OSLO, March 11 — Whenever New Nordic Cuisine is mentioned, it’s inevitable that one thinks of Denmark thanks to Chef René Redzepi of Noma and Danish food activist Claus Meyer (often credited for founding the philosophy in the first place).
But to take such a limited view would be a disservice to other Nordic nations such as Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Chefs in Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo are all challenging themselves in their kitchens, with exciting results.
Oslo, in particular, is creating a new Scandinavian smörgåsbord of flavours using the best Norwegian ingredients they can find. Seasonal and local is their mantra. Time to discover the New Norwegian Cuisine.
Let’s begin with Sentralen, hidden within the walls of the former Christiania Sparebank building in the city centre. Opened by Even Ramsvik and led by head chef Mads Andre Hansen, Sentralen focuses on Scandinavian-inspired small plates for sharing.
The unpretentious vibes extend well beyond food: guests are encouraged to top up their own water and wine. Now that is truly casual.
Unlike most restaurants in Oslo, bread isn’t complimentary here. However, who could resist an order of Sentralen’s home-baked organic bread with sustainably produced butter from Røros, a former Norwegian mining town and Unesco World Heritage Site.
Everything tastes better when it’s local — or at least, Norwegian, since there isn’t much agriculture or fishing to speak of in the capital.
Service is prompt and measured; the small plates arrive one or two at a time to ensure diners can fully enjoy each dish before the next beckons.
Right off the bat we are captivated by their signature røkt bete tartare. Visually stunning, we get a glistening raw egg yolk atop a mound of smoked beet tartare, levelled up with subtle but powerful hits of tarragon and fresh horseradish.
What is the Norwegian word for umami, we wonder, for this dish is definitely purely that.
Sentralen fares well with other plates too: The avokado jalapeño is simply sliced avocado spiked with jalapeño mayonnaise, with juicy cubes of tomato and toasted almond flakes. Avoiding farmed fish, Sentralen turns to the open sea for their viltfisk surdeigbrød og reddiker, accompanied with sourdough bread and radishes.
Meat lovers would approve of the svartkål lam — medium-rare toast lamb with crispy oven-baked black kale. It feels positively Malaysian to be sharing dishes here in Oslo when it’s not a common practice elsewhere in Europe. (That lamb, though, would make a solo diner perfectly happy by itself, methinks.)
For a dining experience away from the bustling centre, head over to the more secluded Pila along the Akerselva river. While the restaurant’s rustic, 70s-inspired interior is appealing, so is dining al fresco when the weather is fine.
Large wooden tables made from upcycled cable spools could well be a metaphor for Oslo’s bridging of the urban and the bucolic. Menus are presented as bookmarks inside vintage books. Repurposing seems to be a theme here.
Head chef Martin Guin Troset believes in good old-fashioned Norwegian ingredients exemplified by our starter of ørretterter med røkt reker og havrekrem, a trout tartare with smoked shrimp, apple, watercress cream and oat crunch.
For those who are sick of duck confit, try the lamb version with lam eggeplomme med geitost krem; a single golden egg yolk crowns the coin of confit served on rösti with goat cheese cream.
There’s always room for comfort food, whether it’s something simple done well such as the fritert med vinrødvin — deep-fried logs of mozzarella with Sandefjord tomatoes and herbs from Tåsen, served with currant vinaigrette — or the more refined yet equally sinful hvitvin blåskjell med vill hvitløk majones — white wine steamed mussels with wild garlic mayonnaise.
Sweets include softis jordbær limesukker, a straightforward vanilla soft serve dressed up with lime sugar and in-season strawberries. For more of a twist, we try besudlede bypiker, Pila’s take on the traditional Norwegian apple-based dessert tilslørte bondepiker. Here rhubarb, cream cheese and crunchy oats are used instead. A tad heavy so we wash it down with some mild Guatemala coffee.
If a sit-down meal isn’t for you, head over to Arakataka just around the corner from the Rockefeller Music Hall. Arakataka is proof that New Nordic cuisine doesn’t need to be too precious or fussy.
The restaurant has a spacious matbaren or food bar near its entrance where no reservations are needed — just luck to snag a seat, especially during peak hours!
At Arakataka’s food bar, small plates are enjoyed in a communal atmosphere. There are high stools for sitting but many diners opt to stand while cradling their drinks.
The head chef, Ronny Kolvik has designed an ever-changing menu of small dishes using typical gourmet ingredients such as foie gras as well as more local ones such as løyrom (whitefish roe).
To begin, our server arrives with Arakataka’s signature malt and fennel bread. Spread with their whipped homemade butter, every slice is an explosion of deep flavours. Oslovians seem to love their bread but aren’t afraid to experiment with new ingredients, textures and even fermenting methods.
Norwegians know their seafood: Organic salmon is highlighted in økologisk laks gressløk agurk, along with tender, mild chives and cool slivers of cucumber. Absolutely refreshing, this.
The brininess of mussels in hestebønner blåskjell fennikel is offset by a liberal use of fennel. Freshly picked broad beans add crunch and a gorgeous hit of green.
Something as ordinary as chicken has never tasted better than paired with beets and tarragon in kylling beter estragon. For dessert, we enjoy Norske plommer, nýr og brunet smør: stewed local plums are enhanced with fresh organic cheese and browned butter.
To finish, a platter of Norwegian cheeses: Høvding Sverre, Munkeby, Kraftkar and Kubbeost from the fertile fields of Hole. And coffee — more coffee!
Oslo has some of the best baristas and coffee roasters in the world, and we wouldn’t dream of ending a Norwegian meal without a decent brew or a perfectly pulled espresso.
Øvre Slottsgate 3, Oslo, Norway
Open Mon-Fri 11am-12am; Sat 12pm- 12am; Sun closed
Tel: +47 22 33 33 22
Østre Elvebakke 7, Oslo, Norway
Open Mon-Fri 11am-10pm (closed Wed); Sat 10am-10pm; Sun 12pm-10pm
Tel: +47 942 29 945
Mariboes gate 7B, Oslo, Norway
Open Mon-Sat 4pm-12:30am; Sun 4pm-9pm
Tel: +47 23 32 83 00