Head about fifteen minutes by car or public transport out of central Tallinn, and you reach a place which is, quite simply, the greatest restaurant I have ever experienced. I'm talking about NOA in Viimsi, the suburban conurbation that is proudly distinct from Tallinn as Hove is Brighton, and which provides a sweet escape each time I step inside. The restaurant is made from wood panels, crafted out of a cliff on the seafront, with the building's curvature embracing an open terrace, with patio heaters, and an all-year-round stunning view of the coast for about 20km.
The menu in the restaurant at NOA (there is also a Head Chef's Hall which offers a different menu), in typical, laterally-thinking Estonian fashion, doesn't categorise courses as starters and mains, it lets the diner make up his or her own mind. There is a guide to price, with one strike standing for €6, two strikes for €12 and three meaning €18. For such an impressive environment, the prices are actually pretty reasonable.
Let's begin with the shrimp salad (above). A helter-skelter of sliced cucumber holds in place a pleasantly gooey prawn and mayonnaise salad, sprinklings of parmesan and garlic croutons adding the stardust. It's great for a lunch by itself, or shared as a starter, and acts as a warm-up act for the main attraction, but isn't overly-aggressive on the tastebuds, preparing the palate for what's to come.
While none of the "main" dishes at NOA have disappointed me, the best of the bunch in my humble opinion is the octopus pasta. A bowl of al-dente pasta (apparently once black, but now, in a compromise to the mainstream, white as normal), garnished with rocket, mounds of parmesan (it's not possible to have too much), and just-cooked-enough cherry tomato. It's fantastically simple, but for the baby octopus tentacles, which offer a chewy, rubbery, slightly salty contrast with the soft pasta. Though the lamb kebab, a sort of upmarket takeaway option, is good, the octopus pasta is peerless.
For dessert there are several choices, but really only one - the lemon cheesecake. It's placed on a contrasting black plate, that accentuates the burned gold of the caramelised, blowtorched top (making this half-cheesecake, half creme brulee - surely an indie band name in the making) and the luminous green with red sprinkling of the mint ice cream. With crumbly biscuit around the edge of the ice cream, your tongue plays tricks on you throughout the dessert.
I've been to a few special restaurants in Estonia, particularly Tallinn's Bocca and Leib, and Pärnu's Supelsaksad, but until I can be proven wrong, NOA stands for me as the finest restaurant in Estonia. It's not a meal out - it's a dining experience. Every customer is made to feel like a king or queen, the staff will answer any stupid question with pleasure, and like a Brian Eno album, each time I try a course of food, I discover something new about it.