In the heart of Norway, Oslo’s food scene is a Scandinavian gem, featuring everything from succulent reindeer to freshly caught fish. Here are the best places to explore its culinary delights.
Bar, Restaurant, European, $$$
Take a barn-like atmosphere, add natural, organic and locally sourced ingredients and a fun menu with constantly changing features, and that partly describes Kolonihagen. An upmarket and friendly restaurant located in one of the more chic parts of Oslo, it provides a seven-course taster menu in the evening. Earlier in the day, a Norwegian/French-influenced lunch menu is popular with patrons. Seasonal ingredients are revealed and complemented in dishes such as fire-grilled reindeer and wild mushroom soup with black truffles. A strict no-microwave policy and a major effort to source products as locally as possible means Kolonihagen is a fine place to sample local produce in interesting medleys.
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One of the unmissable experiences in Oslo is to be transfixed by the fjords and the incomparable vistas. The only way to build on something so magical is to enjoy the beautiful landscape at a superb restaurant which highlights the beauty of the natural panorama. Ekebergrestauranten, ticks this box. The choice between the outdoor restaurant, romantic veranda, cafe, sophisticated dining room and the private chamber, make it an extremely desirable destination. The chance to sit on top of the city and take it all in over a glass of wine and a dish of quality is a fantastic way to see Oslo.
Olivia opened in 2006 and has since established itself as a chilled and summery Italian haven in not one, but three separate Oslo locations, with hand-stretched pizzas and fresh pasta and antipasti. Though the menus are the same in each location, the views and experience widely differ, with a choice between the castle and fjords to accompany your dish, a shopper’s delight surrounded by brand names, or the city’s finest museums. Outdoor heating in each restaurant means that even in the coldest peak of the Norwegian winter it’s possible to sit outside and enjoy whichever view one chooses.
More than a restaurant, Maaemo is a dining experience, with the owners recommending diners set aside a whole evening in order to fully appreciate and savor the set menu, composed of an ever-changing selection of raw foods and sublimely simplistic reductions, totaling 26 plates. The experience lasts a whole evening but stays with you after that. It’s easy to understand how Maaemo earned two Michelin stars in three years and is one of the Diner’s Club’s top 50 restaurants. Wine pairings are carefully selected to bring out the best of every ingredient. Reindeer heart, spruce juice and fried rye-bread cream with a disc of mead gel sound like fabrications, but they are real dishes served in beautiful arrangements and an unforgettable atmosphere.
Hanami is a Japanese word referring to the enjoyment of the beauty of flowers and their transient nature. It is also one of the finest Japanese fusion restaurants in the city. It’s the only one in Oslo to practice the robata technique of grilling meat and fish. This technique involves cooking the food over simmering embers, no flames involved, and only white-oak coal is allowed. Aside from cooked food there is, of course, an equally sophisticated selection of raw fish and sushi at Hanami. The food is designed for sharing, and allows guests to discover just why sushi has become the unofficial national dish of Norway. Not only are there plentiful supplies of fresh and succulent fish within arm’s reach, but the techniques have been fine-tuned and perfected to ensure successful execution at every roll.
Listed as Oslo’s oldest restaurant, Engebret captures the Norway of the past, in candlelight, wood panelling and draped curtains. The food is equally traditional, and changes with the seasons, as if export didn’t exist and culinary practices hadn’t evolved. Reindeer is a constant, seafood appears in the spring and fresh cod from north Norway is a January highlight. While dining, it is impressive to think Ibsen, Grieg and other Nordic greats have all sat at Engebret’s tables at some point in its 150-year history.
There is something appealing and exclusive about a restaurant which is only open for half of the year. It gives the impression that there is a true dependence on fresh produce, a real desire to hibernate and improve the recipes and preparation. Solsiden is open from May until September, taking full advantage of the warmer months when the water is unfrozen and the air is still crisp but warm enough to allow for outdoor seating by the harbor. The seafood platter special is big enough for a family, and an expansive menu with carnivorous touches (hake with veal tongue, for example) makes Solsiden a seasonal delight.
Far from the sticky heat and perfumed air of Thailand, this contemporary Thai kitchen still captures the essence of Thai cuisine, while also traveling further afield on the Asian food scene, with sashimi and sushi added to the mix. This is fitting, since Norway is famous for its delicious fish. The setting of Sawan is decidedly Norwegian, in an upmarket part of town, with a Scandinavian-style dining room. As is not uncommon in Oslo, there is a separate private dining room for those looking for a more intimate dining experience.
The ingredients used by the chefs at Markveien Mat og Vinhus are the very best that can be bought in Oslo, and therefore very little is needed to change them in order to enhance the dining experience. Traditional dishes are served with equally traditional ingredients, with crayfish, lamb and oxtail making notable appearances on the menu. The only thing which brings the ingredients out of their Norwegian origins is the French touch felt throughout: the terrine, the frequent ‘à la’ in the menu, and the intimate dining room.