The Nordic region was a culinary backwater before Noma won World’s Best Restaurant in 2010.
Oslo reminds you why.
The prices are scary and you can eat better for less in other European capitals. Yet Oslo is a beautiful city and well worth a trip. You might also find yourself visiting for work.
1: Alex Sushi, 2 Cort Adelers Gate, 0254. Information: http://www.alexsushi.no/ or +47-22-43 99-99.
What: Popular and informal Japanese restaurant with a takeaway service next door. Locals may tell you it’s the best sushi in Oslo. There is a choice of set menus or a la carte.
Why: It’s lively and fun with a good atmosphere. While it’s not cheap, few places are in in Oslo. Many residents are fans, so will be happy to go.
Where: Near the U.S. Embassy.
When: It’s an evening place and gets very busy. It’s wise to book well ahead.
Private room: Yes, for about 14 guests.
Sound level: Buzzy, 70 decibels.
2: Bagatelle, 1 Bygdoe Alle, 0257. Information: http://www.bagatelle.no/ or +47-22-44-40-40.
What: It’s one of the finest restaurants in Oslo. Chef Derrick Styczek, who won a Michelin star last March, seeks out Nordic ingredients for his modern French dishes. He has just returned to the U.S., so you may prefer to eat at the brasserie next door. Lille B, which is served by the same kitchen, is known for its burger on brioche, which comes with truffle cheese, truffle dressing and fries for 185 kroner ($32).
Why: The food is fabulous and it costs a fabulous price: The minimum seven-course tasting menu costs 1,250 kroner. Dishes such as surf & turf with smoked wagyu carpaccio, langoustine and caviar don’t come cheap. The wine list is epic and you can request a tour of the cellars. The art is also exceptional, with a Gilbert & George work dominating the dining room.
Where: It’s to the west of the city center, within walking distance of Slottsparken.
When: Bagatelle is open all day.
Private room: Yes, for 16-20 guests.
Sound level: The good news is that it’s very quiet, at 60 decibels. The bad news is that’s because I was the only diner.
3: Fru K, 1 Landgangen, Thief Hotel, 0252. Information: http://thethief.com/en/restaurant-bar/ or +47-24-00-40-00.
What: A new restaurant in the Thief Hotel. Fru K (meaning Madam K) opened in January. Chef Kari Innera serves innovative dishes based on Norwegian traditions, using local ingredients.
Why: It’s one of the most exciting restaurants in Oslo and (strictly in local terms) it is not particularly expensive. The modern dining room features comfortable chairs and overlooks the fjord. The set lunch is 199 kroner. The cooking is good and for such a cool restaurant, the service is reasonably warm. There is a separate menu for children, who may like this place.
Where: In the Thief Hotel in Tjuvholmen, near the Astrup Fearnley Museum.
When: Lunchtime is good because you get the view in winter.
Private room: Yes, seats 12-16.
Sound level: Quiet, 65-70 decibels.
4: Hanami, Tjuholmen, Kanalen 1, 0252. Information: http://hanami.no/ or +47-22-83-10-90.
What: It’s a Japanese fusion restaurant that appears inspired by places like Zuma in London. It’s open all day.
Why: For the cocktails, which are inventive and very good. You might also go for the buzz. The menu is tempting but the execution can be hit-and-miss and the wine list is limited.
Where: Tjuvholmen, a neighborhood that is worth a visit for the architecture alone.
When: The later the better. It can be quiet during the day.
Bar: Yes. It’s good. The cocktail guy says he used to work in London at Shoreditch House.
Private room: No.
5: Maaemo, 15 Schweigaards Gate, 0191. Information: http://maaemo.no/ or +47-91-99-48-05.
What: A top-priced restaurant serving some of the finest food in Europe. (Dinner with matching wines costs 3,250 kroner ($589), plus tax and optional tip.) Chef Esben Holmboe Bang creates a seasonal menu of Nordic dishes, focusing on Norwegian ingredients.
Why: The food is sublime. The wine pairings are inventive. The service is faultless. More than that, you are eating the food of the region rather than some pan-European mishmash of truffles and foie gras. If you want a taste of Norway and you’re not on a budget, this is the place to get it. Anyone for reindeer heart with brown butter?
