“OSLOS RESTAURANT SCENE IS SUITABLY FILLED WITH STAR-TWINKLED EYES AND MUTED CONVERSATIONS…”
By; André Blomberg-Nygård
Written; March 10th, 2014
Two days from now, March 12th, is the official release date for the 2014 “Main Cities of Europe” Michelin guide. And Oslos restaurant scene is suitably filled with star-twinkled eyes and muted conversations about the possibility of a “Nordic Countries” Michelin Guide being announced.
So what can we expect from Michelin come Wednesday? There are usually some surprises. Unfortunately, these surprises are seldom very good. This is often more a result of us locals believing our own hype, than a result of blatant oversights by the French. As a consequence we’re always left wanting more from the Guide.
As of today, Oslo has three Michelin-starred restaurants (Maaemo**, Bagatelle*, Statholdergaarden*) this is as few as we’ve had since 1997. The number has fluctuated almost every year and peaked with six Michelin-starred restaurants in 2002. We’re certainly not in a position to beat that this year. However, there should be one star “vacant” as Restaurant Oscarsgate closed in 2011 and as such surrendered their star. Among Oslo-foodies the general consensus is that the restaurants Fauna and Ylajali have delivered consistently high quality during 2013 and clearly deserve one-star status come March 12th.
In my own estimations Fauna and Ylajali are indeed Oslos two obvious candidates for one-star status. The city is hoping for, and perhaps might even deserve, two new one-star listings. However, there seems to be an awful lot of politics surrounding the awarding of stars. Perhaps we should prepare ourselves to once again be left wanting. We might only get the one. If so, I suspect it will be awarded to Fauna, although most would agree that Ylajali is performing at an even higher level. The “vacant” star does somehow belong to Chef Svensson of Fauna as it was he who surrendered it from Oscarsgate.
What about the already starred restaurants? Maaemo will undoubtedly retain their two stars, but is unlikely to get more. The leap from two to three stars is often a gigantic one, and simply being much better than last year is hardly ever enough.
Since the demotion of Feinschmecker last year, after 19 years, Stattholdergaarden is Oslos last remaining restaurant which follows that tried and tested Michelin recipe of first rate cooking, thick tablecloths and starched staff. A Michelin guide without at least one such restaurant seems unlikely. As a result Stattholdergaarden sits pretty at one star.
On the other hand, Bagatelle has turned its back on the classical French cuisine that not only defined it, but also defined a generation of chefs that passed through its ranks. The transition to Neo-Nordic has been somewhat uneasy and quality has varied during 2013. Should anyone be demoted on March 12th, I fear it would have to be Bagatelle.
There is also some chatter surrounding Michelins other award Bib Gourmand. Oslo currently has three (Restaurant Eik, Oro Bar, and Lille B,) an accurate number based on the generally flabby midsection of the restaurant scene and Oslo-prices. Based on recent visits to two of the recommended restaurants they might even have difficulty holding on their awards. Smalhans is the only real contender for a Bib Gourmand and it might very well come at the expense of someone else. A dramatic increase in the number of Bib Gourmands seems unlikely.
Because there isn’t a Michelin guide that covers the Nordic countries, only cities of a certain size is represented from this region. In Norway only Oslo is covered. If Michelin covered the region as a whole, Renaa Restaurant in Stavanger and Lysverket in Bergen would be in with a good chance for one-star status.
Michelin has, in true cryptic fashion, hinted to an announcement surrounding a wider coverage of the Nordic or indeed Neo-Nordic cuisine in a letter sent to several Swedish and Danish starred restaurants. Something special is suppose to happen late April, or early May.
The most optimistic of local chefs and foodies have read in to this that a “Nordic Countries” Michelin guide will finally be bestowed upon us. However, that seems a bit farfetched. For one, the region lacks a three-star restaurant and a brand new guide without one is unlikely. In addition, covering the far-flung corners of both Norway and Sweden is an expensive and time-consuming exercise. Also, there is no chatter about inspectors having been sighted at clear candidates such as Fäviken Magasinet or Daniel Berlin.
The best we can hope for is that a “Nordic Countries” guide for 2015 will be announced on March 12th. But, even that’s highly optimistic. At the end of the day Michelin would like these guides to fly off the shelves. And they have recently discontinued guides covering both Los Angeles and Las Vegas, due to unimpressive sales. These are cities that on their own each attract more travelling diners that the Nordic region combined. My prediction is that Michelin is set to announce a smaller publication or pull-out, with further presentations of the already starred restaurants in the nordic region. Similar to the existing “Bonnes petites tables”
I hope of course that I am proven wrong in my somewhat gloomy predictions. Nothing would give me more joy than an Oslo that could match foodie destinations like Stockholm and Copenhagen star for star. And even better a “Nordic Countries” guide that sees Chef Even Ramsvik (Ylajali) finally being rewarded for his culinary growth in the last few years. In such a guide my beloved hometown of Bergen would clearly get its very first Michelin star. Now that would be an announcement.