Thursday, 15 December 2016

This Ain't A Restaurant Critic: Roster Helsinki - A Wine Point Of View

Photo Courtesy: Roster Helsinki
I so far never wrote anything to this blog about myself in personal scale, but this post has some of me in it too. I will be talking about a "relatively" new kid in town, restaurant Roster Helsinki where I work as the assistant sommelier. Roster itself is another reason why I couldn't write much in my wine blog, because it has been so busy. No matter what, it is such a pleasure to be a part of it. I will now put a few words as a "wine blogger/outsider/customer" and a little bit of an "insider".

It all started in May with a pop up restaurant almost next to the venue in Unioninkatu. Paul Hickman who is latest known from Grotesk (as he has quite an incredible past in the restaurant business both in Finland and international), and Kari Aihinen, the head chef of the very famous Savoy, came together and opened Roster Helsinki pop up, a 4 weeks adventure which was going to become the giant Roster Helsinki situated in Pohjoisesplanadi 17, the old premises of the restaurants, Sasso and Fishmarket.

The Two Bossmen of the Apocalypse!

In one of my favorite reference books "The Art of The Restaurateur", written by Nicholas Lander, the Financial Times restaurant critic, writer, food critic and an ex-restaurateur himself, he says these words in a sentence: "The partnership of a visionary restaurateur alongside a talented chef can create restaurants of even more outstanding character..." So true, and at some point Roster Helsinki is a proof of this, by Aihinen-Hickman being partners in this tough work.

I have eaten many times in Roster but I have not eaten in Roster "as a blogger/critic so far", so this post is more about the wine point of view as Roster is one of the most unique wine joints in Helsinki. But still a few words about food to be said. The food is a big fusion of European cuisines from the Northernmost to Southern, with such influences and elements ranging from Japan to Lebanon. Roster also serves a very reasonable lunch which can be considered from casual to business lunch, with many options including a 5-course menu option too, served with wines, cocktails and anything you would like to have in a restaurant, regardless of the time of the day. The kitchen is an open kitchen where especially in "Chef's Table" area, you almost dine in the kitchen, you can see all the action going on, you can talk to chefs and watch the entire service.

"Kape at work"

Famous Chef Kari "Kape" Aihinen, who has many books and TV shows, is many times to be seen in the kitchen at work too. For it's location and atmosphere, Roster is definitely a fun place to be. I am saying all these as a customer myself, not as one of the workers of this restaurant. In my free times I also go to Roster and enjoy a fresh cocktail, a glass of wine or an entire meal. The bar team has created one of the most unique cocktail lists in the city. Go and experience yourself, Roster is at the moment one of the most coolest joints to be for sure.

The open kitchen of Roster

From the wine point of view, the wine list first of all a very interesting one, most of the wines coming from very small and high quality producers and among them most of the wines can be called "cheap". Your business class supervisor at the university probably did taught you that "You should not say "cheap" for a product, cheap is a word that gives a bad image to the customer, use the term -reasonably priced-." But the truth is, when you are rolling through the pages of Roster wine list, you might see such prices that will make you surprised for the "price-quality ratio" of the wines, so that "reasonably priced" will not be enough to describe it better than the term "cheap".  Roster Helsinki is arguably one of the "cheapest" priced wine restaurant serving high quality wines which many of them has by glass prices like in between 5€ to 10€ price window. I repeat again, that I said "ARGUABLY", before anyone gets confused ;)



The wines are not listed by color or by country, but by the styles. Because a French Chardonnay from Jura would have no simple similarity to a French Chardonnay from Languedoc. As simple as this. Roster definitely introduced a new style of wine menu to Finland. I remember the first "brainstorming" moments and how excited Paul was about this idea which he wanted to introduce the new style of wine menu into the industry, while working inside the dusty construction site when Roster was being built and upstairs dusty kitchen table was the "office" :) since then we did taste hundreds of bottles of wines, discussions, appointments, importers, phone calls, meetings... It is such a pleasure to be a part of this project and definitely such an experience in my life that I will always remember. Thank you, "The Bossman" Hickman.

A quick one while Bossman at work

The list has such titles like "Crowd Pleasers, Sense of Place, Burgundy Lovers(recently changed into -Lovers of Elegance-), All Natural" and so on. To explain here the Crowd Pleasers title, as I heard some of my friends having problem to understand it, so, it was never meant to anything negative, it is a product term used commonly in English, meaning, good quality, satisfying product that makes most of the people happy. As an example, Converse shoes Chuck Taylor All-Stars model is a great "Crowd Pleaser", we probably all have or at least once had a pair of it at home, a simple but great design loved by everyone. Not more, not less, good stuff. That is exactly the idea in Roster wine list. The wine list is also constantly changing, new wines coming in, some wines run out in the stocks etc. Let's see how the list will look like after two years :) That is maybe the most fun part about it, that you never know when you might taste a terrific wine and get it into list, or which wine will run out of the stocks and we would need to wait the next vintage, and if it is enough good vintage to keep in the list, etc. We also have a nice approach to the hot topic "Natural Wines" in Roster. We do not fetish natural wines, nor we do not have anything against it, we see it as a new segment of product(which has actually existed for years but now it is "the hot topic") and we love to have them in our list. I personally prefer and love drinking well made, clean, fruity, acid bomb natural wines myself.

Into the mirror - Through the dining room

Among the very decent prices, another thing to mention is definitely the wide selection of the by glass wine selection. In Roster, over 50 wines served by glass( in Menu Volume 2, it was 72 wines in the by glass selection, probably the biggest by glass selection in Finland. The wine list Volume 3 is the recent list at the moment). and every now and then the crew also serve wines that are not in the by glass selection. Just ask the staff for more.

Roster is also quite a whisky joint on these days, "As in" ;) The whisky selection is not the biggest of the city but is ranging up to about 30 different selections and growing everyday. While I was taking my photos for this post, I also had the chance to take a photo of the two Finnish men who would probably bleed whisky, "The Two Whiskymen of the Apocalypse", Ville and Jarkko, who kindly let me to take a photo of them after our short chat. Actually Ville himself is quite a winelover too, I have served him some really good Piedmontese wines that he had chosen from the list during my service hours on the past days.

"The Two Whiskymen of the Apocalypse"

Just ask for the spirit list, with "arguably" the most coolest cover in the town

The wine team, me as assistant sommelier, Olli as the head sommelier and Paul as the restaurant director, is supported by the great friends as our colleagues working with us and doing our best to give a great experience to our guests while they are enjoying their dinner.

Come and experience Roster! May your glass be filled with fine wine, greetings.

Olli - A happy somm in it's natural habitat :)
A happy waitress in it's natural habitat :)  Lili <3

Roster's big wine cabinet

Roster's big wine cabinet