Morten Nielsen is celebrating 20 years as a restaurateur in Aalborg; and from the very first popping of inaugural corks, his ambition has been to position the restaurant at the upper echelon of the city’s gastronomic establishments. Extensive elbow grease has gone into creating a cosmopolitan milieu that stands out from Aalborg’s other restaurants. Cream-coloured leather, purple neon, an Uncle Scrooge painting and lounge versions of such classics as the Temptations’ “My Girl” are just a taste of the sensory input in the dimly lit, cave-like restaurant – a David Lynchian hybrid of dream and reality. With precision, credibility and a well-measured formal distance, Morten himself orchestrates the evening’s meal. Surprisingly, the oeuvre of snacks, bubbles and bread receives a taciturn presentation amounting only to a quick mention that the bread is “warm” and nary a word about the champagne. We move on to the evening’s menu, where the best dish is a cut of perfectly fried wolf-fish fillet garnished with creamy saffron barley risotto, perfectly acidic sauce nage and al dente cabbage; the pairing of an oily, floral viognier fits the cabbage like a glove and brings us to a state of bliss. A luxurious serving of poached cockerel, sauce suprême of crème fraîche, goose liver and cognac with shaved winter truffle is just as classic as a Mercedes 350SL cabriolet and evokes sentimentality for Larousse Gastronomique and a bygone era. The richness could have been broken up by something crisp, but the balance and completeness are fortunately consolidated by a cool, acidic pinot from Santa Barbara. The old-school style continues with a veal fillet flambé, carved at our table. The accompaniments of creamy potato purée, glossy veal demi-glace and a thick basil sauce are flawless and seamlessly intertwine with the bacony and peppery California shiraz from Coppola; although the portion is more than generous, this overly safe dish lacks a few innovative and enthralling elements. This issue is obliterated by the myriad inventive and affable options on the cocktail menu, which you absolutely must dabble in before calling for the bill.
If you continue along the quay, so far that the indistinct signage makes you think you made a wrong turn, you will soon find yourself at the epicentre of Finland’s wild flavours. It’s a rather unexpected location for such an extraordinary restaurant experience, a stone’s throw from the moored cruise liners with their giant smorgasbords. At Nokka they make it clear early on that the kitchen adheres exactly to seasonal variations and is dependent on what they receive from small-scale suppliers, both in terms of animals and vegetables. This sets the tone for the two set menus, one of which is vegan. The first courses look confusingly similar. The omnivore’s dish, smoked pike with its roe, has a strangely delicious saltiness under pickled radishes, brightened up by a bowl of tarragon-laced cucumber salad as ice cold as the ocean outside. On the vegan dish the fish has been replaced by pieces of porcini. The pairing of a six-year-old, oak-barrel-aged, cognac-scented and white grenache from Montsant is more interesting than good. But the non-alcoholic pairing is perfectly on point: a lightly spiced sparkling beverage made of black currant leaves meets a small caramelized onion with browned butter and crispy “muesli”. At Nokka they are proud to have their own fisherman, who has provided the pike for the main course, which has been pan-fried with honour and comes with vegetable “cannelloni” and a potato croquette to suck up the creamy and tart sauce. The passion-fruit-flavoured sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is a fresh exception to the wine list that is primarily dominated by the Old World. Though the food is finely nuanced it’s never pretentious in this former warehouse on the harbour. It’s warm and inviting here, between the brick walls, with a full view of the kitchen where the happy cooks have eschewed knitted hats in favour of baseball caps. The staff are in a really good mood when the dining room is filled with tourists from far away, often from Japan and the United States, sitting side by side with jubilant large family gatherings. Over elderflower granite served in the restaurant’s obligatory carved wooden box we discuss how rare it is at a restaurant of this calibre to find the kind of generosity they exhibit in switching out dishes on the fixed menus. The food odyssey is rounded off with riches from “the land of a thousand lakes” in the form of a milk chocolate with gooseberries.
Muusu is in a snug, typical two-story building on Skarnu street, just steps away from the Musicians of Bremen-monument and St. Peter’s Church, it’s one of the capital’s most unique restaurants. Tranquil and elegant interiors emphasize the kitchen’s gastronomic aims; impeccably sharp flavors and a remarkable respect for ingredients are top priorities. Dishes marked with an «m» are highly recommended as they’re prepared with local ingredients. Perfectly al-dente black ravioli with eel is one that’s definitely worth trying. Goose liver velouté, Jerusalem artichoke mousse and coal-oven roasted eel are also great choices if you’d like to get acquainted with Chef Kaspars Jansons and his carefully sourced products. Another well-executed starter is the smoke-cured river trout, here served with tomato tartare, ricotta, capers flowes, and a 64-degree egg. Main courses are meat-heavy, from leg of lamb with roasted beets, to duck breast, simmered in red wine, and served with a parade of wheat berries, plum, cloudberry, sea buckthorn, carrots and salsify. Fish lovers would do well to opt for Latvian sturgeon or catfish. Good to know: Muusu’s popular business lunch is served from 12.00 to 4 pm, there’s an abbreviated menu until 6 pm, after which they roll out the full à la carte arsenal.
