23 January 2012

Trancher, Oslo – Restaurant Review

Trancher is a cosy little restaurant located in Oslo's fashionable Grünerløkka neighbourhood. It is predicated on a simple, but great idea. To paraphrase Henry Ford, at Trancher you can have anything you like as long as it's roast beef. In fact your choice is limited even further as only entrecôte (that's rib-eye for us rosbifs) is served. This is no bad thing at all in my book as entrecôte is perhaps the king of beef – it's a wonderfully marbled cut that has such a pleasing depth of flavour. I was sold and went along to see for myself if Trancher would live up to expectations.
The restaurant itself is quite a snug affair – soft lighting, candles and flock wallpaper give it a really nice 'local bistro' vibe and there's already a pleasant buzz of conversation in the room when we arrive for our early dinner reservation. We're seated and handed laminated menus, which are really to highlight the starters and desserts, as we all know what the main event is here. The meat comes in sizes of either 160g (kr 160 /€21) or 200g (kr 200 / €26), and comes with one of five sauces. You can also pick from a choice of five side dishes for kr 30 (€4) each.

First though we're served a complementary salad, which turned out to be a pretty lacklustre affair. Shredded iceberg lettuce and red cabbage was served with a couple of cashew nuts and halved grapes and had been doused with an overpowering mustard vinaigrette. It didn't look like it had been made with much care and seemed a little pointless to me.

My starter of scallop ceviche (kr 90 / €11.75) was much better though. Raw scallops were lightly marinated in lime juice and served with coriander dressing and a slick of mango coulis. The natural sweetness of the beautifully fresh scallops was intensified by the mango, while the citrus added some welcome acidity. A nice balance of flavours, although the liberal scattering of rather dry chopped parsley was completely redundant and detracted from the soft texture of the scallops.

Mrs. Nibbler had prawns and spring onions served in a spicy garlic and chilli broth that she reported to be delicious (and pretty fiery). It was served with some slices of bread that were tailor-made to be dunked into that wonderful broth.

And so we get to the main event. Bring on the beef! The meat itself comes from grass-fed cows reared in Vestnes in the heart of Western Norway. As the restaurant's name suggests the beef is not cooked individually to order, rather slices are cut from a large piece of entrecôte that has been briefly browned on the grill and cooked at a very low heat over a long period of time. The internal temperature of the beef is brought to 54°C over several hours and then it's left to rest, which results in a juicy piece of medium-rare meat.

However, the long and gentle cooking process, as well as the way the meat is served (sliced), means the mysterious but crucial Maillard reaction has barely had a chance to work its magic and as such there's hardly any crust to it. For me that intensely savoury crust is one of the singular joys of eating roast beef and here it was sorely missing.

The meat had decent enough flavour but, disappointingly, it had been wet-aged (aged in a vacuum sealed bag for a few days). And it showed. There was a real lack of beefy depth that makes dry-aged beef (aged in the open air for a few weeks) the joy that it is, and the meat looked very pale to boot. For a restaurant whose whole raison d'être is roast beef, it seems like a colossal disservice to offer wet-aged meat at all. Sure, it's a cheaper and quicker process, but dry-ageing results in infinitely better flavour and texture. I guess I'll have to come to one of Trancher's special "dry-aged days," which they hold every three weeks or so and offer dry-aged beef for kr 275 (€36).

The accompanying béarnaise sauce was perfect; fluffy and creamy with a nice acidic tarragon kick to it. However, Mrs. Nibbler's peppercorn sauce was quite tame and lacked much pepper bite. Of the sides the potato dauphinoise was by far the best, being creamy, garlicky and so soothing. A side of green beans was good too, and I like the crisp pieces of fennel it came with. The final side dish of balsamic marinated mushrooms and red onions, though, was verging on being sickly sweet and was not pleasant at all.

By now we were pretty full and nothing on the rather generic dessert menu (crème brûlée, tiramisu, or chocolate mousse) could tempt us. The total bill for the evening, including a glass of Ribera del Duero, came to a surprisingly reasonable kr 685 (€89.50) for the pair of us. Service was friendly and knowledgeable, although the food did seem to take quite a while to arrive.

For now, I think the jury's out on Trancher. I like the concept, I like the atmosphere, I like the price, but it falls short on the one thing it's supposed to do well – the meat. I'll definitely give the restaurant another chance, but next time I'll stick to one of their special "dry-aged days" instead, as the lure of dry-aged Norwegian entrecôte is just too much for this beef lover to resist.

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

Trancher
Thorvald Meyers gate 78
0550 Oslo, Norway
Tel: +47 22 36 47 60

2 comments:

  1. Have you tried L' Entrecote in London? http://www.relaisdevenise.com/ The idea reminded me about that restaurant and they do know their meat! (and salad, and fries, and sauce, and wine, and service...)

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  2. try hawsmoor i London - excellent steaks and a BYO on mondays. I tried Trancher in Oslo and we had a bottle of Arbois (from Jura) at a reduced price as they'd used it for a tasting - one glass down - a bargain (by norway standards) at 27euros. Food was okay but there are better places.

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