Friday, July 31, 2009
Eating Out in Oslo - Norwegian Food (Nei!)
Another excursion to Scandinavia, this time to Oslo, Norway, to check out the culinary delights of King Olav’s realm. First, the obvious clichés: (1) blondes, blondes, blondes! and (2) salmon, salmon, salmon! Yes, I confirm, there is some truth to most clichés. Only in these cases, “some” can be defined by 90% and above. Empirical support attesting to the proliferation of blonde, blue-eyed Scandinavian women in, well, Scandinavia, was evident from the start. Only an hour after my arrival, I received a strong endorsement by a young, blonde, blue-eyed girl for a nearby restaurant, only to be greeted by a young, blonde, blue-eyed hostess who was, chillingly, a dead ringer for the recommender. Bear in mind, I’m not complaining, only making an observation. At first I thought this was some weird sort of chicanery to get an unsuspecting visitor into an Olso restaurant, where one look at the prices on the menu is likely to prove alarming enough. However, I was so hungry by this point—no small thanks to Scandinavian Airlines and their “no pay, no food” on-board policy—that I wrote off the coincidental dead ringer effect to jet lag, assuming that one can actually get jet lagged from a 2-hour late afternoon flight. As for cliché number 2, we’ll get to that in due course.
Before describing the restaurant (see my next blog post) with the hostess with the lovely blonde hair and blue eyes, and for all I know, dragon tattoo, let me first convey my frustration at not having had the opportunity to dine at three highly-touted restaurants in the capital. The first, Statholdergaarden (Radhusgata 11) is apparently considered one of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Oslo, with prices to prove it. The restaurant is housed in a 16th C. mansion not far from the National Gallery. As I have still—can you believe it—not yet received corporate sponsorship to travel in search of the world’s great restaurants with a huge expense account, on my dime I decided to eat at the Stat’s less formal “kro” in the cellar, which is rumored to have prices that are easier on the wallet. But no such luck. When I arrived at the door unannounced for dinner, it was readily apparent that there would be no Statholdergaarden experience for me during this trip—the restaurant was shut up like a petulant clam. A cryptic note was taped to the door and, although written in Norwegian, I had a sinking suspicion that what it said was, “We are currently renovating and are temporarily closed for business. Go find someplace else to eat.” And so, with furrowed brow and bowed head, I trudged back to my hotel in the rain to partake of their 245 kroner (~ 28€) dinner buffet. As hotel dinner buffets go, this one was pretty standard, albeit with a nice predilection towards fresh seafood and interesting selection of breads. I pawned my spanking new diamond encrusted Patek Philippe and sprung for a couple glasses of red wine to wash down my shrimp and smoked shark.
The second no-go was another restaurant in the vicinity of the National Gallery, Engebret Café (Bankplassen 1), which unfortunately was booked until a time at which my visit to Oslo promised to be a faded memory. Engebret is reportedly Oslo’s oldest restaurant, dating back to the 1700s, a period which I had long assumed was associated with a “kill your own” approach to dining out. I bet you didn’t know that noted Norwegian celebrities Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen had their own tables at the Eng.
The third no-go, or shall I say, piece de resistance, had to be my aborted excursion to Lille Herbern, a restaurant (see photo) on the tiny island of Herbern in the Oslo Fjord not far from the peninsula of Bygdøy. I had heard of this spot from some German friends who gave it high praises, which were validated online. This too professes to be one of the oldest restaurants in the Oslo area. Will the real oldest restaurant in Oslo please stand up? I had no idea if I’d ever find the place, as the directions were a bit complicated and involved boats, so I didn’t try to reserve in advance. Had I done so, I would have spared myself a rather unpleasant experience, which began in the rain (again) with a 15-minute ferry ride to the tip of the peninsula at Bygdøynes. Starting at the Kon-Tiki Museum, a short walk from the ferry drop, one must trek about half a kilometre, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find a short path leading to a small dock (see photo) from which one can enjoy the shortest ferry ride in Norway to Herbern island.
As I stood alone on the dock, I was approached by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who informed me that she worked at the restaurant and yes, the restaurant is open and, no, you can’t eat there because there is a wedding today and so unless you are a member of the wedding party, you will not be served. For a split second, of course, I pondered the likelihood of my passing off as a Norwegian wedding party invitee and quickly decided that this would probably be more trouble than it was worth. I diligently turned around and walked back in the direction of the Kon-Tiki Museum. It just wasn’t to be. Next installment: I actually find some places to eat.