Feasting on bear in Finland

In my continued hunt for great customer service on behalf of American Express, I wanted to try some traditional Finnish food during my stay in Helsinki and the Savotta restaurant, just a short walk from my hotel, was recommended to me. Located right on the Senate Square, this restaurant takes you back to the charm of a Finnish logging camp with authentic décor from the 1950s and serving traditional food of the time.

Savotta Restaurant in Helsinki

I don’t know about you, but dining out on my own isn’t something I particularly relish. I needn’t have worried, though, because Juha and Ina who served me, couldn’t have been more welcoming. In no way was I left feeling self-conscious about being a solo diner.

Inside the restaurant, the hundred-year-old floorboards, the old chairs and tables and many old artefacts have been brought together from all over Finland. Each of them tells its own story from past decades and takes you back in time to the logging camps of the old days.

Inside Savotta restaurant in Helsinki

Juha recommended the supreme Savotta starter to give me a selection of different Finnish tastes and took the trouble to tell me what had been placed before me. Pictured from left to right is a traditional Carelian rice pastry, reindeer tongue, a salted cranberry salsa, reindeer salami, potato, salad with red onion, a mushroom mouse, a salmon and fish roe mousse and, right at the far end, some smoked pike.

Supreme Savotta starter

Juha said that traditionally this should be served with Koskenkorva (like vodka, but sweeter). I can’t really say I care much for vodka but it seemed rude not to try.  Unfortunately, it did little to convince me, but the food more than made up for it, particularly the mushroom mousse.

For my main, my eyes were drawn to one item in particular on the menu.

Bear on the menu

Being someone who’s always keen to try things I’ve never had before, I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass… so bear burger it was!

It arrived in its own pan with a creamy forest mushroom sauce, topped with smoked bacon and a quail’s egg for good measure, and accompanied with sweetened roasted root vegetables and a fruit compote. The dish was enormous!

Bear in a pan

The bear burger was buried in there somewhere! The meat was actually minced and consisted of 75% bear and 25% pork, the pork being there to help bind the meat together.

Bear burger

Juha very kindly took time out to tell me more about the process of getting bear to the table. Apparently there are normally around 80-120 bears hunted a year in Finland, but this year had been exceptional and the figure was more like 150. The hunter who kills a bear also owns it. He typically keeps the fur for himself and the animal has to go through strict veterinary checks before being sold for meat to ensure that consumers are protected from trichinosis. It is sold whole, rather than in parts, but the real delicacy is reputedly bear paw cooked in goose fat. This can cost around 130 euros per serving, with two paws sometimes being required to make a portion.

The staff were so attentive and had so much time for me that it strangely didn’t feel as though I was dining alone. It’s great customer service such as this that perhaps explains why when American Express did research into customer service they found that almost one fifth (18%) of people admit to sharing their positive service experiences immediately on Facebook or Twitter.

As for the taste of bear? It was a strong gamey flavour and needed a full-bodied glass of red wine to go with it. Quite tasty, really, but I don’t think I could manage a whole one.

Thank you, Juha and team, for being such wonderful hosts, and for posing for me for this great shot!

Juha and team

This trip was carried out in partnership with American Express, in a quest to find examples of great customer service.

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