HEL YES!, a pop-up restaurant that combined Finnish design and food culture, was an ultimate success in London during the London Design Festival. HEL YES! got a great amount of media attention and excellent reviews in some of UK’s most important design and food publications. Having been built in a depot in East London where it served as a melting pot for people and ideas, the restaurant was fully booked even before the actual opening date.
HEL YES! was laid out by the Finnish Institute in London. After three busy weeks, director Raija Koli admits to being tired but pleased. “The meaning of HEL YES! was to attract attention and to improve the networking possibilities for Finnish design in Britain. I could not be happier from the feedback we’ve received.”
Only thing missing: sauna and a pile of snow
Merry buzz of conversation and traditional Finnish music tango fills the air in Londonewcastle depot where the restaurant has been molded. Tables are filled with couples and parties of friends who’ve come to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Beautifully swept aspen pergolas create a hut-like feeling in the tables, creating lively shadows with the candle light.
“Fantastic! The food was good in a natural way – simple, not over the top or pretentious – very Finnish. It was cool without even trying to be”, happy customers Fawnda Denham and Andrew Prior reckoned. Both agree that this kind of a grand concept should be laid out seasonally. “The only thing missing here is the sauna. If HEL YES! would be set up during winter, you could bring a pile of snow here where people could roll naked after sauna”, Denham ponders with excitement.
Impressed by both food and design, the Londoners were brave enough to finish their meals with salted licuorice shots. “I love salted licuorice”, half-Finnish Prior sights. ”We’re also big fans of Klaus Haapaniemi.When we saw the pillows he’d designed for HEL YES!, we felt a bit like stealing them”, the couple banters.
Allison Girling, general manager of Delfina restaurant in South Bank and Maria Elia, one of the chefs in BBC’s Ready Steady Cook,came to the restaurant to find out quite literally ‘what the hell is Finnish food’. “We had no idea what Finnish food tastes like”, the women explain. “It seems that people here try courageously things that they probably otherwise would not”.
Ox tongue with wild mushrooms in particular was praised by the both ends of the table. “The dinner was a wholesome meal and it did not contain anything deep fried”, Elia remarks enamoured. “The food is honest without being pretentious. Brilliant!” It was only the dessert – whipped raspberry manna with vanilla milk – that raised Girling’s eyebrows a bit. ”What on earth is manna?”, she asked.
“Somewhere over the high seas there is a land...”
The youthful staff in HEL YES! is dressed in uniforms designed by Heikki Salonen. Waitress Camille Christian maintains a positive approach although the night has been again extremely busy. “The place is packed all the time. Many people would like to prolong their stay, but unfortunately we have to ask them to give their tables for the next customers as the evening is fully booked.”
Head waitress Katarina Boyadgean reveals that 98 % of all feedback from the customers has been positive. “The rest 2 % have been the sort of cases where customers have been expecting Michelin level food. But this is home cooking! All meals are prepared from these ingredients”, Boyadgean points at wooden boxes full of seasonal vegetables, visible in the kitchen. .
Although HEL YES! should close its doors at 11pm, the restaurant is still half full at midnight. The lyrics of Finnish tango classics still echo outside the restaurant as the last customers make their way to Old Street tube station.
Text and pictures: Sara Vihavainen, Embassy of Finland