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BBC – Travel – Sweden’s single-diner restaurant

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The romantic picture of sitting in a lush meadow surrounded by blooming wildflowers and dining from a picnic basket might conjure up thoughts of Instagram lifestyle influencers, who tend to be mostly female. But for Linda Karlsson, her novel dining idea’s main demographic has surprised her.

“Men,” she said. “It has been almost only men who have booked the table.”

“The table” she refers to is, in fact, her new restaurant Bord För En (Table For One), which opened on 10 May. Located in Ransäter, a tiny rural town tucked in the Swedish countryside in Värmland, around 350km west of Stockholm, it consists of a sole wooden table and single chair set in her garden overlooking a verdant pasture. A candle and bouquet of wildflowers finish off the demure table setting.

The food is a way of sending people to a warm and slow night in Barcelona since we’re unable to travel during these times

The story behind this new venture is as sweet as the setting. When Karlsson’s elderly parents wanted to visit her during the current Covid-19 situation, she and her partner, Rasmus Persson, needed to devise a way of sharing a meal with them without compromising their health. Since they couldn’t sit at the same table for safety reasons, they decided to set up a table outside in the garden to “remotely dine” with Karlsson’s parents while they conversed through the window.

Watching that tranquil scene as her parents dined outside lit a creative spark within both Karlsson and Persson. They realised they could invite others to enjoy this peaceful solitude while still maintaining some social distancing.

And thus, the idea of their single-diner restaurant was born.

Each evening at 19:00, their solo customer takes a seat at the table and eats alone to the sounds of rustling trees and chirping birds. There are no wait staff and no direct human contact. To deliver the food safely, a red and white gingham-frill basket is attached to a rope and served from Karlsson’s second-floor kitchen window via a pulley system fashioned using an old bicycle wheel to their guest sitting 50m away.

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This setup not only allows them to adhere to the current recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Sweden to maintain 1-2m of space between people, but allows diners complete solitude and tranquillity.

Once the guest opens the basket, they’ll find the first of their three courses. To notify the kitchen that they are ready for their next course, they simply need to ring the bell attached to the pulley system. The menu is always the same; changes are only made if Karlsson and Persson can’t get hold of the locally produced goods they’re committed to using as part of their food philosophy.

While Karlsson’s background is in hospitality and communications, their plant-based, vegetarian-friendly three-course offering is crafted by Persson, who trained as a chef in Gothenburg, worked at high-end seafood restaurant Sjömagasinet and learned from legendary Swedish chef Leif Mannerström. Persson’s gastronomic stints also took him to Barcelona, and his cuisine is infused with Spanish-inspired elements.

The first course is råraka, Swedish-style hash browns with thick smetana sour cream, seaweed caviar and sorrel. It’s followed by “Black & Yellow”, a plating of yellow carrot-ginger puree, browned hazelnut butter, sweetcorn croquette (redolent of Spanish tapas) and serpent root (Spanish salsify) ash.

“The food is a way of sending people to a warm and slow night in Barcelona since we’re unable to travel during these times,” Karlsson said.

The dessert, called “Last Days of Summer”, is ginned blueberries with iced buttermilk and viola sugar made from their homegrown beetroots. It’s a secret recipe handed down from Persson’s grandmother, who recently passed away at 99 years old.

“Rasmus knows how to make these dishes at home, so I’m very pleased,” Karlsson said. “And since I can’t cook at all, that’s one reason why I married a chef.”

Drink pairings are made from non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip with seasonal ingredients such as elderflower and strawberries, and are curated by renowned bar owner Joel Söderbäck, who grew up in Ransäter and whose Stockholm-based cocktail bar Tjoget was awarded a spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019.

Due to current travel restrictions worldwide, most of Bord För En’s patrons so far have been locals from Ransäter and the region of Värmland, and the waitlist can range from a few people to more than a dozen depending on the day of the week. While many people have tried to make a two-person reservation, suggesting that their dining partners can sit on the grass to enforce social distancing, Karlsson notes that this defeats the purpose of the solo experience.

“It’s really about having the time to get to know yourself and to truly honour that,” Karlsson said.

She believes there’s more to her concept than just novelty. What was a call of duty to help enforce social distancing guidelines has unwittingly turned into a quiet, self-care movement. With much of the world in lockdown or quarantine, Karlsson believes people are realising they’re afraid of spending time alone, and she wants to help turn the experience into a positive one.

“Our business model is not a very lucrative one,” says Karlsson. “We only accept one guest per day just to be able to really have the opportunity to make our guests create their own space.”

It’s really about having the time to get to know yourself and to truly honour that

For Karlsson, it’s hard to put a time limit on creating that personal introspective space. It often makes her think of American poet Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” and the question it poses: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” That’s why, beyond supplying the food and the venue, she leaves the exact experience up to the guest, who is free to linger for hours over their meal, read, write, soak up nature, and fully exist in the moment without distractions. There’s no closing time or harried waiter bringing the bill.

In fact, there’s no bill at all. In lieu of payment, guests are invited to make a voluntary contribution based on what they feel the meal and experience was worth to them. Karlsson and Persson were never planning to turn profits from serving a single meal a day, and are instead donating proceeds to Ulla-Britt Henrikssons Kulturstipendium, a fund to support creative mothers set up by Persson. Named after his mother Ulla-Britt and inspired by her setting aside her own creative dreams to raise him and his siblings, the fund awards 10,000 kr (£845) on Mother’s Day, 26 May, to support a nominated mother towards realising her own artistic vision.

As for why their clientele has been mostly male? Karlsson has no idea. “I don’t have the answer as to why it’s been mostly men,” she said. “But our table is available to everyone.” She notes that women don’t often treat themselves out to solo dinners and maybe it’s time to consider this as one more necessary act of self-care.

Karlsson and Persson plan to keep Bord För En open until 1 August and reopen annually every spring and summer. And with lots of international interest from fellow chefs and foodie colleagues, Persson and Karlsson are now considering expanding their idea globally. They are currently inviting chefs who are interested in launching similar concepts to apply.

“Our vision is to open up more tables around the world and unite our feeling of being alone together,” said Karlsson.

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www.bbc.com 2020-05-27 21:53:56

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