I’m spending this evening in Tallinn. I somehow had an inkling that there would be honey treats to be found in Estonia but with only 5 hours layover between flights I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find them quickly enough.
Thankfully, a short ride into town from the airport took us to the old town square, and as we wandered over cobbles and into courtyards, cricked our necks at spires, and took photographs of old doors, it soon became clear that we weren’t going to be able to get away tonight without some serious medieval banqueting – meaning a pre-sugar cuisine.
I apologise to Tallinn for this, because my guide book, and several friends, assure me of its funky bars, its great coffee houses, wild night life and urban chic. But never before have I seen so many earthenware flagons, had the chance to buy paprika coloured leather slippers with pointed toes curling upwards, saffron-dyed gowns, hand-blacksmithed nails (retailing at 1.50 each, just like in yore), rock salt and spices in leather pouches.
What’s more, we discovered that you can sit and – almost literally – sup with history in a dim cavern where wenches and supple-thighed young men bring you elk soup or oven baked cheeses with juniper or spelt bread with hazelnuts just like in Yesteryear. And when I looked at the menu with its illuminated lettering and saw that as well as the Monk’s Bride shots and the (as I later discovered, exquisite) rose pudding, there was honey ale on offer, I booked us a table.
To be fair to the Olde Hansa, this is actually a restaurant with genuinely excellent food. And I’m told that the research in coming up with the menu has been seriously scholarly. I would like to argue that there’s nothing kitsch about it, that it is an entirely serious historical enterprise, but even if you don’t entirely believe me, you need to know that this is all genuine handmade medievalry, with really beautiful wall-paintings (I don’t care when they were done) and nothing plastic in sight. The toilets (smelling convincingly of the Middle Ages, though overlaced with essential oils and beeswax candles which burn in there as the only source of light) are stone seated; these guys are doing the thing seriously.
And to get back to the honey… the ale was excellent. Served in a disturbingly large flagon, it was burnt hops and honey that turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to forest mushroom soup and fresh herb cheese. I learn that Teuton brides drank honey beer for a month after marriage as an aphrodisiac, and it is undeniably powerful, though for myself this evening it just made me feel rather sleepy. Maybe I don’t have the makings of a Teutonic bride; or maybe even honey can’t compensate for jetlag.
For more on the adventures in new tastes and new places that honey can lead you to, see my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books