The website implores locals to drop by and enjoy themselves in the united spirits of Christianshavn (where the restaurant is located) and Bornholm (the home island of Kadeau’s founders) – be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The decor perfectly matches the culinary style, which is simple, Nordic and seasonal. On an autumn evening, it is only natural to start with a herby, rich appetiser of beef broth with tarragon oil and beef fat, bringing warmth to body and soul alike. Appetiser number two is a dehydrated beetroot with shredded beef fat and yeast – a sensational umami bomb to kick off our meal. And thus it continues at an impressive clip. Our waiters are well informed about the food and wine, the latter of which are low on sulphites, in keeping with the concept. The appetisers are accompanied by a white Jura made with savagnin and other local grapes, whose nice acidity and slight oxidation make it a fine pairing with the sour and umami-rich servings; it brilliantly matches a simple but refined dish of al dente squid with sweet grilled beetroot, sour yoghurt and fresh citrusy herbs. The tartare, not to be missed, is a real pleaser. Coarsely minced meat with good flavour and structure is joined by sour green tomatoes and oyster mayo, bringing the dish together nicely with richness and bitter/salty notes. A gargantuan and inelegant dessert with a slightly too chewy meringue, sloppily seasoned whipped cream and pickled cherries lacks sweetness and is simply a dud. But the kitchen is otherwise fine-tuned and unmistakably in the Kadeau lineage from beginning to end. A more affordable everyday version of its famous big brother, it’s a genuine “back pocket” deserving of a visit.
Naert opened in 2015 as a Norwegian gourmet restaurant with long menus and high prices, but a revamping of the menu last year saw a reduction in both. We are immediately thrilled by the introductory snacks, a simple and satisfying egg boiled in miso, served with a little dill mayonnaise. Throughout the menu the flavours are intensely delicious. A boned chicken thigh is surrounded by a thick and enticing ultra-crisp skin, while an acidic butter sauce with dulse and fried Tuscan kale envelops the crispness with a jaw-dropping umami punch. An orange wine with strong tannins and bold acidity stands up well to the rich dish. Naert clearly shows that Norwegian/Nordic cuisine is capable of embracing more than the cool and delicate flavours it’s known for. The kitchen makes good use of the season’s available ingredients, while banking those of past seasons with the extensive use of fermentation and pickling. A slow-roasted lamb breast virtually melts under the outer crust, held in check by beetroot and fermented blackcurrant. The beetroot notes in the extremely succulent and meaty gamay wine pairing make the dish sing loud and clear. Our attentive sommelier (the only waiter this evening) has carefully considered the natural wines that he exquisitely pairs with the flavours of our food. The only misstep of the evening is the bland milk ice cream with chunks of dry pastry, pickled sea buckthorn and poppy seeds. It looks like someone smushed a
Danish pastry into a scoop of ice cream, and the accompanying oloroso sherry is too dry to withstand the sweetness of the dish. The dining room has too few tables to fill out the relatively large space, and the naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling do nothing to create a cosy atmosphere, but the friendly service and kitchen’s high level of culinary ability make the overall experience a positive one.
In the middle of reading the menu we notice that the Pommern is gone! Instead of the four-masted steel barque that is usually moored in the harbour outside Nautical and the Åland Maritime Museum, now there is nothing but the (albeit beautiful) glittering waters of Mariehamn. Our first look at the menu inspires fears that that resourceful simplicity that charmed us on previous visits might also be missing. Toast Skagen and flounder meunière sound undeniably like dishes you might find on the menu of a small town hotel. But after assurances that the museum ship has only been temporarily relocated for maintenance, and a delicious amuse-bouche in the form of Jerusalem artichoke soup with smoky bits of lamb tartare and crisp black bread, we feel much calmer. When Skagen à la Chädström turns out to be chock-full of horseradish, and the witch flounder majestically sails in like the Pommern on a 1:2 scale with zesty pickled fennel and a decadent buttery champagne sauce, all our worries are blown away. It’s a bit intimidating to eat, but there is nothing not to like when it’s this intensely delicious. “The cod has arrived!” exclaims our very social waiter, pointing out the fishing spot beside some islets just beyond the harbour entrance. On the plate the fish swim à la bourguignonne, in red wine sauce with diced pork and mushrooms. A nice, smooth potato crème completes the plate. This dish is also rather hefty, but just the right amount of nourishment on a bleak late-winter night in expectation of spring – and the Pommern’s return.
