Oslo's famed Bagatelle restaurant finally reopened to much fanfare in January 2011. Following a very public spat with the restaurant's owner (Norwegian businessman Christen Sveaas), head chef Eyvind Hellstrøm walked out at the end of 2009, along with him went the two Michelin stars the restaurant had gained. In his place came chef Daniel Höglander, formerly Chef de Cuisine of Stockholm's Michelin-starred restaurant, Esperanto. However, it wasn't just the chef that had changed. In what used to be a private dining annex of the old restaurant, a less formal venue called 'Lille B' ('Little B') was created to serve smaller, simpler dishes by day and wine by night. As a business proposition it seems to make perfect sense; you already have a kitchen and staff in place, so why not improve the bottom line by offering 'cheaper' lunches and higher margin booze. As the name 'Lille B' suggests, this place is clearly hoping to cash in on the cachet of its fine-dining big brother next door.
We arrived for lunch around 1pm (fairly late by Norwegian standards) and found only one other table occupied. Still, we had to go through the farce of being asked if we had a reservation and then waiting while the waitress studied the reservations book, only to be finally told we could sit wherever we liked. Once seated we surveyed the room. The restaurant itself is quite small, serving just 35 covers. The interior is modern and uncluttered. Bold prints by David LaChapelle hang on the walls, adding violent flashes of colour to the room, including a rather bizarre one of a sweaty David Beckham in just his shorts (sorry ladies, I don't have a photo of that one).
The menu is brief and to the point, listing four starters and four mains. We skipped the interesting sounding reindeer tartare and poached egg with pata negra ham, deciding instead to share a dish of salmon sashimi with ponzu dressing. Thickly cut pieces of salmon arrived in a bowl with some sliced chillies, carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber, and coriander. Small pearls of salmon roe glistened attractively on the plate. At NKr 175 (€23/$31) it's certainly not a cheap starter, and visually I would have expected something more than what can easily be rustled up at home by even the most basic of cooks. Surely the lofty price must justify the taste then? Well, no. This was a forgettable dish, further spoiled by the ponzu sauce, which was way too overpowering and salty. Not a good start.
Things didn't really improve with the next dishes. A main course of grilled steak was served on toasted sourdough bread. This came with salad, cornichons, pickled onions, and an odd mound of grated horseradish topped by a raw egg yolk. The steak was made from a decent enough piece of meat and was cooked rare, but for some reason the charring had given it an unpleasant and acrid bitterness. The fact that the steak was served just below body temperature didn’t help matters either. This dish was just a bit of a mess – poor in conception and execution. To add insult to injury it cost NKr 250 (€32/$44).
A second main course of soba noodles came in a miso broth with meatballs made from minced chicken. The balance of flavours here was just not right, with an overwhelmingly strong taste of lemongrass permeating through the whole dish. The noodles had also been cooked for too long, and as a result had none of that lovely bounce and chewiness that makes noodles such a joy to eat. Again, I couldn’t help thinking we’d paid NKr 190 (€25/$34) for a bowl of noodles that even Wagamama can knock out at almost half the price.
Dessert was hazelnut parfait served with spiced pears. Finally something decent. The parfait was good, rich and nutty. The rose petals and mint leaves were totally unnecessary though, their perfumed flavours jarring sharply with the creaminess of the parfait. I really dislike it when random stuff is added to a dish just for decoration – what’s the point? You may as well start serving plastic parsley.
Service throughout was fine in the sense that our orders were taken and food was brought to us. However, it was indifferent and quite slow – surprising given that the place was half empty.
Lille B probably works better as a wine bar, and if that's your thing then go and give it a try. But I can't help feeling that the mighty Bagatelle name is left somewhat sullied by the quality of the food served here. In the end Lille B is just another one of those disappointing and overpriced restaurants that sadly seem all too common in Oslo.
Food: 4 / 10
Service: 5 / 10
Ambiance: 6 / 10
Bygdøy Allè 3
Tel: +47 22 44 40 40