Everything moves in circles. The world spins around the sun. The moon travels around Earth. And in the same way, trends you thought never would come back, come back. À L’aise is the restaurant equivalent of a high-speed car chase down the wrong lane. The greeting and careful reception is overshadowed by the exceptionally specific turn-of-the-millennium timestamp on the interior design. Some say 2001 should only be repeated viewing the visual spectacles of Kubrick, and that the only people who should be allowed to go back to 2001 should be highly skilled museum conservators. But a lot of people love this beige-on-beige-on-grey look, especially the more senior visitors, for whom all of this is simply magnificent. The champagne trolley, with wheels that aren’t quite big enough to match the high-pile shag carpet, is fully loaded. But disappointingly, they seem to have furnished it with loot from their last trip to the airport. The tax-free selection puts a stain on what could have been a free dive into bubbly fun, but our dismay fades when the food is brought in and we fall into a luxurious state of well-being. It starts off gently, as we sit in the soft grey chairs. The sommelier pulls out classics, a few highlights, and makes sure our palates are cleansed before the next serving. A parade of neoclassic French-inspired dishes follows, since we forked out on the tasting menu, but if you don’t there is a fine selection to be ordered from à la carte. Norwegian seafood is served in new ways. Hidden under a sheet of gelatinised milk, a scallop dressed in a heated and sweating Spanish ham perfumed with hazelnuts and topped with winter truffle evokes a small outburst of joy at the tables nearby. The small and firm langoustine tail is dressed in fresh raspberries and preserved beetroots. The meat dish, veal en croute, is a juicy piece of calf’s meat rolled in a crispy crust. The textures are pleasing and the mild meat gets a little kick from the surrounding crumbs. There is a lot of produce from Norway but no seasonal or geographical restraints. With Chef Ulrik Jepsen’s dedication and drive we have no doubt that À L’aise will find its audience and develop new experiences. À’laise is a refreshing new arrival on Oslo’s dining scene with its contemporary take on French luxury.
Arakataka may not be situated in one of the cosiest parts of Oslo but from the second you enter the mid-sized, elongated restaurant you feel relaxed and looked after. The bar, the open kitchen, and the professional but rather laid-back attitude of the friendly staff all contribute to the feel-good atmosphere. The interior is stylish and could be described as Nordic-woodlands-meets-Japanese simplicity, and it works well with the kitchen’s well-balanced and delicate Asian-European cuisine. After the delicious sourdough bread with malt and house-made butter we are ready for take-off. The menu offers a choice between an à la carte menu with 12–14 different options and a set menu of five dishes with wine pairings. Don’t miss out on the latter as the wine competence here is well above average. This is illustrated by a beef tartare with nasturtiums, fermented turnips and a béarnaise-like crème where the perfect-temperature meat has depth and sweetness. The somewhat surprising pairing is a crémant de Jura; the wine rinses the palate beautifully making the dish stand out and adding a touch of freshness. Bingo! The spaghetti with bleak roe is another winning dish where the precisely cooked pasta combines delicately with the salty roe, adding a Nordic vibe to an Italian classic. The menu offers a good selection of other local/Nordic ingredients, like red king crab and skrei cod. The former is combined with cilantro, lime and chilli and is as an excellent choice if you are looking for high-class comfort/finger food, but the cod is just a tiny bit overcooked and the dish lacks acidity. The barley risotto topped with raw, sliced mushrooms is not perfectly balanced either and the kernels are still a minute away from all dente, but the kitchen gets back on track with the turbot with baked and grilled celeriac and ramsons, and a finger-lickin’ good chicken from Holte with kale and yellow beets. The wine list at Arakataka is a well-curated and fairly priced selection of mostly French and Italian classics mixed with more unusual bottles like Australian natural wines and English sparkling wine. After a well-executed double espresso we are back on the windy street, but wishing we were still inside.
Astral is housed in an old cooperage on the bank of the Akerselva River at Lilleborg, an old factory complex which used to produce vinegar, soap and wallpaper glue. Inside the building is a glorious space with high ceilings, red brick walls, big arched factory windows, and wooden design furniture. This is a large restaurant and on our visit it is only half-filled with diners ranging from couples on their second date to groups of friends starting their night out with a meal. After conferring with the waiter we go for a sparkling Austrian wine to go with the first part of the meal. His service is professional, friendly and earnest. The food is modern Nordic. Although the first snack on the table looks like pita bread with hummus, the bread is house-baked and flame-grilled, and the hummus isn’t hummus – it’s a purée of dried local green peas. A snack of lingonberries, sour cream and grated cured reindeer meat gives us a taste of the mountains, while crispy rye biscuits with a duck liver mousse are an earthy treat. A poached egg with ramson broth and pickled celeriac is nicely balanced, as is a dish of white asparagus, butter sauce, chewy dulse seaweed and toasted almonds. The meal’s only let-down is an dish of raw marinated mackerel with not enough seasoning and a skin that’s hard to chew. The disappointment is soon forgotten, however, because the desserts are stunning: first up is a combination of rhubarb and celery with dried yoghurt, a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity that's very refreshing. The second dessert is nearly as good – an earthy Jerusalem artichoke ice cream with brown cheese that leaves us feeling mellow and relaxed, satisfied but not stuffed.
Inside an old hotel where several other restaurant concepts have tried and failed, head chef Kari Innerå’s cheery menu and playful palate have given BA53 a note of whimsy in an otherwise stiff-upper-lipped part of Oslo. While one can expect muted conversations about the Dow Jones index and Tesla queues amongst the diners, there’s a substantial amount of colour and brightness in the plates being served. Either you go for one of the set menus or choose dishes yourself (three is sufficient for leaving you well fed but still capable of walking downtown for a night cap), you’ll find intriguing flavours and wonderfully plated portions. Current favourites include a smoked haddock spaghettini, lamb from Buskerud and signature dishes like tempura-fried cod’s tongue with a rich, tangy mayo dip. The cuisine’s inspirations span from Southeast Asia to Central Europe, creating keen, inventive twists with local ingredients. This emphasis on locally sourced meat, fish and produce is one of BA53’s foremost qualities (we wish the beer selection showed the same regional enthusiasm), and its thoughtful compositions are as visually stunning as fulfilling. The dining room itself is huge, and the open kitchen solution is an inviting, natural focal point should the conversation falter. Retreat to the adjacent bar space for a cocktail and you’ll be leaving Frogner smiling, albeit with a slightly thinner wallet.
Bass is a bar – a bar with very good food, actually. And it’s trendy. When a restaurant has this type of buzz in Grünerløkka, a not-so-recently gentrified neighborhood of Oslo, a line of people is bound to form outside. Some of them will probably stand there because others are already standing there, but the rest are there because they’ve heard about the guilty pleasures, such as sinful and juicy pieces of chicken nuggets and hearty portions of vendace caviar. The restaurateur seems to be relishing this moment: knowing there’s a line outside, they can dare to be themselves and let go of any restraints. Which will probably both keep the buzz going and lead to longer lines. The menu is reassuringly short, full of tempting items. Bass leans less toward fine and more toward fun dining. Although there are few choices, there are enough to woo even the more seasoned diners. It all starts well; the food is playful and elegant in its rough plating. Bass has a wine list that would make both sides of the natural wine feud happy. They cater to all; the only thing that matters is that it tastes good, and it does. The wine is poured generously, so what starts out as a fairly calm evening tends to turn into a party and you might wake up with a number of new Facebook friends. They serve their beloved Danish cheese, Thybo, and a generous amount of fried chicken and dip, but the highlight this evening is raw beef. Raw slices of aged meat topped with vendace caviar is like an imaginative take on a Norwegian taco. It’s paired with a glass of vodka. The stereo plays hits from the eighties. This it where it starts.
Austevoll is the home of Bocuse d’Or winner Ørjan Johannessen and his renowned chef and brother, Arnt Johannessen. Together they run the kitchen at Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri where their parents cooked throughout their childhood. After arriving on this small haven of an island, you quickly realize that there is nowhere you would rather be. The view is stunning and some of what’s swimming nearby will later appear on your plate. When booking a table for dinner here, make sure you also have a bed for the night. You do not want to hurry back to catch the last ferry, nor will you want to drive home, because the wines are interesting, priced so you feel like you're getting value for money, and definitely worth the stay. For the best experience, book a room in the main building. This is also where you’ll find the best ambiance for dinner. The evening starts with a langoustine that has barely touched the grill. It has an intense flavour that works well with the cauliflower cream, and it’s light as a cloud with a velvety texture. This is just the beginning of the local produce that leads us down a steady and traditional path along the west coast of Norway. Next up is pollock, a fish historically used as bait in Norway. It is served with a fresh riesling foam, peas and sauerkraut. We carry on with a smooth and soft monkfish before arriving at the most tender lamb meat imaginable – we barely need our teeth to chew. The sweet, intense sauce is made from a local recipe and has been reduced for three days. The waiter attends to us throughout the evening with unique dedication and knowledge, and a lifetime of experience to share. We especially enjoy his expertise when it comes to the wine, juice and coffee, all of which have a clear thought behind them. Dining at Bekkjarvik is an old-school,classic experience, with waiters in uniforms and tables covered with white linen.
This small restaurant on the western side of Oslo, on a street where boutiques are few, small and expensive, is no longer the new kid on the block. It’s now a neighbourhood cornerstone, a place where the shopkeepers can guide their customers when they are done selecting bags and blazers of brands only known to holders of black credit cards. The dining room and kitchen are almost naked in their minimalism, decorated sparsely with a couple of erotic paintings. In the basement, where the restrooms are, someone had the idea of incorporating a nature theme. The wallpaper depicts a vast forest and the sound of birdsong spills out of the speakers; we appreciate their sense of humor. The dinner kicks off with an actual bonsai tree surrounded by soil made out of cream cheese and toasted rye crumble, topped with fried moss, fresh spring radishes and small mushrooms. It’s a tribute to spring, and all that green that promises to come with it, freshly produced by their beloved farmer Finn. Paired with a welcome British take on the sparkling traditions of Champagne, the meal is off to a good start. An oyster emulsion with fresh thin cauliflower shavings and cauliflower purée takes us from the earthy field down to the seashore. Just recently back from a trip to the United States, Chef Simon Weinberg shares with us his take on the most American dish of all: fried chicken. The serving is called “Yoda’s Fried Chicken” and is a tribute to his dog. A roulade of deboned chicken leg is filled with chicken liver, then deep-fried and served in a “YFC” take-away box together with embers of spruce. An emulsion of young spruce shoots as a dip hits the spot and gives the juicy, tender chicken a foresty feel. Inspiration from America is also detectable in the meat dish. The beef is blackened before it is cooked sous vide for 24 hours and served with a juniper cream broken with a jus made from the grill drippings. An ice cream made from milk steeped in rosemary melts alongside the meat and gives it all a sweet and tangy taste. The ending comes in the form of a fresh milk ice cream with beetroot and tarragon. It’s not the sweetest of desserts but nicely sums up the playfulness of the kitchen. The coffee comes from a small roaster in the maître ’d’s hometown of Aarhus. Bokbacka keeps confidently evolving in its own direction and is a great place to visit when you find yourself in dire need of a new experience.
