15 January 2020

Grandma's Place pop-up restaurant onboard the Gabriella, 3.10.2019–3.2.2020

Finally, after the few book entries, we can get to the first proper entry in the new concept of this blog. Earlier this month, I made a short ferry cruise to Stockholm with my family, primarily because our three-year old wanted to go on a ferry again. The ship happened to be my personal favourite of the four sailing on the Helsinki–Stockholm route: Viking Line's Gabriella. I especially like the ship in today's form, as the ship's most recent big refit managed to put in an amazing array of interesting restaurants. Although I had not realised it when booking, one of these – the Bistrotek – offered during our voyages, and for a few weeks more, of the best onboard restaurant experiences I have had to date: Mummola, or Grandma's Place in English, serving "classic home cooking with a modern twist."

Decor to match the theme.
The Mummola (all the nuances of the term don't really translate, so I'm using the Finnish form here) concept is deceptively simple: three starters, four main courses (plus one additional options on Thursdays), and just one desser to choose from. Yet, I felt like I was spoiled for choice – as did my travelling companions, and we ended up dining here in both directions.

What strikes your fancy?
The Bistrotek as seen on the morning of 4 January 2020 – unfortunately without the rag rugs that completed the Mummola look. I really, really like what Viking have done with the restaurant area midships of deck 8 – in terms of layout, decor and the restaurant offerings, this is hands down one of my favourite dining areas on any ship.

First night, I went with the mushroom salad on toast for starters and salmon soup as the main course. The portions being quite large, I couldn't find room for dessert, alas. And what can I say? The starter made me a believer in the concept. Mushroom salad is a tricky choice, as despite being very simple it is easy to get wrong. Viking's chefs made it just right. The salmon soup was equally good: fresh, simple, tasteful ingredients beautifully combined. Nothing superfluous, nothing missing.

Fantastic mushroom salad, on a slice of bread grilled by someone who shares my love criply grilled bread. I'd have this again any time.
Salmon, potatoes, chives, dill, cream, rye bread... you don't need anything else for a great salmon soup.
Both my companions opted for the spinach pancakes, and as our kid couldn't finish their entire portion (I'll return to the subject of children's menu below), I also had a chance to sample that. In contrast with the two dishes I had, the spinach pancake was a more experimental take on a classic dish, a spinach pancake filled with seasoned spinach leaves and accompanied with potato salad. Not really what any of us expected, but certainly very, very good!

The presentation was perhaps the weak point for the spinach pancakes. But I do love the plate, exactly the kind my grandmom would have liked!
As said, we were so taken by the concept we decided to dine here on the way back, too (a contributing factor was the knowledge this was a temporary thing), as both adults in the group felt we really would have also wanted to sample the pike and the dessert offering. So back we went!

If the presentation was a problem with the spinach pancakes, on the pike it was spot-on!
As I could by now expect, the pike was an excellent dish – the fish was perfectly cooked (a challenge with pike, which easily get too dry), and the potatoes, carrots and sauce complimented it perfectly. The oven pancake, however, was a bit of a disappointment. Whereas all of the dishes thus far had had that homemade feel, the pancake itself here was somehow just slightly wrong, coming across as being made somewhere in a factory rather than by hand (regardless of whether it was or not). The rest of the dish – the home-style cloudberry jam in particular – was good, but it wasn't enough to save the last dish from being a let-down.

An oven pancake is a bit hard to make presentable, alas.

Even with the slight disappointment of the dessert, Mummola was still a fantastic experience, and a restaurant in which I would be more than happy to eat again (although I will have to hurry if I want to, there's just two and a half weeks left). Despite – or perhaps because – of the humble inspiration, the dishes were both interesting and tasty, a fresh departure from much of the usual ferry food. The vegetarian in me was also pleased to notice that there was just one meat dish in the entire menu – this is no way made the selection worse, but it did make life easier for those of us who avoid eating meat (however, it should be also noted that none of the dishes were vegan).

I finally got to hug Viking Line's kid's mascot Ville Viking! Photo my Maria Id.

Since I was travelling with a child, I have to raise one more subject: the children's menu. On inquiring whether is was possible to get half portions of the Mummola menu for children, we were told this can't be done (with the exception of the salmon soup, of which a starter version exists and which our kid did have on the second night). Considering the foods served are literally the kind one would expect grandmom to make, it seems very, very odd to me there's no kid's versions of most of the dishes. For example, spinach pancakes continue to be the favourite school lunch dish in Finland (everyone gets free lunch at school), so surely it would be an obvious dish to have as children's version?

Furthermore, while Viking are very good with their offering to kids otherwise (the small activity pack ours got while waiting for food kept them so occupied they initially didn't want to stop to eat, despite telling us a few moments earlier they were very hungry), the kid's menu, branded Ville Viking's taste adventure, is anything but adventurous: for mains, you've got the grand options of (beef) burger with fries, chicken fillet with fries, or salmon with boiled potatoes. Now I admit my hands-on experience is limited to just one three-year old, but based on their food preferences Viking is seriously underestimating children's eating habits.

Final verdict: Grandma's Place – great for adults, somewhat disappointing for children. (Not the outcome I was expecting, for sure!)

Kships will return.

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