N.B. Sørensen’s Dampskibs expedition started up as a steamship company in Stavanger in 1876. Today it is the name of a brasserie that has been around for the last 25 years, and a more exclusive restaurant on the second floor called N.B. Sørensen Annen Etage. Annen Etage means “second floor” in Norwegian, and underlines the fact that the two restaurants have completely different concepts. The wooden floors are old and crooked, adding to the feeling of being at sea even before the first drop of wine hits your tongue. Chef Filip August Bendi is one of Norway’s strongest hopes for the next Bocuse d’Or. His traditional and creative menu suits the historic seaside location perfectly. In springtime the seafood in Stavanger is at its best – and Bendi and his team know how to make it even better. The menu is fixed and consists of four dishes, though this number generously expands by five with additional treats served in between that could easily be mistaken for regular portions. It opens with fried skrei skin, herring roe and parsley, before moving on to a taste of Norwegian childhood with the simple bread on a stick known as pinnebrød. A whale tartare is elegant and fresh and combines two classic dishes in one with its topping of horseradish cream, Kalix bleak roe, milk and nasturtiums. And the best part? We haven’t even started on the menu yet, which turns out to be loaded with the best the sea has to offer. Squid, scallops and monkfish are plated neatly and luxuriously with the first fresh greens of the year. The dessert tops all this off with an ice cream made of yellow beets and elderflower, homemade ricotta, liquorice meringue, frozen yoghurt and purple oxalis. The servings are accompanied by a traditional string of white wines. The kitchen does a great job at bringing you a truly seasonal Norwegian meal with finesse and a twist. Unfortunately, the service is a different matter. Though the timing is precise, the waiter spends more energy correcting the guests than contributing to the positive ambiance and his knowledge is limited. The staff even argue about an overcharge on the bill. It almost ruins the sweet aftertaste of warm chocolate cake dipped in ice-cold milk.
Sitting pretty by the seaside, at the edge of the city, with a spectacular view of Tallinn’s skyline. NOA is a stunner, housed in a building that was designed specifically to be a restaurant, and there aren’t too many of those in Estonia. Set foot inside and the amazement continues ––it’s cozy and comfortable here. NOA was such an instant crowd-pleaser, it seems the restaurant has been here forever, even though it’s only four years old. It’s a two-in-one operation, with NOA Chef’s Hall offering exquisite fine dining and NOA providing casual nibbles coming out of the same kitchen. It’s particularly pleasant in the summer when guests can spill out on the popular seaside terrace, on sunny days there’s nary an empty seat to be had. NOA, along with Chef’s Hall are the flagships of rapidly developing Siigur Restaurants Group. Usually, when a restaurant group expands, attention is shifted to new projects, leaving older ones to deteriorate. It’s the other way around with NOA, the food and drink here is currently better than ever before; firepit corn, “baby” trout filet, moose pie, to name a few dishes. Head Chef and Partner Tõnis Siigur’s idiosyncratic cuisine always surprises; a portobello mushroom “schnitzel” with peas and truffle cheese is a perfect representation of his culinary imagination. Mixologist and Sommelier Sander Kink’s creative––and also non-acoholic––tipples pair well with the food, one might even say they compete with it, so if you’re not hungry you might want to just stop by for a juice cocktail.
The gigantic windows facing Åsögatan give Nook a metropolitan feel that’s followed up by dark, eclectic furnishings. The menu is playful with street food-inspired dishes at surprisingly affordable prices based on Nordic ingredients with long distance influences and an eye to fine dining. A glass of white Burgundy matches the salmon sashimi slider with mayo, cucumber and pickled ginger, and the kohlrabi tacos with crab mayo, trout roe and lobster tail. The Swedish octopus starter with green chilli oil, Avruga caviar and potato pieces rolled in nori marries nicely with a riesling, but the condiments conceal the mollusc’s delicate aromas. The tartare of dry-aged beef is among the best in town with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, salt-cured pickles, horseradish mayo, crispy fried onions and mustard cress. “That went down easy, I see”, says the waiter as he takes it away to leave room for the main courses. One is brill with tomato and sardine butter, fermented fennel beurre blanc and mashed potatoes. It’s a bit like a fine dining version of the Swedish classic, Jansson’s Temptation. A large serving of venison, seared rare, is accompanied by hearty beets, porcini mushroom cream, sour blackcurrants, brown butter and oyster mushrooms. These are paired with a tight white Spanish godello and a simpler but tasty red bordeaux. The desserts are welcomely light-hearted: a fresh citrus salad and yuzu curd with Sichuan pepper meringue; and a plum and filmjölk sorbet with umeshu foam. As long as you are not misled by the prices and order too many dishes from the flexible menu, a visit to Nook is a stimulating and satisfying culinary experience.
