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Restaurant Review: Lieb Tallinn, Estonia

31 Uss Street, Tallinn
Cuisine: European
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Sandy Cadiz Smith: You need inside knowledge to find this restaurant, and luckily that's just what we had.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. It's set on the north coast of the Gulf of Finland, just across from Helsinki and west of St Petersburg in Russia. A small city with a population of less than half a million, it's very quaint and pretty with cobbled streets and ancient buildings to stare up at. The picturesque Old Town was built over time from the 13th to 16th centuries and is neatly packaged within a city wall and dotted with striking guard towers.
There's an interesting market in the main square with loads of stalls selling an array of local goods. And it's surrounded by restaurants packed with hungry tourists.
But not us. We were heading slightly off the beaten track to Leib Resto. You need inside knowledge to find this restaurant, and luckily that's just what we had. We headed up the stairs into a private garden area, along a path past walls festooned with greenery and flowers to a rambling restaurant run by two local foodies - a chef and sommelier. We were welcomed to their peaceful sanctuary with open arms.
Inside it's a characterful, rambling restaurant and there's a nice terrace which is where we ate. In summer they set out tables along the garden path so more diners can enjoy the lovely alfresco dining.
As we settled down to peruse the menus I ordered a bottle of the local wine on the sommelier's advice. Apple and quince wine, a refreshingly pleasant beverage that tasted like a cross between cider and wine. A box of black bread (a local speciality that the restaurant's named after, Leib means black bread in Estonian) arrived with our fruity wine. Bread and butter in a league of their own, we soon polished it off. Good start.
The menu offers an intriguing mix of dishes with a real seasonal flavour. There were four starters and five man courses to choose from. There's no doubt local is important to Leib, we witnessed large boxes of fresh produce being delivered up the path. Always a good sign.
Herring is a big part of life in the Baltic states and I'm quite partial to a bit, especially in a country where they know just what they're doing with it. My marinated herring starter came with butter baked potatoes, cottage chess and dill. Beautifully zesty flavours mixed with creamy pearls of cheese and the sweetness of the potatoes. And you could taste all those ingredients were fresh as fresh.
The Estonian take on beef tartare came with tasty mayo and crunchy marinated radishes and was delicately meaty.
The third beautiful starter was this wonderfully vibrant salad combo of fresh Kalamalsi dairy goat cheese with tarragon, marinated bell peppers and tomatoes.
For mains I went for the quail from Jarveotsa farm which was served with warm potato salad and chimichurri sauce - a beautifully garlicky, herby sauce. The quail was tender and flavoursome, the baby spinach fresh and lightly cooked and more of those lovely potatoes - the ingredients worked wonderfully together, creating a lovely summery dish.
A pair of deliciously plump pork sausages came with crushed potatoes, apple mustard and onion gravy. I can tell you they know how to make sausages in Estonia, these were the real deal.
Estonian beef fillet was served with roasted onion cream and spring cabbage. More great local ingredients cooked with care and attention. They clearly have a good selection in Estonia and at Leib it's a pleasure to enjoy them cleverly adapted into delicious summery dishes.
Leib, Uus Street 31, Tallinn, Estonia
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21 February 2016
By: Sandy Cadiz Smith
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