Where: In a modern office block, on the wrong side of the tracks, near Oslo’s central railway station. Maaemo is very difficult to find, so if you are on foot, leave plenty of time. It is also very difficult to get a table, so book weeks ahead.
When: Dinner only.
Private room: No.
Sound level: Seventy decibels.
6: Olympen, Gronlandsleiret 15, 0190. Information: http://www.olympen.no/ or +47-24-10-19-99.
What: This is a well-known pub-restaurant serving a range of more than 150 beers and traditional Norwegian fare.
Why: For the beer. The range is astonishing and includes local options such as Funky Geyser Sour Ale (99 kroner a liter) and Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth, from Australia (135 kroner). It’s an atmospheric place, with high ceilings and lots of dark wood.
Where: It’s within walking distance of the main train station. If you’re asking for directions, Olympen is colloquially known as “Lompa” in Oslo.
When: Nighttime is best.
Bar: Let me get back to you on that.
Private room: It’s best to check. A refurbishment is planned for the summer and there may not be one.
Sound level: About 75 decibels late on a quiet Wednesday.
7: Onda, 30 Stranden, 0250. Information: http://www.onda.no/ or +47-45-50-20--00.
What: A new seafood brasserie which juts out on Oslo’s fjord. There’s also a fine-dining restaurant, an Asian dining room and an outdoor terrace.
Why: The views out over the fjord and across to the Akershus Fortress are spectacular. The modern dining room is spacious, with plenty of light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. The food can be disappointing. The bread was cold and the sashimi was bafflingly short on flavor.
When: Lunchtime or early evening for the views.
Private room: Yes, for 14 to 16 in Onda Mezzanine.
Sound level: Very quiet: 60 decibels during a midweek lunch.
8: Statholdergaarden, 11 Radhusgaten, 0151. Information: http://www.statholdergaarden.no/ or +47-22-41-88-00.
What: An Oslo institution. There has been a restaurant on this site since 1914. The current restaurant dates back to 1994. Statholdergaarden holds a Michelin star.
Why: If you’re looking for fine French food, this may be the place for you. Bent Stiansen was the first chef from Norway to win the Bocuse d’Or world culinary championship in 1993. He worked in France for many years and you can taste that experience in his food, which is classic without ever being old-fashioned. The only caveat: If you are on a short visit to Oslo, you may not want to eat French food, even when it is this good.
Where: Kvadraturen, in the old city center.
When: Statholdergaarden is beautiful for dinner but it might also be a treat to try the salad and sandwiches at lunch.
Bar: No. There are various rooms available.
Sound level: About 60 to 65 decibels. The dining room is very serious and quiet. This is a place for whispered conversations, not for raucous conviviality.
9: Theatercafeen, 24 Stortingsgaten, Hotel Continental, 0117. Info: http://www.hotelcontinental.no/theatercafeen.aspx?ID=33 or +47-22-82-40-00.
What: A large and historic brasserie right in the city center that has been a favorite in Oslo since 1900. (There’s more on the venue’s fascinating history here.) It’s open all day and gets very busy.
Why: You feel like you are at the epicenter of Norway. You could imagine Henrik Ibsen wandering in for coffee and cakes. (He died more than a century ago, so it’s highly improbable, but you get the point.) The beautiful detail in the decor is fascinating. That’s just as well because the food is of another age and it wasn’t a gastronomic one.
Where: Opposite the National Theater, in the city center.
When: Another time, I’d go for afternoon tea and cakes. Theatercafeen is in the tradition of grand Viennese cafes.
Private room: Yes. It seats about 20.
Sound level: Approaching 80 decibels yet it feels more buzzy than loud.
10: Von Porat, Mathallen, Maridalsveien 17, 0175. Information: http://www.vonporat.no/ or +47-21-64-12-43.
What: A very casual venue overlooking the Mathallen food hall. The food is mainly local produce from the market. I’m grateful to the Nordic Nibbler website for highlighting Von Porat. I’d never have found it on my own and it was the best-value place I visited in Oslo. I recommend it highly.
Why: I didn’t find anywhere else that served inexpensive and delicious food made with local ingredients. The service was friendly and engaging, the wine list good value by Oslo’s scary standards.
Where: The Mathallen is north of the city center and a bit of a trek. But it is worth the effort if you are interested in looking round and sampling local produce.
When: Lunchtime is good.
Private room: Yes.
Sound level: Quiet. 65 decibels.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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