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The lights outside Café Talo illuminate the gloom of the cooler months.The provider of a public living room in Hakaniemi, restaurant-bar Café Talo has been going strong since 2009. The laid-back atmosphere, funky interior and friendly service guarantee a relaxing visit for anyone who appreciates quality in both their beverage and music.

I discovered Café Talo a couple of years ago. To me it was like a well-hidden secret – I had been living in the area for a while and had never noticed its existence. Situated along the busy Hämeentie where you would avoid walking as it's crowded with buses and other traffic, I had managed to miss this little gem.

As I first set my foot in, I instantly fell in love with the place. It looked like someone's home where a house party is just about to take place – plus there was a bar of the caliber most houses certainly don't have. I took a seat on a wooden box under a disco ball as my favourite music was playing in the background. It was wintertime, the soft candle light seen through the windows had lured me in from the darkness of the streets for some mulled wine. It felt like coming home, which was quite fitting as I now find out that the idea behind the place is, indeed, to create a home-like environment for the public. In an urban area scattered with studio flats and largely resided by single people, it has proved to be a popular concept.

"We wanted the atmosphere to be welcoming, relaxed and cosy. The ideology behind the interior design is mix and match – to gain the perfect balance between disarray and organised. We were, indeed, aiming at creating a public living room," the restaurant manager of Café Talo Anne Salolahti says.

The open burger provides more than a mouthful.Varying the mood

As the seating spills on two separate floors, the place offers some variation to go with your mood: downstairs is perfect for those moments when you're feeling social, upstairs there's usually some quiet corner where you can work, read, or daydream –apart from the weekends, when the place is often pretty packed.

"I have been working here since the opening in October 2009. The founders are long-term friends and had a lot of previous experience of the catering business. Originally, the kitchen was subcontracted but nowadays it's an essential part of Talo," Salolahti tells.

As I visit the place, the menu is just under some alterations. However, there are certain dishes guaranteed to remain on it:

"Our most popular dishes are the burgers – whatever changes we make, the burgers have to stay."

Salolahti stresses that Café Talo is not solely about doing business.

"The food here is made with love. Generally, the dishes are quite simple, the home-made feel is important in the kitchen, too. We use fresh ingredients and favour good, authentic tastes. For example, we've got a cheese plate on the menu at the moment, for which we get the ingredients from the Hakaniemi market hall opposite us."

Since the burgers are so loved here, Talo's open burger is my choice of dish to try, too. The meal contains organic steak, Cheddar cheese, celery seasoned with harissa, tomatoes, harissa remoulade, chilli paste, roast Serrano ham, and pickled cucumber all on top of a piece of toast. On the side come baked potato wedges with herbs and a cup of mayonnaise. Talo's open burger is clearly distinguishable from your usual burger meal – there's no greasy, heavy feel to it. Instead, it seems healthy: fresh, tasty, authentic. Yet it's very filling.

On a previous visit, I have tried the vegetarian burger, too. It's simply delicious – not something that those on a vegetarian diet will just have to settle with but seriously good food for anyone to try.

Café Talo
Mon-Tue 14:00-midnight
Wed-Fri 14:00-02:00
Sat 12:00-02:00
Sun 11:00-15:00
Hämeentie 2 B
00530 Helsinki
tel: 010 8212 703
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.cafetalo.fi
(also on Facebook)

Theatre and tunes

An essential part in creating the relaxed atmosphere of Café Talo is music. The tunes played could be described as slightly off the mainstream, yet easy on the ear. In my opinion, they form the perfect mixture of interesting up-to-date findings and old classics.

"We encourage the staff to let their own personalities show while at work. Most of the music played here is chosen by the staff: they suggest records and we buy them. The idea is to try and avoid using playing lists," Salolahti says.

Although Café Talo has an atmosphere more likely to appeal to younger customers, Salolahti assures that there are no set definitions over for whom Café Talo is for.

"Absolutely anyone is welcome. We've got a lot of regulars, and most of our customers are in their twenties or thirties. But we don't want anyone to think that they wouldn't fit in here for any reason. As we are situated right next to the comedy theatre Arena, it brings us customers who possibly would not enter a place like Café Talo otherwise. It's a nice addition to our clientele: many theatre-goers come here to have dinner or a drink before or after the show."

It's time for some coffee and pudding. As I tuck into my pleasantly zesty dessert, a frozen cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries, and raspberry melba, Salolahti fills me in on upcoming events at Café Talo.

"Approximately once a month, there's a jazz night on a Monday. Improvisation theatre evenings are also in the pipeline. Other than that, there are usually no gigs. We don't want too much hassle here. A lot of people come here for the atmosphere, others for certain foods and drinks, so we feel like this is good as it is – a place to simply chill in."

What might come as a surprise for some visitors, Café Talo also has quite an extensive selection of whiskeys.

"We have managed to impress many whiskey experts. Our beer and wine selections get also regularly updated based on the feedback from customers."

MARI STORPELLINEN
Helsinki times