Nordisk Spisehus features a carousel of changing themes, but the common thread is signature dishes from top restaurants around the world that the kitchen has been granted permission to copy or build upon. This evening’s inspiration comes from the European restaurant Arcane in Hong Kong. We start with four snacks that include fried veal sweetbreads and trout cream on toast: a delicious mixture of crisp and smooth textures. We consult with the sommelier and, heeding his advice, we choose a wonderfully structured chardonnay-auxerrois-blend from Zind-Humbrecht to accompany the first two courses. The first serving is a small masterpiece from Arcane: fresh halibut, lightly marinated in yuzu, soy sauce, ginger and olive oil, with small cubes of confited jicama root. This citrus-driven opener with a nice bite to both the fish and the root is a perfect match for the wine. The ensuing butter-fried scallops of the restaurant’s own design are served with lumpfish roe, a crisp net of crepe batter, butter-fried broccolini and a creamy, well-seasoned herb hollandaise. The dish looks and tastes fabulous. Returning to Hong Kong, we are served a small and very tender cut of garlic-glazed flat ribs with spinach and fried shallots. Next up is another Nordisk Spisehus original - canette and a roll of pointed cabbage, salsify and walnuts in three wonderful variations: boiled, confited and fried. It all meshes beautifully with flavourful duck in crispy bites that reflect the quality ingredients and expertise of the kitchen. The restaurant is cosy, though a bit formal, and the staff perform with precision and professionalism throughout the evening. They have certainly succeeded at their stated mission of bringing the world to Aarhus, partly due to their own innovations.
The team at Oaxen has always been early, if not first, on the ball, and so of course they now offer a selection of handcrafted beverages. A battery of “mixers” – sodas with seasonally driven ingredients – lure you in with flavours like raspberry, mint, ginger and burnt honey cola. Add to the alcohol of your choice to make a “grog” or enjoy as a non-alcoholic alternative. The somewhat thin aperitif bubbles from Chartogne-Taillet are served with well-thought-out snacks like confited, fried hedgehog mushrooms with pure forest flavours; typically rich and salty ham from a Linderöd pig, aged 36 months; and fried Brussels sprouts that are juicy on the inside but crispy on the outside. The relatively short wine list with a focus on the organic and biodynamic still manages to cover most situations. And if you ask nicely you might be allowed to order from the wine bible at Oaxen Krog. The steak tartare is a harmony of textures and flavours: soft silverskin onions, silky mustard dressing, bitter cress, crusty sourdough, tangy cream and topside ground to perfect chewiness. Grilled celeriac baked in whey has a complex, deep richness enlivened by whitefish roe and chives. The forest-like flavours continue in a ragout of venison shank with Jerusalem artichokes and ramson capers, and in the dish with grilled duck breast and funnel mushrooms. Do not miss the sides, so carefully conceived that they constitute dishes in their own right. Round off with bread pudding, brown butter, jam and lightly whipped cream. Or the lighter dessert with fresh, macerated blueberries, sorrel, charred meringue and tarragon. Oaxen manages impressively to satisfy many different palates, but still retain its great personality – a warm bistro where the delicious Nordic flavours are purveyed with elegance and knowledge, against Stockholm’s restaurant scene’s loveliest backdrop.
The name could mean several things – that the meat here is top notch or that they go about their business with passion. It could also apply to the fact that they don’t seem to waste a thing. All the fat from the meat is drained off and bottled and all the bones and onion skins are used in stock. Sit at the counter – it’s the best place to be. You can watch the boss Janne Ahola and his team at work in the open kitchen and pick up a tip or two. They’re not averse to answering some questions even though the heat is on, literally and figuratively. The fennel bread is made on the premises and comes as your own darling little loaf with brown butter and fennel dust. Why didn’t we think of smoked asparagus? It’s raw and crunchy with a lovely crisp, fresh taste and the added dimension of smokiness. It’s served with creamy avocado foam, and each ingredient brings out the flavours of the other. The 100% xarello wine from Spain is fruity and peppery and actually has hints of asparagus. Australian beef is up next, perfectly rare, retaining its juices without any blood spreading across the plate into the green spring onion purée that keeps this dish light and balanced. With fried and dried onions on top and buttery onions underneath, it's deliciously oniony. A big, bold and acidic Nero di Troia from Apulia steps right up to this meaty plate. The menu is made up of dishes from all over the globe: “Boquerones” herring, parsnips “baharat”, and “maminha” beef. It lacks cohesion. On the other hand, these guys are cooking stuff that they like, that they’ve discovered on their travels, and they do it with heart.
