19 September 2012
After yesterday’s amazing meal at Maaemo, I was about to do the ‘Oslo Double’ and enjoy a highly-anticipated meal at Ylajali. The Michelin-starred eatery has a reputation of also being excessively creative, and I was very happy when chef-partner Even Ramsvik made my booking during their summer holidays. This guy has a reputation of being one of the top innovators in the quick-charging Nordic food scene, and I was really looking forward to another major feast!
I limped off my cab (I usually would not have cabbed in Oslo, but I didn’t want to risk exacerbating the somewhat better foot, so…) and had trouble finding the restaurant (again). Thank goodness after ringing, the sommelier came out and waved me in. He provided so much of the great chats and entertaining stories through the evening. The booking was early (6pm) so I was the only diner at the start.
I was soon presented with the menu — which is in tribute to the book Ylajali. Unfortunately I know little about this story, and perhaps it’s a little too inside-Norwegian for those of us outside to appreciate. But it’s cute and the type of thing that intrigues diners beyond their tastebuds.
The restaurant is apparently located in the building that has a direct relationship with the story’s author, which makes it even more apropos. The menu is divided into ‘chapters’ to continue the book theme. Fascinating, let’s see where this story takes me on this second awesome dining evening in Oslo!
Chapter One is called ‘Prolog’ and it is the longest of the chapters presented tonight, with a series of small amuse-bouche-like items. It first began with a glass of fresh apple juice with peppermint ice. Nice and refreshing start.
The next item is a barley crisp with a chive cream and some foraged additions. A very cute presentation and a nice snack.
The following snack is a puffed “pork rind” as yanks would call it, accompanied by Swedish mustard. Nice and neutral and airy, goes down easy.
The following snack was one of the best of the evening, the raw prawns with dill cream and “shellfish crunch” — which was deep-fried shellfish bits. You take the prawn and dip it in the cream and roll it in the crunch. This combination worked wonderfully, especially with the strong taste from the crunch. I really liked this dish, from the visuals to the playfulness. The huge block of ice was a nice touch.
I was excited when chef came out with a leg from a smoked beast, and as I hoped and suspected it was indeed fenalår — Norwegian smoked mutton. He sliced two small pieces and placed it on the piece of wood, a fantastic presentation. I wish there was more, as the small portions made it difficult to really appreciate the taste of this rare delicacy. But as Maaemo had already run out of this treat, I can imagine how little is left for Ylajali. Very nice and unexpected surprise!
But by this time, as I had also ordered a wine pairing, I was a little confused with the lack of wine during this chapter. Perhaps I had to order something myself, or nurse that apple juice? But this really, really needed something like champagne. That’s the only real drawback for the session so far.
The next dish also featured a nice presentation, of oyster grilled in shell with wild cucumber and smoked eel. To be honest I didn’t get much of the eel, but the small oyster pieces was nice and fresh. The sizing of this dish confused me a little, but was tasty.
And finally the last part of Chapter One arrived, bleak roe and cabbage with foraged additions. This was an excellent dish, as the cabbage really helped with the roe delivery. The flavours meshed very well as did the texture, and I was very happy with this dish.
So far this has been excellent, almost as good as Maaemo. Some were huge stars like the prawns, but it felt a little lacking without a paired beverage. It took something away from the entire experience, unfortunately. Maybe an oversight, but it made a big difference. Nevertheless a good start!
Soon Chapter Two — based on ‘Norwegian Cold Waters’ — was obviously a tribute to the amazing seafood from Norway’s long coastline. For years there has been too little appreciation of the various seafoods from up and down the coast; that has happily changed. Yesterday’s Maaemo seafood-centric meal demonstrated that, and Ylajali is about to (it was done very well so far).
Finally, wine has arrived. They explained that each chapter is paired with one particular wine, and for the chapter of seafood they selected a Riesling trocken from Robert Weil. A nice crisp wine that works well with seafood.
