Industry Insights

The Art of Intimate Dining: A Look at Chef Martin Milesi’s One Table Experience

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6 min read

Feb 13, 2024

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Disrupting the restaurant industry takes more than deconstructing a classic dish or blending unconventional flavors. Defying diners’ expectations of what a meal can be, from service to setting, requires breaking the mold of traditional dining experiences. But Argentinian Chef Martin Milesi is up for the challenge. 

Martin believes in service innovation — a combination of gastronomy, performative art and intimate spaces that trades transactional dining for conversation and kinship. This vision led him to create UNA, a boutique culinary company that crafts experiential dining experiences across the globe.

The twist? Each restaurant only has one table — and it won’t be there long. 

We sat down with Martin to learn how UNA’s ephemeral dining experiences, which center around a single table, foster communication and connection in unexpected locations. Whether it’s a Uruguayan forest or a London clock tower, UNA brings strangers together for an experience they’ll never forget. 

“It’s not just the place. It’s not just the food. It’s not just the wine guests enjoy during dinner. It’s the people themselves because they don’t know each other,” Martin said. “And when they come to UNA, they have a conversation with someone they’ve never met — and that’s where the magic happens.” 

Bringing UNA — the One Table Experience — to Life 

UNA came to Martin as a “revelation” — an idea that would make him an entrepreneur and lead to more meaningful customer interactions. 

“I was in Argentina, my native country, and working at the Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía at the time. I wanted to open my own restaurant where I could have real contact with customers without needing a huge investment. So, I decided to open up a concept with a table for 12 people.”

But the chef-turned-entrepreneur knew the location could make or break his new concept. 

“I started to analyze the business and the concept. I realized London would be the perfect place to do something disruptive like UNA.” 

After moving to London for its diverse and dynamic food scene, Martin met with the owner of St. Pancras Clock Tower, a historic landmark in King’s Cross. It was the ideal venue for his concept’s launch in 2014 — a cozy yet elegant space where strangers could gather around a table like family for an unforgettable meal. 

“St. Pancras Clock Tower was not a dining room at the time, so I pitched the idea. We started with one dinner, and it just spiraled from there.” 

photo of a dinner table

While the chance to dine in a historic landmark with dramatic city views drove ticket sales, it was the communal atmosphere that made it such a novel experience. 

“I created a fine-dining restaurant where people share one table so they can share stories and make connections. But it’s not just about gastronomy or the location. It’s about making a memory.” 

The exclusivity of the event — limited seats for a limited time – helped UNA make its mark on the London food scene and set the stage for its evolution. 

“We believe in the ephemeral restaurant concept,” Martin said. “We don’t believe in a restaurant that’s open for 20 years. We believe in a restaurant that’s open today and closed in four to six weeks, or maybe months, and then the cycle starts again. And that’s why I think UNA has been so successful — because we didn’t become a static restaurant concept. We did something very underground: a small concept that was mainly word of mouth.”  

Creating the ‘Cirque du Soleil’ of Restaurants

After UNA’s launch in London, Martin was ready to expand his concept to more countries and turn it into something more performative. 

He chose a pine forest in Uruguay for his next ephemeral experience. But this concept would be distinctly different.   

“The concept changes all the time,” Martin said. “For Uruguay, we created an immersive, gastronomical theater. Guests still shared one table with strangers for a seven-course meal, but something unexpected happened during service as well to surprise the guests. It was a more artistic version of the concept.” 

This time, the table sat 24, and Martin tailored the event details to the surroundings.

outdoor dinner

“We traveled to Uruguay to see the space and figure out details. We curated everything according to the venue, from the welcome cocktail to the music. It’s our creativity that allows us to design something bespoke each time.”

As a chef who “lives life like an artist,” it only makes sense that Martin’s concept turns dinner into a show. He hired local set designers to transform the forest into a magical, performative dinner venue and dancers from a theater company in Montevideo to work as servers.

“Dancers think in choreography, in a different movement. It was amazing to have dancers as waiters because it’s a different mindset.” 

photo of outdoor cinema

And mindset is important to Martin, who desires to alter his guests’ emotional state with everything from performative servers to creative cuisine. 

“We create something guests will never forget because we think as an artist in the same way we think as chefs and restaurateurs. For me, art is the capability to change your state of mind. So, we transform our guests’ state of mind through food and the overall experience.” 

With a stunning backdrop, high-end eats and a communal, multi-sensory experience, it’s easy to see how UNA could be a mainstay in Uruguay — but that’s not the business model.

“We’re building a business where we can open UNA for a few weeks in different places across the world, and then it disappears. It’s kind of like the Cirque du Soleil of restaurants.”

Disrupting the Restaurant Industry, One Country at a Time 

While UNA’s ephemeral restaurants allow Martin to update menus, venues and performances each time, one component remains the same: the one table experience. 

“When you visit high-end restaurants, you don’t know who the people at the next table are. I would visit these restaurants and think, ‘I’d love to talk to that person.’ So, that’s why I created a fine-dining restaurant where people share the table so they can also share stories.”

The innovative guest experience forges a lifelong memory for guests. 

“People come to UNA because they know there will be like-minded people at the table. It’s a big surprise every night; they don’t just get a tasty menu — they get a memory.” 

UNA may not stay in each place long, but there’s always the chance it’ll return. Martin’s future plans include a new, larger venue in London where they’ll create a new play every season, and potential locations in Miami, Buenos Aires and Ibiza.

“We mainly receive offers from hotels as they always need to create something new and different for their guests. That impermanence is the soul of UNA.” 

Wherever UNA pops up next, it will stay true to Martin’s vision: bringing people together, making art and serving great food.  

“We are very authentic in what we do,” Martin said. “We are not aiming to be someone else. We want to be ourselves. And this is what we are.” 

This interview was conducted by SevenRooms, a restaurant CRM, marketing and operations solution built to help restaurants deepen guest relationships and elevate their most unique, authentic experiences, from brick-and-mortar to pop-up restaurants.

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