A hotel restaurant based on a faddy and restrictive diet may not appeal on first sight, but don’t be put off. The paleo diet encourages the use of fresh and natural ingredients while eschewing grains and sugars, allowing for good if somewhat rich food of a quality seldom seen by real cavemen. Seated in cushy turquoise and gold chairs you can observe the staff in the orderly open kitchen grilling marrowbones, provoking primal pangs of hunger in an environment with modern comforts. The clientele consists mostly of hotel guests, vacationing families and solitary businessmen, with the odd walk-in couple. An amuse-bouche of puffy fried parsnips the consistency of prawn crackers, with cured coppa and a green kale mayonnaise, is delightfully moreish. A hand-chopped beef tartare with marrow, deep-fried shallots and thyme is also a rich treat. The low-carb, high-fat feast continues with pan-fried hake served with turnips, apples and a pleasantly rich but tart sauce of kefir and whey. For dessert, creamy chocolate mounds with crunchy sheets of caramel and refreshing goat’s milk ice cream round out the meal. Sourcing local, seasonal and natural produce is high on the list of priorities for Brasserie Paleo, and the kitchen’s quality cooking lets the ingredients shine. The staff are relaxed and charming, and the wine list is long if somewhat conventional for an otherwise unconventional establishment. All in all, we get an appealing if not so realistic glimpse of the Stone Age lifestyle.
There’s a tropical bird in Tallinn’s Old Town. An exotic creature that can’t live without glitter and lush plants. At Parrot the “aloha theme” is in full swing; the staff uniforms sport loud patterns that compete with the in-your-face wallpaper. Tropicana has left its mark on the drinks list as well as the toothsome menu; flavors are informed by juices, dressings and seasoning are made with exotic fruits, and the service is Caribbean-attentive and friendly. In addition to Tropicana, the creators of Parrot also found inspiration in the secrecy of America’s prohibition era. The ground floor is influenced by art deco and the basement by art noveau, both look beautiful. These two styles and stories are joined by a surprise. As was common during prohibition, the entrance to the downstairs bar is through a closet. Creative cocktails rule the beverage menu, the selection of wines is limited, though our waiter promised it will soon be expanded. The most exciting tipples play along with the carefree 1920s theme, there are, however, alcohol-free options for non-bon vivants. Befitting the minute bar, dishes are tapas-sized, meant to provide a taste experience rather than fill your stomach. A bite-sized burger and a macaroon-shaped fish cookie are delicious but you need pay close attention to pin down the actual flavors of either, as these starters are truly small. Mini-mains weighing a hundred grams are one step up in size, there are also a couple of larger offerings for hungrier guests. Tropical Oysters is the most surprising of Parrot’s desserts, taking a bit of help from molecular gastronomy; mango and peach have been turned into a “mollusk”, served as oysters usually are––on an oyster shell, surrounded by seaweed. It’s a fruity greeting from a sandy beach, flavored with sweet sunshine.
Restaurant Pasfall is relaxed and informal, yet proper and sufficiently mannered in a way that’s only possible when all of the members of a staff master their roles. The style is traditional with a local twist from the island of Funen. We begin the evening with the Danish classic of fried pork belly and parsley sauce – but not in its usual form. Instead it’s served as a snack of small crisp flakes with parsley emulsion. It’s a little tip of the cap to Pasfall’s roots on the island of Funen. An intense and foamy mushroom soup with pickled beech mushrooms is partnered elegantly with a dry S de Suduiraut, whose aromatic notes of gooseberry and fine, slightly bitter finish is delightful with the rich soup. A cold-poached cod is cured, cooked at a low temperature and served with variations of celeriac and a blanket of black truffle – a hearty but delicious dish whose lack of acidity is partially offset by the accompanying Montagny 1er cru 2013 from Jean-Marc Boillot. We stay in Burgundy with a glass of velvety Hautes-Côtes de Nuits from Michel Gros to go with a deep and umami-saturated consommé with pigeon confit in crisp packaging with pickled onion. The service is top-notch, With just over a year under its belt, The Balcony is already firmly established as more than a passing fad with delusions of grandeur. We begin a spring evening in March with a glass of champagne blanc de blancs from Henri Mandois and a rain of snacks. The most memorable ones include the caramelly Jerusalem artichoke purée in its own crisp, fried Kenneth Rimmer Sørensen heading up the front of house, and the wines are well chosen and mature. Pasfall long ago established itself in Odense’s restaurant scene as a classic, with culinary excellence and good service at the forefront. The preparations are precise and the flavours intense, but we sense a lack of balance in the menu between the light and heavy dishes. It’s almost too much of a good thing, one might say; after our evening at Pasfall we are glad, but also very full.
This continental-style brasserie attracts an international audience. On some days you can hear American, British, Korean and Swedish being spoken amongst the diners. The staff handle everything correctly and in perfect English so there are no misunderstandings. The entrance is in the middle of the restaurant, so it can be a bit draughty if you get a table by the door – especially in winter. But the friendly staff warm you up, and so do some of the dishes. Normally, you can choose between three or five courses. The latter is preferable, but when the amuse-bouche enters you will think it’s the starter, given the size. It is pig’s cheek, paired with egg yolk, red beet cream and yellow beets. When the real starter lands on the table it takes the form of salmon, including its roe, potato cubes and crumbs of dark bread. It’s very good, even if it lacks a bit of saltiness. The house version of onion soup contains pieces of wheat bread that almost taste like sweetbreads! All this is swept up by the restaurant’s own unfiltered APA, whose bitterness matches the sweetness of the dish. The rest of the courses are paired with wine, preferably from the Piedmont. With the black sea bream we drink Arneis from Langhe that’s powerful enough to handle both the snails and pickled red onions included in the dish. Unfortunately, there are six or seven additional ingredients, making the preparation feel a tad overloaded. The lamb racks are presented as Baby Lamb, accompanied by a hefty piece of porcini mushroom, and parsnip purée. We receive a palette cleanser before the dessert – sea buckthorn sorbet with liquorice cream and subtle fennel strips. It’s complex and delicious enough to work as a stand-alone dish.
