13 September 2010

Restaurant Eik, Oslo - Restaurant Review

For a dedicated glutton like yours truly, eating out in Norway can be such a frustrating experience. Restaurants range from the sublime to the ridiculous with alarming unpredictability, but they are united in one thing alone: price. I've said it before, but eating out regularly in Norway is a sure-fire way to financial ruin. So it only takes a few duff restaurant experiences to consign you to home-cooked meals for ever after. So imagine my sheer, unbridled delight at finding a reasonably priced little gem of a restaurant that is ten minutes from my home. Happy days - Christmas has indeed come early!

The place in question is Restaurant Eik. It was set up in 2003 by chef Ole-Johnny Eikefjord, who also has two other Oslo restaurants to his name (Fjord and Restaurant Eik Annen Etage), to provide "good food at reasonable prices". In that sense, it totally delivers on its promise, and in 2006 it was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand which it has held ever since.

The restaurant is located in the Savoy Hotel, but feels like a completely separate, stand-alone entity. The dining room is dominated by shades of brown and beige, with vibrant flashes of fuchsia adding a touch of colour. The atmosphere is very lively, with an exciting buzz of conversations mingling in the air.

Restaurant Eik offers a weekly-changing set menu, from which you can select three, four, or five courses. Five courses of outstanding food for Nkr 465 (€59/$75) is an absolute bargain in Norway, where a flaccid McWhopper meal will set you back the best part of Nkr 110 (€14/$18). There is also a matching wine menu that is priced at about the same level as the food, and five glasses of decent, but ordinary wine, will set you back Nkr 435 (€55/$70).

Mrs. Nibbler and I both went for the four course menu, skipping the cheese course. We began with an amuse bouche of pumpkin soup that was served with a garlicky blob of hummus with crisp bread, fried squid with seaweed and pomegranate salad, and a filo pastry samosa filled with braised meat (I forget which kind). This was a great start to the meal; the pumpkin soup in particular was rich and warming, and was perfect now that there's a slight chill in the Oslo air.

For our first course we were served a bowl of Jerusalem artichoke soup that was delightfully creamy and earthy. This was served with slices of excellent truffle salami, and a salad with beetroot, pine nuts and artichoke chips. Unfortunately, the salad had obviously been pre-dressed a long time ago, and as a result the leaves were soggy and tasted of laziness.

Next we had pan-fried redfish that was served with pea purée, orange-braised fennel, a lightly pickled tomato, and shellfish sauce. I adored this course. The fish was perfectly cooked with a firm texture and a mild, clean taste, while the pea purée was fantastic with such an intense and sweet pea flavour to it. Also, I loved the garnish of pea shoots. The whole dish looked so vibrant and fresh.

Then, a little palate cleanser in the form of a mojito granita. This was really lively, with crisp, cooling flavours of mint and lime.

For our main course we were served grilled lamb cutlets that were accompanied by risotto-style orzo pasta cooked with ceps, baby turnip, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and a concentrated rosemary sauce. Again, this dish was just outstanding and was a joy to eat. The lamb was cooked perfectly pink and tasted as though it had been lightly smoked. Unlike the anaemic cutlets of milk lamb that I've had in the past, these cutlets packed quite a strong lamb flavour. The orzo pasta was a touch of genius. It was cooked al dente, with a satisfying Parmesan kick, and a beautiful aroma of cep mushrooms - at long last a main course served in a Norwegian restaurant that didn't feature potatoes!

For dessert we had a trio of apples: slices of spiced stewed apples, an apple soup, and an apple-cinnamon sorbet with vanilla cream and cinnamon toasted oats. I'm pretty sure there was some popping candy in there too. What a stunning dessert this was! It was just how I like my desserts: light, fresh and tangy, the flavours of apple just zinging on your tongue.

To round off this excellent meal we had petit fours of mini-macaroons and caramel truffles that looked like nuggets of burnished bronze, both were heavenly.

Service was really pleasant and friendly; every dish and every glass of wine was described in detail to us, even though the restaurant was packed. But therein lies the one downside of the evening: the pace of the service was glacially slow. By the time we had finished eating, mullets were back in fashion, and I'm not talking fish, I mean this.

I suspect the tardiness has something to do with the Norwegians' habit of eating out in large groups. Now, Norwegians are a sociable bunch, and tables of 8, 12, and more are quite common here, and there were quite a few large groups that were eating at the same time as us. Inevitably, this leads to backlogs in the kitchen. In the end, our four course dinner took the best part of three hours. As good as the food is at here, it is such a major frustration for service to slip up in this way. I understand the economic need for restaurants in Oslo to serve large tables, but at least they should stagger the bookings accordingly to give the kitchen a fighting chance of serving everyone on time.

Ultimately though, this place serves truly delicious food. The level of cooking was outstanding and, given the prices here, you'd have to say that this is one of Oslo's real culinary bargains. In order to keep the prices reasonable, the kitchen uses ingredients in a very intelligent way - they minimise the use of the relatively more expensive ingredients, but then what they do with the cheaper ingredients is to be commended. This is just delicious, intelligent, and well-executed food. I will definitely be back for more, and I can see Restaurant Eik becoming one of my regular haunts in Oslo.

Food:           7 / 10
Service:        5 / 10
Ambiance:    8 / 10

Restaurant Eik
Universitetsgata 11
0164 Oslo
Tel: +47 22 36 07 10

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