There’s little room for doubt at the Fagerborg local favourite, Bon Lío. Here you have only one dining option: the “Full Pupp” menu, consisting of a number of unannounced and ever-changing dishes, faithful to the early 2000's fad of “whatever the chef is in the mood for”. While this can be perceived as arrogant and reactionary nowadays, the high quality one can expect throughout the experience efficiently removes any qualms one might have had walking in. This is a Spanish restaurant in every sense of the word, from a “La Rambla” sign by the counter to the kitchen’s use of Mediterranean ingredients and cooking techniques. On a normal day your menu will consist of as many as 12-13 dishes, including the appetisers, where you will be exposed to diverse aspects of this concept. From an amuse-bouche of ramson and Avruga caviar via a shot of the traditional, cold almond soup called ajo blanco, to a profusion of fish preparations, like a cod escabeche and a halibut ceviche. One can also expect the omnipresent chorizo and Iberian pig to make appearances, all the while accompanied by Spanish wines from both well-known and up-and-coming producers. The dining quarters, spread out over two intimate floors, have an intense, loud, sometimes overly cordial atmosphere where the open kitchen becomes part of the interior and the buzzing conversations. Generous wine pours and a somewhat prolonged wait between courses makes Bon Lío a good choice when you have the following day off.
Brasseri France is an institution of classic French cooking located in the middle of Oslo’s tourist district, just off Karl Johan, the shopping street that leads to the royal palace. Chances are, if you ever eaten in Oslo and had excellent service, the waiters have been trained here. Excellent service is hard to come by, but here it is as correct as it is formal. The clientele consists of returning customers and other restaurant workers enjoying a day off work. (Brasseri France is a favourite among chefs and waiters in Oslo.) A round of fine de claires starts off the dinner, with condiments such as vinaigrette, tabasco or a lemon. Chewing on the salty, rich flesh makes us contemplate the past, when this was the food of hardworking men and women, to be eaten by the dozen. The main course of boneless rib-eye is cooked to perfection. A dark brown crust frames the moist and juicy meat, and the marbled fat melts in our mouths as we chew. The acidity from the béarnaise matches perfectly and together with the green beans and pommes frites, it is a classic take on one of the most beloved dishes inherited from French cuisine. The duck confit comes with kale and Pommes Anna. The crispy duck skin is perfect with the buttery potatoes. Brasseri France makes proper French food, the kitchen applies flawless techniques, and the textures and flavours hit their marks every time. Brasseri France is a safe choice if you should find yourself wanting for attention, love and care, and you’ll receive it in the form of food, service and wine. Even on a Monday at lunch.
If sparsely decorated restaurants serving fermented food and unfiltered wine set on the outskirts of the city centre are any measure of a successful, confident and cultural big city, then Oslo has arrived. Especially if you consider that, up until recently, there weren’t many gourmands flocking to the streets of Oslo, Brutus is an example of how far Oslo has come. Located behind the city jail, in an area that is still in its early years of repopulation, this wine bar turned lacto-fermentation heaven pushes the limits of the aforementioned gourmand’s migratory patterns. The small corner location caters to people’s hunger and thirst every day of the week, all year round. The owners are no strangers to magical fermentations, with their experience from Fat Duck, Noma, Maaemo and other spearheads of cuisine around the world. Now, after working hard with the best for many years, John Sonnichsen, Jens Føien, and the guys in the kitchen led by Chef Arnar Jakob Gudmundsson, do their best to convince you to stay for not only the four courses, but also a bottle or two more of festive pét-nat or a funky red from Loire with simple yet fun and fermented fare. The baked rutabaga with pork fat and breadcrumbs is sweet, sour and salty. The small cups of pickled onions with chicken liver are sweet and sour and good enough to be ordered a second time around. After a bottle of cider. And charred Icelandic flatbread with beetroots. And that amazing dish with leeks, buttermilk and roe. We’ll have another one of those as well.
One of the first things that you see inside the restaurant is the kitchen team, standing almost at attention, ready to carry you safely through one of Bergen’s most detailed and advanced menus. We eat our way through the fjords and mountains, while listening to anecdotes that paint pictures of both the producers and production methods. The service is so accurate that one of the restaurant’s biggest challenges is to loosen up the mood – it’s dangerously close to being stiff and impersonal. The sommelier does his best to break up the vibe with a joke now and then. It’s liberating to hear his laughter as he explains food science phenomena, and the role of amino acids and antioxidants in flavour. The service is hugely knowledgeable and the experience will undoubtedly teach you something new about food and wine. The tasting menu consists of nine dishes, but also gives you the opportunity to choose a shorter way through, with only six stops. À la carte is a third option. Whichever way you choose, the meal opens with three small morsels that summarize the restaurant’s style in a nutshell. A piece of traditional Norwegian flatbread is served with beef tartare, tarragon mayonnaise and nori powder. It is followed by a bowl of fermented tomato juice with fermented celery pieces. Then the small caravan of appetisers ends with a tiny creation of rutabaga in several forms. At Colonialen the kitchen loves to play with fermentation and happily flirts with molecular gastronomy. All of the dishes on the menu are characterized by a huge attention to detail. The menu’s first and last creations are the most memorable on our journey. The mountain trout from Hardanger is served as a tartare with oyster emulsion, cured cucumber, cucumber ketchup, kale powder and watercress. It is a fresh dish, a true Norwegian ceviche, complemented by a wine from Domaine de La Pépière whose proximity to the Atlantic Ocean adds a fresh and delicate, salty hint. It picks up where the oyster leave off. The menu ends perfectly with an egg of hazelnut resting in a nest composed of caramel and chocolate. The middle section of the menu lacks cohesion – like the dish of beets, carrot and rye, as some of these ingredients are swallowed up by other components, leaving a fragmented assortment of flavours. Colonialen is Bergen’s most classic and reliable dining experience, and the service is impeccable. Even the smallest details are thought through – from breadsticks with beef butter to the chair you’re sitting on. You will not be disappointed, even though this is Bergen’s most expensive meal.
Located on "Holmen", an island outside Bergen. Take the boat from shed number 8 at Dreggekaien, Bryggen. Follow the restaurant sign. (GPS POSITION: N 60C 19.784`, E 5C 10.171), 5004 Bergen
A meal at Cornelius is an experience and a journey. Every day at 6 pm a 50-foot shuttle boat takes passengers to Holmen. The sea route is the only way to get there, and the voyage takes 25 minutes. There is hardly a more beautiful way to experience Bergen, whether a storm is raging or the sun is sparkling. The restaurant’s premises are literally carved into the rock and situated amidst the ocean’s bounty. The big windows seem to bring the ocean into the restaurant, making the diner feel an indescribable intimacy with the fresh ingredients, some of which were alive only minutes before reaching your plate. The pools outside the entrance are filled with live crabs and swimming fish. Cornelius offers a meteorological menu that changes with the wind and weather. On our visit we are served a menu with lighter ingredients since we’re on the cusp of spring, but with deep flavours meant to warm us in the miserably wet west coast weather. This is expressed in an extra rich shellfish soup with pollock, shore crab and langoustines; and smoked beets in the main course of cod. The wine cellar is like a natural cave in the rock. The 5,000 bottles from Italy, France, Germany, and Austria are kept safe in the naturally regulated temperature and moisture. The boat trip contributes to making a visit to Cornelius exotic and exciting, but also makes it an expensive proposition. The best value for money is the five-course menu. The three-course menu won’t fill the time until the boat heads back at 10.30 pm. At Cornelius you should go for the full works, or stay on shore.
Restaurant Credo is now temporary closed awaiting its relocation at Lilleby in Trondheim.
After 18 years on a narrow backstreet Restaurant Credo, the best restaurant in the region, and one of the longest-running restaurants in White Guide Nordic’s Norwegian top ten, is finally growing up and moving on. In a way that’s unprecedented, Credo has managed to reinvent itself several times during its lifespan, outshining the rest of its competitors year after year. During the summer of 2017 they are closing down and moving to new and better-suited facilities outside the city centre, a much-needed upgrade for the restaurant and the city of Trondheim. One could assume that the restaurant might go on autopilot in advance of a relocation like this, but that’s not the case with owner Chef Heidi Bjerkan. She’s working harder than ever, steadily improving the quality of each aspect of her operation. Credo has close and exciting relationships with two local farms, Skjølberg Søndre and Fannremsgården, which provide the restaurant with an amazing array of produce, dairy and meat. With these resources, Bjerkan is recreating food traditions from the whole region, preserving these memories for the future, and reprocessing them into modern cuisine. Her blend of tradition and modernity makes us remember long-forgotten flavours from our youth: this is grandmother’s cooking for our grandchildren to try. Some of those memorable flavours are showcased in one amuse-bouche – a small blood pudding made from pork blood and port wine topped with an intense, fermented lingonberry gelée. It is velvety, full of umami and so flavourful that you wonder why this traditional peasant food isn’t served on every street corner in Scandinavia. A thinly sliced lacto-fermented rutabaga taco is filled with lamb sweetbreads and black garlic – as “Trøndersk” as you can get, yet as modern as can be. Her homage to local ingredients is perfectly presented in the serving of “potetlompe”, a potato cake – the best we’ve ever had – served with homemade charcuterie and the most amazing butter and sour cream imaginable from Fannremsgården. It is bold to serve something as elementary as this – yet perfect. It’s spring, but we get a bit of fall with our raw shrimps, which are lightly brushed with chillies and served underneath last year’s kohlrabi (that’s been stored in beetroot wine) and this year’s first dandelion leaves and rose petals. The local langoustine is simply cooked in butter and served next to an emulsion made out of the fascinating sea wrack called siphon weed, topped with green oxalis. Our main course is pork cured for three months to an incredible tenderness with pickled and puffed barley, kale and pickled chanterelles and black trumpet mushrooms. It’s so uncomplicated, but at the same time so refined. The dessert is one of the sweet highlights of the year: ice cream made from raw milk in bay leaf oil topped with a caramel made from dulse seaweed comes on a bed of crumbled coffee cake and fermented barley gelée. Chef Bjerkan’s work restoring the region’s food culture can be compared with Magnus Nilsson’s work at Fäviken, right over the Swedish border, and right now her hard work is the greatest culinary asset the region of Trøndelag possesses. We look forward to the next chapter.
De 4 Roser is an institution in Harstad, and the longest-running fine dining restaurant in the northern part of Norway. It has outlived trends and stood the test of time thanks to a combination of quality and conviviality that has pleased visitors and locals alike for 21 years. They welcome you as a friend and you leave many hours later both happy and full. It’s impossible to pin down a time frame for the style of De 4 Roser’s plates; they look like they might be from the 1990s, the 2000s, or even last year, but it’s refreshing to eat food this flavourful. You can choose from a three to six-course set menu based primarily on local produce, where they source what’s available during the warm months and preserve it for the cold months. The menu follows the usual setup: fish, meat, cheese and sweets, and their extensive use of vegetables means that you don’t leave the meal feeling overly full. The wine list is well worth diving into, and owner and sommelier Trond Dahle is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about both wine and local sightseeing and hiking. Although the dining room is in a dire need of renovation, the old wooden building in the middle of the small city center is full of charm and an evening at De 4 Roser is always a pleasure.
Everything starts with and egg, and as the name of this restaurant implies, “The Egg” takes you back to the beginning, to what dining is all about: the flavours, the joy, the ingredients, and the fact that food is something social, that should be shared. Egget is hidden inside the basement of a small wooden house. It is a bit difficult to find, but just follow the delicious scent and you will soon find yourself in a rustic and pulsating cave. The restaurant is a bit rough around the edges, like an old tavern, and loud like a great party. This place has only one rule: There are no rules. It is probably one of the most informal restaurants you will ever set foot in. At Egget they strive to keep the ingredients cheap, and the experience exclusive and exciting. But nobody will bring you cutlery or fold your napkin here. And you don’t pay for that either. You pay for great food. Chef Tony Martin has experience from restaurants like Re-Naa, Tango and Bagatelle. He took over the stoves at Egget in January 2017, and with him came the possibility to book tables here. But you still won’t get a menu. The meal starts when the chef says ’Go!’, and stops when you are full and happy – and remember to let the kitchen know you’ve had enough. First out is a three-step serving of fried bread with ramson gremolata, beets with goat’s cheese and cress, and a ceviche made with cod and leche de tigre. They are all fresh, simple, and down to earth, and plated on brown paper. From the get-go, Egget fearlessly crosses national food boundaries. The menu starts off quite humbly with a halibut with celeriac purée made with cashews before building up the tension with reindeer hearts and tongue. The same glass keeps getting refilled with ecological and rebellious wines like a pét-nat from Cristoph Hock and a mature orange wine from Domaine Matassa. A visit to Egget is fun and exciting and will leave you happier than you ever imagined possible without dessert.
