Part 1 in a 20-part series
There is a secret hidden in the basement of a building in Kaisaniemi. It is a place where dreams are fulfilled, a place where art meets practicality, where bread meets butter. The building is Metsätalo. The secret is UniCafe.
This restaurant (pronounced yoo-nee-kaif) is a delight to the senses. Just descending the stairs, you can feel the buzz of excitement coming from within- students talking about studying, teachers talking about teaching, workers talking about working. It is a veritable cornucopia of excitement.
First on the list of things to do is to hang your coat. Unlike most places in Helsinki, there is no charge for this task. In fact there is no coatroom at all. The restaurant has gone for the “less is more” approach and provided a pre-post-modern- industrialism style metal coat rack. Just pass the notice board on the right as you walk in, it balances the west wall in a simplistic yet functional manner. Clearly, it is a homage to Alvar Aalto.
But architectural enjoyments aside, this is also a place that serves food; and not just any old food at that. There are delicacies like jauhelihakastiketta, pástaa and juustoraastetta. If the exotic names alone don’t make your mouth water, the sight of them will. Picture long strands of spaghetti-like pasta dabbed with what you can be almost certain was once edible meat, now smothered in the grease from yesterday, all topped off with the freshest cheese to ever come out of a bag. And for the final touch, put it all on a plate. There you have it, good ladies and gentlemen, the crème de la crème, the pick de la litter, the stink de la poop.
But before being able to taste this immaculate concoction, you’ll have to do two things. The first is to prove that you are indeed poor and hungry enough to be willing to eat the steaming mass of sub-divine culinary imagination on your tray. This is done easily with either a student card or a look of extreme deprivation. Then, all you have to do is wait until the employee learns how to use the cash register.
Now you are ready to rest your rear and stun your taste buds. I recommend finding a seat at an empty table because, as you will notice, the café is filled with people staring forlornly at their plates, pushing the food around with their forks with the hope that it will never end written all over their faces. At least, that’s the way this restaurant reviewer chooses to interpret such a sad sight.
In short, the UniCafe at Metsätalo is not the type of place one would go on the first date. The wine selection is appalling and the wait staff non-existent. But the prices are unparalleled. And if you’re able to beat the rush between classes, your stomach may thank you for the attempt at nourishment.
Restaurant: UniCafe Metsätalo
Address: Fabianinkatu 39, 00170 Helsinki
Hours: Monday to Thursday 9.00 -16.00
Friday 9.00- 15.00
Lunch starts at 11.00
Insider’s Tip: To be trés chic, do not choose the white-flavored salad dressing, as orange is the in color of this autumn season.
Up next: Porthania UniCafe