Pastis is the kind of French bistro we all dream of having nearby. The moment you step into its cosy bar and dining room a few steps down, you are transported to Paris and voila, it’s “la vie en rose”. In fact, the menu almost feels like a parody of French cuisine with frogs’ legs, snails, bouillabaisse and quenelles. But that doesn’t mean that the food lacks sincerity. Chef and owner Timo Linnamäki’s love for all things authentically French is deep, honest and appreciated. The crispy-fried, breaded frogs’ legs are tender and filling – we have not seen the like in many years – but perhaps we would enjoy them even more if they weren’t surrounded by so much eggplant caviar. But oh, the veal tongue! Served with a silky parsley root purée with a slightly mineral taste, and a deep red wine sauce seasoned with lovage, it is by far the best tongue we’ve ever bitten into. The wine list has a strong bias towards France, naturellement, but the selection is personal and the breadth is rather impressive for a restaurant of this size. The charming staff are happy to assist with their tips on good pairings. Finish with chocolate parfait and coffee with armagnac!
For nearly 20 years, Piaf’s Head Chef Marc Noël has served attractive plates with the gastronomic DNA of his childhood in southwestern France, a touch of Italian sensibilities regarding ingredients and seasonal herbs of central Jutland. The restaurant appears modest from the outside with an awning, a faded display case on the facade and a cast iron doorway – an appropriate symbol of the informal southern European style that characterises our visit. Noël welcomes us in as if we were his closest friends, as the tones of iconic French crooners such as Aznavour and Gainsbourg fill the room; the decor is stylish yet old-school with draped fabric tablecloths, fresh white roses and spotlessly polished, high-quality glasses. The fish dishes stand out during the evening’s seven-course programme. A cut of steamed turbot shines in the company of a crunchy garnish of julienned Granny Smith apple, salicorn, celeriac purée and a creamy beurre blanc with terse citrus. Textures and flavours cover the full gamut, complementing one another while also singing in their own right. The dish is washed down with a biodynamic Alsace riesling from Bott Geyl, whose mature fruit character interacts brilliantly with the richness of the beurre blanc. Noël’s presentations are informative and unpretentious, but never negligent. The maritime highlights of the meal also include a fried monkfish tail in a foam of Vildmose potato and drizzled with an intense ramson oil. The piquant, garlicky ramson balances the intense flavours of the crisp fried crust of the fish, as do the toast notes in the well-paired Burgundy from Leflaive. Beautiful and classic. The meat dishes and desserts round out the evening with a certain laid-back routine; precise preparations and top-shelf ingredients, but not that innovative. The sweet finale in particular, a moelleux au chocolat with chocolate sorbet and crème anglaise, was heavy on top, lacking both acidity and variation in texture.
Deep down in the jungle of Hegdehaugsveien lies a restaurant so Thai it even has official approval from The Office of Commercial at The Royal Thai Embassy saying that it’s very Thai. They even imported a playlist of that essential lounge music that could be played in any luxury hotel in Bangkok. But jokes aside, Plah is the very essence of Thai fine dining, rooted in Norwegian produce and inspiration, and it has been going strong for thirteen years. Chef Terje Ommundsen has managed to merge the cuisines of these two countries together in a way that is incomparable to anything else. Here you can sample the great tastes of Thailand, and everything is made on the premises from the ground up using only the finest of ingredients. Choose either a large tasting menu that mixes the different styles and regions of Thailand, or a vegetarian menu that is mainly inspired by the north. “Khao griab goong” – a dish of prawn crackers and fish sauce – starts off a serving of three small starters, soon followed by poached chicken in coconut and chillies. It’s not mouth-wateringly delicious, but a great start. The wait staff is great, with a perfect comeback after a slow-and-not-so-welcoming beginning, now they are as proficient as can be, explaining all the different ingredients and the idea behind each dish, pairing it with excellent wine, mainly from the classic regions of Europe. Unfortunately, the interior is a bit passé – and we honestly have no idea why a dressed-up manikin doll is hanging in a swing over our heads, but as soon as the next dish arrives we focus again on the food rather than the décor. The flavours are authentic and not too adapted to the Nordic palate. Plah neung follows – roasted hake in sour garlic and chilli sauce – a perfectly executed dish with a balance of sourness and spiciness. Our dessert, grilled coconut and rice with pineapple and malt sugar, is the highlight of our meal. We wish we were on a beach in Koh Chang instead of in windy, cold Oslo.
