A dinner for you and you only? EENMAAL (literally one meal/one time) is the first ‘one person’ restaurant in the world. The pop-up restaurant opened its doors last week in Amsterdam. It was open for two days only, on Friday June 28th & Saturday June 29th. According to Marina van Goor, creator of the concept, EENMAAL, aims to create a perfect place to dine in pleasant solitude and to make dining alone an exciting experiment for those who never go out to dinner alone. The idea of a restaurant for solo diners appealed to me right away. Even though I have dined alone before, last Saturday I got to experience dining solo in a whole new way. In this post I share my experience and explain why I have fallen in love with this new take on dining solo.
Many taboos surround dining alone. Most people dread going out to a restaurant alone. As most restaurants cater to the needs of groups and not to the solo diner, eating alone can be an awkward experience. People can look at you funny. Sometimes dining alone is even looked down upon. When you dine alone, you are probably lonely, a hermit or even a loser. Yet, if you frequently travel for business, you are not a stranger to reserving ‘a table for one’. But it’s one thing to dine solo on a business trip; it’s a whole new thing when you dine alone in your own city. Despite all these prejudices surrounding dining alone, dining solo can be an amazing experience. Eating alone is not just for loners; eating alone can be the ultimate form of self-indulgence, a time to relax and enjoy your own company.
When I was in my twenties, I made a sport out of dining solo. There was a sense of thrill and adventure in it. I travelled a lot back then, always solo, and food was my way to explore the places I was visiting. I really enjoyed travelling alone. There are a lot of perks to travelling alone but also some definite drawbacks. One of the major perks of travelling alone is that you get to indulge yourself fully. You get to do exactly what you want to do — all the time. One of the downsides is that it can be a lonely experience at times. Travelling alone can also be risky. Once I got very sick and I felt completely lost in a strange country where I did not speak the language. But I dealt with it and looking back on it, I feel a sense of pride that I made it through that ordeal on my own. It was my own chosen adventure after all.
It takes courage to travel alone and it takes courage to dine alone. I know many people that would be terrified by the idea of going it alone. There’s safety in company but life happens when you step out of your comfort zone and do things differently. Traveling solo never kept me from eating at some of the best restaurants. When I travel, I want to live like the locals do. Eating like the locals is one of the best ways to get to know a country and its people. It can be an incredibly fun, adventurous and even social experience.
But it can go both ways. Dining alone I have tasted some of the best food in my life but I also had some of my worst dining experiences. To start on a positive note, my best food experience was in San Sebastián, Spain, famous for its culinary tradition and outstanding pintxos (tapas). When I arrived there, it turned out to be the week of the San Sebastián International Film Festival. All rooms were booked and highly overpriced. I decided to stay on and spend my days watching movies, swimming in the sea and exploring Basque food and wines.
I went out for dinner twice a day at the local pintxos bars (tapas-style restaurants). It was definitely some of the best food I have ever had. The pintxos bars were pretty crowded, noisy and lively places. People don’t really sit down to eat like they would for a formal dinner but they sit or stand at the bar or casually share a table. Food is shared and enjoyed over a good glass of wine. Even when you are alone in the crowd, you easily blend in and never feel lonely. I looked forward to dining alone. I enjoyed the food, the wine and taking in my surroundings. I had a wonderful time.
My worst experience was at an award-winning vegetarian restaurant in Madrid that was recommended by friends. This was during the same trip to Spain. I remember the waiters treating me like a second-class citizen. I got the worst table in the restaurant and the waiters clearly seemed frustrated by the fact that I came there to eat alone. They were striking up lively conversations with the couples and groups at other tables but they were very curt with me, almost to the point of being abrasive. Although the food must have been spectacular, I don’t remember enjoying any of it. The waiters served out my food so fast and they started clearing my table even before I had finished my plate. It was all to clear to me that they couldn’t wait for my table to free up for other guests.
For my dinner at pop-up restaurant EENMAAL I knew it could go either way. It could either be a perfect experience or a really bad one. What makes dining solo at EENMAAL different, however, is that it’s not a regular restaurant where people meet up for food and conversation. The restaurant only offers tables to solo diners. There is no one judging you for dining alone. All restaurant guests choose to dine alone. And it gets even better. At EENMAAL you are considered a top-notch guest from the moment you walk in. It’s all about you and making sure you have a great experience. It’s being pampered at its best.
I was one of the first ones to reserve a table at EENMAAL but right after making my reservation I got slightly worried. Lots of thoughts were running through my head. Would I still enjoy dining solo as much as I did years ago? Am I still ok being in my own company? Will it feel like an adventure? And what do you wear when you are meeting yourself? Do you dress up and wear something fancy? And why would or wouldn’t you dress up for a date with yourself? Would you put more effort into looking smart if you were meeting someone else?
