6 September 2010

Oro Bar & Grill, Oslo - Restaurant Review

Terje Ness is back in style at Oslo's excellent Oro Restaurant and Bar & Grill. Ness is one of Norway's most talented chefs and he first came to prominence as the winner of the Bocuse d'Or in 1999. He first trained under chef Eyvind Hellstrøm at the much missed double Michelin-starred Bagatelle restaurant in Oslo. In 2000 he ventured out on his own to open up his first restaurant, Oro, which was immediately successful and gained its first Michelin star just two years after opening. Due to an acrimonious dispute with the other partners, Ness left Oro in 2004 and it lost its Michelin star in the following year's guide. In 2005, Ness opened Haga restaurant next to a golf course in the smart Oslo suburb of Bærum, and he would go on to gain a Michelin star there too. Last year, Ness took over Oro and it is clear he has unfinished business there.

Mrs. Nibbler and I ate at Oro Bar & Grill, next to the main restaurant, which is run by the capable chef Rune Pal. As its name suggests, Oro Bar & Grill is designed as an informal eatery, with grilled meat and fish dominating the menu. In the 2010 Michelin guide, Oro Bar & Grill gained a bib gourmand for high quality food at decent prices, so clearly they are doing something right.

The interior of the restaurant is dominated by a large central bar, surrounded by tall wooden bar-style tables, with just one 'normal' style table that seats about six. The overall feel is very Scandinavian; casual and relaxed with unadorned light bulbs hanging from the ceiling adding to the atmosphere.

The menu here reflects Chef Ness's cooking style, which makes great use of wonderful Norwegian seafood. To start with Mrs. Nibbler had steamed mussels with chilli, garlic, ginger and coriander. A simple, yet singularly delicious dish. Stunningly fresh and sweet mussels that were perfectly cooked; a real showcase for the quality of Norway's seafood. In Norwegian, mussels are called blåskjell, literally "blue shell", and I could see how they got this name, as the mussels here were an almost iridescent and beautiful shade of blue. The Thai-inspired flavours were perfectly balanced and did not overpower the mussels at all. Mrs. Nibbler and I took turns to dip hunks of bread into the cooking juices so they became heavy and soggy and then popped them in our mouths, causing big smiles to appear on our faces.
Mussels, chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander
For my starter I had grilled red king crab leg with tarragon and lime. Again, a very simple dish. But when the quality of the seafood is as good as this the less messing around, the better. The crab meat was cooked to perfection. It was snowy white with the occasional flash of bright red and it was as tender and sweet as I have ever tasted. I was given various implements to extract every single morsel of meat from the legs, and I made sure I did. It was simply divine.
King crab with tarragon and lime

I should have stuck to seafood, as the main courses were a real disappointment. I ordered grilled neck of Iberico Bellota pork that was served with roast potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms sautéed in cream and, bizarrely, curried onions. This was a big and messy plate of food and it was drenched with a rather sweet, brown-coloured sauce. It was a real shame as the quality of the pork was excellent and it was cooked perfectly to boot. But the accompaniments were a little incongruous. The sautéed mushrooms were of the bland, generic, button type, and the curried onions were simply onions sautéed with lots of curry powder. A bit of a hodgepodge really and not a cheap dish at Nkr 239 (€30/$39). Mrs. Nibbler opted for the daily special which was grilled beef fillet. This was identical to my dish except for the main ingredient (in fact so similar was it that I haven't even included a photo of it as it is indistinguishable from the photo of my dish) and it too was disappointing.
Grilled neck of Iberico Bellota pork, roasted tomatoes, roast potatoes, cream sautéed mushrooms, curried onions

Desserts were OK, but nothing special. Mrs. Nibbler had a generic and dull selection of sorbets: mango, raspberry, vanil...sorry, I almost nodded off there. Where was I? Yeah, sorbets - fine but boring.
I finished with a slice of pecan pie - a little bit of southern US lovin' in Oslo. It was OK, but not great; the pastry was a bit tough and the filling was too measly and dry to do the word "pie" any justice. The accompanying chocolate mousse was another story though. It was fantastic; smooth and light with a deliciously creamy milk chocolate flavour. I would have happily had just a bowl of this instead of the pie.
Pecan pie with milk chocolate mousse
Oro Bar & Grill was such a mixed bag. The starters were just stunning and clearly the kitchen knows how to cook seafood. Unfortunately, the restaurant fell into the same trap that many Norwegian restaurants fall into - namely, the belief that a good meal out should include meat, potatoes, and lots of sauce. Filling, but hardly inspiring. Desserts could also do with a bit of a makeover as they were quite bland and generic. I'd like to give Oro Bar & Grill another chance, but next time I might try some grilled fish for mains and skip the dessert and see how that goes.

Food:          6 / 10
Service:       7 / 10
Ambiance:   6 / 10

Oro Bar & Grill
Tordenskioldsgt 6
0160 Oslo
Tel: +47 23 01 02 40

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