The casual dining side of well-renowned PM & Vänner is far from a scruffy little brother but a restaurant that stands strong on its own merits, and indeed, “bistro” may be an understatement. The comprehensive menu admittedly incorporates both French classics like steak minute and Småland blockbusters like three kinds of isterband sausage, but there are also considerably more refined dishes that, in terms of flavour, are like high level spin-offs from the mother ship in the room next door. One example is the delicious, gently baked char with sweet-sour pickled cauliflower, chanterelles, dill and an airy, caramelly brown butter emulsion. The meltingly tender pork belly from Olinge farm is more rustic in style but equally delicious. And, like everything served at this address, it is extremely wine-friendly. Just imagine what it’s like to have Sweden’s most knowledgeable wine geeks on the payroll. On our visit the beverages are brilliantly handled by Swedish sommelier champion John “Patjanga” Nilsson who guides us through the wine bible that makes every visiting wine enthusiast tremble with glee. The dessert, too, shoots well over the bistro target with a delicious pistachio and strawberry terrine, flanked by a small salad of orange-marinated strawberries, elderflower gelée and vanilla bavaroise, sprinkled with violets and marigolds. It is quite rare that “something for everyone” equals a culinarily interesting experience – but PM & Vänner Bistro delivers exactly that, every evening.
History has not been kind to Põhjaka Manor. From a distance, the lone building in a thicket of trees really doesn’t measure up to standards. Sadly, it doesn’t get any better up close. The house has been renovated just enough to include the bare essentials for operating a restaurant. While manors usually serve very luxurious food, Põhjaka is the exception to that rule. This kitchen prepares very humble and mostly local, country fare. But something curious happens when you eat here, right after the first course has been served, that feeling of gloom and peeling-paint-hopelessness disappears. Over the course of the past seven years, Põhjaka’s culinary ambitions have been cranked up, albeit while the building itself has remained untouched. In the summer, there’s al fresco dining, under a cozy canopy, to the sound of tweeting birds, with farm animals gamboling just beyond, and a kitchen garden a spade’s throw away. Põhjaka is no longer just a roadside attraction; the kitchen now prepares products sold in Estonian supermarkets known for championing sustainable, local food. Põhjaka Distillery makes sea-buckthorn aquavit, rowan ditto and spruce needle vodka, which you can buy on the spot. The restaurant was the first to put goat cheese on the menu, a move that was copied by many others. Several of their dishes have become legendary, such as the Baltic herring and the pâté, the pavlova and the napoleon cake. Sure, it doesn’t really look like a manor, yet it operates like a chateau, offering the same old simple food as they’ve always done, with an easy-going and sincere way of treating all their guests like royalty.
There is a wide range of restaurants in Copenhagen operating at altitudes just under the gourmet heavy hitters – Pony is one them. While they offer fewer elements on the plates, and the comfort and service are not quite as extravagant – the flavour is beyond reproach. We choose the changing four-course menu, dubbed “Pony Kick”, and a corresponding number of à la carte dishes to ensure a thorough exploration of the menu. The vegetarian starter is comprised of baked beetroot with fresh goat’s cheese, pickled mustard seeds and ramson capers generously sprinkled with freshly ground pepper. The salty cheese and acidic capers elegantly counter the sweetness of the tender beetroot – and had it not been for the earthy and bitter beetroot wafers, it would have been a perfectly balanced dish. The great flavours continue with thick slices of salted brill. The firm fish rests in a fiery horseradish cream, while the raw Brussels sprout leaves on top add juiciness and a touch of sweetness to the dish. The accompanying grüner veltliner from Arndorfer is an invitingly drinkable choice – as reflected by the one-litre bottle – whose palate-cleansing crispness goes particularly well with the sprouts. The wines are consistently natural wines, featuring small winemakers. A nest of Tuscan kale encircles an orange egg yolk confit, which flows nicely out into the sauce of reduced chicken stock split with parsley oil. The depth of the chicken stock is unforgettable – if Pony sold it to go, people would stand in line for hours to get their hands on it. A standout among the main courses is the flaked cod with a crystal-clear centre, served with baked, shrivelled Jerusalem artichokes and a subtle cream of cod roe reminiscent of the Swedish specialty, Kalles Kaviar. Our delight continues unimpeded throughout the evening, as we are treated to exemplary service by the team of waiters, who exhibit flexibility and a keen sense of each diner’s needs. Pony goes all-in on delicious cuisine, without digging deep into your wallet.
