Restaurant Nolla produces top-quality food with zero waste

The desire to reduce food waste without compromising taste made a Spanish, Portuguese and Serbian cook declare a fight for more ecological restaurant business.

Restaurant Nolla
Financial manager Carlos Henriques, kitchen manager Albert Franch Sunyer and restaurant manager Luka Balac are a collective team where everyone has their own area of responsibility. The cooks come originally from Spain, Portugal and Serbia and use English as their working language.

THREE POLITE GENTLEMEN receive me at Liisankatu in Kruununhaka, Helsinki, in the dim basement of a building more than one hundred years old. That is the location of Restaurant Nolla. Albert Franch Sunyer from Spain, Carlos Henriques from Portugal and the Serbian-born Luka Balac look so strikingly similar that you could easily think they’re brothers. How did men from different parts of the world end up running a restaurant together in Finland?

The paths of the three men crossed when they happened to be working at the same top restaurant in Helsinki at the same time. Carlos came from London to work at the Michelin two-star restaurant Chez Dominique. From there, he moved on to the restaurant Olo, where Luka was already working as a cook. Albert was offered a job there while he was working in Thailand. From Olo, they all ended up in different restaurants, but they shared the same dream: each of them wanted to start their own restaurant. Zero-waste restaurant business was originally Albert’s idea.

“All three of us were annoyed by the amount of waste created in restaurant business, and we also wanted to reduce it,” says Luka.

After two of their zero-waste pop-up restaurants became successful, the trio founded Restaurant Nolla. They found a suitable place in the premises of the Svenska Klubben building in Helsinki.

Restaurant Nolla
Old wooden panels, a room height of six meters and greige walls create a perfect environment for artist Heta Kuchka’s impressive collection of photographic works called Sailors.

The dishes are based on local produce. Together the trio comes up with ideas of what to make out of the ingredients and samples the creations of Albert, who is in charge of the kitchen. They favor Finnish fish and organic food.

The restaurant has its own technical composter where the little biowaste from the kitchen that can’t be utilized is turned into soil. The soil is given to a local producer, and the circle of the production chain closes.

Restaurant Nolla wants to be a top restaurant that serves good food and has an impact on the environment through its actions.

“Our goal is to also get others to figure out smart ways of implementing all stages of restaurant business, acquisition of ingredients and food production to eliminate waste and spoilage. We hope that this will become a new norm in our field,” Luka summarizes.

This model is sensible both ecologically and financially. Restaurant Nolla wants to be a top restaurant that serves good food and has an impact on the environment through its actions. Home cooks can follow their example: by planning the week’s meals in advance you’ll also be able to utilize the ingredients in the best possible way.

Zander with esperregado purée
The esparregado served with zander is a Portuguese spinach purée.

Restaurant Nolla’s recipes:

Zander with esperregado purée

1 ½–2 kg zander or 4 fillets of zander (à 150 g)
1 tsp salt
(butter for frying)

Esperregado purée:
20 g butter
⅓ dl wheat flour
2 dl whole milk
100 g spinach or 250 g kale
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a pot. Add flour and stir for a moment. Mix in the milk using a spiral whisk. Keep whisking constantly and stew at low temperature for about ten minutes.
2. Rinse and chop up the spinach or kale. Add it into the pot. Spice up the purée.
3. Salt the zander. Cook the entire fish in a barbecue or fry the fillets in butter. Serve the fish with the esparregado and garnish the dish with salad leaves and herbs.

Nolla's crispy mushroom waffle
Oyster mushrooms are rarely used in Finland. A delicious side of pork is the finishing touch for the mushroom waffle.

Nolla's crispy mushroom waffle

500 g seasonal mushrooms or oyster mushrooms

3 ½ dl wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
4 ¼ dl milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 ½ dl beer
2 eggs
65 g melted butter
½ tsp salt

Caramelized onions:
5 onions
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper

air-dried side of pork (or Helsingin Meijeri’s Jätkäsaari cheese)
fresh herbs, such as thyme

1. Start by caramelizing the onions: peel the onions, split them and slice them. Heat the oil in a pot and stew the onions at mild temperature for about an hour.
2. Prepare the dough. Mix the baking soda into the flour. Whisk the flour, sugar and beer into the milk. Add the eggs, melted butter and salt.
3. Clean and chop up the mushrooms. Fry them in butter.
4. Cook the dough into crispy waffles using a waffle iron.
5. Portion caramelized onion and fried mushrooms on the waffles. Finally, add air-dried side of pork (or Helsingin Meijeri’s Jätkäsaari cheese) and herbs. Serve warm.

Parsnip juice
Parsnip juice is made in a blender.

Parsnip juice

1.5 l water
500 g parsnip

Sugar syrup:
½ dl sugar
½ dl water
1 celery

Garnish with:
Marigolds or other edible flowers

1. First make a sugar syrup by boiling the water and sugar in a pot mixed with the sliced celery for spice. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Sieve the syrup.
2. Peel and chop up the parsnips. Add all ingredients into a blender.
3. Filter the juice. Garnish it with the edible flowers.

Basil sponge cake and caramelized sugar ice cream
Basil sponge cake is served with caramelized ice cream and berries.

Basil sponge cake and caramelized sugar ice cream

5 eggs
6 ½ dl sugar
275 g butter
1 dl vegetable oil
7 ¾ dl wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 bundle of basil

3 ¼ dl sugar
6 dl full milk
80 g melted butter
6 egg yolks

strawberries or seasonal berries
butter, sugar

1. Prepare the ice cream: heat the sugar in a pot and keep stirring until it caramelizes and turns brown. Take the pot off the stove and let it cool down for a moment.
2. Add the milk and melted butter. Boil the liquids carefully at low temperature and whisk constantly.
3. Whisk the egg yolks. Pour the hot milk mix on them and stir. Filter and let it cool. Let it freeze overnight in a covered plastic container.
4. Bake the cake: whisk the eggs and sugar into a foam. Add the oil and butter. Mix the dry ingredients with each other and add into the dough. Mix in the ground basil.
5. Pour the dough into a cake tin and bake at 160 degrees on the mid-level of the oven for about 30 minutes. Check the cake for doneness with a stick.
6. Grill or quickly fry the berries in butter for accompaniment and spice them with sugar.

Restaurant Nolla, Liisankatu 2, Helsinki, Finland

See also:

• Finnish Design Shop takes part in Zero Waste Exhibit in New York >

Text: Laura Brotherus Images: Antti Vettenranta

The story was published originally in Avotakka.

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