Punavuori tastes Italian.
On a quiet Friday afternoon before the lunch rush things are taking a rather Italian turn at Mille Mozzarella. I sit myself down and there isn’t a soul to be seen. Taking off my coat and setting up my lap top and still the kitchen staff seem to be intent on ignoring the front of house. Oh well. Eventually Lorenzo Dotson-Smith pops out of the kitchen and is all smiles and starts rustling up some food.
Located on Purssimiehenkatu, Mille Mozzarella started out as a shop stocking quality Italian staples to restaurants and discerning folks of the greater Helsinki region. According to Dotson-Smith, the concept behind Mille was to provide great food, cheese plates, antipasti and quality Italian kitchen staples for the good people of Finland. And while I wait for my veggie lasagna I check out the shelves that line the little café, and this indeed is true. Bottles of unfiltered Italian olive oil, walnut oil, infused truffle olive oil, olive oil with pepperoncino chilli peppers, balsamic vinegar from Modena, antipasti of artichoke hearts, wild mushrooms and olives in parsley infused olive oil, fig jams and even a cherry salsa. And all at prices that don’t invoke involuntary coughing fits – impressive indeed, for one of the most expensive EU countries food-wise.
As the lunch includes fresh bread, either a focaccia or baguette, which appears to have been made in house, I help myself to some, which I use to soak up dark green unfiltered olive oil with a balsamic vinegar eye. The olive oil is rich but the balsamic vinegar, as thick as syrup, is shockingly good. I’m tempted to abandon my lunch and just dive into it but just manage to restrain myself. I take note of the label as everything is available for purchase - Verna condimento all – aceto balsamico di Modena IGP. Fabulous stuff.
My lunch arrives and it is a handsome looking spinach lasagne with grilled vegetables and a fresh spring salad that has bitter leaves of radicchio, iceberg, frilly lollo rosso, sweet corn and red peppers. I detect a lemony hint in the grilled vegetables, which Dotson-Smith later confirms was an olive oil that had been made with extracts of lemon. The grilled vegetables, which features courgette replete with criss-cross grill marks, eggplant and jade green broccoli are lovely, all of which have a freshness that indicate perfect cooking time. My lasagne lunch is also delicious – with a mixture of vegetables bound in a béchamel-like sauce with herbs and a mushroomy flavour that was full of umami flavours – not too heavy for a light lunch.
What I really appreciated with my meal at Mille was that it was a great value for money lunch, but was still suitably elegant and light that I didn’t feel stuffed to the gills afterwards. Coffees, including cappuccinos and lattes, were also offered at very reasonable prices – which was surprising considering Mille Mozzarella’s prime location. Why was this? Dotson-Smith’s reasoning was simple: “People might want to have a coffee with their lunch, but if the prices were high, they would skip it. But here, since we import our own Italian coffee beans, it doesn’t matter. We charge less for our coffees than other places here in Helsinki, and so more people don’t mind getting a coffee after their lunch. They get to have coffee, and we make a little less profit, but more than people not having any coffee at all!”
Mille Mozzarella is a great place to stock up on Italian products, for a coffee, breakfast, quality lunch and they also do great brunches on the weekends.