Over a cup of steaming coffee I watch chef Radoslav Mitro enter the upstairs bar in Ribe. He looks a little beaten-up. We shake hands and I introduce my plans for the interview. Rado answers calmly and leans on his open palm with a two-day hair on his chin. It is Saturday and already on Friday Ribe fed 130 guests. To break the ice we talk about our experiences in London. Rado worked there for a year.
”I can't really say I know London. Most days I would wake up, eat my corn flakes, go to work, come back, eat my corn flakes again and go to bed.” London teaches discipline. You call your superior always ”chef”. London restaurants are kept supplied with eager young cooks chasing their dream. The industry grinds them down mercilessly. If you can't cope somebody else will take you place. Then again it offers a great vault for polishing trade skills:”London is a great place for learning for young blokes. I am already too old for it”, Rado, 33, laughed. In Estonia the growing restaurant industry still lets chefs to enjoy a day-off every now and then. Although, finding replacements is a tough job and often the chef needs to step in line when somebody gets sick.
We sip some coffee and I ask about the culinary scene in Estonia. Rado felt that the last two or four years have had a great impact. Young chefs, trained abroad, have returned to Estonia and are now commanding their own kitchens. ”A lot of stuff's going on. It's a big mix of everything. All the young chefs are testing what they have learned abroad.” The competition is hard too. Alone on Vene-street there are four very similar restaurants competing for the same guests. There is no room for mistakes as the word goes around. Rado says Ribe is focusing on overall experience: ”Food is one thing. But service is a big factor. The customer needs to be able to relax.” Ribe aims to be flexible with the guests' wishes: ”Sometimes one guest wants to have a 6-course tasting menu and the other just three. We explain it takes more time for the six courses, but the guest's wish is most important.”
Rado agrees that, despite the competition, the best thing is to work together with all the restaurants. Food festivals offer a great opportunity for restaurants to sell their 'business card' for possible new customers. Ribe is taking part in these events as well. Rado claims the idea is not to offer the same dishes as in Ribe, but to serve a piece of ribe-experience on street food terms.
”We want to offer a chance to enjoy our experience for people who don't want to pay the Old Town prices.” A modest thing to say from a chef who offers 3-course set evening menu for 29e in the Old Town. The price issue is a constant struggle among high-end restaurants. The lunch in Ribe costs just slightly more than in Rotermanni where office people go to lunch on weekdays. People are often stuck with their customs when it comes to choosing the lunch place. ”The difference between our lunch and the usual bowl of rice and chicken is 3 euros. I checked”, winks Rado.
Talking about lunch places, Rado enjoys going to the central market, Keskturg, and gather products that are hard to come by from regular stores. The market offers some delicious snacks too, I'm told. ”The Balti Jaam Turg is so touristic nowadays.” I couldn't agree more. I asked Rado where he likes to eat. It always depends on the company. ”I like to have a glass of wine and some snacks at Wine not? They serve nice hummus”, the man hints.
We enter the Ribe's most holiest: the kitchen. Immediately chef Mitro seems to come alive. I watch Rado wrestle a sour bread. ”I love playing with it. It feels like a perfect woman”, he chuckles as the bubbling dough turns into loafs. Chef de parties are finishing their mise en place on the hot side and start preparing the station for lunch service. The pastry chef helps me with a compliment sample of a starter dish made out of beetroot-marengue and, what I assume to be, fowl-liver mousse. Perhaps it was the coffee, or maybe it's just that some of us choose to live buried underground in the heat and noise of a professional kitchen, but you can feel the electricity in the air. In the dining room the door starts swinging as the lunch crowd settles in from the cold. The thermometer in the cold kitchen stands for tasty 28-celsius. The boys on the hot side start warming up their irons.
Restoran Ribe, Vene 7, 10132, Tallinn (Old Town).
Reservation is suggested.