6 May 2010

Statholdergaarden, Oslo - Restaurant Review



Oslo is not the city that first springs to mind when thinking of culinary capitals of the world. But every now and again you find a hidden gem such as Statholdergaarden. The restaurant is owned and run by Chef Bent Stiansen (Norway’s first Bocuse D’Or winner) which he opened in 1994 and won its first Michelin star in 1998 which it still holds.

Statholdergaarden is actually the name of the building in which the restaurant resides, and what a building it is! From a relatively unassuming entrance you enter into a grand house and walk straight into the 18th century; a beautiful series of rooms with elegant chandeliers that are tastefully but simply decorated. The centrepiece of the main dining room being a table with a grand arrangement of Calla Lillies. Without boring you with too much detail, the building was built in 1640 and retains many of its original features to this day, such as the amazing ceiling plasterwork we sat under depicting Cleopatra’s dramatic death from the bite of a poisonous snake, whilst her handmaidens look on as shocked witnesses. If, unlike me, you are a history buff then more information on the building and its colourful inhabitants can be found here and here.

Ornate Ceiling Plasterwork in the Cleopatra Room

Well, what about the food? Without spoiling the rest of the review I will say that I enjoyed some of the finest food I have ever had in Norway here. Now that Chef Hellstrøm has closed his much-missed 2-star restaurant, Bagatelle, Statholdergaarden can probably lay claim to the finest dining experience in Norway. Chef Stiansen’s cooking is based on clean, simple flavours that make the most of the marvellous produce Norway has to offer.

Menus here change daily based on the season and what ingredients happen to be at their best. The 6-course tasting menu will set you back NKr. 1050 (£115) per person and you’ll need to add another NKr. 895 (£100) for a matching wine menu. Yes, my friends, eating out in Norway is ruinously expensive.

We started off with a series of amuse-bouches. The first (which I don’t seem to have a photo of) was a light smoked salmon mousse with salmon roe served in a sort of mini cornetto shell. Very reminiscent of something I had at The Square in London, except that time it was foie gras mousse.

This was followed by a trio of amuse-bouches. One was a cappuccino of mushroom veloute which was light and packed full of earthy mushroom flavour. You could just close your eyes and imagine yourself in a vast Norwegian forest. Truly excellent. There was also a small veal medallion with some celeriac puree, veal reduction and a solitary tarragon leaf. This was one of those dishes where all the flavours combine to create something more than the sum of their constituent parts. The veal was cooked perfectly pink and just melted in the mouth, with the tarragon leaf giving a pleasing fresh zing. The last amuse-bouche was a duck rillette ball that was breaded and fried. Although delicious, this was the most ordinary of the four.

Trio of amuse-bouches: Cappuccino of mushroom veloute, veal medallion, duck rillette

A close up of the veal medallion, tarragon was an unusual touch but worked well

The first starter was a half a pan-fried langoustine tail. It was described on the menu as garlic-chili fried, which I thought sounded too overpowering for the dish, but fortunately there was only there merest hint of garlic and, as far as I could tell, no discernible chili kick. The end result was a beautifully sweet and perfectly cooked langoustine tail with a gentle parsley & horseradish sauce that really let the flavour of the langoustine shine through. The crab cannelloni was great too - soft, sweet pieces of Kamchatka crab (red king crab) in a tube of al dente pasta. The whole dish was very well executed and was a real showpiece for the stunning seafood Norway has to offer. If I was nitpicking I would say that the grilled red peppers were an unnecessary addition to the dish.

Garlic-chili fried Norwegian langoustine with kamchatka crab & saffron cannelloni, asparagus, grilled pepper and pickled cauliflower, parsley & horseradish sauce

Next up was a soup course. This was an asparagus soup with marinated halibut pieces. I’m not sure what the halibut had been marinated in but again it was perfectly cooked with a wonderful firm texture and was an unusual but delicious addition to the light asparagus soup. The soup also had pieces of leek and parsley root, the latter being something I hadn’t tried before but had a flavour like turnip, celery and parsley. I’d never come across it as an ingredient during my time in the UK but apparently it’s a very common ingredient in central and northern Europe.