Nestled in the eastern hills of Oslo, the gloriously functionalist 1920s Ekebergrestauranten was brought back to life and reopened in 2005 after decades of neglect. The restaurant is a destination in itself, as much for the panoramic vista and the iconic architecture as for the food. The high ceilings and the white tablecloths make for a formal yet unstuffy atmosphere. The diners are mostly well-dressed families out for a special occasion, along with the odd group of overseas vacationers, so the choice of hit-list r&b music seems out of place. The food is not daring, but solid. Trout confit, served with crispy apple and radishes, is correctly cooked but refrigerator-cold and slightly lacking in salt. A pumpkin soup with pork belly and a grilled scallop has a slight bite of chilli. The best dish is a pan-fried piece of halibut balanced on spring cabbage, new potatoes and caramelised onions accompanied by a well-balanced butter sauce. The dessert, described as a chocolate truffle cake, is more of a cold fondant, served with a rock-hard blood orange sorbet. The service is eavesdroppingly attentive. The wine list is extensive and traditional, with the odd foray into macerated white wines. The atmosphere and the setting make Ekebergrestauranten worth a visit. Hunger is the best spice, so make sure to work one up by first going for a stroll in the nearby sculpture park.
Considering Norway’s unparalleled access to some of the best seafood in the world, one would imagine its capital was overflowing with great sushi restaurants. Unfortunately, they are rather scarce, and mainly consist of cheap, mass-produced take away or overpriced upscale joints. Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Restaurant Fangst appears. Located in the basement of a Majorstua hotel, doubling as the hotel’s breakfast room, it’s a rather grey and not so inspiring looking restaurant. But don’t let its dull looks fool you because Fangst is a rare catch in this town. It’s run by two enthusiasts who have gathered quite a following among the local residents who flock to the small bar counter. The menu is short and focused on what’s in season, offering both à la carte and a set menu. We especially enjoy the serving of deep-fried cod tongue topped with bleak roe and fresh wasabi. A miso soup is made with dashi and langoustines, served with a delicious Norwegian king crab – an excellent blend of local produce and Japanese flavours. Our bet is that these boys will move on to better and more suitable facilities soon, and we’re looking forward to it!
Feinschmecker could not be situated anywhere other than Frogner. Although the facade is rather unassuming, it is in a neigbourhood with an aura of money, evidenced not only by the clientele, but also by the prices. Run by celebrity chef Lars Erik Underthun, this lush restaurant has been among Oslo’s elite dining venues for over twenty years. The menu reflects this stability – there’s a sense of comfort and tradition throughout the courses. It focuses on execution and luxurious, rounded flavours. There are few elements of surprise, but the feeling of satisfaction is omnipresent. It’s a sinfully pleasant treat to start off with foie gras with oxtail, rhubarb cream and fried brioche while eavesdropping on the various conversations in the stylish, but somewhat confusing dining room. An absence of music and the poshness of the surroundings makes this a radical choice for the young foodie movement; expect a rather high percentage of families and mature couples out for a bite. Neither you nor they will be dissatisfied with the menu. A rich, seasonal chicken breast with fatty, salty rillettes in a sherry sauce paired with sweet onion is a current favourite. The cod loin flavoured with chorizo and contrasted with fava beans doused in a nutty butter sauce will render you perfectly content while chatting with the staff and Under-thun himself, who always takes the time to converse at each table. The flavours and staff make you feel at home and welcome, with a stability and warmth that explains the decades of delighted customers.
Festningen restaurant is perched on top of 700-year old walls at Akershus Castle. From this massive brick building that once housed a prison you can enjoy central Oslo’s best views. The interior of the historically protected building has been carefully refurbished to house a tasteful if somewhat corporate-looking modern restaurant with an open kitchen. If the weather allows, you can sit on the west-facing terrace looking over the sparkling fjord towards shadowy Aker Brygge. The clientele on our visit consists mostly of visiting tourists or groups of friends out for a meal. We overhear some Americans complaining about the incongruous “boom-boom music”, but the food is well worth a try. A crispy croquette of pork knuckle in a panko crust is juicy and flavourful and the rich filling is offset by a pleasantly tart salad with capers, cornichons and onions. The pan-fried cod is served with a purée of charred aubergine and a slightly undercooked cassoulet of borlotti, canneloni and fava beans. The roasted spring chicken in the form of breast and confited leg is moist yet crispy, with an additional taste of spring in the form of peas and asparagus. The same creamy mash accompanies the cod and the chicken, and both compositions are slightly heavy on the salt, but the food is generally well cooked. A white Bordeaux from the extensive wine list is a pleasant compromise to suit both dishes, suggested by the friendly sommelier. The staff are efficient and pleasant, but you need to find your own way through the self-service wardrobe and up the stairs to the restaurant. Once there, enjoy the view and be grateful that the door is unlocked and the food far more pleasant than the prison fare of yore.
Karl Erik Pallesen runs the kitchen at this fishmonger by day, hotspot by night – a place that is widely known for having the best fish soup in the kingdom. As seasoned readers probably know, this is a typical claim written on every blackboard along the touristy pier and around Lågen, from the run-down local dive bar to the more posh establishments fancied by oil executives. The creamy soup with shrimp and ling fish feels like a feast. Here the vegetables are crunchy, and the emerald green oil tastes just as brilliant as it looks. The rumours are true: this is the best fish soup. A ramson risotto follows, and comes out on top. The risotto has a vibrant green colour from the wild and garlicky Nordic leaves. The shrimps and mussels are moist and have the right bite to them. The sweetness of the seafood is matched by pickled carrots. The baked Atlantic cod comes with a butter sauce with salmon roe, cauliflower, cucumber and red oxalis. The menu is written on a big blackboard, and the waiters tour the small dining room with it, at times with such struggle that we’re surprised they don’t feel compelled to put it down on a piece of paper. A group of men who are celebrating something cause the service to come to a halt, though it was attentive at first. In the end it is nearly impossible to get the staff’s attention as they hastily fly by us en route to the men with heavy trays of beers. Fisketorget Lågen is a good place to let your mind wander while enjoying the great seafood this region is known for.
Fru K, the prestige restaurant at hotel mogul Petter Stordalen’s most lavish hotel, The Thief, has rebranded itself once again. Now it’s both meat-free and a lot smaller than before, which was probably a wise move, as the old restaurant was way too large, leaving diners with a feeling of being alone even on a busy night. The shift to pescetarianism is also a smart move, as the kitchen lacked focus before, and now it’s trading in the new and trendy currency of vegetables and seafood. We start with a snack of white asparagus tops, pickled carrot and beetroot to be dipped in a sauce of unknown origin – though it tastes great, for vegetables and dip. But once the first starter arrives, all is well again. We’re treated to a show of great and simple dishes: grilled green asparagus resting in a light asparagus sauce, lobster from Midsund paired with a lobster hollandaise. A perfectly cooked trout with crispy skin, vendace roe and a brown butter sauce comes with the rest of the aforementioned white asparagus. A superb serving of pumpkin, with reduced cream and kale, is bloody good without the blood, and we don’t even miss the Sunday roast. The turbot served with lemon curd and pickled onion is cooked to perfection. This is great quality food and an excellent showcase of amazing produce. The service is just as one would expect at a world-class hotel but when, halfway into our meal, the maître d’ starts setting up the surrounding tables for tomorrow’s breakfast serving, we are reminded that we are indeed in a hotel and not a regular restaurant. We don’t recommend drinking here unless you have deep pockets. The wine list is a bit top-heavy with very few wines priced under four digits a bottle and the wine pairings might be the priciest deal in town as they do not offer much bang for your buck. But, considering the hotel brand and the whole area of Tjuvholmen, the regulars probably do not mind.
The town of Drammen has never been known as a culinary destination. Even though the surrounding area has historically been considered the most important farmland in the vicinity of Oslo and the town boasts two of the best-known quality breweries in Norway, Drammen has had no restaurants worth mentioning – until now. Frukt og Grønt (Fruit and Vegetables) is a delightful improvement to this town. Everything about the place – the food, the décor, the excellent service, the wine list and their attitude – is a breath of fresh air, and not just for Drammen, but for the whole region. The menu is simple: two starters, two main courses and two desserts, enjoyed as a 3-course menu or à la carte, with set wine pairings or by the glass. It’s a great deal, whichever you choose. Their wine list is fairly up-to-date, providing options on both sides of the classic vs. natural feud, and the whole list is even available by the glass at fair prices. The food is all over the map; it’s a mixture of trends and styles, but mostly it’s just delicious everyday fare. Some of the modernistic techniques are a bit out-dated (we haven’t seen spherification in a while), but we enjoy them nonetheless. Frukt og Grønt is the perfect place for a dinner or a glass of wine when you’re in town. We just hope the locals realize it, and keep them in business.
After a short period of renovation the hotel has again opened its doors. This famed Viennese-style café had its glory days in the late 1800s, when it was frequented by the likes of the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Henrik Ibsen. Over a period of nearly one hundred years the awe and well-deserved cool the writer and his friends attracted was replaced by elderly ladies dressed in furs and wearing as much musk as their skin could retain. The air no longer has the residual odor of animal skins and the interior décor is fresher, albeit the walls are now darker, in the classically modern way. The food, on the other hand, is lighter and more inviting than ever with its modern take on, well, almost every cuisine possible. Describing the origins of the courses stated in the menu is easier done with a sawed-off shotgun and a world map. It’s all over the place. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the kitchen is as fine-tuned as a German-Japanese Formula One team. This fusion fare is served in small and medium-sized courses and while it’s good, every dish seems to be hiding all the same ingredients. A dry-aged entrecote is quickly seared in a pan, thinly sliced, drenched in sesame oil and then hidden under small shrapnel of spiralized daikon. It’s fresh and mouth-filling but, sadly, the taste of the aged meat is drowned by the vinaigrette and overwhelmed by the aggressive texture of the small bush of greens. A tartare of beef with cured scallops is covered in crisps, so there is texture to match the cold meat and mature-smelling scallop emulsion, but the funky smell gets lost in the sweetness of the blend of sea and land. The celebrated caviar of the north, vendace roe, is placed on top of a Belgian waffle the size of a small mattress. The fish eggs are accompanied by sour cream, dill and vast amounts of crisps. The wine list has more to offer blue-haired ladies than the absinth-drinking writer. Grand Café is a good place to go for decennial celebrations in the autumn of life, although the wine and food will resonate better with a younger crowd.
