Can I please get a table for one?
Opening a restaurant during a pandemic seems like such an abysmally bad idea that it it sounds like the punchline of a joke. Yet, on May 1, an exclusive restaurant called Bord för en is opening in Varmland, Sweden. The restaurant has all the trappings of a chic new dining establishment with a carefully crafted menu composed of locally sourced ingredients and a picturesque setting, but it comes with a very au courant twist—it was designed as the world’s first COVID-19 safe restaurant in the world.
The restaurant started when Linda Karlsson’s parents showed up at her house on a cold, windy day and she refused to let them in. “I had not seen them for weeks,” she explained in an email, but still she refused to open the door. It wasn’t the latest chapter in a family drama, but the only way she knew to keep them safe from the virus sweeping the world. “In Sweden, there are no restrictions when it comes to social distancing, but there are recommendations and we follow the recommendations,” she says. That meant keeping her parents outside, but that didn’t mean denying them all forms of hospitality. “[We] instead set a table with white linen outside and served them through the window,” Karlsson writes.
The sight of her parents dining al fresco and enjoying themselves sparked an idea for Karlsson and her husband, former chef Rasmus Persson. “[We] said to ourselves then and there, ‘We should make this available for everyone! Anti-social freaks, people in risk groups, anyone! It will be the only COVID-19 safe restaurant in the world’,” Karlsson wrote. “I made the website the very same night.”
“With food, it is still possible to travel.”
The result is Bord för en, which translates as table for one. The restaurant consists of one table in the middle of a meadow in Värmland. There’s no host or wait staff and the three-course meal is not brought to the table, but instead is delivered in a basket run along a clothesline from the restaurant’s kitchen window. There is only one party allowed at a time, but unlike most restaurants, the owners aren’t worried about a quick turnover so they can pack in guests. Instead, they invite guests to stay as long as it takes them to answer a question posed by the poet Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day: “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” Guests can loiter as long as they want at the restaurant, a rarity in a pandemic where most restaurants are closed to diners, open only for take-out picked up in a masked-and-gloved hurry.
Persson crafted a menu that uses local ingredients, but with a nod to international destinations. “With food, it is still possible to travel,” Karlsson says. The courses take diners on a trip around the world, starting with an appetizer of Swedish-style hash browns inspired by a rainy night on the country’s west coast. The main course diverts to “a crazy night in Barcelona” through a plate of croquettes and serpent root ash. The dessert of “ginned blueberries, iced buttermilk, viola sugar from our own beets” takes guests on a bittersweet trip to the kitchen of Persson’s grandmother, who recently passed away. “To spend my childhood summers with her, picking wild blueberries, rinsing them together in her lap, and then enjoying a huge bowl of fresh berries with iced milk and sugar was the best thing I knew,” Persson explains via his wife.
“At this restaurant, you will not meet anyone. Not even a waiter.”
While Varmland’s winter is cold (“No ice bears, but still, too cold,” Karlsson notes), that hasn’t stopped locals from booking the restaurant’s lone table when it opens to the public for a run from May to August. One wanted to book it for her husband’s 70th birthday, another saw an opportunity to dine alone in a way that she sees as socially acceptable, instead of socially awkward, a thought that Karlsson understands even if she doesn’t subscribe to it.
“I see what she means,” Karlsson writes. “When I myself have dined alone before all this, I have felt like people [were] under the impression that I have been stood up by a date or something. Like there has to be a sad reason why she is sitting alone or something. But not at all!” When Bord för en opens, people can dine quietly alone or have a meal in peace with others they are quarantining with. “At this restaurant, you will not meet anyone. Not even a waiter,” Karlsson writes, so don’t expect a quick re-fill of the bread basket or easy access to the salt shaker.
It’s a change of pace that Karlsson is ready for, even if it’s unfortunate that the evolution in dining attitudes was kick-started by a killer virus. “Going through this with the whole world at the same time makes it very obvious that it is all very unfair,” she writes. “We have to stay home. We have to wash our hands all the time until they look like mistreated naked cats. But we have homes. We have running water. Here in Sweden, we even have a government taking care of us if we lose our jobs. Hopefully going through this will make systems change. For the sake of this planet and the people that live on, in the future.” If the future involves sitting at a peaceful table overlooking a picturesque meadow while eating yellow carrot-ginger puree with browned hazelnut butter and sweet corn croquettes with serpent root ash, well, it’s a thin silver lining to the coronavirus crisis.