Finland in London

Week before last, I traveled to Oulu to bask in the midnight sun. Dusk and dawn were indistinguishable. I needed little sleep to feel energized. At midnight I looked north and imagined landscapes bathed in even brighter sunlight.

Back in London this past week, I was faced with rain and general drenching. The clouds were low and foreboding; the gray skies interminably soul-annihilating. London seemed to have forgotten that summer had arrived. An exaggeration? Indeed. But not by much. I began to fantasize about Finnish things to take my mind off the gray wetness of it all.

The first and easiest stop for Finland lovers in London is probably Nordic Bakery. The softly ambassadorial function of this fantastic bakery-cafe, with branches in Soho (14a Golden Square) and Marylebone (37b New Cavendish Street), cannot be undervalued. I’ve long been a fan of Nordic Bakery for its open-faced sandwiches, cinnamon pastries, and clean Nordic interior design. The menu also features savory Karelian pies, a triumphantly Finnish dish consisting of a thin rye crust typically cradling a rice filling. Egg butter (butter mixed with boiled eggs) is spread over the hot pie for extra heartiness. Karelian pies are delicious, if possibly most appropriate for subzero noshing.

Though Scandinavian Kitchen (61 Great Titchfield Street; not far from Nordic Bakery’s Marylebone branch) does not focus on Finnish products, it sells a smattering of Finnish items, notably Lapin Kulta beer.

The Finnish Church (33 Albion Street, Rotherhithe) features a cafe open seven days a week, as well as a library, Finnish satellite television, a shop selling Finnish products, a sauna (open Tuesday through Sunday, with some gender-segregated time slots), and a small and quite reasonable guesthouse. The sauna can be booked for private use.

Another resource is the Finnish-British organization Finn-Guild, which serves as a kind of cultural clearinghouse in the name of promoting Finnish culture and language in the UK. Finn-Guild publishes a quarterly magazine, coordinates English- and Finnish-language classes, sponsors cultural events, supports the Finnish Church in London, and operates a travel agency.

Also useful for an injection of Finnish culture: Finland’s UK embassy and the Finnish Institute in London. The latter, an institute receiving direct funding from the Finnish government, is a think tank with a rather heady brief, though not all of its work is serious. Last year, it commissioned London’s hugely successful pop-up Finnish restaurant HEL YES!.

[Image: Flickr | yisris]