Happolati is located in the old grounds of the former fine dining bastion of Ylajali, but it doesn’t need any of this legacy to stand firmly on its own. Since opening in 2016 it has rocketed towards stardom and is now considered one of Oslo’s – and Norway’s – most exciting restaurants. The foundation is Asian cuisine, but from there it grows out wildly in many directions. You’ll find homespun variations on street food traditions such as the Chinese bao bun, but that’s where tradition stops and inspiration takes over. Picture it filled with red king crab and then deep-fried, hitting very spicy and buttery notes simultaneously. It appears again, served on a DIY platter of desserts, caramelized and ready to be stuffed in your mouth with banana-chocolate ice cream, sorbet, popcorn, and fruity dipping sauce. Expect to use your hands quite a lot during the set menus, as this is tactile, messy food – and it’s deeply satisfying both to handle and consume. Whether you’re asked to put on blue plastic gloves to eat shellfish Neanderthal-style, assemble your own veal cheek tacos, or dip deep-fried cod’s tongue in a tart chilli sauce, dining at Happolati never gets boring, old or gimmicky. It is an effective way of engaging the customer, and this playfulness permeates the whole experience. Most important of all, though, is that everything tastes extraordinarily good, and in comparison with many of their peers, the cooks at Happolati do not hold back on the chilli. After perusing their wine selection you’ll be able to name your new favourite Greek or Hungarian varietal, and with a good sake menu to bookend the night, you’re in for a unique treat
Jossa mat og drikke is now temporary closed awaiting it’s and Restaurant Credo’s relocation at Lilleby in Trondheim.
Down a dark narrow alley and up a cramped and steep staircase lies this sibling restaurant of longtime Trondheim food-bastion, Credo. Inside it is warm and cosy, with naked old wooden walls, a nice bar and an open kitchen. Jossa is like the younger kid who escaped the motherland and came back with all kinds of crazy ideas – and the ideas work. It’s laid-back with great, reasonably priced food. You can choose between a three or five-course menu, or today’s meat or fish. The food is inspired from all over the world; it’s rustic, centered around local produce, and features vegetables, grains, dairy, fish and off-cuts of meat. Jossa offers a good selection of wine, beer and pour-over coffee, and it’s possible to order wine from Credo’s legendary wine cellar. We also recommend their artisanal selection of bottled sodas and kombuchas, made fresh on the premises. Their Saturday lunch is easily the best deal in town and the service is easygoing, though sometimes almost too lax. Chef and owner Heidi Bjerkan has assembled a young and ambitious team, who manage to make the restaurant feel like a home away from home. We’re glad we don’t live next door because we would probably be there every other day. Like its parent establishment, Jossa is moving to a new location later this year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what effect the new location will have.
Even though it’s been open for over a year, Grünerløkka’s Kamai still feels like a hidden gem in the jungle that is Oslo’s dining scene. In taking inspiration from South America and placing it inside the frames of the Japanese “kaiseki” meal, Kamai have created one of the most fun dining experiences in the capital as far as flavours go. Choose between a four and seven-course menu of well varied, unpredictable and exciting combinations of tastes and textures. A yoghurt-marinated skrei, tainted with turmeric and garnished with deep-fried shrimp shells and cucumber bends the concept of ceviche a bit out of context, but it tastes excellent. Refreshing, tart and meaty. You can also expect such combinations as tectonic plates of crisp chicken skin, Jerusalem artichoke and miso foam that leave a lasting impression. Also memorable is a tortilla made of corn and blue potatoes filled with avocado cream and goat, and a dish featuring strips of beef heart with kimchi and chimichurri. The food is a stark contrast to the predictability of the Queen, Katrina & The Waves and Billy Joel tunes polluting the ambience, but dining at Kamai never gets boring. It’s a casual setting (to the point that the diners are almost exclusively more formally dressed than the waiters) and the thoughtful menus and electrifying flavour combinations make you love Kamai more and more each visit.
Kolonialen Bislett is only a Thorkildsen/Hattestad javelin throw away from the Bislett sports stadium, but there is not much space for physical performance once inside the tiny and often packed restaurant. We sit shoulder-to-shoulder here, which is cosy, and suits the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, but it can get a bit problematic when you must stop eating to avoid a close encounter with a passing waiter. The menu options are limited: a selection of six starters meant to share followed by a range of three main courses and a couple of cheeses/desserts. All our three starters arrive at the same time, reducing our free table space to zero. They all look so delicious that our expectations rise at once and are mostly met, especially when it comes to the perfectly textured beef tartare with mustard and pine powder topped with crunchy breadcrumbs – it goes straight onto our tartare top-five list. The low-temperature-dried egg yolk with cauliflower, hazelnuts and coriander is another hit, though it lacks a bit of acidity or resistance. The croquettes with anchovies could have been even more fluffy and the fried cabbage leaves a dry sensation on the palate, but the anchovies and the lovage in the mayo give the dish a nice edge. Our own suggestion of white wine is professionally swopped for a very well-suited bottle of Arbois. The wine list is not overly long but well selected, with a little bit of everything – including a glass of Crozes Hermitage which, as promised, nicely accompanies the pork serving with samphire, glazed onions and horseradish crème. The latter dish scores high on the yumminess scale but the last bites are almost too much and could have used something to freshen it all up. The same goes for the carrot ice cream with crème anglaise, coffee and malt syrup, and tarragon oil, but we surrender to the perfect texture of the ice cream and the integration of all the flavours into a delightful whole. If not a gold medal, the Kolonialen performance is at least worth a place on the winner’s stand.
This is Chef Mikael Svensson’s brainchild. The restaurant balances between modern and traditional and his cooking has one foot in the classical world, and one foot in Scandinavian avant-garde cuisine. We have been following Svensson since he first opened Kontrast in the somewhat restrictive breakfast halls of a hotel on the other side of town, eager to see how his restaurants would develop and how his cooking would evolve. And, slowly, Kontrast is finding its place and growing up to be one of the finest restaurants in the country. Sitting in the beautiful but sparsely decorated dining room, which is furnished with bespoke wooden furniture and contemporary art, our meal starts off with an array of small introductions to Mikael’s playful cooking: cured quail egg yolk in a shell made of quail egg meringue; a small root vegetable and smoked juniper tartlet; a wafer made of porcini topped with foie gras mousse and hazelnut crumble; and braised oxtail with pickled cranberries in a delicate and flavorful beef stock. It’s photogenic and stylish but most importantly, it’s extremely tasty. We are presented with the option of a large or small tasting menu, with the possibility of choosing à la carte as well. It’s a brave move, as most restaurants in this league often choose to streamline the menu as much as possible. We also get to choose between a well-curated wine list, a set of wine pairings and a set of non-alcoholic pairings as well. To our surprise, the non-alcoholic pairings are our favorite: a well made and thoughtful combination of cold-brewed tea and fruit or berry juices combined with different cold extracts, vinegars and syrups. Every juice we receive surpasses the previous one. They are refreshing and complex, with layers of flavours, acidity and depth, and wonderfully matched with the dishes being served. The first course of the evening is raw shrimps with horseradish and a variation on beets, promptly followed by scallops topped with an emulsion made of scallop roe and a scallop dashi. One of the meal’s highlights is the langoustine, almost as large as a lobster and kindly served in three parts: the tail in beurre noisette; in a soup with rose hips; and with fresh, emulsified mushrooms. Unfortunately the wine pairing, a savagnin blanc from the esteemed producer Domaine du Pélican in Jura, does not have the power to match the greatness of the extraordinary langoustine, but this is just a small setback in what is overall a great set of wine pairings, elegantly presented by Marko Radicev – perhaps the nicest sommelier in the business. Kontrast’s strength is in combining great produce and excellent cooking, and one of the most memorable dishes is the potato risotto – a risotto made entirely out of the boring old potato instead of rice. Finished with lardo, cheese from Holtefjell, and black truffles, it’s guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts. And that is what Mikael’s cooking does to you. We definitely have a crush on Kontrast.
Le Benjamin is the kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get place where everybody, from first dates and work colleagues to chefs and gourmands, meet to relax and enjoy the French bistro-style kitchen. The atmosphere is friendly, busy and laid-back, and at least the sofas around the edge are comfortable. Evidence of the service team’s many accomplishments covers the wall in the bar and at least one of the staff members delivers a spotless performance with a welcoming and professional attitude. The à la carte menu offers a selection of about ten starters and ten main courses plus desserts and cheeses (there’s a kids’ menu as well). The crab cakes contain delicious, well-prepared crabmeat but the chilli mayo is more chilli than mayo, which dominates the dish and overpowers the suggested white Vacqueyras. The mussel soup has just the right mouthfeel and the mussels are “à point” but we taste mostly cream and the soup lacks the promised touch of saffron. The turbot serving with sweetbreads and brandade is an enormous portion with a well-executed fish and rich flavours, but the deep-frying of the delicate sweetbreads leaves limited opportunity for them to shine. The “almost-there” feeling continues throughout the meal, leaving us with the impression that it wouldn’t take much for the kitchen to go all the way. We finish off with a couple of safe bets: a delightful crème brûlée with chocolate and berries and a selection of cheeses served at the perfect temperature, which we would have enjoyed even more had we not been forced to share the smell of the cheese fondue served several tables away for the last few hours. The wine list at Le Benjamin is – not surprisingly – very French, and lovers of Burgundy wines in particular will have little to wish for. The suggested red from Anne Gros captures both the fish and meat as advised and is professionally decanted but sadly not maintained at the initial perfect temperature during the meal. There it was again: very good, but still not quite there.
During this last year Lysverket has seen several changes: The nightclub concept is gone, lunch is back on the menu, and the front of house team has been strengthened. But even if the DJ is gone, the dining experience is as rough and informal as ever. Rough and informal are two words that also describe the premises. The restaurant is dark and stylish with handmade Danish wooden furniture, industrial ceilings and rough concrete floors. The museum is one of Bergen’s most stylish buildings, and once produced the city’s power. Lysverket is still pumping out energy to this day. With its neo-fjordic concept they have moved the boundaries of traditional Western Norwegian cooking and put Bergen on the international gastronomic map. The meal starts the same way as on our last visit, with a classic succession of small homages to tradition: a warm fish pudding, a taste of mackerel cream on rye bread, and a miniature Nordic kebab made with pickled salted herring. The last nibble before we commence with the menu is a classic Bergen-style fish soup. In keeping with tradition the soup is creamy and acidic with tiny bits of vegetables, but without the characteristic fish balls. The soup is served in a small bowl so you can slurp it up – this is not a place for the prim and proper. The Lysverket menu is a natural result of the restaurant’s location in Western Norway. Instead of writing a menu of ingredients that then need to be sourced, the kitchen works in the opposite way. The natural fauna and the soil of the supplying farms dictates what meat and produce they receive. The first course on the menu is grilled shiitake from Trondheim, layered with raw scallops from Øygarden. Last summer’s salted plums from Hardanger are strewn on top, adding acidity to the smoked, toasted mushroom and the sweet and pure scallop. Hake from the Osterfjord is served with flowersprouts and sea belt seaweed. The restaurant staff pick up fish on the quay in order to get the freshest fish, enabling them to serve it 24 hours earlier than they otherwise would be able to. The result is fish that melts in your mouth like fresh cream. With the exception of the Chablis Premier Cru from Billaud-Simon, the recommended wines harmonise well with the food. The wine menu is good value for money and follows a classic but not very exciting theme. For a more stirring experience, request some input from the knowledgable bar staff. As a non-alcoholic alternative pairing with the Mangalitsa pork, we are offered a crisp drink of celery, ginger and pear juice with fresh flavours to fight this rich dish. It is an interesting experience to taste how this drink and a deep pinot noir with tannins both lift the pork in very different ways. As a part of the KODE art museum, the restaurant has a lunch menu that interprets the present art show, and a dinner menu that is defined by the best produce from the local flora and fauna of the west coast of Norway. Lysverket continues to develop towards an even more defined identity than before.
