Helsinki’s Asian Junction: AKA Oriental Gastro Bar

Amidst the hustle and bustle on downtown Helsinki, a new Asian-inspired Gastrobar has recently opened its doors. AKA Oriental Gastro Bar is situated just on Stockmann’s Argos House’s junction facing the Swedish Theatre in Esplanadi Park and the busy street of main road Mannerheimintie.

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This hole in the wall spot has presented itself out of the building’s 1930’s Art Nouveau façade by its semi-finished concrete wall, charmingly un-spruced by random bits and bobs of vintage asian film posters, Japanese cartoon characters, framed-up photos of famous asian icons and places, plus, a neon sign to top it off. A pop-culture-candied wall, radiated with the warm spheres of paper lanterns hanging by the ceiling, makes for an inviting lure to pull you in and take a break from the almost-winter weather season outside.

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You are welcomed just by the sheer thought and effort given to fill in the details of the interior. A narrow V-shaped hallway from one end to the other, an open kitchen where you can interact and talk with the chefs while dining, the big and bold colors from Anna Semerdjiev‘s hip-nostalgic wall art, the lovely wafts of umami scents that lingers on, while a slightly hushed upbeat music on the background sort of greets your senses with delight as you enter.

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Up until the host acknowledges you with their warm smile and hands you the menu, your eyes would be dazzled and entertained just by setting foot inside.. really.

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My friend and I went for an early dinner and settled ourselves by the seats in front of the kitchen. The staff was amiable and casual and, since the kitchen isn’t enclosed with any border from the dining whatsoever, we were able to experience the interaction with the chefs.

The menu is small, thoughtful, and quirky. And I reckon, that this is how it’s suppose to be: Have a short menu and make it good; have the selection feature their own individual flavours and textures to make up a diverse and composed menu.

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On their ‘Oriental Tapas’ we had the Mixed Steamed Dumplings and the ‘Smoky’ Salmon steamed bun. The dumplings were tender with a hit of spice and tang from the soy-vinegar dip that it comes with. The warm-smoked salmon bun was a Nordic-Oriental delight tucked in between their house-made chewy-soft white bread.

‘The Big Ones’ only features Ramen bowls, Donburi style Rice bowls and as I would ‘Assume to Consume’ for my next visit, a big portion of Sticky Chicken Wings.

One of the chefs came over and suggested to try the Donburi Rice with Beef meatballs. I’m a sucker for staff-recommended dishes, especially when they’re extra nice. We took the Pork Ramen bowl along with the recommended meatball dish. 

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All the portions came in together. We were delighted to see our bowls adorned with the various toppings aside from the protein part. We each both shared a spoonful of our dishes for each other to taste.

The Pork from the ramen was succulently tender, the broth was bursting with umami ‘deliciousness’ with the refreshing tang from the pickled vegetables that came with it.
The meatballs were nicely seasoned and juicy that reminded me of Teriyaki.

Let’s just say, both of us had happy tummies that will last us for the evening.

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Dessert… They have one… and I was a bit ‘iffy’ of trying it.

Pineapple with chocolate was quite out there for me and, I was proven wrong though. The marinated diced pineapples with mint gave a refreshingly cool hint to the brownie-like cake pieces. They were not as chocolate-y as I was imagining it, but the balance of the light chocolate flavour to the fruity pineapple and the caramelised lychees made up for that reminiscent dark molasses and fruit flavour you get from a nicely made fruit cake. My suggestion, go have it with their signature ‘Glögi-ito spicy.’ An Asian-spiced spin from the traditional Finnish mulled wine ‘Glögi’ with the heat of cayenne pepper for that extra warmth that you need for the coming winter season. … And yes, it was good.

Not because I’m from that part of the world, but because it was honestly quite good.

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This place is worth to visit and worth the wait. When it’s busy here, it is relatively difficult to get a seat.

The price range’s from 4€ to 8€ for the ‘Asian Tapas’ with the steamed buns, small plates and the salads to choose from.
For ‘The Big Ones’ main dishes, the Ramen and Donburi bowls are 16€ for a hefty portion and the Chicken Wings for 14€.
The Broken Chocolate Cake Dessert’s 7€ (I’d go back here for my afternoon coffee or drink to have this again).
Warm drinks, signature cocktails, and the basic bar line-up (beers, sodas, shots, wines) starts from 7€.

Next time you come around the centre, say, during your frenzied Christmas season shopping, why not treat yourself to something different and familiar. The place makes up for a warm port to have a break from the threading wind of frozen breeze. Plus, if you’re lucky, you get to have a selfie with Voltes-V while you’re seated with your warm drink or comforting cocktail on your hand. Your tired feet would thank you for it too. ♥

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