John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Diners at this "pop-down" kitchen near Helsinki can nosh on "friction-smoked whitefish" more than 260 feet underground.
Diners who wish to participate in what could be Europe's most surreal eating experience this year are out of luck. The "Muru Pops Down" pop-up restaurant, opening on September 10 inside a Finnish limestone mine, is totally booked.
So allow me to explain what all of us sad-sack foodies are missing. The night begins with a half-hour's drive out of Helsinki to Lohja, the "city of a thousand apple trees." Upon arrival, everybody climbs into a descending compartment on the world's largest elevator test tower, a stomach-churning plunge that can go 1090 feet into the bowels of the earth. But the evening's guests get out a little earlier, at about 262 feet deep, to enter the Tytyri Mine, a still-active excavation site that one tourist has described as "quite dark and cold."
A maître d' or perhaps a grizzled, tobacco-chewing miner (although probably not) leads the diners to their seats at a rustic wooden table shining with underground damp. Cocktails are served, and then waiters begin to bring out the first of four courses prepared by chefs at Restaurant Muru, a much-praised Helsinki bistro that for this subterranean meal has embraced the style of "mine canteen."
We're talking victuals like "smoked vendace from Kitka in lemon oil," "fennel risotto with escargot flambéed in Pernod" and, for dessert, "apple crumble, buckthorn and calvados soup." (Full menu plus photos below.) When stomachs are at their bursting point, everybody gets up and scuttles back into that test elevator for a look at some of the mine's deepest pits. Afterward they have the option of visiting the Tytyri Mine Museum, which holds machinery like drills and mine trucks and on the more esoteric end, "the dumper." (This thing? I dunno.)
While many surface dwellers might have no idea of the gustatory excesses occurring beneath their feet and tons and tons of rock, Helsinki's dining elite must certainly be on high alert for cancellations. The event ends on September 26. If you're in the vicinity of the mine and happen to snag one of these coveted seats, make you're prepared to cover the cost of the pop-down dinner: €128 ($160).
The menu is posted in English, but I prefer this funnier Finnish version:
Friction smoked whitefish with lemon oil
Caraway-flavored jääkellarinlohta and mustard akvaviittikastiketta
Crayfish and potato salad and pickling cucumber
Bresaola beef and mortadella, and sienipikkelssiä
Marinated bean and corn salad
Country bread, and top-artisokkalevitettä
Fenkolirisottoa and Pernod-flambé snails
Roasted veal tenderloin and herb broth simmered hanger steak bearnaise sauce
Omenacrumble, buckthorn calvados-soup