Silverspoon 2017 winner: Best Vegetarian offering
Over my time in Estonia I’ve noticed the weather changes quite often. And most of the time from average to worse. So it was fifteen minutes before our scheduled interview that I was hanging on the door handle of Vegan restaurant V in Rataskaevu looking for shelter from the rain. Luckily the door was answered and I was welcomed in by Mikk Mägi, chef de cuisine of V.
The restaurant has employed a seriously mean-looking bouncer to take care of dubious guests, like myself, and thus I found myself immediately under inspection by the little but effective security better known as ”Tuut”. After a while of sniffing I was allowed to enter the premises.
”Coffee or tea?” ”Coffee, please. Do you have cream?” ”We have almond milk.””Almond milk it is.” Serves me right for asking a stupid question. I heard the security snort contemptuously under a chair. We settled at a corner table with chef Mägi. Tattooed hands administer tea in to a cup from the porcelain pot. The restaurant was still closed and the dining room empty. We had about 30 minutes of quiet time to enjoy. I mention that my colleague is coming over to takes some photos. “Great. Nice that I have better clothes on”, Mägi nods and pulls his black cap over his ears and shuffles his hoodie.
Showing the vegan way
The last years have kept Mägi busy. Since the opening of the Vegan restaurant V it has been rock & roll almost every night. Part of this popularity can obviously be blamed on Mikk’s earlier “criminal” record in the industry: a catering service and two cooking books. When the doors to V opened there was already an existing guest base swarming in to fill the tables.
Chef Mägi says they try to satisfy the guest’s needs by changing the menu twice a year.
The ideas come from all over. Mägi is just planning a trip to London to visit some of the local phenomenons. London is a horn of plenty for any style of restaurant. Another method is the mobile restaurant Mikk has: a food truck. “I like to tour festivals with it. I even went to Finland last year but it turned out as a disaster. It was raining the whole time and the people weren’t in a mood for eating.” Well, sounds like rather typical midsummer-fest weather. Despite the usual cycle of the four seasons, the weather is often the same on the midsummer-fest night and on Christmas Eve.
I asked whether the crowd is going to see a drive-by in Telliskivi in the summer. “No”, says Mikk. “I like traveling with the truck. It brings a change.
But I like to have some free time as well.” I wonder where he finds it now among the catering business, the restaurant and the truck so I inquire what he does on his free time. “I like to eat in Noodle Box and also Mimosa is a nice place, even if it is outside the town. I also went to try Ö’s vegan menu. It’s super!”
Chef Mägi said he even trialed the McDonald’s vegan burger: “It is funny that the vegan hype has made even such a monstrosity as McDonald’s to include a vegan option in its menu. ”And the taste? Well, pretty much everything is OK when you put enough sugar in it.
Stability in the vegan trend
So far the Vegan restaurant V has been able to reign freely among the better vegan restaurants. Most other places are either cafes, buffet places or fast foods. I asked Mikk how he feels V can hold and edge against possible competitors in the future. I mean nothing keeps people back from opening a copy of a well doing establishment. “I don’t see a problem. Instead of competition I’d like to have cooperation. It’s better to have more people come to vegan restaurants”, says the preacher man. Mikk started as a vegetarian some ten years ago.
Times were a bit different back then. When he became a vegan it was that the atmosphere changed completely shortly after. “I think were are on the high point of the linear at the moment. There was a boom some years ago but now the trend has stabilized.” One can deduct the ecosystem would not hold too many more restaurants offering the same service without suffering inflation.
It’s much more, we are a family.
We descent down to the kitchen to take a look at the heart and soul of V. The staircase is a steep and narrow serpentine, which offers an employment advantage for V’s staff. All the new employees receive a set of iron buttocks shortly after they’ve started working in the restaurant. “When we started, all the kitchen equipment (including ovens and freezers) had to be carried down the steps. That was something!” At least it keeps the owner’s purse threads tight when deciding on new installations.
For Mägi the restaurant is the family. Some of the people working there have been with them since the beginning. “We try to keep it interesting for them by organizing educational events.” It is a great resource for a chef to have a qualified and motivated staff to help with producing new ideas and methods. “I have such a wonderful team. They are in my heart”, Mägi exclaims and crosses his hand on his chest.
Honestly, make a reservation 🙂
When we return upstairs the restaurant has opened its doors. Our half an hour is due and immediately the crowd starts shuffling in: “I’m sorry we don’t have a table for two at the moment,” the staff apologizes a couple among the first comers. Every table has been set with a “reserved” sign indicating a busy lunch. “So it starts”, smirks Mägi from under his brows. So it is true what they say: if you want to dine (or lunch for that matter) in V, please make a reservation and you spare your legs!
Chef Talks is a new Silverspoon Awards story series dedicated to introducing the hearts of every restaurants kitchen, the Chef’s and giving the readers a chance to learn more about the Top Chefs in Estonia.
The author, Juho Kääriäinen: a yesterday’s chef and a today’s hedonist, who consumes gastronomy in all it’s forms. He likes his steak “as kitchen sees fit”, and prefers Global-knives instead of MACs.”