On top of a concrete staircase with a view over the commuting public on their way to somewhere is where you’ll find Maaemo – a veritable cornucopia where traditions are both kept and reinvented. Since the opening Chef Esben Holmboe Bang has produced new tastes of perfection. “Oysters from Bømlo”; “Butter on butter ice cream”, “Wheat on wheat” – these are some of the items on the tasting menu that have been there since the start and now have a place of their own in culinary history. They now are as important to mention when presenting Norwegian national dishes to a visiting gourmand as lutefisk, rakfisk (fermented mountain trout) and tørrfisk (stock fish). At Maaemo there are few choices. When it comes to beverage pairings there’s either wine or juice, and that choice alone is a difficult one. We can hardly dream of better pairings than the juices made with fermented and sparkling rosehips, the traditional “rød saft” made from red berries, and the morello cherry and blueberry medley. The wines, also carefully crafted, though a bit further away than the juices, are perfectly matched to what the chefs bring out. A duck foot is fried and served with duck liver and fermented cherry juice, all dressed in red oxalis. The tart containing dry-aged reindeer meat with marrow and blood is sweet and juicy, with a broad meaty taste. A cornet filled with yeast and smoked vendace roe is as much of a palate pleaser as it is a refined snack. A soft flatbread, a Norwegian staple, is topped with fermented mountain trout, onions and horseradish. This dish is a contemporary take on tradition: it’s a playful rendition of a taco, the new national dish. If Maaemo could find a way to serve this in people’s homes on Friday nights, they would quash all other grocery store Tex-Mex brands. It has everything you wish for in a Norwegian taco: It’s sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and feels unhealthy in the way that only large amounts of fat can. Some things are eaten with your hands, so between the sets of servings, warm moist towels with fragrances matching the food are brought forward. When the lightly salted cod loin is served with a sauce of ramsons, whey and horseradish, we briefly consider licking the plate, but instead heed mother’s instructions and resist the temptation. Sour cream porridge paired with the best “rød saft” we have ever tasted takes us back to summers in the mountains. The grated smoked reindeer heart comes with butter and plum vinegar that cuts through the rich fat and delicious heavy cream. When a concoction of quail egg cooked in marrow with fenalår and pinnekjøtt is served, we must resist the urge to lick the plate clean a second time. The meal concludes with a spectacular yet understated serving of traditional waffles – made with duck fat and koji, served with berries from last year, sour cream and brown cheese from a cooperative close by. It’s cleverly plated on Danish porcelain that everyone mistakes for classic Norwegian Porsgrund. So it goes with Esben Holmboe Bang. There should be a change in how to pass on old food traditions to the new generation, and Holmboe Bang and his team should write the syllabus.
This all-white decorated establishment in Frogner is much cosier than first meets the eye. Beneath the somewhat formal decor we find this to be one of the most charming and inviting spots to eat in this part of Oslo. Despite its above-average pricing it has many regular costumers, like the older couple reading books and drinking champagne, with the woman’s bag dutifully placed on its own stool by the table. The service is first-rate and personal, and the dishes share some of the same qualities: composed but passionate. The homemade bread is a delight, and hints at the coastal focus of the menu. The loaf, combined with pieces of anchovies dipped in a shellfish-infused oil, rockets us off to the colourful starter with lightly smoked scallops, “Bloody Mary”-laced Avruga caviar and fluffy pillows of spinach gnocchi with a soft Taleggio sauce. We continue down this path with a halibut that sparkles with citrusy flavours and crisp fava beans, or a lightly seared piece of cod breaded in ground “clipfish” (dried and salted cod) with spelt risotto in a rich morel sauce. The desserts are equally flavourful and fun. We like the idea of white chocolate and thin slices of plum contrasted with a dollop of refreshing sake ice cream. They have a comprehensive wine list focused on France, with a large selection of decently priced champagne. Their beverage recommendations are as solid as the whole experience; this is a posh place with a huge heart.
Marg & Bein (“Marrow and bone”) is a rustic restaurant with an atmosphere that is the definition of Norwegian ”hygge”, or cosiness. The wooden house is snug and warm with candlelit tables and sheep fleeces draped over the pinewood chairs. The whole room conveys Norwegian nature, raw and pure. There are pictures of cold and snowy landscapes on the walls; the tables are decorated with jars of animal bones, and vases containing dried flowers. The decor features grandmother's bureau and more jars, filled with preserves. At Marg & Bein, the atmosphere is informal, just like the clientele and the food. Today’s menu is representative of the restaurant’s style – it consists of chicken livers, pork cheeks and lemon cream with meringue. Marg & Bein cooks substantial food using the whole animal, which suits the hard, Nordic climate. The dishes are often rich and nutritious due to ingredients like cod tongue and marrow-bones. Unfortunately the pork cheek dish is disappointing, poorly balanced in taste and texture, with dry, over-cooked beans and drowned salad leaves. But the rest of the dishes are tasty and well composed. Veal sweetbreads with fried capers and mustard mayonnaise is an exciting, salty combination of fat and crunch. The restaurant’s classic dish of beef cheeks with mashed potatoes and baked vegetables is still on the menu and just as tender and flavourful as last year. The waitress is very helpful with drink recommendations and when she has time for it, she is happy to share her knowledge by telling a little about the producers. The focus on coffee is not as strong as it once was, but the restaurant still makes it from freshly ground beans.
Stavanger has seen some heavy storms lately. The big spenders from the oil industry have been subject to a tighter spending regime since oil prices plummeted in 2015, and restaurants have watched their golden age wither away. But they still come to Matbaren, all those whose spending habits have been reduced to fewer plates and to burgundies of the lesser villages. The rest come here too, after their shopping sprees, or just to warm up after a walk in the heavy winds that tend to oppress this city. Sven Erik Renaa runs the place with his wife and together they have steered this ship steadily through the rough financial times. At Matbaren the food is robust. Their take on modern bistro fare is both filling and elegant. At lunchtime there are Copenhagen-style open-faced sandwiches to be had, with cod, liver pâté, and roast beef among others. The open kitchen gives the wooden interior a warmth and livens up the dining room. The chefs work at a nice pace, not too loud and not too disturbing, and act as a combination of backdrop and entertainment. The highlights of the dinner service are the meats and fish. At Matbaren they are particular in their selection, and the rib-eye is dry-aged from an older animal. Because of its age the meat has nutty flavours, and together with a béarnaise, a big portion of fries and a deep-fried onion ring, it all comes together in a unified dish. The fat in the lightly grilled rib-eye melts on the tongue, and the buttery sauce gives the fat just the right amount of acidity to make you close your eyes and chew slowly so as to enjoy the last little bit and fibre of flavour.
Tromsø is proud of its food heritage and this food-stall-by-day and restaurant-by-night is a great place to taste some of the region’s best produce. Here you can indulge in local meat and fish, all in the comfortable surroundings of a modern restaurant – or take it back home from the take-out counter. Chef Gunnar Jensen’s food always brings a smile to our lips. Be sure not to miss his classic-modern herring dish with local potatoes, horseradish, rye and brown butter. A serving of chicken broth warms our bones on this cold, soon-to-be-spring evening. The cod, served with lemon, carrot, bacon hollandaise and kale is a scruffy sight, but it tastes great. Generous slices of lamb come with onion, celeriac and mushrooms. It’s not the most instagram-friendly food, but it’s as tasty as one could want. Mathallen’s unusual décor is a fresh breath in this town; we like their humorous approach to a garage-meets-restaurant, but showing off everything also demands greater tidiness. Unfortunately, our service is on a par with a fast-food restaurant and lacks all of the hospitality the region is known for. And with a new player in town, Mathallen needs to fine-tune its front of house – until then we’ll save this place for quick meals.
N.B. Sørensen’s Dampskibs expedition started up as a steamship company in Stavanger in 1876. Today it is the name of a brasserie that has been around for the last 25 years, and a more exclusive restaurant on the second floor called N.B. Sørensen Annen Etage. Annen Etage means “second floor” in Norwegian, and underlines the fact that the two restaurants have completely different concepts. The wooden floors are old and crooked, adding to the feeling of being at sea even before the first drop of wine hits your tongue. Chef Filip August Bendi is one of Norway’s strongest hopes for the next Bocuse d’Or. His traditional and creative menu suits the historic seaside location perfectly. In springtime the seafood in Stavanger is at its best – and Bendi and his team know how to make it even better. The menu is fixed and consists of four dishes, though this number generously expands by five with additional treats served in between that could easily be mistaken for regular portions. It opens with fried skrei skin, herring roe and parsley, before moving on to a taste of Norwegian childhood with the simple bread on a stick known as pinnebrød. A whale tartare is elegant and fresh and combines two classic dishes in one with its topping of horseradish cream, Kalix bleak roe, milk and nasturtiums. And the best part? We haven’t even started on the menu yet, which turns out to be loaded with the best the sea has to offer. Squid, scallops and monkfish are plated neatly and luxuriously with the first fresh greens of the year. The dessert tops all this off with an ice cream made of yellow beets and elderflower, homemade ricotta, liquorice meringue, frozen yoghurt and purple oxalis. The servings are accompanied by a traditional string of white wines. The kitchen does a great job at bringing you a truly seasonal Norwegian meal with finesse and a twist. Unfortunately, the service is a different matter. Though the timing is precise, the waiter spends more energy correcting the guests than contributing to the positive ambiance and his knowledge is limited. The staff even argue about an overcharge on the bill. It almost ruins the sweet aftertaste of warm chocolate cake dipped in ice-cold milk.
Alex Cabino, the sushi master and the mastermind behind the once prestigious sushi restaurants bearing his name (Alex Sushi), has jumped ship. He is finally free from the confines of the California maki and tempura regimen that has plagued Oslo's “raw fish in the Japanese style” restaurants for the last decade. With new and exciting quality-driven places like Babylon Surøl/Sushi and Restaurant Fangst revitalizing the sushi scene, it is about time Chef Cabino upped his game. Joined by his new Padawan, Mark Jayson Subia, Alex is back in the ring, and he has the right setting to perform in, as this restaurant has a lot of theatrics. The door opens at the exact time of your booking, and the front of house staff declares that they won’t open it again until the show, sorry, the dinner is over. It does indeed feel like a pre-paid performance, with tickets bought in advance, and if you don’t pre-order (and pre-pay) for any of the suggested drink menus, you’ll get a phone call recommending that you pre-order your wine – for the sake of your experience. All this machinery aside, the food Alex and Mark prepare in front of you is magical. It is a tour de force in terms of quality, where each pearl of seafood is followed by another. We start off with Norwegian oysters, elegantly matched with a sparkling wine from Nyetimber in West Sussex, England. The first part of the meal arrives – turbot sashimi followed by shellfish soup – and then the nigiri servings start. This is Alex’s strength – preparing every little bite of nigiri with such ease and routine, just as he has trained most of Norway’s sushi chefs over the past 20 years. We sample halibut, rose fish, some amazingly tasty Norwegian scallops and mouthwatering Scottish lobster, salmon toro, tuna, raw shrimps and salmon caviar. The most delightful morsels are a piece of Kamchatka crab and a serving of smoked eel with ginger. The nigiri round concludes with raw Minke whale and slightly grilled pieces of grade A5 Wagyu beef. Some of the presentations are a bit sloppy, but the quality of each bite is worthy of praise. As Chef Alex has a rather quiet persona, the sommelier and restaurant manager Aleksander Iversen does most of the presenting. He also naturally pours the wines this evening, and even if the price of the set wine menu surpasses the price of the food, it is a generous pairing, offering very good value for money. We are treated to gems like Krug Grande Cuvée and de Montille’s Volnay 1er Cru in a 2013 Les Taillepieds, along with Norwegian-made cider from the excellent producer Ulvik Frukt & Cideri. The non-alcoholic pairings, on the other hand, lack a bit of focus. With the serving of freshly tapped birch sap as the only highlight, the package is overpriced and not fully thought out. The difference between the sister establishment, Sabi Omakase in Stavanger, is that Omakase by Alex Cabiao lacks an X factor. This restaurant feels less exciting than Alex’s previous apprenticeship, Roger Asakil Joya’s more avant-garde and highly decorated version. But while Roger rules the west coast of Norway, we can only sit back and enjoy Chef Alex’s show.