Asparagus soup with marinated halibut, leek and baked parsley root

The next course was another fish dish. This time it was pan-fried sea bass. Again the fish was cooked to perfection; crisp, well-seasoned skin yielding to firm, moist flesh. This was served with celery & apple puree, braised sweet cabbage and finely chopped shiitake mushroom which gave a pleasing earthiness to the dish. But for me the real star of this dish was the shellfish sauce. I could have bathed in it. God, it was good! Just closing my eyes and smelling it transported me to Norway’s south coast on a hot summer’s day - a super concentrated, silky smooth elixir of all things crustaceous!

Pan fried sea bass with celery & apple puree, pickled red onion, sweet cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and a shellfish sauce

This was followed by a palate cleanser before the meat dish was served. A raspberry sorbet and pineapple granita that tasted exactly how you imagine it tasted. No nonsense and did exactly what it says on the tin.

A palate cleanser of raspberry sorbet with pineapple granita

The main meat course was honey glazed duck breast which was served pink and managed to retain a crispy fatty skin while being meltingly tender. It was served with bok choy, cream of Jerusalem artichoke, baby carrots and a soy & ginger sauce. I know this sounds like quite a busy flavour combination but it wasn’t and worked really well; the sauce being very light and neutral with only a hint of soy & ginger. The one addition I would question was the mango & black pepper samosa. Although this tasted fine it was probably an unnecessary addition as the dish was better off without it.

Honey glazed duck breast served with bok choy, mango & black pepper samosa, cream of Jerusalem artichoke, soy & ginger sauce

Next on the menu was the cheese course. However, a few in our party for some inexplicable reason did not like cheese very much and would they be able to have another dessert instead they asked? No problem said the waiter and he went to have a word with kitchen. What arrived was I think very commendable given that the kitchen had no prior notice our party would make such a request. You have to understand that in Norway people generally would not make such requests and restaurants are generally even less likely to accede to them. So full marks to Statholdergaarden for handling this in such a pleasant and professional way. The non-cheesy people were served a simple fresh fruit salad with three sorbets (mango, rhubarb and something I couldn’t remember). This was served with a shot of sweet red grapefruit juice. Although I didn’t have this I can vouch that the end result was fresh and light – just the sort of thing if you’re into 2 desserts.

I adore cheese with a passion but I’ve never been very good at remembering their names. But suffice it to say that the cheeses we were served were fantastic, increasing in strength from left to right. They were served with a traditional Norwegian flatbread and some other fresh breads. This was accompanied by a well-matched sweet, light port wine.

An improvised dessert for the non-cheese eaters. Mango and rhubarb sorbet, fresh fruit, red grapefruit

Cheeses (I forgot which kinds) served with Norwegian flat bread and apricot compote

To finish was a raspberry mousse with milk chocolate and a yoghurt sherbet. Its probably fair to say that this was the weakest dish of the evening, but it was always going to be a tough act to top the previous courses. You can see from the photo just how airy the raspberry mousse was and it just dissolved on the tongue. The chocolate concoction was fine as was the yoghurt sherbet. My only criticism of this dessert was that it seemed a bit busy and too much of a mix of flavours - the mousse and passion fruit sauce would have been fine on its own,  as would the chocolate. Finally, to end the meal we had a selection of petit fours along with coffee.

Raspberry mousse, white chocolate delice, passion fruit jelly and milk chocolate crisp. Served with yoghurt sherbet and vanilla & raspberry sauce

Petit fours

In all this was a truly memorable dining experience. Service was attentive and efficient and the quality of ingredients and execution of the cooking was truly world class. It´s easy to see how Statholdergaarden has kept hold of its Michelin star for well over a decade in the relative culinary outpost of Norway. Having moved from London to Oslo, one of the biggest things I miss is the sheer diversity and quality of restaurants in Britain´s capital. Knowing there´s a restaurant like Statholdergaarden in my new home town brings a big smile to my face every time.

Food:            8 / 10
Service:         9 / 10
Ambiance:    9 / 10

Statholdergaarden
Rådhusgate 11
0151 Oslo
Norway
Tel: +47 22 41 88 00