Showbiz CheatSheet headlines “If You Love Downton Abbey, You Need to Watch The Restaurant.” Certainly, there are apt comparisons. Upstairs, you will find the Lowanders, the owners/managers of the Royal Djurgard. Downstairs are the cooks and wait-staff of this staid old Maisonette-type restaurant. Nina possesses similarities to Lady Mary Crawley. Calle mirrors Tom Branson.
Aside from being a period-drama, The Restaurant is darker than Downton Abbey. Now in its fourth season, the Swedish series (no English dubbing) begins as WWII ends. As the Nazis left Sweden, so did much of The Restaurant‘s business. Dealings with shady characters to obtain “supplies” during a time of rationing leaves The Djurgard heavily in debt. In essence, The Restaurant is now passe. Unable to borrow funds, will the Lowanders be able, or willing, to re-invent this fine establishment? Everyone has different ideas. Winning Swedish awards for Best Drama and Best Actress (Hedda Stiernstedt), I give The Restaurant 4.0 Gavels and it receives a glowing 8.2/10 IMDb rating.
En route to a job interview as a cook at The Royal Djurgard, the VE-Day celebration delays Calle’s arrival. By chance, and unaware that she is the daughter of the founder, he runs into Nina, and they kiss. Chef Backe, known to hold grudges, hates tardiness. Nina’s brother, Gustaf, manages The Djurgard. Due to his collaboration with the Germans, some wonder whether he is a Nazi. Another brother, Peter, returns from the liberation of concentration camps with concerns about the direction of the business. This is not a family that plays well together.
The series is available in Sundance. It is unlikely you are familiar with any of these Swedish actors. You must read subtitles. Except for Nina and Calle, the major characters make bad initial impressions. All in all, it takes about four episodes to figure out the Swedish fascination with The Restaurant. Then, it takes off. The show does have a matriarch, Helga, but she is not nearly as wonderful as Maggie Smith.
The Restaurant serves up class, sex, religion, crime, mental health, abortion, drugs, alcohol, and of course, cooking, all in the first season. Most importantly, as star-crossed lovers, will Calle and Nina ever find happiness? Culture Trip writes “as a microcosm of society, the restaurant is at the heart of the story, making the perfect backdrop to look at how people from all walks of life adapt to post-war life, as well as how Stockholm itself changed dramatically during this time.”
Drama Quarterly says The Restaurant “could also be described as a state-of-the-nation drama, but one that examines contemporary Swedish society from the perspective of the post-war years and through the emergence of the country’s welfare state.” This one will not be for everybody. But, if you wish to immerse yourself into the history and culture of another country, along with some drama, sample The Restaurant. It just might be to your taste. On to Season Two for me!