In the early 90s fine dining in Oslo was a stuffy affair, with predictable menus and besuited waiters. Palace Grill changed all that when it opened in 1994. You got great cooking with high-end ingredients, but it was all presented in a way that was both rebellious and delicious. The “rockekokk” – the “rock and roll chef” – was born. The great food combined with the no-booking policy soon meant that queues of diners formed, with a separate line of young chefs wanting a chance to work in the kitchen. Most of Norway’s celebrity chefs have had a stint at Palace Grill. Twenty-three years on, a lot has changed in the restaurant world, while at Palace Grill much has stayed the same – from the brown decor and the empty bottles on the wall to the background rock music and the mischievous attitude. But that doesn’t mean Palace Grill is outdated: Rock and roll will never die. As we’re seated, our glasses are filled with a Pouilly Fumé, “Triptyque” from Alain Cailbourdin. The compulsory ten-course set menu kicks off with a soup of halibut, shore crabs and miso, a punchy taste of the sea. Crispy chicken skin with lamb tartare and shiso give a quick jab of umami. The meal progresses through a bountiful selection of seafood and shellfish, featuring scallops, langoustines, oysters, and skate wings. A dish of mussels with bone marrow is delicious, in which the marrow offers an interesting contrast to the briny mussels, both in flavour and texture. But the high point of the meal is the pan-fried crispy-skinned mackerel with browned butter, white asparagus and hollandaise. On first tasting the buttery mackerel, one expects the composition to be too rich, but a beautifully balanced hollandaise with plenty of acidity counters the fat, and the toasted quinoa adds crunch. The volume is turned all the way up for this classic rock anthem of a dish, but the execution is of such a high standard that every note is clear. A subsequent dish of pan-fried duck breast with foie gras is classic French cooking at its best, and the rich sauce makes us want to lick the plate clean. The dessert is a fun and delicious interpretation of the chocolate-covered popsicles from childhood. The wines are traditional and of a high standard, with an emphasis on France and Spain. Service is professional, but with a rowdy attitude that only sometimes seems feigned. They want you to leave gorged and inebriated at Palace Grill. After all, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
A hotel restaurant based on a faddy and restrictive diet may not appeal on first sight, but don’t be put off. The paleo diet encourages the use of fresh and natural ingredients while eschewing grains and sugars, allowing for good if somewhat rich food of a quality seldom seen by real cavemen. Seated in cushy turquoise and gold chairs you can observe the staff in the orderly open kitchen grilling marrowbones, provoking primal pangs of hunger in an environment with modern comforts. The clientele consists mostly of hotel guests, vacationing families and solitary businessmen, with the odd walk-in couple. An amuse-bouche of puffy fried parsnips the consistency of prawn crackers, with cured coppa and a green kale mayonnaise, is delightfully moreish. A hand-chopped beef tartare with marrow, deep-fried shallots and thyme is also a rich treat. The low-carb, high-fat feast continues with pan-fried hake served with turnips, apples and a pleasantly rich but tart sauce of kefir and whey. For dessert, creamy chocolate mounds with crunchy sheets of caramel and refreshing goat’s milk ice cream round out the meal. Sourcing local, seasonal and natural produce is high on the list of priorities for Brasserie Paleo, and the kitchen’s quality cooking lets the ingredients shine. The staff are relaxed and charming, and the wine list is long if somewhat conventional for an otherwise unconventional establishment. All in all, we get an appealing if not so realistic glimpse of the Stone Age lifestyle.
Step down into Pjoltergeist on any given day and you’ll find a bustling little bar filled with everything from tattooed youngsters to suit-clad businessmen. There’s hip-hop on the stereo and staff in hooded sweatshirts or ironic printed t-shirts, serving the best wines known to humanity. This is not your average fine dining establishment. The name “Pjoltergeist” is derived from the classic Norwegian name for a drink of brandy or whiskey and soda (a “pjolter”) but wine takes centre stage here. We’re looking for something orange to drink and the friendly but busy waiter suggests a South African bottle of Testalonga Sweet Cheeks to go with our order of “zuper pakki” – a seven course set menu, which is compulsory if you’ve booked a table. The food is an eclectic mix of Icelandic, Korean, Japanese, classic European and Mexican. To start with we share a bowl of puffed pork rinds with smoky bacon mayonnaise. It’s followed by the best dish of the evening, the house classic of takoyaki, fried balls of octopus in batter, with spring onions and mayonnaise. A dish of battered cod tongues with chive mayonnaise and seaweed is crunchy, juicy and delicious. The next course is white asparagus with hollandaise and fried grasshoppers brought back from a recent trip to Mexico. The grasshoppers are crispy and nutty, but the tiny legs get stuck between our teeth and make the insect-eating experience more of a novelty than a pleasure. The service is more laid-back and the presentation less sophisticated than on earlier visits, but Pjoltergeist is still one of the best places in town for great atmosphere, exciting wines and fun food.
Deep down in the jungle of Hegdehaugsveien lies a restaurant so Thai it even has official approval from The Office of Commercial at The Royal Thai Embassy saying that it’s very Thai. They even imported a playlist of that essential lounge music that could be played in any luxury hotel in Bangkok. But jokes aside, Plah is the very essence of Thai fine dining, rooted in Norwegian produce and inspiration, and it has been going strong for thirteen years. Chef Terje Ommundsen has managed to merge the cuisines of these two countries together in a way that is incomparable to anything else. Here you can sample the great tastes of Thailand, and everything is made on the premises from the ground up using only the finest of ingredients. Choose either a large tasting menu that mixes the different styles and regions of Thailand, or a vegetarian menu that is mainly inspired by the north. “Khao griab goong” – a dish of prawn crackers and fish sauce – starts off a serving of three small starters, soon followed by poached chicken in coconut and chillies. It’s not mouth-wateringly delicious, but a great start. The wait staff is great, with a perfect comeback after a slow-and-not-so-welcoming beginning, now they are as proficient as can be, explaining all the different ingredients and the idea behind each dish, pairing it with excellent wine, mainly from the classic regions of Europe. Unfortunately, the interior is a bit passé – and we honestly have no idea why a dressed-up manikin doll is hanging in a swing over our heads, but as soon as the next dish arrives we focus again on the food rather than the décor. The flavours are authentic and not too adapted to the Nordic palate. Plah neung follows – roasted hake in sour garlic and chilli sauce – a perfectly executed dish with a balance of sourness and spiciness. Our dessert, grilled coconut and rice with pineapple and malt sugar, is the highlight of our meal. We wish we were on a beach in Koh Chang instead of in windy, cold Oslo.
The room is more authentically Italian than a trattoria in Milano. That’s what you get when you use the best interior designers in Norway and the brief says, "Italian style". The wine list is naturally focused on Italy with bottles made by heroes of the non-interventionist wine world as well as more classic producers. The array of antipasti della casa varies every day; today we feast on bresaola with pine nuts and Jerusalem artichoke, salad with bread and capers, truffle tortellini and Parmesan crackers. For the main course we choose grilled boneless rib-eye served with roasted marrowbone and a good heap of butter. The food comes in vast amounts, and we seriously struggle to eat it all. The recommended skin macerated white from Friuli has a glorious orange sheen. A ravioli filled with oxtail is one of those dishes that everyone in Olso has had for lunch at least once. The fatty and gelatinised meat is perfectly tender and the deep taste of the broth makes this a dish worth returning for. The service is attentive in the beginning, but when the room fills up with guests it is harder to get the waiter’s attention. Trattoria Populare is a good place when you’re hungry for pasta, or if you just want to nibble on olives while drinking Tuscan rosé. The outdoor seating area is jammed full of people clambering for a glass of what in Norway is known as “utepils” (a beer outside) even though there is just a hint of sun peering out of the cloudy sky.
The Majorstua area of Oslo may not be the most restaurant-crowded part of town. Compared to similar neighbourhoods in Stockholm or Copenhagen, it’s more like the countryside, with lots of Range Rovers and not so many great places to dine. But you can find one or two pearls in this sea, one of them being this eminent local eatery. Opened almost a year ago, Publiko quickly gained a large following with a full house every day. Now things have settled down a bit, and we are starting to understand what the hype was all about; it’s simply great food. They describe themselves as a sustainable neighbourhood restaurant with playfulness in their cuisine, and the description is not far off. They serve good food using quality produce that doesn’t empty your bank account. The menu consists of four to five starters based on greens and seafood, and two to three main courses from the animal kingdom, all in season and in line with the current trend of serving not-too-big-dishes intended to be shared. The food is flavourful and well balanced, and not overly complicated. We try a variation on beets with Norwegian goat’s cheese, a dish more common in Norway today than shrimp cocktail was in the eighties. A dry-aged tartare with marrowbone, horseradish and tarragon makes our refined inner caveman cry from happiness, and a more modern take on the classic dish of “skreimølje” (skrei cod served with the liver and roe) is an instant classic that should replace the traditional recipe in every household. Add a small and fairly priced quality drink list with a notable focus on beer, and you’ve got yourself the neighborhood restaurant everyone dreams of having.
A big patio is protected from the harsh weather outside by the giant glass-paned roof. The wind and rain seem almost cosy when you’re sipping on a biodynamic crémant and enjoying small bites from Rogaland. A king snail is brought to the table grilled in its shell before being dressed in a vinegar gelée and ramson emulsion. The snail is a chewy yet pleasant surprise, and the chef says not to worry about any heavy metals as they’ve crushed the snail in its shell themselves to measure the metals and determined that they’re in the shell. A small sandwich of bøkling, a traditional Stavanger staple of salted herring, fits well with the crémant. The toast with herring roe and mascarpone is a snack we wish were handy in times of need – like on any given Friday, to accompany the marathon-viewing of the latest Nordic noir series. A razor clam shell is dressed in fermented pear and ginger juice with droplets of jalapeño oil to give it just a little bit of heat. After a chicken liver mousse on a truffle meringue we are led into the dining room. With its open kitchen and minimalistic interior, this room has no excess decoration so that your focus is on the food, the chefs and your dining companion. The crispbread comes on a small rack with butters from cow and goat that would make anyone happy, and we put uncivilized amounts on top of the thin, flat bread. The soft creamy texture of the milkfat against the crispy, sweet bread is hard to resist. An epiphany of umami starts off the round of main courses: scallops fried in a pan with jus made with smoked scallop roe, Parmesan, kombu and truffle. White asparagus, poached oysters and a parsley coulis with the acidity of sorrel is a tribute to spring. A langoustine the size of a forearm is dressed in seaweed butter, and the salty crust matches the intense sweetness of the moist and dripping meat. Next come turbot chops with a vin jaune sauce, green cabbage sprouts and guanciale. Then a real stunner enters: beets, oven-baked for hours, are served with beef marrow and caviar. The sweet, red, moist flesh balances perfectly with the marrow and with the small salty pearls of caviar. The serving seems too small! We drink up the rest of the juice from the little bowl. A small quail, bred on an island outside Stavanger, is matured for three weeks before it’s served here, with its innards on a small toast on the side, dressed in pickled onions. The sweet, rich taste of blood and offal is almost better than the bird’s meat, which is perfectly cooked, moist and salty. The quail comes in three servings, and the last one is its leg. With a sweet, sticky glaze it is to be eaten like a lollipop, or rather as meat on a bone like our ancestors ate when gathered around the bonfire. Thank goodness those ancestors eventually discovered wine though, for without it, this meal would not have been the same. The service at Sven Erik Renaa’s restaurant is pleasant, informative and at some points cheeky, in a good way – and the food stands out as a beacon of regional tradition and innovation.
