23 June 2011

Trattoria Popolare, Oslo – Restaurant Review


Trattoria Popolare opened in Oslo's hip Grünerlokka neighbourhood in March 2011 and, as its name suggests, Italian food is the order of the day here. This is the latest project from Oslo restaurateur Nevzat Arikan, whose other ventures include Olympen, Arakataka, and Ylajali. I've eaten at all three of Arikan's other restaurants and, although very different from each other, all impressed me immensely, so I was more than excited to try out his latest offering.


The restaurant is located on the site of the former Schous Brewery, which dates back to 1873 and was, until its closure in 1981, the oldest existing brewery in Norway. As you enter the restaurant the first thing you see is a large semi-open kitchen where chefs are busy at work behind large panes of glass. There is also a small charcuterie section that sells various classic Italian cured meats, and a fantastic old Berkel slicing machine sits prominently on display. I watched, mesmerised, as the machine made short order of some pancetta; carefully cutting it and automatically arranging the slices in neat piles with metronomic quality.
The restaurant is split over two levels, with the stairwell to the upper level covered by a bold, almost psychedelic mural by Norwegian artist Benjamin Bergman. On the day we visited, the upper level was closed but its dark wood panelling, chandeliers and prominent wine cellar create a slightly more formal dining area than the buzzy casual space on the ground floor.

The menu is divided into the typical Italian sections of 'antipasti', 'primi platti', 'secondi platti', 'classico', and 'dolce'. The dishes read like they're taken straight from the pages of 'Italian Cooking 101' with rustic staples such as Caprese Salad, Panzanella, Pasta Primavera, and Steak Fiorentina. So the menu's not going to win any awards for novelty, but then that's not really what Trattoria Popolare is about. At lunchtime (served from 11:00 – 15:30) there is a separate menu of six dishes to choose from.

Before we ordered, though, some focaccia bread was brought to the table, which we dipped in olive oil and balsamic and hungrily devoured.

My main course of bollito misto (NKr 129 / €16.50) arrived looking fresh and vibrant. Traditionally a bollito misto would contain seven different kinds of meat, seven vegetables and seven condiments. This was a more pared down version and contained chicken leg, pork, and beef brisket that had been slowly simmered in chicken stock until the meat becomes meltingly tender. It is served with carrots, celery, cabbage, and cannellini beans. It was delicious, but it would have been nice to see the addition of something more authentic such as cotechino sausage or zampone (stuffed pig's trotter). However, for this quality of food at this price point in Oslo, I have no reason to complain.

Mrs Nibbler and the two Nibbler girls opted for the pasta of the day (NKr 109 / €14) which was a generous portion of tagliatelle with a rich veal ragù sauce. I tasted some and it was fine, if a bit uninspiring. The ragù lacked any real depth of flavour and the pasta was slightly overcooked. Still, it wasn't bad, and again, for 109 krone you can't really complain (for comparison's sake this is about the same price as a meal from Burger McKing).

By now the Nibbler girls were getting restless, so plans for desserts had to be abandoned, which was a shame as I was settling in nicely, enjoying the relaxed vibe of the place and was already eyeing up some tiramisu (NKr 79 / €10) and an espresso. Oh well, I'll save that for another day I suppose.

I really enjoyed lunch at Trattoria Popolare and will definitely come back. OK, the food's not going to win any awards any time soon – it's safe and solid rather than innovative and exciting, but that surely misses the point. Oslo is littered with expensive mid-range restaurants serving, at times, pretty abysmal food. Trattoria Popolare breaks this mould and is exactly the sort of restaurant that Oslo needs more of – a place serving decent, simple food with friendly service in convivial surroundings at a moderate price. Which believe me, is no mean feat at all.

Food:           6 / 10
Service:       8 / 10
Ambiance:   8 / 10

Trattoria Popolare
Trondheimsveien 2
0560 Oslo
Norway
Tel: + 47 21 38 39 30