4 October 2010

The Nighthawk Diner, Oslo - Restaurant Review

The Oslo district of Grünerløkka is not the first place that pops into my mind when I think of American diners. But tucked away in this fashionable enclave is Norway's first example of one of America's ubiquitous eateries. The Nighthawk Diner opened in March 2010 and takes its name from one of the most iconic pieces of American art - Edward Hopper's 1942 painting, Nighthawks. The painting, a paragon of American realism, depicts the quintessential diner of the 1940s, and walking into the Nighthawk Diner you immediately feel transported to the Greenwich Village of Hopper's artwork.

The L-shaped restaurant is dominated by a long, stainless steel bar. The waiters and waitresses wear authentic 1940s style uniforms, while leather-clad booths, ceiling fans, and a jukebox complete the historical look. There is even that famous painting of the diner's namesake on one of the walls.

The menu at the Nighthawk Diner includes all the usual suspects such as burgers, steaks, eggs Benedict, pancakes, and shakes. I went for a 'Nighthawk combo burger' that came loaded with bacon, cheddar cheese, and chipotle mayonnaise, with a side portion of fries, and a token green salad.

Like the interior of the restaurant the burger certainly looked the part, and I couldn't wait to take my first bite. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to expectations. The meat was under-seasoned and seemed oddly tasteless, with none of that pleasing charred beef flavour and, despite asking for it to be cooked medium, it was served distinctly well-done. The worst aspect, though, was the amount of grease; the plate was swimming in enough oil to make BP proud. Most of this oil had managed to be soaked up by the burger bun, which dripped with fat when I picked it up, like a fully laden bath sponge, and I could feel cardiologists all over Oslo cackling with glee.

The fries were the same; never mind triple-cooked fries, I would hazard a guess that these chips had not spent anytime outside of a deep-fat fryer. To add insult to injury, I was charged the non-diner-esque sum of NOK 190 (€24/$32) for the dish (maybe not a bad deal when you consider oil is currently going for $80 a barrel).
If I think back to some of the best eating experiences I've had, they have always been accompanied by a sense of belonging - buttery o'toro in Tokyo, char dogs in Chicago, pintxos in San Sebastian. And this, unfortunately, is where the Nighthawk Diner falls flat. We're in Oslo; Norwegians don't really do "have a nice day" or "hi, my name is Peggy-Jo-Suzy-Lee, I'll be your server today". So while the interior of the diner was authentic enough, it just felt a little incongruous having this slice of Americana in the land of fjords and Ibsen. So much of the enjoyment of food comes not only from its taste, but also from a sense of belonging. Without this sense of location, the Nighthawk Diner becomes a gimmicky restaurant that serves substandard food at inflated prices.

I really wanted to like the Nighthawk Diner, but based on the food I had there I'm struggling to find a reason to do so. For some reason, a decent burger is something that European restaurants struggle to produce, so I will probably go back to try some other things on the menu, as I think the Nighthawk Diner deserves another chance. But until then I'd recommend you go there for some of the excellent Nøgne Ø breakfast brown ale they have on tap, marvel at the interior, and then eat somewhere else.

Food:          4 / 10
Service:       7 / 10
Ambiance:   7 / 10

The Nighthawk Diner
Seilduksgata 15
0553 Oslo
Tel: +47 96 62 73 37