tapas in oslo

March 24, 2009

toro

I am not quite sure what to think of the restaurant that Special K and I went to before Christmas. So i think I’ll just tell you what happened and you can decide for yourselves.

We had decided on tapas and choose Toro Toro as I hadn’t been there before. Our suspicions should maybe have been raised when we spied the fireplace playing on the TV, or when the (authentic) Spanish waiter seemed quite astonished when we indicated we wanted to order some food. The menu wasn’t huge but adequate and we chose a mix of veggie, fish and meat tapas.

Our drinks – a perfectly serviceable red wine – came quickly,  as did the food, though this requires rather more clarification. I suppose my main issue with Toro Toro’s tapas was the wildly varying quality. For example: great olives (harder than you might think to source). Good (but not amazing) Serrano ham, but light, perfectly seasoned deep-fried calamari. The grilled shrimp were full of finger-lickin’, garlicky flavour.

But then there was the slightly odd. The aioli seemed to have more than a passing resemblance to sandwich spread, and the dip for the patatas bravas (in themselves alright) was simply unidentifiable. The bizarre artichoke hearts in blue cheese were a step further along the oddness scale. We thought the chef might have known something we didn’t in combining the two, but sadly, he didn’t.

Finally, definitely terrible was the sorry excuse for Spanish tortilla that was put on our table, soggy and mushy in the extreme. It kept being left as we finished off the other tapas. When the Australian chef happened to walk past, we stopped him to ask just what had happened the tortilla that had led to its pathetic state. I’m not sure if it made things better or worse, that the chef then open-heartedly apologized for its poor quality, saying how he’d been away with his newborn baby, and hence hadn’t had time to prepare fresh tortillas.

To be fair, a fresh dish of tortilla was subsequently delivered to our table, much improved in texture, though sadly not in flavour. Our complaint to the waiter about the first, soggy version elicited a dark muttering of ‘Well, in Spain we don’t reheat our tortillas in the oven’. Even so (and the arrival of new babies notwithstanding), that’s no excuse for trying to sneak out food so clearly past its best.

For that alone, only 1 star out of 5, despite the great calamari. I have no idea what the other (strangely positive) online reviewers for Toro Toro are on about. Because, who knows what that might be like next time around? For your money, Delicatessen is a safer, if slightly too-kool-for-skool, overly crowded bet. And, my new favourite with nice big portions, is Barcelona on Markveien. Good food, friendly service, and you don’t even have to shout to make yourself heard. Bonus!

1/5 stars Toro Toro Ruseløkkveien 14,0251 Oslo. 22 83 25 50

3/5 stars Delicatessen Søndre Gate 8, 0550 Oslo. 22 71 45 46

4/5 stars Barcelona Tapas Bar Markveien 42, 0554 Oslo. 22 37 05 00

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romeriksåsen

December 8, 2008

lake

The flurries of snow on Friday piled up higher up the fjord, so conditions were perfect on Sunday. Bright sun and snow-covered trees, and at -10C cold enough to form ice crystals in your nose when you breathed in. But we all wrapped up warm, so we were still toasty by the time we got to Raasjøstua for waffles and coffee.

cabin

Special K taking in the view before she made a new friend with an electric bottom warmer.

view

A tactical planning error resulted in a dusk home run, which was surprisingly fast, pleasant and quiet . The moon was rising in the rosy sky, and we were almost alone in the forest.

dusk

nøklevann

November 26, 2008

vann

A cold bright Sunday, but not a single flake of snow to be seen within three hours’ drive of Oslo. So we bundled up and made for the much closer Østmarka with Special K and our new outing accomplice Red. Four hours, a lake, a long walk, three goats and some ice skaters later, all were happy. But… is it greedy to wish for snow?

ringen kino

November 23, 2008

ring

Ringen Cinema showed films at Carl Berners Plass from 1939 till 1988. On Friday, the name was resurrected with the opening of Ringen Kino, in the half-completed complex of apartments and shops that make up Ringnes Park at the top of Grünerløkka.

They claim to be the first fully digital cinema in Norway, but more crucially, their opening means that East Oslo finally has its own cinema again. Soria Moria up in Torshov was the last of the traditional picture houses to stop showing films regularly, and Østkantsavisa did a feature on several of the East side’s last cinemas.

Amazingly, over 20 cinemas closed their doors all over Oslo since their heyday, but Oslo Kino reckons that the smaller screens, more frequent showings and high quality will be their saving grace. I’m thrilled that the neighbourhood is getting its own cinema, and while the programme looks pretty Hollywood-heavy so far, there seems to be some space for more alternative films and events too. Not only is the Palme d’Or -winner Entre les Murs showing all week this week, but director Laurent Cantet is coming to visit on Friday. Will be sure to report back!

akersberget

November 23, 2008

akersberget

The corner in the picture above was where we all snuggled in on Tuesday’s cold night, on a pile of skins and cushions, toasty from the blazing fire. The red house at the bottom of Telthusbakken has been rebuilt and turned into a wonderfully cosy restaurant, Akersberget. I can’t say so much about the faithfulness of the restoration, but am pleased that the house has been given a new lease of life.

I especially liked the outhouse in the courtyard with only three walls, where the fourth side is the bare rock of the hill behind, where silver was first mined a thousand years ago. No service there, but a great place to sit with your drink. Browse their gallery to see more.

Service was friendly, informal and efficient, while food was traditional Norwegian with an almost imperceptible nod to the modern. The latter was well-executed and balanced, if slightly less than thrilling dishes, certainly for the price. Mains of pinnekjøtt and cod were upwards of 250 kroner, and three courses set us back 495 kroner.