I ended up skipping the high heels and the dress in exchange for a simple sweater and jeans. I also, surprisingly, ended up being late for my own appointment. I am never late. I am always the one to arrive early. On my bike ride to the restaurant I was thinking about what it means to be late for an appointment with yourself. Knowing I would be late if I didn’t hurry up, I decided I didn’t want to stand myself up and started pedaling my bike like a maniac, laughing out loud at my own ridiculous behavior. Yet it made sense. You cannot be late when you are meeting yourself. Dining alone is about putting you first.
My bike ride to the Bos and Lommer district took me much longer than I had expected. When I arrived, I was not only late but I was sweaty, out of breath and my hair was sticking to my face. Not a great impression for a date or a meeting with a group of friends over a formal dinner. But here I was meeting myself. It didn’t matter. It was nice to know I could relax into that. When I sat down at my ‘one man’s’ table, I simply leaned back and took rest. Without the need to strike up an interesting conversation or make small talk, I was able to zone out and relax. After a long, busy day, I could start with a blank canvas, nothing to do, nowhere to go and no one to be. I felt calm and happy.
Dining solo turned out to be a deeply relaxing experience. Eating alone takes you into the present moment. Without distractions, tasting food takes on a whole new level. You are dining languorously on beautiful food and you take in each moment as it comes. It reminded me of a silent meditation retreat I once did. Halfway into the 10-day retreat, I ate a raw carrot and I don’t remember ever tasting the subtle flavor of a carrot like I did that time. Meditation heightens your state of awareness and this heightened state of awareness magnifies every sensation. When your senses are fully alive, when you are fully present, you simply taste the essence of things, the purity and subtlety of flavors.
Dining alone is a lot like yoga. When you step on your mat, you choose to become present. When you dine solo, you allow yourself to become more present. Without overhearing loud conversations at other tables or the need for socializing with people, dining alone becomes an inward, contemplative experience. Free from distractions, it was easy to focus on the flavors and textures of the foods on my plate. I took the time to indulge in my food and I lingered in my experience. I ate more slowly. I drank more slowly. I paused. I reflected.
Slowing down and eating in silence when dining out offers a nice change to the sometimes hectic pace of dining in a normal restaurant. Going out to a restaurant can even be an incredible noisy experience. In one of our favorite restaurants there’s always a lot of hustle and bustle going on. At times, I really enjoy that upbeat lively atmosphere of people laughing and talking out loud, but when you dine alone, you get to enjoy your food in a whole new way.
Dining at EENMAAL, all my senses were switched on. I could take in the whiff of the elderberry blossom on my plate. As the sun was setting, I watched the play of light on the wall in front of me, the constant changes in color. I sensed the texture of the perfectly cooked asparagus, its soft yet firm flesh. I noticed the woody and salty taste of the Blue Stilton and I felt its dry, crumbly texture on my lips, my tongue and in my mouth. I noticed its sharp, surprising after taste and how beautifully the soft, gooey quince paste complemented the cheese and added a lovely floral sweetness. I savoured the complexity and subtlety of all the flavours and textures on my plate.
Eating with awareness is something we all should do more often. We tend to eat our food in a hurry, often in front of the television or while reading the paper or checking Facebook messages. For my dinner at EENMAAL, I made a conscious decision not to write any notes or check my phone. I would only use my phone to make a few pictures for this blog. I simply wanted to enjoy the simplicity of the present moment and enjoy my own company.
Although dining at EENMAAL was a solitary experience, I never felt ‘alone’. The waitresses catered to my every need. More wine? More water? How was the food? Great service makes you feel appreciated and connected. I enjoyed asking questions about the food or the wine. The food was fantastic and I do think this played an important role too. Lesley from Streep, the chef behind the menu, created a beautiful menu with fresh and honest ingredients. Our first course was a beautifully cooked harder with a Rhubarb Mustard Salsa and sea lavender. Our second course consisted of white asparagus spears with egg mimosa, a chamomile butter sauce and elderflower blossom. The third course was a Blue Stilton cheese platter with a sweet quince paste. For dessert, I was served a delicious Charlotte Cake with fresh fruit and homemade ice cream from de Ijsmakerij.
I loved dining at EENMAAL for many reasons. I enjoyed the food, the service, the slower pace, the time to connect with myself. If a long-term one-person restaurant in Amsterdam would open its doors, I would definitely be one of its regulars. I would also encourage anyone to try it out. Even though sharing food with family and friends is one of the greatest things in life, it’s a nice change to enjoy your solitude and the pleasure of your own company. Living in a busy and noisy city, everyone needs some peace and quiet now and then. Many people go for a run or do yoga to clear their heads but why not go out to dinner if you are into food? I highly encourage you to explore dining alone as time for yourself. Clear your schedule and book a table for one. Think of it as booking a nice massage or taking a long, luxurious bath. You might be surprised by how much you like it.