The first of the dish is a beautiful scallop from Frøya, the source of so much good shellfish for the best restaurants of Norway. The freshness and taste of this scallop was fantastic, did not need anything to make this a star. Unfortunately, the roe on the side was tasting rather plasticky and was kind of a downer. Too bad, as the shellfish was fabulous.
The second dish was the skate in a wonderful mussel sauce. The fish was fabulous as was the sauce, nice and rich without being overwhelming for the excellent quality fish. The one little issue is the odd placement of too-thinly-sliced button mushrooms (why button mushrooms?) that fell apart in the sauce and was hard to eat, and clashed a little with the other ingredients. Also, having samphire as decoration under the plate was a little annoying as I absolutely LOVE samphire…almost tempted to eat some…
The last of the short chapter featured a very sweet langoustine in a sour cream sauce with wild mushrooms. This was fantastic, as the shellfish was delicate but strong in flavour, while the wild mushrooms added to the overall feel of the dish. This was my favourite of the three in this chapter, as all the ingredients worked perfectly.
I have to say Chapter Two was a little of a miss at points, mostly on some what I thought were rogue ingredients (sliced button mushrooms, very plasticky roe) that detracted from the main ingredients. But it really shows how strong Norwegian seafood is, and the main ingredients were done very well and tasted wonderful. I am still very happy with this meal so far!
We now move onto Chapter Three — ‘Roots, Grains & Intermezzo’ — which came with the now Oslo-patented bread serving. These small caraway rolls were fresh and nice with some butter. I also crumbled some of the grains onto the butter, which made this a crunchy fabulous snack.
This chapter was paired with the Premier Nez by Marie Thibault-Cabrit, a wonderful, heartier wine to work with this chapter. The pairings have been good so far, with generous pours and top-ups. I kind of like this more than switching too much sometimes, like at Maaemo. I like to really get into a wine more.
Chef brought out the second dish wanting my opinion, as he said it was new. The dish was a fantastic scallops with salsify with caviar cream, topped with shaved egg yolk. Remember how I commented on how it didn’t quite work with the potato at Maaemo last night? It really works on this, with the salsify — this was the star. The scallops were very good, but the salsify with the yolk flakes worked fantastic, as the two so complemented each other it was almost symbiotic. Awesome stuff!
This chapter continues very strong with the 7-day aged halibut. This crudo was a wonderful continuation of these strong flavours in this chapter, and the freshness was delightful. The deep taste of the halibut is one of the best pieces of this humble fish I’ve ever had — certainly better than the cooked-to-death one I had last week in Tromsø! Fabulous!
The excellent chapter closed with a serving of sour milk and celeriac, working well as a palete cleanser after all those extremely strong flavours.
Chapter Three has been the strongest by far, with two just flat-out amazing dishes. The complex flavours worked so well together, none of the ‘rogue element’ issues from the previous chapter. It’s like when chef gets more adventurous he makes even better dishes. This was an amazing segment!
Chapter Four — ‘Poultry from Holte Farm’ — is a tribute to the humble chicken. Last night at Maaemo it was a seafood-centric menu. So it’s been awhile since I had any meat, so I as a carnivore was looking forward to this segment. Though I usually don’t prefer chicken, due to dodgy sourcing and bland preparation methods, I was looking forward to this chapter.
The first dish was a little odd, burnt onions in a chicken and parmesan jus. It didn’t work for me. The onion was a little under-burnt, almost like it was just cooked. It didn’t stand up in the liquid, unfortunately. The liquid was more parmesan than chicken, and it was nice. I looked at this almost as a small soup…
The pairing for this chapter was a very smooth and tasty mersault, which I appreciate. I don’t often drink mersault, as it usually doesn’t work with me, but it works with this segment.
The second dish was my favourite from this chapter, the crispy chicken with some beautiful foraged vegetables and flowers. The chicken was cooked superbly and tasted utterly spectacular. This was one of the best pieces of chicken I have ever had, sublime but deep, complex in a way chicken usually can’t achieve. The crispy skin was a bonus! I was blown away here, and the accompanying items added to the total package. Awesome accomplishment by the kitchen!