And therein lies my main problem with the restaurant. With its warm and beautifully redone interior I would have been keen to have found a new favourite in town. But the bill was hard to swallow for nothing more than reasonable food. I’ll definitely be back for drinks, and the courtyard looks very promising for the spring, but unless value-for-money takes a favourable turn, I’m afraid I’ll be eating elsewhere.

oslo dokumentarkino

November 20, 2008

docs1

I’m definitely missing my annual documentary shot, living in the wrong country to attend the IDFA, the world’s foremost documentary film festival in Amsterdam which starts today. I have fond memories of spending days and sometimes full nights watching documentaries on subjects as diverse as a travelling circus in Africa post-World War II and remote Georgian villages to Israeli checkpoints and just how it is that our food is so cheap.

It’s taken me until now to figure out that there is a group working to show documentaries locally, Oslo Dokumentarkino. Most of the screenings are at Parkteateret in Grünerløkka, and the best way to keep informed is to sign up to their email list.

Next up is a human rights film festival, showing among others Darwin’s Nightmare (IDFA’s top documentary of the past 20 years) and China Blue, also a past IDFA winner.

off3

I have a feeling the ‘film’ tag in my cloud is about to get a lot bigger. The Oslo Film Festival kicks off today. By international standards it’s small but in my limited (last year’s) experience can still throw up some gems. And on the plus side, it also means it’s no problem to get your hands on tickets (unlike Rotterdam or London). Privately, I have my fears that this bodes poorly for the festival’s future, but we’ll worry about that when we get to it.

On my shortlist this year after scanning the funky pencilled-in thumbnails on the website:

Ballast (US family drama, won Cinematography and the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year)

Hunger (IRA hunger strike in the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland)

Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo (documentary on several oddball inhabitants of Mexico City)

La Rabia (Argentinian pampas drama)

Man on Wire (docu on Phillipe Petit’s 1974 WTC tight rope walk, have had my eye on this one for a while now)

Worlds Apart (Danish girl questions her Johevah’s Witness faith)

Up the Yangtze (just to scratch my China itch)

Who’s coming with me?

nam fah

November 18, 2008

namfah

There is really nothing else to be said about Nam Fah, except that they serve up the best Thai food in all of Oslo to my knowledge, possibly Norway? Their cheerful and charming takeaway place on Nordre Gate in Grünerløkka dishes out container after container full of curries, glass noodle salads, pad thais and more every evening.

It’s also turning out to be a little empire, with their affordable restaurant downtown, and the deli attached to the takeaway, which is a great place to pick up (fresh) ingredients after hours when you fancy cooking Thai.

Special K and I used to be special friends with one of the smiley staff, though sadly he has moved on to greener pastures. I miss the little pats on the hand we used to get, but the food is more than good enough to keep me going back. If anything, the portions might be a bit on the small side if you are starving (or Mr. Snow) but the quality and authenticity is on another level altogether. If you beg to differ, I would love to hear about it!

Nordre gate 15-17
0551 Oslo

sanguine

November 17, 2008

sanguine

I’m getting closer and closer to the inner sanctum of the Opera House in Oslo. After numerous rooftop walks, one Sunday night several weeks ago I ate dinner at the Opera’s foyer brasserie, Sanguine. Visually the place is a feast for the eye. High ceilings, angled beams, full glass windows, (almost) white marble flooring and pristine white tablecloths accented by red flowers, candle holders and waiters’ shirts.

Unfortunately the panoramic view of the Oslo fjord and its islands was shrouded in the inky night, so one tip would be to visit in daylight if you can. The restaurant’s location towards the back of the foyer is a little disconcerting, as there’s no real physical demarcation of the two. So although I know that’s the main point of an Opera house, concert-goers stream past and sometimes even brush against the outer tables when entering and leaving the auditorium. That, and the end-of interval music clangs quite loudly!

But what of the food? To use a musical analogy, the main we all chose – of moose and root vegetable puree with bacon bits and a seriously savoury oil-based sauce – was more Brit pop then Bach. Specifically, unashamedly tasty, yet with brash, loud flavours all competing for attention on the same plate. Some saving grace was served with dessert, cloudberry tart with goat’s cheese sorbet. More subtle than our main but still would not suffer from a handful less ingredients in the mix.

Finally, a series of Norwegian-designed cutlery and ceramics seems to have been especially designed for the Opera House’s eating and drinking outlets. I liked both the look and the utility of the former but the latter fell foul of the first rule of design, prioritizing form over funtion. Swooping plate edges is one thing, but miniscule (unsuable) handles on the coffee cups quite another. The cost of promoting local industry?

slutt å maz!

November 14, 2008

Last night, Maz Jobrani, the Iranian American stand-up comedian, seemed almost as astonished to be playing in Oslo as we were to have him here. Easy humour with the occasional sharp edge, he did the Iranian jokes well as expected. But the added local flavour was good too, like Jobrani imagining eating rakfisk, and finding out that Maz means to nag in Norwegian.

And I know he has Iranian blood but still loved the fantastically-done Persian accent (and the two Iranian girls next to me laughing hysterically seemed to too!). All very good, including the Obama celebratory mood. With yesterday’s show, Jobrani kicked off a European tour, moving to Amsterdam tonight, and then to London and Stockholm.

The punchy local warm-up act Jonas Bergland was also excellent especially when delivering lines in gangsta Holmlia or poncy Nordstrand accents. Though I struggled a bit to catch the punchline in places,  I loved what I caught (and Mr. Snow translated!). Hurrah, does this mean I’ll be able to go to local stand-up again in the not-too-far future?