A Cozy Night at L’Appartment

By Julia Eichhorn

The days are getting shorter. The sound of rain droplets against the window have become the background of every conversation. The scarfs are pulled out of the closets. Everyone is looking for a feeling of warmth and coziness. A house near Noorderplantsoen offers both and combines this with great food and wine. L’Appartment is a pop-up restaurant run by two internationals students from the university of Groningen. Not only will they cook for you, but they are also able to provide an evening based on community with an eclectic group of people. A perfect place to spend a cold autumn eve.

On the fifth of October L’Appartment organized their thirteenth edition of their pop-up restaurant. Chef Ciaran Naughter and host Denis Ghisalberti create a fine dining experience inspired by New Nordic cuisine. This means that there is a focus on regional, sustainable produce that is adapted to fit the season. The mission is not only to create a beautiful four course meal, but also a place that is able to connect people with each other who otherwise would not have met.

The setting is informal: a student apartment decorated like an Ikea catalogue. Guests are greeted with beer upon entering. Pastel orange candles on the tables create a welcoming atmosphere. Little, handwritten nameplates point the eleven guests to their chairs. Most of the guests tonight are strangers to each other. However, thanks to placing everyone together at only two tables, conversations quickly spark.

‘I have always felt welcome here, no matter the crowd,’ mentions a regular guest of the pop-up. ‘I think that is a true testimony to what these guys do.’

Tonight is no exception. There is a group of students with diverse study programs varying from medicine to the arts. There are regulars who have experienced L’Appartement before, but return because every edition is different. This is not only due to the ever changing menu, but also to the different conversations such a diverse group of guests will bring to the table. Accompanied with self-baked #sorrynotsourdough bread and hand whipped butter, topics vary from politics to travel and city life. ‘We like to host an even blend of people from all backgrounds,’ Denis adds.

The aperitif is a bread cracker layered with a carrot mouse and oil and topped with a mix of fermented, pickled and buttered carrots. The cracker is crisp without being too oily. The toppings are refreshing yet hardy. Paired with an organic, Sicilian white wine, the first course does not only showcase the finesse of the duo’s skills, but also serves as an example of their focus on sustainability.

By Julia Eichhorn

‘We try to be zero waste as much is possible,’ states Ciaran. This is expressed in the first course through the use of the carrots. Not one part remains unutilized. When gathering vegetables for their evenings they skip the supermarket and head straight to the market. Meat is bought at local butchers. Berries and leaves are often picked in the wild and fermented for later use.

Mashed potatoes with grilled chanterelles and a roasted onion stock is served as the starter. The simple plating is in juxtaposition to the complexity of the dish. The consistency of the mashed potatoes is as silky as one can wish for. The stock, due to the grilled onions, has an intricate flavor profile.

By Julia Eichhorn

This complexity is an earned talent. Both of the creators have a background in the hospitality business. Before moving to Groningen Ciaran was working in kitchens in both London and Helsinki. Denis studied at the hotel school at Brussels. Each of them were looking for an activity next to their study. Due to the independent nature of the restaurant there are no teachers or guides to learn from. Improvements are done through trying, analyzing and adapting in the next edition.

‘We always want to be the next edition we do, to be the best one we ever did,’ mentions Ciaran.

A cheesy, mouthwatering scent cuts through the chatter in the living room with open kitchen. The main dish tonight is seared leeks with hay-smoked béchamel, pickled meadow-sweet and leek ash. The whole dish is reminiscent of sitting next to a campfire on a cold winter’s night. The food is paired with, in the words of Denis, a ‘very French’ wine. Which, to be fair, is a lovely combination.

Although run by two students, the university so far has yet to pay any attention to L’Appartment. ‘We do not need their support to do what we do, but some recognition would be nice. Even if it was only a follow on instagram,’ remarks the chef of tonight. It is understandable where they are coming from. Through the years Groningen has grown more international, and initiatives such as the pop-up restaurant provide an example how different backgrounds can enrich a city’s culture.

By Julia Eichhorn

The menu closes with a pumpkin seed caramel sauce served with hand whipped cream and a pine flavored crumble. Someone might call the caramel too sweet, but the Rowan berries presented with the dish cut through the sweetness with their acidity. Berries which one of the guests have helped to pick.

The evening comes to a close. Guests linger to continue their conversations. The last sips of wine are enjoyed. Little, sweet tarts are served. Both Ciaran and Denis join the tables to take part in the discussions. The thirteenth edition turned out to be another evening of strangers talking about diverse topics and enjoying fine dining.

Around the corner of Noorderplantsoen hides this little pop-up restaurant. Seek them out and you shall find enticing food, warming wine and a connection to community waiting for you.