Restaurant 1877 is a traditional but modern restaurant in the heart of Bergen at “Kjøttbasaren”, the old meat market. This soulful place that has held an important position in Bergen’s trade history. The room is filled with warmth and generosity. The service is attentive and jovial, and the elegant, original interior is filled with brass, brick and wood. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the open pass station, raised and framed in a wooden bar. In from the left comes a smiling waitress. “Welcome”, she says, with a firm handshake. The staff at 1877 make a big deal out of this handshake as a symbol of the restaurant’s personal service. The chefs regularly come to the table to present the food and their stories are clearly rehearsed, without too much detail, bringing you closer to the food and to the suppliers. One of them comes to the table to explain how she prepared the chicken that lies before us. On the plate is a chicken dish in several forms, one of which is stuffed with a homemade pesto. The potatoes are roasted in chicken fat to make them rich and salty and the carrots are pickled and sieved into an intense purée. 1877 plays with traditional flavours and gives them a new twist. The cheese course is a good example of this. The traditional sour cream porridge called rømmegrøt is served in a hot stone mortar. On top is a crumbled blue cheese from Stavanger. The dish is creative, but excessively rich. The chocolate dessert with barley ice cream rounds off the meal with some of the best flavours Norwegian cuisine can offer. A visit to 1877 is a visit you will remember.
Bodø can be one of the most unpleasant places on earth. It’s cold, windy, rainy, and the nightlife is almost non-existent. That is, until now. Restaurant Nyt has opened in the old premises of Smak (which has moved up to Tromsø) and taken over the position as the culinary frontier in central Norway. The rain still pours down in amounts that might lead to complete shutdowns a bit further south, but here they don’t seem to mind the weather, as they cast glances at small-shoed travellers fighting the wind with oversized umbrellas. The restaurant is buzzing, and the staff treat their guests as if they are all old friends. First course is a scallop cooked in its shell, sliced thin and resting in its juice with fried scallop roe. It’s a nice presentation of time and place, this being both the prime season and location for the mollusc. A composition of butter-fried Jerusalem artichoke with morel cream and morels is too brown, too salty and too creamy. The bread serving, to our relief, is awesome. Small pan-baked loaves of whole wheat bread with fermented wheat grains added in are excellent with the homemade butter that’s salted with the local salt from Saltstraumen (which has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world). The season is also peak for Atlantic cod, which comes almost all the way into the harbour to reproduce more Atlantic cod. This white, lean meat has been cured with salt and sugar for 24 hours before it’s baked and served with Romesco sauce, celery root purée and cod roe. It’s a light, perfectly salted fish course that leaves us longing for more. For dessert, raisin compote with bread crumble, coffee ice and coffee syrup has flavours that take us happily back to vague memories of what our grandmothers served at family reunions. We leave the restaurant with a reason to travel again to Bodø. Not to mention that they also have damn good coffee. Two reasons, then.
A relative newcomer to Trondheim’s dining scene, Røst maintains its position as one of the frontrunners for the city’s best restaurant. Situated inside Trøndelag Teater in a lush, spacious room previously used as a theater stage, you could be fooled into thinking that the cuisine is as old-fashioned as the white tablecloths and red velvet curtains that surround you. This is not the case. Despite the formal backdrop the menu is wonderfully eccentric and diverse, with surprising textures and flavour combinations. With an ever-changing menu you never know what you will get – perhaps a beef tartare with Kalix bleak roe served in a crêpe to be eaten like a soft taco, or butter-fried potato bread with whipped sour cream? From the homegrown herbs to the yeasted sourdough and the impressive execution, these well-renowned chefs (from such fine dining bastions as Ylajali and Maaemo) aspire for greatness. When in peak form, Røst serves some of the most fully balanced and inventive meals in the country. While this level of quality is not always evidenced throughout the whole meal, the three, five, or eight-course set menus are well worth your time. In fact, expect to spend half an hour on each course. In the meantime you can chat with the clever, welcoming staff, peruse the evening’s theater productions, and mentally begin planning your next visit.
When a man spends six years in planning, the results ought to be good. When that same man spends years training under a sushi master, the results might even be great. And if he is an entertainer of the humble yet funny sort, whose dry jokes can evoke loud sniggering among the small audience of ten, then you will surely enjoy his omakase. Chef Roger Asakil Joya calls himself an Edomae sushi master. He has an eye for raw ingredients and will show you how to identify fresh fish and which ones he prefers for his nigiri. The meal consists of 18 pieces of pristine nigiri sushi. Normae, his take on the Edomae tradition, means that nearly all the seafood here is sourced not too far from Pedersgate. The freshwater fish come from Orrevatnet; the shrimp from Sirevåg, the nearest fishing harbor, which is a wee cab fare south of the city; and the trout from the fjords of Hardanger. Everything is sourced and selected by Joya personally. The fish is of supreme quality. It’s tear-inducing in texture and taste. Laughing, he tells stories of how it got there, or of how he tasted it for the first time, which makes the wait between each mouthful seem as meaningful as the next bite. The rice comes from a small town in Japan and the Po River delta in Italy. The wasabi is grown in England, and this is a game-changer: finally, real wasabi. We start with a fresh and acidic sparkling yuzu sake that makes the grey weather of Stavanger disappear into distant memory. The small room is inviting and intriguing in all its simple Japanese complexity. On the ceiling there is a wave made out of thin oak strips. The wave tells the story of the weather that met Joya when he came to this town. Six years of wind and rain later, he has his own omakase. A room with wooden walls showcases the chef’s strength and a light green wallpaper behind the bar tells the diners he will take care of them, and he does. It starts out with a very light and fresh hot soup, to prepare the taste receptors for what’s to come. Toro of tuna and salmon have just the right amount of fat, if fat is your flavour. He is keen on the importance of cleanliness and of organic ingredients, but at the same time his salmon toro is farmed just a couple of miles up the coastline. Joya is pragmatic and as long as the product is of the best quality, he will use it. We forget any doubts we might have had when his techno-emotional take on gunkan with shrimp is served. The fresh shrimp is rolled in a gel of seaweed and soy, inspired by a guest chef he had from the legendary elBulli. It feels like a small step into modernity, away from the orthodox and almost religious setup of the rest of the menu. The grilled langoustine tail and the coal-heated trout leave the diners open-mouthed, wanting more. The drink pairings are carefully selected and span from sour beers to sweet rieslings. They match well, but these nigiri don’t need company; they are small gems all by themselves. Joya is a true Edomae, sorry, Normae master, with food that oozes with Japanese traditions yet is inextricable from Stavanger.
Sentralen has been open for a year, and it’s been a success from day one. The team behind it are called “Lava Oslo” – the fantastic four of the Oslo food scene – and they continue to create wondrous new dishes. Sentralen lies in the middle of Kvadraturen (“the quadrature”), a district formerly known for its courtesans and as a marketplace for those who lean toward self-medication. Today it is a whole other story and now, with this grand house of family entertainment, kids are flooding the streets and making it a safe place even for those who are easily scared. The old bank has been emptied of all its cold, hard cash and filled with soft values: good food and fine wines. The restaurant has a big open kitchen and a tall wine cabinet filled with the best from minimal-intervention producers around the world. The bread served here is made by Handwerk, a recently opened sourdough bakery. It has less of the old tradition, and more of the style of San Fran’s Tartine Bakery, with a charred almost black crust, a moist crumb and sports a mouth-watering acidity. The new classic, smoked beetroot tartare, is a nice way to take something as mundane as a beetroot and make it shine like a star. With a little help from horseradish and egg yolk, it’s as good as or even better than a traditional tartare. Next up, a bare-naked broccoli stalk is served with butter and broccoli cream – it’s as delicious at it is simple. A macerated Sancerre is a good choice, and because it has been macerated with its skin, it even stands up to the meatier things to come. The beef “tartare” is quickly seared before it is hand cut and dressed in pickled green strawberries, egg and Jerusalem artichoke chips. King crab, roasted in its shell with a Nordic spice blend including chervil and ramsons, is a greasy feast. It lacks some form of edible sponge to mop up all that delicious juice from the plate, but there is no shame here in using your finger to get it all. A potato pillow filled with Holtefjell XO, the go-to cheese of Norwegian chefs these days, is a cheeky take on gnocchi. The soft inner texture perfectly matches the pillowy exterior and the cheese's broad umami notes reveal why Holtefjell XO is called the Parmesan of the north. Sentralen is a cultural hotspot and still the best choice for a decent lunch in Oslo.
Oslo has a fair amount of restaurants with a view, but few can beat Skur 33 in that regard. Situated in a refurbished harbor warehouse on an old pier, this Italian seafood trattoria with an attractive terrace is a sure winner as far as outdoor crustacean experiences go, but it doesn’t need its vista to satisfy. Here, robust flavours get comforting, traditional treatments – a typical three-course can include a wonderfully savoury soup with Norwegian skrei and Italian vongole, a big flaky piece of halibut with crunchy speck and risotto, and an almond crème brûlée. It’s a no-nonsense combo of Mediterranean execution and – at least to a certain extent – local produce and fish. If you want something less expensive, there’s always pizza, courtesy of a traditional brick oven that greets you when you enter the spacious, picturesque and surprisingly cosy venue. The wine list is well stocked, although hardly surprising or non-traditional, and the prices are acceptable. The welcoming staff serves up food with big, well-balanced flavours that will have you singing, “That’s Amore!”.
A bit off the beaten path in downtown Tromsø, Eva-Linda and Espen Ramnestedt have reopened their acclaimed restaurant Smak (Taste), previously located in Bodø, some nine hours to the south by car. Starting all over again, they have tailored everything to their needs. With just eight tables, a small wine lounge, a chef’s table and a beautiful custom-made open kitchen, Smak is ready to revitalize the town. Both Eva-Linda and Espen are trained chefs, but Espen manages the kitchen while Eva-Linda takes care of the dining room, complementing his cooking with her hospitality. Espen uses modernist techniques blended with classic cooking to coax heartfelt flavors out of great ingredients. Eva-Linda’s warmth makes the diners relax and her passion for great wine makes any evening complete. As our meal starts off with a selection of snacks and champagne, we feel the devotion they’ve put into the restaurant. It’s immediately evident in the food that arrives: a thin crispy sheet of fennel is topped with Finish caviar and sour cream from Avdem Gardsysteri, and a potato waffle comes with Swedish vendace roe. A classic oxtail ragù is topped with lacto-fermented celeriac and a soft chicken liver pâté matched with sourdough and truffle snow. A serving of green asparagus, sweetbreads and quail egg makes us dream of spring, and their creamy and pristine fish soup made out of rose fish, lobster and carrots is a knockout in a town where fish soups are essential to the local food identity. Our meat course of beef cheeks takes the meal to a more rustic place, though we feel that some of the other dishes this evening could have been a bit simpler, with fewer components on the plate. The desserts are a show of technique, first with a delicious sorbet made out of Nýr cheese, then a dark chocolate parfait. The hand-brewed coffee and the box of petit fours is a great ending to the meal. Smak’s relocation to the town of Tromsø is a game-changer for the local restaurant industry and we hope its revival will lure the locals out of their homes on a regular basis. We, at least, will certainly return.
