Everyone is talking about Sandro: the modern African, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free but still meat-friendly restaurant in trendy Kallio. First the hipsters came, and now everyone has been enjoying the colourful and tasty fusion salad buffets during weekday lunch times (11 am – 2 pm) and weekend brunch times (10 am – 4 pm), the a la carte "street kitchen" and "Marrakech feasts" (4 – 11 pm) and the contemporary cocktails (until midnight and 2 am on weekends).
The food is good, lunch, brunch or a la carte. It's modern and authentic, the atmosphere and style is urban-cool and cosy and the service is warm and personal. For €11.90 lunchtime patrons can choose between three hot mains: for example, apricot and chicken tajine, harissa salmon fillet or spinach and goat cheese lasagne; and access to the salads, breads and dips on the buffet table. Saturday brunchers can feast on vegetarian and vegan dishes for €24.90, including hummus and other tasty dips, salads, saffron and gluten free breads and filling eggplant, seitan (a wheat gluten meat alternative) and halloumi dishes. On Sunday bring €24.90 for the Marrakesh Madness Brunch, including much of the above and meaty treats like kofta meatballs. The a la carte offers various North African to Lebanese mains, for example Batbout Burger (€18) imaginative salads (€20-26) and shared dishes for the whole table (€36). The cocktails are good too; the virgin Momo Collins was a tasty aperitivo. And then there's the baklava – whatever you do, don't miss the baklava!
It all started for Sandro in early 2013. Hicham Mountnassir, entrepreneur and owner of the restaurant's previous kiosk guise, Moroccan chef Hitcham Daoussi, Pasi Virta, a man with an eye for décor and style, and creative chef Richard McCormick got together and created something.
"We weren't completely sure what we were going to do – a cocktail bar or a food restaurant, so we just went with it and watched what kind of people came in," recalls the affable Mountnassir. "Things clicked four months later; the brunch became very successful and we started to get known."
But for Mountnassir, Sandro really started years before this, when he ran a few cafes and restaurants in Helsinki. "The '90s was a good time to learn this business. Afterwards, I got an opportunity to run the Sandro kiosk."
After many years as a kiosk the space transformed into a restaurant. "I always had an ambition to do something different. I loved the spot here, I loved the space. I had been here almost 11 years with the kiosk, and I had gotten to know the locals. Things started moving by themselves once I saw there was a possibility to make it a restaurant or a bar."
He met the others and soon they had created Sandro.
The success has been rapid. The brunch and lunch are packed and table reservations are essential, the restaurant has been lauded by Helsinki Sanomat's NYT publication and bloggers, and recently won City Lehti's Best Restaurant, Best Ethnic Restaurant and Best Brunch awards. Operations have expanded to include a food truck and a second restaurant is now opening in Eira this autumn. "I don't think any of us could have coped alone with how fast things have gone. After a year and a few months we are already opening a second restaurant – it's been a team game," Mountnassir reflects.
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