The act of coming back to F-Hoone ("F-Building", literally) in Kalamaja, Tallinn, has a certain sentimental circularity about it. It was the place where work colleagues took me at the end of my first week in the job. I loved the undisguised factory origins of the restaurant, the posters peppering every wall, the deliberately amateur flimsy typed menus, the general air of "give us a try, if you like us, great, but if you don't, then we'll still carry on doing our thing." It seemed like a meeting-place with what Gordon Ramsay would probably call "balls".
I returned to F-Hoone regularly afterwards, always feeling sure why one of the first businesses to open in the Telliskivi complex and become popular managed to keep that popularity. It was the curious alchemy that occurs when you get knowledgeable and well-trained staff, let them keep a cheeky sense of humour, and have a strong, reliable menu, with food and drink favourites people can set their watch by. The clientele was balanced too - although it has frequently been seen as the hub of Tallinn "hipster" culture, on any given night you would get locals of all ages dining next to each other, along with a few foreigners and curious tourists. It's also a safe option to introduce to a newcomer - historically, no-one I had ever brought here went away disappointed with the service or the meal.
On this particular night in September 2013, I was introducing my mum to F-Hoone. She found the approach to the factory complex, getting off the Kopli tram and walking over disused railway lines, to be a little creepy (although it must be said, the lighting does seem to have been improved a lot around there). Once inside the restaurant, though, all seemed well to her.
My intrigue over how the evening would go was heightened because I had heard that the architects of the original, incredibly popular, F-Hoone menu had long since left to start Kohvik Sesoon, a new restaurant next to Marin Sild's photography studio in Kalamaja, in which I had had one amazing lunch, and one embarrassing, awkward dining experience that made me reluctant to go back (I might write about it one day). Sesoon might have the hype behind it, but it seemed to me to be a shame to write off F-Hoone before giving the new menu a try.
I ordered the chicken fillet with crisp, steamed vegetables, couscous and cream cheese, as did my mum. I was particularly thirsty, and in a mood for reminiscing about England, so opted for the Whitstable Bay Kent ale to go with the dish. The chicken was soft with plenty of juice (I have eaten plenty of overcooked chicken in other places over the years, so I really appreciate this). It was really simple food, all together on one plate, but sometimes simple just works. My mum enjoyed the little surprises like a cameo from some cauliflower in the couscous. I loved the crunchy vegetables, and the way the cream cheese bound everything together in a satisfying way. The feeling afterwards was of being full, but also of having had something healthy and well-made.
F-Hoone, some say, has lost its magic. The hipsters are deserting it, they say, it's no longer cool, apparently. As a wannabe hipster myself (and that's a contradiction in terms, as a wannabe can never truly be a hipster), I looked around F-Hoone for a loss of "cool", and found only the same confidence in what was being offered - notably, a fine service, and earthy, hearty food that always satisfies me. Has F-Hoone lost its magic? Not by a long shot.