The last of this chapter is the chicken liver with apricot and pumpkin with roasted seeds. The liver? It’s hidden in the ball on the left, covered with a layer of very delicate and understated apricot. It was delicious and fresh, and the combination of flavours worked perfectly. However, the other ball, the pumpkin, just kind of sat there lost. It didn’t cut well with the utensil provided either. A little rogue? But the liver ball was fantastic.
Chapter Four was again very strong, with some eye-popping stuff (chicken…never thought I’ll ever say that), but a little inconsistency too. It’s like Ylajali is more into experimentation rather than refinement in some ways, and is willing to take more chances than Maaemo. Both have a role to play, and both are amazing in their own ways. Sometimes you want refined perfection; sometimes you need a little wilder stuff that can surprise you to falling off your chair with a risk of something that’s not quite there. And I’ve nearly fallen off my chair in stunned happiness a few times tonight!
Chapter Five is titled Christiania 1890 — after the name of Oslo during that period. This historical short chapter is one that explores some more interesting parts of traditional Norwegian flavours. And I was poured a very nice Foradori Granato from Alto-Adige, moving into the reds. I was really looking forward to these two dishes.
The first of the chapter is the urfe — a very nice rare breed of cow in Norway. Accompanied with parsley root, this was an excellent tasting of raw beef at its very best. Fantastic! The heritage beef is something Norwegians should treasure!
I happily dug into the second dish for this chapter, the duck hearts with porcini. The hearts were cooked so well it had a similar feel to the mushrooms. I have to say this was better than the chicken hearts from Maaemo last night, the taste was brought out more tonight. Excellent dish!
This marked the end of the savoury session, and I was extremely happy. From that awesome chicken to the salsify, I was again in Cloud 9. Amazing to do this two nights in a row! The final chapter is ‘Epilogue’, as you can imagine…
The first was a very diverse and good cheese course. I am sorry, I was chatting too much with the staff and enjoying myself that I didn’t get the specifics of the cheeses down. They ranged from a good blue on the far left to a simple goat on the far right. The selection was done perfectly (as only a Frenchman can do!), and I enjoyed the very large serving.
Next, after a short break, was a nice tasting of blueberries and sorrel. This region has a love of berries, and always great to taste fresh, tart and REAL berries like this. Perfect before the sweets!
The next dessert was an interesting mix of apple, caramel and oats (I love grains). It was not too sweet, and worked with my palate just perfectly (I don’t have a sweet tooth per se). I really enjoyed this creative mixture.
And finally, the final piece of the evening is a simple “coffee sweet” that covered the mild sweetness and aroma of coffee. I was happy with how this ended, as being a non-dessert person, I preferred more nature-based desserts like fruits and so forth. Great way to end this meal!
I was loving this…I am amazed I got to do this twice in two nights. These are very different experiences, and as I said, both utterly necessary for different reasons. Both are awesome in their own way, and both need to be enjoyed if in Oslo!
And just as I thought I couldn’t be surprised, the sommelier came with a surprise for me — a glass of 40-year-old calvados, to mark my 40th birthday! Wow, I was still surprised how he found out! Did they look at this blog or my Twitter account? But wow, this was an awesome birthday gift, the first tangible gift I received this birthday! I loved it!
After a second glass (on my own dime, heh…) and a double espresso, I was spent and happy. When the taxi arrived, I thanked the staff profusely for a wonderful evening of amazing food and sheer enjoyment. This was really enjoyable!
As I sat in the taxi on the way back to the hotel, I reflected on this evening. Sure, there were moments that it didn’t work. It wasn’t the crafted perfection of Maaemo. But when it achieved, it was near euphoric for me as diner. It’s extremely exciting to eat at a place that has more experimentation. Again, you need both in your lives. So no way to say which is better, they are both unique and awesome in their own ways.
So if someone asks me what to do if they had 1 evening in Oslo? I would say sod it, do both and die a happy glutton!
St Olavs Plass 2