11 December 2012
Typical, isn't it? You wait ages in the freezing cold for a bus and then two come along at once. And so seems to be the case for the Oslo food scene. Restaurant von Porat and Oslo's shiny new food hall, Mathallen, where it is located are two such examples. Already, in the two short months the restaurant has been open I can see it (and the food hall) becoming an established favourite for the capital's food lovers.
Named after a Norwegian heavyweight boxer of the 1920's, Restaurant von Porat, like its namesake came from seemingly nowhere to deliver a sucker punch that leaves fans cheering for more (OK, that's the only tired boxing cliché, I promise). Located on the mezzanine level of Mathallen, von Porat's menu is a celebration of Norwegian produce cooked simply and honestly with a focus on delivering big, robust flavours with minimal frippery. The icing on the cake is a sublime Nordic-influenced cocktail menu put together by talented ex-Bar Boca barman Anders Ugmod.
The restaurant's menu is a pleasingly straightforward affair. The dinner menu changes two or three times each season and offers a choice of 5 or 3 courses made from wonderful local produce. An equally tempting vegetarian option is also available. The real surprise though is the price. At 545 Nkr (€74) and 395 Nkr (€53) for the 5 and 3 course menus respectively, this has to be one of the great culinary bargains in one of the world's most expensive cities. It seems that restricting choice, focussing on delivering a small number of great dishes, and clever sourcing of produce really pays dividends. And the result is a meal that's as pleasing to the taste buds as it is to the wallet.
We arrive at an already bustling restaurant and perch ourselves at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. We had originally turned down a fairly cramped table in the main area of the restaurant, preferring instead to have a view of the chefs at work, and I can highly recommend you do the same. The decor, like the food, is simple but effective: unadorned wooden tables, exposed brickwork and bare-filament industrial lighting dangling overhead blend well with the exposed iron girders of the main building. There's a relaxed and pleasant buzz about the place and it's a wonderful spot to spend the evening. The one small downside of the restaurant's location is that parts of the dining room directly overlook the food hall and as a result can feel a little detached from the rest of the restaurant, especially if you're seated near the entrance. But, if you are seated there, it really is only a small downside, which the food and service more than make up for. And what food it is!
We started our meal with a tart and cooling sea buckthorn and Campari sour mixed by Anders Ugmod who, together with the folks at Oslo's eclectic Fuglen is part of the vanguard of Norwegian mixologists creating new and exciting cocktails from Nordic produce.
Our first course was a vibrant and delicious salad of pork cheeks and kale cooked with celery root, and served with pickled red onions, smoked cream, and dried blackcurrants. The pork, packed with flavour, came from Valdres some 200km to the north of Oslo and had been confited for 12 hours, rendering it beautifully tender and rich. Bitter kale was offset with soothing smoky cream, while the red onions and blackcurrants exploded with intense little bursts of flavour. Interestingly, this dish was paired with sake made by one of Japan's first female sake brewers using an ancient variety of red rice. Sweet and acidic, it had a complex smoky and umami-rich taste and was an inspired choice to go with the salad.
Next, a dish of sei (pollock) roasted in butter and served family style on one big plate with sprouts, caramelised onions, pickled mushrooms and parsley purée – a simple, but bold dish full of big flavours that was a real joy to eat. Paired with this dish was a full-bodied 2011 Grüner Veltliner Kremstal from Weingut Stadt Krems, full of notes of citrus and tropical fruit.
this before passing judgement on its use). It was served with a tangy dip made from pickled plums. Simply gorgeous – I just couldn't get enough of these.
To follow, a hearty main course (again served on one large plate) of shoulder of lamb and lamb sausages served with barley cooked in lamb stock, quince, pickled golden beetroot, and salsify. A rib-stickingly good dish for these cold winter months; I loved the way the barley had absorbed all that fatty lamb goodness so none of its flavour was wasted. The quince and beetroot provided good acidity that cut right through the meat's richness. Again, another dish that was small on pretension but big on flavour. To go with the food, a lively and elegant 2009 Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne Blanc.
And because I couldn't resist, an optional cheese course of Roquefort-like Blåmandag (Blue Monday) cheese from Den Blinde Ku dairy in Ås, just south of Oslo. This was served with roast chestnut crumbs and elderberry gel. To wash it down, a sweet 2010 Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken Riesling Spätlese that had a good balance of fruit, sugar and acidity.
For dessert, a beautiful looking dish of parsnip ice cream served with parsnip purée, rye crumbs and pickled carrot, which was sweet, crisp and cooling. A really unusual combination of flavours for a dessert, but one that worked really well.
Finally, petit fours in the form of sea buckthorn jellies and little elderflower meringues, which have the wonderfully evocative name of pikekyss, meaning "girl's kiss" in Norwegian.
And with that, our bellies full and our spirits sated we wandered off home with big smiles on our faces. Von Porat fills a gaping hole in the Oslo dining scene and brings great, simple modern Norwegian food with assertive flavours at a reasonable price. Food that is served by efficient, knowledgeable staff with a pleasant informal manner. This is food you actually want to eat, food with soul, food that is equally suited to a quiet Tuesday night dinner as it is to a Saturday evening of revelry with friends. If you can't guess already, I love von Porat and I can't wait to return.
Food: 8 / 10
Service: 9 / 10
Ambiance: 8 / 10
Update 17.06.13: Von Porat today announced that they have gone bankrupt and will no longer be open for business. Whether it was the choice of location or a general level of apathy among Norwegians for affordable first-class local produce is difficult to say. But either way, it's a big loss for Oslo's food scene.
Restaurant von Porat