Around the globe one week ago, strangers broke bread and clinked glasses to celebrate Restaurant Day, a new Finnish tradition that has taken the casual dining world by storm and surprise. From Helsinki to Tokyo, people set up pop-up restaurants and dining tables and everyone celebrated the spirit of creativity and just having a nice time. It’s a seasonally-occurring dining event that encourages everyone to relax and enjoy themselves, and it just might be coming to a park, boat peer, or street corner near you.
In Amsterdam, six restaurants set up shop for the day, each one providing a different taste of hospitality. In Vondelpark a pop-up picnic offered granola and cakes starting at 11 AM, a nice pick-me-up to start a sunny Sunday morning.
East of the Amstel, picnics also reigned supreme. An afternoon picnic served chilled soups and pie, another hosted a banana-themed barbecue, and one host kept it simple by advertising just cheesecake and lemonade. Sweet & Salty Pincho’s set up shop along the Amstel itself and served anyone who happened to be in the water, whether by boat or just in for a swim.
The evening ended with an outdoor table set up in front of the host’s apartment on a quiet residential street, complete with the quintessential tablecloth and a vase of flowers. She went for a Yotam Ottolenghi-inspired meal and prepared a variety of savoury vegetable pancakes and salads, and poured everyone (at least) one glass of Prosecco and some coffee. Signing up for Restaurant Day was a simple and creative challenge, and it was also a fun social experiment, she said, to see who could be baited with the offer of a nice meal.
At the last ‘restaurant’, about twenty showed up throughout the evening, just the right number for the amount of food prepared. The table had a mix of Amsterdammers and visitors alike, representing four countries, a mix of interests, and non-stop banter all night. Some people passing by bike cast a curious glance at the sidewalk meal and neighbours peered out their windows to see what the quiet bustle was.
Restaurant Day doesn’t aim to be quirky, but it originated out of a desire to lift bureaucratic laws inhibiting creativity with food in Helsinki. If you like busting out a gingham cloth and muddling mint to share drinks with some people you’ve never met, the next Restaurant Day is November 17. Details and guidelines are on the website to help future restauranteurs and a phone app is available to guide future diners. Bon appetit!
Photos by Lilian Sijbesma.