We had our share of below average dining experiences in Rovaniemi. We ordered reindeer stew at a café in Santa’s Holiday Village for €20 and out came kebab-like meat. It wasn’t stewed or in a sauce. Dry, tasteless reindeer. The poor animal died in vain.
We sent it back and thankfully were fully refunded.
There had to be something better.
We tried the cheaper options like a Chinese buffet, a pizza buffet and the local supermarket to control the expenses of our trip, but they all left us rather dissatisfied with the Finnish food scene.
Josh had done an amazing food tour about 4 months prior and as an avid food buff, anyone could see he was in visible agony.
There had to be something better.
On the last day we decided to celebrate our trip to Lapland and visited the highly recommended Lappish restaurant, Nili. We had to book in advance for lunch because the popular restaurant was fully booked after 6pm that day.
The interior was styled as a traditional Finnish wooden lodge, lined with reindeer coats and antler lights, bear rugs and an inviting, cosy atmosphere. There’s a very good reason why it’s rated #1 on TripAdvisor.
After pursuing through the menu consisting of bear, reindeer and moose we decided on Nili's Christmas Menu. For the kids we ordered 2 servings of reindeer stew (and told them it was beef).
The kids adored their reindeer stew. It was nothing like the previous dish at Santa’s Holiday Village. This was succulent, sweet and paired with the most delicious mash. The servings were large enough that they could have shared 1 plate, but they still ate quite a lot. You should have seen their faces when we broke the news and told them they just ate reindeer.
Break down this juicy deliciousness
A shared platter of Nili’s Christmas Appetisers -
Sea backthorn flavoured lightly salted salmon from the Arctic Ocean with whitefish roe mousse from Inarijarvi Lake,
Blackcurrant herring and Lappish puikula potatoes,
Chef’s reindeer rillete and juniper berry syrup,
Moilanen’s marinated red hot milk cap mushrooms,
Lappish cheese rosolli salad with smoked mayonnaise Waldorf
Raiha potato flatbread and rye bread with Peltolan Juustola churned butter
Not being a fan of seafood, I did attempt a brave whiff of the herring and opted to skip it. That reindeer rillete with the juniper berry syrup, however, was divine. First course down and I was already hooked on reindeer. Josh felt vindicated.
Kauppi’s crown rack of reindeer with parsnip puree, caramelised root vegetables and almond sauce.
Can someone say lip-smacking amaze-balls? Wow! The presentation, the flavours, and the deliciousness – Nili sets a sky-high benchmark when it comes to a rack of reindeer.
Aurora Borealis Radiance –
Gingerbread flavoured cream cheese cheesecake glazed with mulled wine and Lappish cloudberries.
How Christmassy does that sound? I’ll be honest… I am normally not a fan of gingerbread or cheesecake so my enthusiasm for the dish was rather lacklustre. On top of that I was already full from the previous courses.
But when that sweet treat came out and I sampled that first tantalising piece, well… I had died and gone to heaven. It tasted like I was literally eating Christmas. I can still envisage the vivid flavours performing their perfect chorus in my mouth.
Thank God we found Nili’s before we left Rovaniemi. It’s cuisine pulled Rovaniemi into line with the rest of the wonderful Finnish food I had heard so much about. And as we walked out of the warm restaurant into the crunchy snow and whirling wind I only could feel one regret. It wasn’t the price tag.
It was that if reindeer tasted that good then Santa might have trouble finding any to pull his sled this Christmas. Sorry Rudolph.
While in Rovaniemi we stayed at Santa's Hotel Santa Claus... Check prices here.