When I told my Dad I’d be travelling alone in Milan for a weekend break, he was worried I’d get kidnapped, chopped up and sold for parts on the black market, become a victim of human trafficking, die in a terrorist attack, or worse, get a taste for the place and decide to live there permanently. Me? I was afraid of dining alone at a restaurant.The bistro main course.
Eating alone is a pretty common worry amongst solo travellers. It’s that fear that onlookers will judge you and think that you’re lonely, depressed or divorced. In reality, most people are worrying so much about their own lives, they don’t have time to worry about yours. Besides, how many times have you judged a person dining alone? Have you ever even seen someone by themselves in a restaurant? It was only during my trip to Milan I started to notice them. I saw a variety of people, young and old, male and female, local and travellers, all enjoying a meal alone at a restaurant. Did anyone care? Of course not. It’s Italy!Bistro dessert.
Knowing this would be my first time dining alone, I could have gone to a bar-type setting where it would be easy to occupy myself with a book, or chat to nearby strangers. However, I’m not the kind of person who eats for fuel. Food is an event. Food is a celebration. Food is life. So I’m not dining just anywhere. This is an opportunity to eat exactly where I want, without anyone else’s opinions swaying me. I’m going to the world’s only vegetarian restaurant with a Michelin star. Joia. Okay, it might be throwing myself in the deep end in terms of first time dining alone, but who cares? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not letting my anxieties get in the way.Complimentary mint and coffee soup starter.
When I first rocked up to Joia on day one, it was a little bit of a disaster. The waiter asked me if I’d like the bistro or the restaurant, and I, thinking this was simply a seating arrangement and the menu would be the same, said I didn’t mind. Mistake. The waiter sat me in the bistro section and I ended up paying roughly €10 for a tasty, but ultimately forgettable meal. This surely wasn’t what awarded the restaurant a Michelin star. I did a bit of googling and realised, yeah, eating in the bistro section may have saved me €30 but it wasn’t what I had came there for, so I returned the next day and requested the restaurant this time.Not Only By Bread Men Live.
In the bistro, I was one of many solo diners, but the restaurant was another story. I sat alone at a two person table and made conversation with the waiter who embarrassingly recognised me from the day before. I mean, of course he did. How often do you see a girl, who looks about seventeen, alone in a country where she doesn’t speak the language? I’m pretty memorable.Be vegetarian, Be happy!
I selected the vegan menu and happily killed almost three hours, eating and enjoying the ambiance of Joia. Each course was like visiting an edible art exhibition with a multitude of colours and flavours on one plate. One of my favourite moments was when a family of four next to me ordered the dessert ‘Gong’, and the waiters brought out a gong to play and the entire restaurant turned to watch and chuckled at the pure ridiculousness and creativity of the dish. My own dessert was a trio called ‘five minutes’ and came with a five minute egg timer to turn over whenever you started a new dessert. Why? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things that happen when you’re at a Michelin star restaurant. It’s classy and elegant, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.Five Minutes.
So would I recommend solo dining? Definitely. Especially if you’re like me and you’re sick of your usual dining partners complaining about your favourite places being too expensive, too posh or too vegan. There’s a tranquillity behind eating alone. You’re not distracted by conversation or wondering if you have food in your teeth. It’s just you, alone with your food and that’s the kind of simplicity I appreciate these days. Oh, and if you’re in Milan, I’d recommend the restaurant side of Joia, it’s certainly worth paying those extra Euros for an unbeatable dining experience, with or without companions.