessert, carrot cake with acorn mousse and japonica quince sauce. Look at the photo and you will understand it would have been a crime not to eat it! The carrot cake melted its way down my throat. Vincent’s is located on the busy walking street Miesnieku in the Old Town. It’s advisable to make reservations ahead, as it’s a very busy during the peak season.

I love it when my concerns – especially over food – are proved wrong. Who would have thought there would be such an abundance of great food in Riga! I quickly named it RiGastronomy. It’s a shame the Latvians, because of the poor economic state of the country, cannot afford to participate in the international cooking scene challenges, such as the Bocuse d’Or. But if they do decide to enter, they will be a force to count on. I’m sure they will quickly advance up the gastronomic ladder to culinary fame.

Apart from food Riga is a really nice city to stroll around in, have a beer, a cake and do some shopping. It’s clean, lush and green, has lots of  parks and when you’re tired of walking, take a trip down the river in one of the canal boats. If you like music, there is the annual Riga Opera Festival, from June 5 to 17The highlights of the 2012 festival will be the impressive performances of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, full of humour, tension, and references to the realities of Latvia. Richard Wagner lived for many years in Riga and was engaged at the Latvian National Opera.

Though Latvian is the official language, the majority of the Rigan population speaks Russian, as many Russians migrated to Latvia when the country was one the republics in the USSR. For those interested in the Latvian and Baltic history, don’t miss a visit to the Museum of Occupation.

For more tips on what to do and eat in Riga, visit Live Riga. And if you prefer to fly to Riga from Stockholm or Copenhagen, it’s just an hour away with Air Baltic.

Yours truly enjoying the spring sun in the Latvian beach resort of Jurmala. Photo: Martin Brozek

And if you have more than just a day or two in Riga, go to the wonderful Baltic Sea beach resort of Jurmala. Located only thirty minutes by car or train from Riga, it used to be the favorite vacation spot for high-level Soviet communist parti officials, particularly Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchevs.

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