The room is more authentically Italian than a trattoria in Milano. That’s what you get when you use the best interior designers in Norway and the brief says, "Italian style". The wine list is naturally focused on Italy with bottles made by heroes of the non-interventionist wine world as well as more classic producers. The array of antipasti della casa varies every day; today we feast on bresaola with pine nuts and Jerusalem artichoke, salad with bread and capers, truffle tortellini and Parmesan crackers. For the main course we choose grilled boneless rib-eye served with roasted marrowbone and a good heap of butter. The food comes in vast amounts, and we seriously struggle to eat it all. The recommended skin macerated white from Friuli has a glorious orange sheen. A ravioli filled with oxtail is one of those dishes that everyone in Olso has had for lunch at least once. The fatty and gelatinised meat is perfectly tender and the deep taste of the broth makes this a dish worth returning for. The service is attentive in the beginning, but when the room fills up with guests it is harder to get the waiter’s attention. Trattoria Populare is a good place when you’re hungry for pasta, or if you just want to nibble on olives while drinking Tuscan rosé. The outdoor seating area is jammed full of people clambering for a glass of what in Norway is known as “utepils” (a beer outside) even though there is just a hint of sun peering out of the cloudy sky.
The “Love Stew” is heartwarming and seductive: a creamy egg foam surrounded by potatoes and onions shouldered by hearty dollops of Kalix bleak roe. It’s one of the tastiest things we’ve eaten at the city’s top restaurants this year. And the dish is in many ways typical of Klas Lindberg’s ambitious first effort. He is well known from competitions (Chef of the Year and Olympic Gold Medalist), but don’t expect any convoluted contest creations. Here Lindberg has sought out his inner chef – and he is apparently a sympathetic and downright uncomplicated guy. The style is mature and unpretentious with excellent ingredients and the cooking is precise. Dinner is a steady journey through culinary geography and restaurant history. The gastronomy takes no great leaps forward but cherished classics are tightened up. Many of the dishes are finalised tableside. A coarsely ground beef tartare made from dry-aged topside and tasting heavily of iron is mixed by the waiter’s nimble hands. It is simple and good along with flavourful friends in the form of cucumber and horseradish. The scallops get a quick pick-me-up in a red-hot cast iron skillet and are further enlivened by lemon, mushrooms and bottarga. And the sweet conclusion’s showpiece, Baked Alaska, gets a shower of flaming rum. Such flourishes in the dining room add as much to the experience and the taste as they do to the cosiness. A brilliant pork chop is elegantly rustic in its deliciously crunchy, breaded coat served along with sardines, potatoes, and onions in different textures and temperaments. Occasionally the aesthetics and the straightforward flavours are out of synch. The excellent chuck steak with béarnaise potatoes and smoked pearl onions is a welcome ruffling of this populist dish but it looks like a pretentiously arranged pile of leaves. Probably a vestige of all that competitive training. The setting is stylish, comfortable and well groomed – in that generic way that many modern restaurants are. The crowd is savvy and affluent. Some are dressed up, but most are smartly casual, which fits with the relaxed atmosphere. When it comes to what ends up in our glasses, sommelier Totte Steneby performs seamlessly. In a short time the wine experience here has established itself as one of the best and, in accord with the tone of the place, it’s knowledgeable but uncomplicated with a twinkle in the eye. At first glance the wine list is a string of world-renowned prestige players. It’s not cheap, but relax. The wines by the glasses are very good, and so is the whimsical selection of domestic beers. The latter works fine if you’re just there to hang in the bar. Be sure to try some of their snacks, like the tasty house-made version of pancetta and an airy duck liver mousse in bite-size format.
Listen to the murmur spilling out from the Postboxen wine bar and relax at the fine dining restaurant where every serving in the seven-course menu becomes a little adventure. We start lasciviously with seared scallops that melt in our mouths together with a lobster emulsion. Then, with a tart, fresh pumpkin from Vassmolösa paired precisely with a nutty chenin blanc, we are off on a taste journey – the Småland way. The broccoli is a surprise. It comes planed and dried paper-thin, in the form of a cream, and as a vinaigrette based on the stem, together with poached Swedish oysters, almonds, and horseradish snow. Beautiful. Sweetbreads with chicken mousseline, cream of local corn with sherry and black trumpet mushrooms together with the oxidized yet crisp white Rioja makes a sparkling combo. Chef Johannes Persson comes to the table and puts a knife in the perfect, pink, pan-fried venison from Kåremo, lying on a bed of twigs on a rustic cutting board, wilderness-style. That he is flying solo in the kitchen and yet gets everything out at exactly the right tempo to two crowded dining rooms suggests incredible control. Pure love comes out of the oven in the form of a syrup loaf based on grandmother’s recipe. It comes with lard flavoured with thyme and apple, and house-churned butter with cider-marinated mustard seeds. Served in a wooden box with four kinds of bread on straw, the bread serving is a dish in itself. The house apple juice from the juice press is like an exclusive wine. The Postgatan gang’s friendship and appetite for knowledge has led to strong gastronomic development since its inception two years ago. This is how crazy good Småland tastes!
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.