Tallinn, Estonia: Medieval munchies at Olde Hansa and III Dragons

Tallinn, Estonia

Themed restaurants in tourist destinations tend to run the gauntlet of being careless and cheesy. Thankfully Olde Hansa and III Dragons gracefully manage the fine balance between wildly enjoyable and being true to medieval Old Town!

Ye Olde Time Machine into Medieval Tallinn
Olde Hansa - Old Town Tallinn, Estonia

Once the home of a rich merchant, Olde Hansa is the 'ye olde shoppe and tavern' experience you simply can't miss when in Tallinn. So much more than a themed restaurant-slash-bar-slash-shop, it's a time-machine into Estonia's golden age: an era of Hanseatic merchants (the forefathers and foremothers of Tallinn) who'd return from distant, exotic journeys to a warm hearth, celebrating their survival of medieval travel's many perils (bandits, sea monsters, the plague etc.) with tall jugs of ale served by bosomy wenches, their weary feet propped up by the crackling fire as they hum along to the strains of the lute while contemplating their good fortune of being healthy enough to enjoy the simple pleasures of life...for now. 

These days, travel is a lot less treacherous than it was in the Middle Ages, so visitors who flock to Olde Hansa get to experience medieval cuisine sans the looming shadow of the Black Death. But you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you're actually in the 21st century: at Olde Hansa, the painfully-charming staff are so in-character, the decor and furnishings are so detailed (down to the wood 'throne' in the lavs), and the menu so accurate to the time that the whole experience really does suspend disbelief - even the grumpiest of grumpy guts would find themselves struggle to suppress a twitchy smile at the joyous madness of it all! 

Chug-a-lug from the jug: when ordering a beverage of the frothy sort (highly encouraged by the staff who remind you that most medieval water is basically poison - but not Olde Hansa's of course, their water has been purified by priests) you will be egged on to go big or go home: "Would the Noble Lady like a little child's beer or a real woman's jug?" Oh, go on then! Punters are reverently addressed as 'your gracious lady' and 'the noble gentleman', cutlery are 'weapons for attacking the food', and currency? No mention of the euro, it's 'one, two, three...three monies, please!' 

Every dish brought to the table; whether from the Game Meat Gourmet menu, Dishes for Fasting Days, Let the Hunger Arise etc. are explained with great pride and detail - really giving you an appreciation to the care that goes into the choice of ingredients that reflects the cuisine of Tallinn in the Middle Ages. I was encouraged to eat the rose buds that accompanied my pudding of rose cream because it would keep me forever young. Clearly it works: a lovely rosebud-eating wench at Olde Hansa cheerfully quipped: "I'm 800 years old, not that you can tell - I'm told that I don't look a day over 700!"

There is also a shoppe adjacent to the restaurant hawking souvenirs of a very tasteful sort: food, toiletries (I bought a satisfyingly hearty soap-on-a-rope made from tar), coats of arms, robes, and pointy shoes (the pointier the shoe, the more prestigious the wearer).

It's impossible to miss Olde Hansa - it's right in the middle of Old Town. Just in case, the address is Vana turg 1, 10140 Tallinn. To go to Tallinn and not visit Olde Hansa would be madness akin to the delirium brought on by a bubonic plague!

When night falls, make the pilgrimage to nearby III Draakon (III Dragons).

Three dragons and a feisty 900 year-old crone: III Drakoons 

Right around the corner from Olde Hansa, through the tower side of Town Hall, is another medieval-themed establishment. Much smaller but no less elaborate, III Drakoon is just as delightful as Olde Hansa although far sassier than Olde Hansa's comely lasses is III Drakoon's very sassy, sharp-tongue Lady Of The House. Exhibit A: I asked for a shot of quintessential Tallinn liqueur  and the lady leant in, conspiringly: "This has nothing to do with Tallinn...this is a secret family recipe!" Exhibit B: When I complained that the candlelit tavern was too dim, she muttered indignantly under her breath: "Too dark?! I've been lighting candles all evening, up and down the stairs...I'm 900 years old and lazy, I'm not going to light more lanterns for Her Royal Highness here..." The Lady of the House is brilliant! Her incredibly acting and good humour is reason enough to visit III Drakoon. Even so, there's the highlight of the house: pickle-hunting. In near-darkness, you test your ability with a spear (really a stick with a sharp point on the end) and attempt to fish out one of the many pickles floating about in a brine-filled barrel. It's so silly, but it's so much fun - I spent a good ten minutes huffing and puffing chasing those slippery morsels!

A flask bearing the secrets of III Drakoon's 'family recipe', decanted into clay shot glasses - fiery Tallinn liqueur,  the medieval way.

Pickle hunting: surprisingly fun, engaging, and bound to bring out the competitor in you. 

Find III Drakoon at Raekoja plats 1, 10146 Tallinn - or simply, through the arches of the tower side of Town Hall.

If you can't get enough of that Medieval magic and madness, you must visit Olde Hansa and III Drakoon should you find yourself in Tallinn. Stay in nearby Hotel Schlössle if you want to stick to the medieval theme and keep it authentic without compromising on luxury and modern comfort.


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