15 September 2014
I had been planning something interesting for my birthday this year. Two years ago when I turned 40, I made a trek to Spitsbergen. Last year, I had a rather rough trip to London. So I thought for 42, let’s go back to doing something more interesting than dealing with signal failure at Edgware Road…
This birthday trip began rather chaotically, thanks to immigration queues and missing a connection flight, but I eventually made it to the beautiful Norwegian city of Bergen. I have a love-hate relationship with Norway, from the excellent (but pricey) restaurants of Oslo (like Maaemo and Ylajali) to the horrible eateries of Tromsø. I have heard a lot of buzz about Bergen, so I decided to check it out myself.
Simply put, Bergen is a fabulous town in every way, from the people to the food. Despite being exhausted from the travels (IAD-LHR-OSL-BGO), I was looking forward to my dinner at the well-regarded 1877 not far from my hotel. The few short hours in town I was already enchanted by it.
I found 1877 after a short stroll from my hotel and as the hour was still early I was the first to be seated in the very cute dining room. And yes, it was sunny in Bergen!
I enjoyed a local pear cider and slowly decompressed from the flying and headaches that I had to endure to get to this place. But really, it was worth it already. I was looking forward to the 5-course tasting menu, which was a promise of the best of regional products. I couldn’t wait. Then it began.
The amuse bouche was a fine example of local cod, alongside some tasty watermelon. The use of the pink salt block as the dish helped as the flavours seeped into the ingredients — especially the watermelon. Good start!
My excellent server, who acts also as guide and storyteller for this feast (I reckon she’s also a co-owner), brought out their sourdough bread. She tells me about naming it Lucy, as the starter culture of the sourdough has been with them for many years and they care for it like a child. How cute. The bread is nice, with hints of apple. This prepared me for the first course of the 5-course tasting menu.
The opener was a beauty. This scallop, sourced locally, was one of the tastiest morsels of this mollusc I’ve ever had. Rich and shamelessly lush with brown butter, the flavour was as good as any I’ve had — even in the best places in Oslo or even Tokyo. Wow. The cute use of cauliflower, from flower to leaf, added to the appeal of this dish. Paired with a fine chenin blanc from Alsace. A fabulous, fabulous opener!
The second course featured two local specialties — tusk and pumpkin. An excellent preparation of the local cod-related fish with a very seasonal pumpkin brought out the best in both feature ingredients. The fish was tender and flavourful, especially with the rich pumpkinness. Another excellent dish!
We move onto the third course, a tasting of local lamb. It’s always a joy to enjoy lamb that tastes of lamb, not some neutral, flavourless meat that’s typical of North American lamb these days. My server’s idea to complement 2 different parts of this dish is to pair them with 2 different Barbera d’Asti to complement the difference. Fabulous! Rarely are restaurants so generous with their wine pairings. You see true hospitality here. Assortment of root vegetables also excellent, from very nice beetroot to delicious sunchokes. Spectacular stuff!
Needed a little break after three wonderful savoury dishes. I’m still dreaming about that scallop. I was shocked to hear an adjacent table of confused Italians moan about the same dish. Maybe they’re from Torino and hate the idea of fresh seafood. They actually asked for tiramisù later on…FFS…
Next up was the cheese course. And much like the previous course, the extremely awesome hospitality showed again as each cheese had its own pairing! The local brie was paired with a local ale, the blue paired with a fine tipple from Valpolicella, and finally the hard cow-and-sheep cheese with a tasty sherry. I found the brie my favourite of the trio. But what a fabulous set-up!
I was almost spent when the final course arrived, a dessert based on chocolate mousse, plum and apple. The latter 2 fruits are some of the best produce in the region, and I was glad to see them featured so prominently. Tasty but not overwhelming, it really balanced the totality of the meal just right.
I was more than happy for this first of many meals on this trip. The food was top rate, as good cooking brought out the spectacular fresh regional ingredients. The service was top notch, and my server was just absolutely fantastic. She worked as storyteller, guide, sommelier all in one, and almost felt like a dining companion for me all evening. She performed the same magic at other tables too, flawlessly in various languages.
If there’s one word to describe this place, it is HOSPITALITY. Totally awesome, totally recommended!