What a Kontrast – This Michelin Restaurant Is Worth the Tab

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.

Amuse-bouch 1 – Potato rosti with quail egg yolks from Brustad Farm and Volzhenk caviar (forgive Kontrast for sourcing the caviar from Russia). Outrageously satisfying.

Amuse-bouch 1 – Potato rosti with quail egg yolks from Brustad Farm and Volzhenk caviar (forgive Kontrast for sourcing the caviar from Russia). Outrageously satisfying.

I have no “buts” in this glowing review.

Even though I kind of ate a tree.

Here’s how it played out.

Amuse-bouche 2 – A cheesy wonder on a wafer described as Holtefjell XO from Eiker Gardsystgeri with whey of Nyr.

Amuse-bouche 2 – A cheesy wonder on a wafer described as Holtefjell XO from Eiker Gardsystgeri with whey of Nyr.

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.

Amuse-bouche 3 – Don’t judge it by its looks. Steamed brioche bun with bottarga (mullet roe) and sour cream. I joked that I wanted to lick up the remaining sour cream. Within seconds, a spoon appeared. I couldn’t waste a drop.

Amuse-bouche 3 – Don’t judge it by its looks. Steamed brioche bun with bottarga (mullet roe) and sour cream. I joked that I wanted to lick up the remaining sour cream. Within seconds, a spoon appeared. I couldn’t waste a drop.

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.

Amuse-bouche 4 – Pancake of emmer (a Eurasian wheat) with fermented plum, grilled pork and lardo from Svartskog Gard

Amuse-bouche 4 – Pancake of emmer (a Eurasian wheat) with fermented plum, grilled pork and lardo from Svartskog Gard

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.

Mackerel from Kristiansand, tomato with rhubarb and roseship from Korsvold Farm

Mackerel from Kristiansand, tomato with rhubarb and roseship from Korsvold Farm

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.

Just like that Paul Bocuse restaurant, Kontrast brings over little stools for handbags. Here they’re chic minimalist mini-tables. And the staff brought enough for both of us: When they saw that my husband’s camera didn’t fit on my table, another stool arrived instantaneously, with a smile.

Just like that Paul Bocuse restaurant, Kontrast brings over little stools for handbags. Here they’re chic minimalist mini-tables. And the staff brought enough for both of us: When they saw that my husband’s camera didn’t fit on my table, another stool arrived instantaneously, with a smile.

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.

In case all those courses aren’t enough, Kontrast also brings each diner an individual sliced sourdough rye bread. It’s served with organic butter blended with pork fat, rosemary and thyme. So much for my colleague saying, “It isn’t a heavy dinner. It’s a fishy dinner.” #worthit

In case all those courses aren’t enough, Kontrast also brings each diner an individual sliced sourdough rye bread. It’s served with organic butter blended with pork fat, rosemary and thyme. So much for my colleague saying, “It isn’t a heavy dinner. It’s a fishy dinner.” #worthit

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.

Ugly, yes, but some staffers I met helped forage for the wild mushrooms in this dish. The fungi are plated with gooseberries, peas from Linneastad Farm and charred cucumber.

Ugly, yes, but some staffers I met helped forage for the wild mushrooms in this dish. The fungi are plated with gooseberries, peas from Linneastad Farm and charred cucumber.

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.

Marinated and grilled North Atlantic halibut with salted plums and summer cabbage

Marinated and grilled North Atlantic halibut with salted plums and summer cabbage

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.

Lamb from Korsvold Farm with cherries, beets and a sauce of brown butter, star anice and Caballero coffee from Tim Wendelboe

Lamb from Korsvold Farm with cherries, beets and a sauce of brown butter, star anice and Caballero coffee from Tim Wendelboe

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.

Kraftkar from Tingvollost – Sounds like the villain in a Norwegian comic book drama, but in fact it’s frozen, then grated, cheese served with a sorbet of oxidized sunflower seeds mixed with birch sap from Vik in Saltdalen.

Kraftkar from Tingvollost – Sounds like the villain in a Norwegian comic book drama, but in fact it’s frozen, then grated, cheese served with a sorbet of oxidized sunflower seeds mixed with birch sap from Vik in Saltdalen.

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.

In addition to two sweet sugar-coated cherry jelly candies, our meal ended with a surprise plate of miniature cakes made with grounded pine bark blended into a cake mix and baked. The flavor was wondrous, woodsy and herbal while mildly sweet. Astounding. Just astounding.

In addition to two sweet sugar-coated cherry jelly candies, our meal ended with a surprise plate of miniature cakes made with grounded pine bark blended into a cake mix and baked. The flavor was wondrous, woodsy and herbal while mildly sweet. Astounding. Just astounding.

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.