In the battle of Michelin-rated European restaurants, Rona recommends Kontrast (Oslo) over that Paul Bocuse restaurant (Lyon). Why? Because welcoming service matters.
You may recall me dissing on Auberge du Pont de Collonges, the fancy-pants Paul Bocuse restaurant where the servers’ attitude was as snooty as the food was rich. Here’s a contrast: I just ate at the Oslo restaurant Kontrast, which has one coveted Michelin star to Bocuse’s three. The food was outstanding if way different, yet the service was superb. Kontrast had all that Michelin polish – servers swooping in en masse to serve a whole group at once, for instance, along with copious amounts of stupendously delicious foods. Yet, with its industrial chic confines, Kontrast has a definitive warmth.
I have no “buts” in this glowing review.
Even though I kind of ate a tree.
Here’s how it played out.
I was practically commanded to book a table at Kontrast even though I knew I’d be dined out by my last night in Norway. “It’s the best meal I ever had,” my in-the-know colleague insisted. So, stuffed beyond comfort from an eight-day Adventures by Disney tour plus a lunch dip into the Matstreif food festival that afternoon, I made a reservation for two.
I was a little cowed by the Michelin thing after feeling looked down upon during my Lyon culinary adventure just this past July. Still, I arrived in the same nuthin’ special orange flowered dress (it packs well), again with non-dressy shoes, along with mussed up hair from the rainy weather and a multicolor fabric Baggalini purse that’s frankly inappropriate for a fine dining experience.
None of that mattered.
“Are you Rona?” That’s how the friendly maitre d’ greeted me (or whatever her title is). She took our coats, guided us to a table and set us at ease. She spoke to us just … regularly, gracious yet not formal, giving yet not uppity.
That’s really how the whole staff was. A bearded hipster I’ll assume is the sommelier came over to discuss wines. Kontrast has a wine-pairing option to go with the menu, but also by-the-glass or -bottle options from that wine list, “or just a basic, say, chardonnay, if that’s what you like,” he explained. “We don’t judge here.” How refreshing.
Still on a budget, we requested tap water. Turns out that’s the only kind of still H2O Kontrast serves because Norway’s water is so good, I was told. Then I chose the 1150 kroner six-course menu, not the 1650 10-course one, and mournfully passed up the beverage pairing (995; 1395), again to keep the cost reasonable. The sommelier poured me a taste of a too-sweet white, then brought over two others so I could get my single budget glass just right. They weren’t life-changing, but only because I requested that he suggest wines on the lower end of the price spectrum. So respectful.
The foodstuffs are almost exclusively Norwegian. The service team talked of foraging for mushrooms and all that good farm-to-table goodness.
Meanwhile, that six-course Small Kontrast dinner was way more than six courses. (Thanks, chef-owner Mikael Svensson!) The chefs sent over four different amuse-bouches (is that the plural? No wonder French servers look down on me), free tastes that happened to be astounding. We also received miniature loaves of hearty bread with an herb-laced butter. And two extra desserts. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I guess I’m not. The Kontrast team – comprised of chefs and servers from around the world – put out an inventive, attractive and impressive array of small dishes.
Lest you think I could possibly have left hungry: Kontrast portions its meals so the six-course repast is as filling a the 10-course. By gosh, I think Kontrast cares about guests departing with a happy feeling about everything that happened while they were at that dining room table.
Look at photo captions for food descriptions, please. I am so sorry to tell you that I forgot to take a picture of the berry course. It’s a travesty not to share this with you. The colorful dish was a combination of seasonal Norwegian berries, an herb called woodruff and sour cream.
Before I forget, let’s talk dollars and cents.
Dinner for two at Kontrast: $290.15
Dinner for two at that Paul Bocuse restaurant: $713.64
Quite a contrast, even if I did choose the smaller menu at Kontrast and the larger one at that Paul Bocuse restaurant.
About eating that tree: My “something sweet” course (see the final food photo) involved ground pine tree bark. It’s added to a traditional flour-based mix to create these mini quickbreads. The flavor was so … so … so … well, I just couldn’t place the taste I’d never had before. Pine tree bark. There ya go.
P.S. Years ago, in Don’t Touch that Plate!, we had a debate here about when it’s OK for a restaurant server to remove a dirty plate if some members of the party are still eating (although the comments are now missing). Kontrast did it right, IMO. The servers never bent over the table mid-course to remove one empty plate when the other of us was still eating.