Palema sheds layers

Restaurant Palema has witnessed the changing cityscape from the corner of the Abattoir yard ever since the historical area came together in 1933. At the end of last year, the restaurant found new owners who discreetly fine-tuned the markings of the past decades along with the menu.

Palema’s restaurant manager Kaisa Merz has time to chat at eight o’clock in the morning or again in the afternoon. The lunch rush from 10am until 2pm is spent “bringing joy to people”, as she describes her work.

Palema was known through the decades as a true worker’s luncheon with generous, no-frills dishes. When Helsinki’s legendary meat emperor Veijo Votkin together with his business partner Risto Saastamoinen decided to let go of the classic joint, the new owners Reima Mäenpää and Jari Lönnberg immediately took the bait. Along the years, the workers had already been joined by office folks from nearby buildings, and the new shift is bound to bring even more variety in customers – without leaving anyone aside, of course.

“We have added side dishes and vegetables, but the feeling of the menu remains similar. Pork cutlets have always been served here, as they are now. We even had to shape up and bring back pea soup, the Finnish Thursday staple, back to its spot… and now it can again be enjoyed every Thursday. With oven pancake to follow, as you do”, Kaisa explains.

The clear recipe line of Palema is based on ingredients.

At the end of the winter, this means cabbage and root veggies, complemented with seasonal citrus fruits from further south. Moving into spring, Palema welcomes false morel mushrooms, and soon after rhubarb and European asparagus. Alongside the classic mashed potatoes and meat dishes, the lunch list includes, for example, braised red cabbage, sweet potato or chickpea patties, root veggie soups and sausages with different sides from the Harjun Makkaratehdas sausage factory run by the same owners.

The cooperation with fellow Abattoirians and other local small entrepreneurs is fraternal. The coffee comes from walking distance, from the Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo roastery. The bread is baked on the spot and the addictive mini doughnuts with quark are from the Helsinki-based Väyrynen bakery.

Within the generation change, Palema underwent a modest renovation. The architectural vision was to polish the intertwined layers from different decades. Some 80s-90s elements had to go to make space for some original 30s decor. The lunchtime music is also reminiscent of times gone By.

“But we didn’t actually mean to be so retro!

We tried to find some new music, but couldn’t pick a genre. So we went for Finnish schlager and old easy-listening like Jari Sillanpää, Annikki Tähti, Olavi Virta… For me the music actually disappears while I work, but customers are welcome to come up and make requests!”

Palema will continue as a lunch restaurant for now, with possible evening plans in the future. As the weather warms up, there has been talk of a biergarten. “When it’s warm enough to sit outside, I’d like to see and hear some live music, as well as throw events together with others in the Abattoir”, Kaisa wishes.

So what is Palema? Kaisa tests out the term ‘people’s restaurant’. “Or does it sound corny? I’m personally not a food snob and I like to take food lightly. It’s nice to have friends over for either canned soup or a six-course dinner. Palema is a place where everyone can come to eat food that is as good as we possibly can make it. And people know what good food tastes like.”

Palema's auditory experience is all about Finnish schlager