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German Michelin star chef exploring Nordic islands

Besides Muhu, celebrity chef now holds court in Tallinn as well

6 min read
© Lauri Laan

Tucked away in a secluded medieval courtyard, next to the busiest of the viewing platforms looking over Tallinn’s Old Town, is the latest best-kept secret in gourmet Tallinn, Alexander Chef’s Table. Here, Michelin star chef Matthias Diether spoils his guests at his own communal dining table, custom-made from one 220 year old elm-tree.

If you’re a first-timer you will need very precise directions to even locate the place – the entrance is unpretentious; just ring the bell at the gate. But then the magic begins; right where you least even expect it is a fabulous courtyard – compact, complete, calm and beautiful, with no sign of the hustle and bustle of touristy street life. A warm and homely welcome from Diether’s kitchen will take you back to Muhu Island and Pädaste Manor – the true home of Alexander. Now let the journey truly begin!

  © Lauri Laan

Amuse-bouche: ostrich tartar from Muhu

For many foodies, the restaurant Alexander at Pädaste Manor on Muhu Island has long been a sought-after destination. Perennially chosen as the best restaurant in Estonia for many years now, Alexander has been a shining beacon in the gourmet scene. This latest season saw Pädaste ratchet up yet another notch in the competition, by handing the kitchen over to Matthias Diether, the first Michelin star chef ever to work in Estonia.

  © Lauri Laan

Beetroot mousse, apple variations, pigeon

Pädaste on Muhu is the ultimate synonym in Estonia for luxurious leisure, with its hotel, restaurant, and spa. The only drawback, however, is the long winter break, closing it does from late September to March. Now at long last owner Martin Breuer, together with chef Diether have managed to replicate the complete Muhu magic in Tallinn for the dark winter months. Located in a hidden courtyard right next to the mostvisited viewing platform on Toompea, the home dining room of Diether has managed not only to conserve the delectable Pädaste vegetables, but also to teleport the amazing island atmosphere of Muhu – elegant and elevated, yet relaxed and down-to-earth.

  © Lauri Laan

Slow-cooked trout with lemon aloisia and tomatoes

Diether serves a seven-course Island Degustation Menu on four nights each week at a communal table, while completing two almost impossible tasks simultaneously – interpreting the very traditional Estonian ingredients in a rather surprising way and making somewhat circumspect Estonians feel sufficiently at ease to share a meal and a great conversation with strangers. In fact, just the first few weeks at Diether’s dining table have reportedly yielded at least one business deal, one extended family discovering more new members and a newly-met couple! The secret of this extraordinary experience is being passed on by word of mouth only, yet already diners from as far as Moscow and even all the way from Singapore have discovered the place!

  © Lauri Laan

Eel tartar, red cabbage sauce, mustard ice cream

By late summer 2016, Diether was fully taken by his new home kitchen in Pädaste: ‘It’s our Nordic concept – we use regional ingredients. They go straight from the sea onto my kitchen counter,’ he explains. Much of what swims, flies and grows on and around Muhu ends up in Matthias Diether’s pots and pans – trout and eel from the sea, ostrich from the neighboring farm, super-sweet tomatoes from the manor’s garden, wild mushrooms and vegetables from the woods and wetlands. It’s actually a familiar territory for Diether: ‘Even in winter the produce we have here is just like that in Germany: beets, celery root and winter vegetables. They are all very similar so it’s up to me to come up with creative ways to use them.’

  © Lauri Laan

Oxtail, potato, lovage

Diether tries to retain the original flavor of his ingredients, and he has already done this working in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Scotland. Pädaste has its own garden replete with gardener – a dream for any chef determined to cook with the freshest seasonal produce possible. Summer days in Estonia are diametrically the opposite to those of winter – long, with lots of sunshine. That gives the fruits and vegetables a more intense flavor. Diether, a master of authentic tastes, has managed to bring all this to Tallinn also, by preserving Muhu-grown tomatoes using herbs and olive oil and ‘winter-proofing’ other fruit and vegetables from the island: ‘We have brought a lot of produce from Pädaste. Before we opened here I spent a whole week on Muhu in the garden with our gardener. We cut down everything before the frost came – we fermented, marinated, put things in oil,’ he outlines.

  © Lauri Laan

Veal cheek, Jerusalem artichoke, pear

The main challenge? ‘It’s a completely new job. We almost have to take the guests by the hand here. Estonians are usually a bit shy and prefer to sit alone. But the show we do here at the table helps to melt the ice – burning, smoking, caramelizing – this is all so important. The first two to three courses, a few wines tasted, then everyone relaxes and the communication starts to happen. It is a total challenge. I am having conversations with the guests but I also have to keep the kitchen in mind,’ explains Diether.

  © Lauri Laan

Mandarin parfait, white chocolate, ginger

Guests are encouraged to walk around as they please. ‘This is a real live chef’s table. I have to bring people together who don’t know each other. It’s always an adventure.’ At the start of the dinner he explains the rules of the game: he or she who doesn’t finish the food has to do the dishes… or maybe not! Rule number two: no loud voices, since the resident spaniel, Charlie, is asleep downstairs… or maybe not!… Rule number three: you can stick your finger in the sauce… or maybe not! Ultimately it is of course not about rules at all, just pure pleasure and fun.

  © Lauri Laan

Goat cheese, pumpkin chutney

A small walk between the courses actually is a blessing. And there’s plenty to see: the building, where Alexander Chef’s Table resides has been in the same family for 500 years – descendants of the first Tatar spice merchant to arrive in Tallinn in the Hanseatic trading era. The postcard view from the dining room, overlooking the romantic old town, is just stunning.

Petit fours

In March, the winter retreat of Alexander will move back to Muhu for another summer full of sunshine, long days and bright Nordic nights. Until then, the longing for Pädaste’s calm and luxury can be eased in Diether’s dining room on Toompea hill.

Source: Life in Estonia

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