Smalhans is a refreshingly non-themed neighbourhood restaurant, perfectly suited for St. Hanshaugen’s hipsterfied gentry. The rustic but tastefully furnished restaurant is popular and usually filled with a varied mix of young and old, hip and not so hip. For lunch there is simple fare like soups, burgers or fried eggs. Between 4 and 6 pm you can buy “Dagens husmann”, a reasonably priced well-cooked meal served family style. The food on offer might be anything from old school everyday Norwegian cooking like raspeball (potato dumplings) with boiled salt pork to French classics like bouillabaisse or Korean crossover-style steamed buns. In the evening the menu changes to a more sophisticated daily set menu where you can choose between five (Smalhans) or nine courses (Krøsus). A pleasantly acidic halibut ceviche with tiger’s milk and peanuts starts off our meal. Alongside the ceviche, a salad of beets, hazelnuts, kale and kubbeost (a fresh farmhouse cheese) is competently prepared. The lamb shoulder confit is tender, juicy and flavourful in a rich sauce of olive oil and butter with an abundance of fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes. An escalivada is served alongside – a Catalan dish of roast vegetables. While tasty, it’s marred by undercooked aubergines. Dessert is a variation of the classic Norwegian waffle, albeit a slightly flaccid specimen, served with bilberry sorbet, bilberry compote and salt caramel. Interesting organic and natural wines dominate the wine list and the service is informal but charming and effective.
Bent Stiansen’s Statholdergaarden is still turning out plates of artistry, and his young team is fine-tuned to meet the growing competition among Oslo’s great dining establishments. A carpeted staircase leads to extravagant rooms with elaborately decorated wooden trim, ceiling rosettes, carpeting and art: classic luxury. Statholdergaarden has more in common with the posh restaurants of Paris than the rustic New Nordic establishments of Oslo. Yet in spite of the white tablecloths and formal service, it’s relaxed and jovial. The cuisine is firmly rooted in French techniques, but borrows innovations from more contemporary sources. There are many choices at Statholdergaarden: à la carte, today’s menu, or the full tasting menu. Dinner kicks of with a parade of starters – the fried sweetbreads are soft and juicy inside and topped with a dill emulsion; a lingonberry meringue is crowned with a duck liver parfait; bøkling (smoked herring) comes with fermented slices of celeriac; and, lastly, a shellfish stock and pickled halibut. Within minutes we devour the homemade sourdough bread with two butters – one with porcini powder, and another from Røros. The combo of the mushroom butter with the fennel bread is our favourite. The scallops from Frøya come in the company of fresh green peas, yellow beet and a beetroot sauce cut with herb oil. Turbot, the great king of flat fish, is served with pickled onions and a fried piece of turbot fat, onion purée, and a velouté of Turbot, broken with chervil oil. We clean our palates with a granité of rhubarb before we move on to the carnivore section. Veal from Jæren comes from the high-quality meat-producing district in south-western Norway. The veal is so undercooked in the middle that, if pieced back together, it could probably be electrified back to life, but it has a delicious taste and nice, light chewiness to it. The baked sweet celeriac, carrot purée and the red onions together with a sauce of morels go so well with the veal, we would believe them if they told us that the vegetables actually grew alongside the animal. The dessert is a grandiose ending, and a showcase of technique. With a perfect balance of bitter dark chocolate, the citrusy orange croquant, sweet chocolate mousse and an acidic fluffy Italian lemon meringue, we want to order this dessert again and again. A miniature tree arrives decorated with rose meringue, coffee chocolate and orange marzipan to end the meal. Stadtholdergaarden shows great form, with food that makes us smile and the kind of service that ensures that you leave happier than when you came.
A good fifteen minutes’ bus ride west of Oslo, as the villa density thickens and the housing prices rise incrementally, somewhere along the coastline lies Strand Restaurant. Overlooking a number of jetties where the locals keep their sailboats, profiled Norwegian chef and cookbook author Tom Victor Gausdal promises to provide a natural dining experience, free of additives and with a clear focus on organic food. He has built up a whole industry here that spans over multiple fields, and where Strand is located you’ll also find a bakery and a wedding venue along with the restaurant itself. All this heavy use has worn the house down somewhat since its opening in 2010, but the food still holds to a high standard. There are various set menus to choose from, a selection of three, five or six courses from the main set menu, or the cheaper three-course menu that’s available during a couple of hours around dinnertime. Either way, there’s no risk that you’ll leave Strand feeling peckish as the dishes are generously sized. We find ourselves with two main courses – a deep dish of oxtail, gnocchi and shiitake mushrooms and a lovely lamb dish with asparagus, both with a side of mashed potatoes that has been given a solid amount of butter. We finish this off with a platter of homemade crispbread and Norwegian cheeses (if you’re lucky you can taste the delightful, multiple-award winning Norwegian blue cheese called Kraftkar). The expensive cab ride back to Oslo centre has seldom felt as affordable.
Tango is a small, bright, elegant restaurant located within sight of the harbour – a place to see and be seen. It has a great view of the city, which is only exceeded by the view from their rooftop seating area, where the restaurant serves food from the grill throughout the summer. At first glimpse Tango might seem to have a fine dining concept. The staff are perfectly groomed and formally dressed in suits behind the welcoming desk. The tables are covered with white linen, and the diners are also formally dressed. But when the waitress comes over to have a seat on the couch next to us while she presents the five-course menu, we realize the place is a little more relaxed and informal than it appears. Tango defines its offering as "rough dining" , and there are several reasons why, including the loud noise from the bar and the fact that the bar and the restaurant share restrooms. The menu captures the essence of Stavanger in a classic but technically diverse way. The two first servings are like tiny jewels of white asparagus and herring with egg cream. They are gone in a second and easy to mistake for teasers, especially as they are not accompanied by wine. The two following plates have a very different style. They are bigger and more traditional. A trout from Sirdal is served with ramsons, pickled cucumber, fried noodles, fennel and chervil. Both the trout and the new interpretation of lamb fricassee attempt to balance on the border between an everyday Norwegian dinner and a luxurious dining experience, but unfortunately end up on the less exciting side of things. Tango offers a reliable restaurant visit when it comes quality and expertise, but the menu and the classic wine pairings are very expensive in comparison with what you get.
In uncertain times, it always is nice to find yourself in a safe harbour, a place where time seems to stand still, where quality is more important than constant change, and where you can sit for a couple of hours while you enjoy a glass of port and contemplate life itself and how you ended up here. Theatercaféen could have been one of those places. It is not. It has actually blended its posh, luxurious history with a breath of inspiration from the more pulsating and greener present day. The menu has elements that will please everyone, and all are welcome in this room where unspeakable things have been done in the name of art. Here you’ll find timeless classics like a traditionally executed tartare, Olso-stlye open-faced sandwiches and waiters dressed the old-fashioned way. The big red disk of hand-cut meat with the condiments on the side and the yolk in its shell for you to blend in yourself is like time travel on a plate. Kalix bleak roe comes on white bread from the French bakers in town with a generous portion of sour cream. It might seem simple, or easy, but the chefs show their strength in not messing up a classic dish, and by just using great ingredients, and that is admirable. Theatercaféen is stylish; it’s tradition, history and future.
One of the culinary staples in town, this is a go-to place for locals to fulfil their fine dining needs. Given its affordability and high quality over a number of years, it a force to be reckoned with. The ambience gives the otherwise loud-mouthed Trønders a sense of ceremony and quietness, in contrast to the cheery and jovial (but still highly knowledgeable) staff. The recipe for To Rom og Kjøkken’s success is based in big flavours with an emphasis on ingredients found nearby served with a French spirit – like proteins prepared in butter with plenty of sauce. The three-course menu is generous, but if you find room add the cheese course where Trøndelag’s best local specialty, the Munkeby, plays a large role. The restaurant’s stand-out feature is nonetheless the dish of the day, which is served during dinner time and changes daily. It’s a rustic, hearty meal for well under NOK 200. There are a few other welcome attributes that give the place a huge advantage in Trondheim’s steadily growing restaurant scene, such as a designable kid’s menu for aspiring gourmands, a heralded mixologist (not equally kid-friendly) and one of the largest and best local craft beer selections around.
There is a man in Hardanger with a theory about the origins of the Basque apple tradition. It came from here, he would say, if you were to visit him in his apple garden in the innermost part of the fjord. “It was the Vikings who brought cider to the coast of the Basque country, after all the drinking and their anger towards the authorities forced them south.” Perhaps the Vikings also had something to do with the strange Basque habit of throwing everything on the floor. Txotx marks a closed circle. They are back, the old traditions of spontaneous fermentation and highly volatile cider, along with pieces of bread stuffed with dried cod, along with pimientos and anchovies, and pieces of octopus on a wooden stick. The long and narrow bar is a well suited for gatherings of friends and colleges out for a meal and drinks on a Friday night. A tartare of hand-cut beef, ceps and grated foie gras is more or less the epitome of umami. The mushrooms cooked in a jus of sherry and garlic topped with cheese is as delicious as it is drinkable. And the octopus in a spicy and acidic sauce would be a great dish after a wild on the town night, a pick-me-up for the clubbers and bar crawlers. Hestebeteak is Basque for cured meats, and we devour a plate of these delicacies as soon as the plate hits the table. Txoxt is true to its origins and to its inspiration, the white bread is the same high-density type that you find on the streets of San Sebastian. The drink menu has gems from the region like the young green wine txakoli, along with a great selection of ciders, and a quite respectable wine list that showcases the new wines of Spain.
The hospitality in the north of Norway has long been legendary, and no place is this more evident than in the town of Harstad. At Umami, Sigrid Rafaelsen and Kim-Håvard Larsen have perfected the art of northern hospitality so that dining at their small, reservation-only restaurant is like visiting two good friends – who also happen to be the best chefs in town. They run their restaurant with devotion, catering to their guests’ every need. Since it’s a small operation, they also clear tables, and pour and present the wine. They have a good and important relationship with the local cooking schools, bringing in apprentices and helping to recruit people to the industry. Umami offers classic and refined fine dining inspired by the region’s produce and the current season. It’s an admirable devotion, and their hard work is obvious by how great the food is here. Our meal starts off with a long string of appetisers. The first is a reindeer tartare served in a cylinder of spring onion pastry topped with ramson cream; it’s an umami-filled and refreshing way to begin the meal. We’re treated to a number of flavourful bites, like blini with vendace caviar, and king crab and Jerusalem artichoke soup. Next come ravioli filled with chicken confit and pickled pumpkin, cod with peas and onion and a delightful wild boar with cauliflower, beetroot and truffle jus. The chefs’ devotion to creating delicious dishes is never-ending, and we can’t wait until we have another chance to experience their northern hospitality.
A short walk from Oslo’s central station you’ll find Vaaghals, a restaurant with rural Norway’s culinary poster boy Arne Brimi as one of its owners. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a solid emphasis on Norwegian cooking and preservation techniques at the core of this tastefully decorated restaurant. With the open kitchen as the main feature of its decor, an evening spent here has an obvious transparency to it. Seeing as Norwegian cuisine is normally regarded as salty, tame and umami-free, there are few places right now that do a better job than Vaaghals at glamorizing and transforming this cold country’s stiff heritage into something that feels wholly new, thoughtful and edgy. Staple ingredients find new friends, like in a dish where ramsons meet hollandaise and smoked roe as a base for a crisp Jerusalem artichoke – or when sour cream made from goat’s milk finds itself in a dessert with cheesecake and strawberries for a sweet, sour, tangy and crisp finish. Meals are made to share, and you should. Indulge in a lovely confited spring chicken thigh with variations on leek and cauliflower. Or order a handful of slices of melt-in-your-mouth ham with a strong, vinegary mustard dipping sauce. There’s a communal feeling to the whole Vaaghals experience, where you feel like you’re on the same team as the staff and cooks, and where we all can find joy and lucullian pleasure on the urban outskirts of rural Scandinavian ideas and flavours.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.