I travelled to Oslo recently a couple of times for work and ate at a several restaurants. I compiled a list of places to eat based on chowhound, nordic nibbler, suggestions from staff at Ylajali and Maaemo, and opinions of Oslo-based colleagues.
High end (Ylajali and Maaemo)
Went to both Ylajali and Maaemo. We had a much better experience at Ylajali, where the staff were extremely friendly and helpful (I don’t think it helps that at Maaemo each course is presented by a different person), but reluctantly concluded that the food was slightly better at Maaemo.
I went here twice. The first time, I was on my own and ordered a few different dishes tapas style. They were all good, but I wasn’t blown away, and sometimes I felt that the ingredients on the plate weren’t quite coming together. The second time I was taken by colleagues and we had the set menu (actually just four of the dishes off the main menu). The dishes were a bit simpler and felt more coherent; it was a really good meal. My colleagues said that Arakataka is the best restaurant in the price range, it was also recommended to me by staff at other restaurants, and it is one of the few restaurants that is consciously trying to produce Norwegian food, albeit in a modernized lighter style.
Ignore the hype about ‘the best sushi outside of Japan’. But it is good quality fish and sushi appears to be the only food in Oslo that has a reasonable price-value ratio compared to London. (I also got some take-out sushi from a little place for lunch one day and had a similar experience: a very reasonable price by UK standards and decent quality -- better than I’d expect from an equivalent place in the UK.)
Fish restaurant with a view. The fish was cooked properly but the sides felt like they were trying a little hard. I’d have preferred simpler veg chosen to complement the fish. But the reason to eat here is the view. Make sure you have a window seat.
Neighbourhood place, fairly near the west end of the centre, with a very good beer list. I went here after reading a review by Nordic Nibbler. Fixed menu of either 5 or 7 courses. The day I was there, there was a strong South American influence. Technique was perfect, but I wasn’t sure about some of the flavour combinations. Haddock ceviche didn’t taste of citrus but instead came with beetroot, raspberry and physallis. A pork ‘lollipop’ had meat that was perfectly cooked falling off the stick and a chilli kick, but I didn’t really feel the need for carrot, mango and hazelnuts with it. The main was simpler and better, chicken cooked with some cavalo nero in a very spicy sauce, served with polenta with corn. Dessert was a milk chocolate moose with a cloudberry compote and basil ice-cream. Again, each component was very good, but I don’t think the basil did anything for the chocolate.
Olympen Mat and Vinhaus
Beer hall style Norwegian food. Slightly lower price bracket than the other places. Very long beer list, as well as the selection on tap. In the summer there is a grill in the garden, but note that they serve neither the normal menu nor the full beer list out there. My colleagues say that it is the best restaurant in this price range.
Coffee is very good in Oslo. A random Stockfleth’s, a local chain, produced a coffee that was far superior to anything you’d get in a UK chain. That should satisfy most. But for coffee aficionados—or anyone who prefers independent shops—check out Fuglen, which is a third wave coffee place by day and a cocktail bar by night, with retro furniture and decor, much of which is for sale. It’s handily near the National Gallery. The coffee person in Oslo is Tim Wendelboe, whose roastery supplies many of the best restaurants. He also has a small coffee shop but it’s in Grunelokka, which is quite far off the tourist trail. Note that it only sells coffee, with a variety of beans and brewing methods (and a coffee tasting menu), but no other food or drinks.
Oslo has a strong microbrewery culture. When an ordinary beer is 70 NOK, you might as well pay 90 NOK for the good stuff. I was taken to Crowbar, industrial chique, with about 20 beers on tap including 4 or 5 that they brew themselves, and only 4 that weren’t Norwegian. But there are many good places around Grunelokka, including (by reputation) Grünerløkka Brygghus and Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri.
Since there isn’t too much info about Oslo restaurants on chowhound, I have also included some info about restaurants that were recommended to me but which I did not get a chance to eat at:
Pjoltergeist - a restaurant that that high-end restaurant staff go on their Sunday nights off. Asian street food with an Icelandic twist (the chef is from Iceland).
Le Benjamin - another restaurant frequented by restaurant staff, also mentioned by my colleagues. French bistro in Grunelokka.
Dinner - mentioned by restaurant staff and by my colleagues. I wouldn’t seek out Chinese food in Scandinavia (it serves Cantonese and Szechuanese) but I’m listing it for completeness
Kampen bistro - read about it on chowhound, would have gone there but scored a last minute reservation at Maaemo. Claims to be Norwegian food but the menu looks quite Mediterranean influenced to me.
Restaurant Eik - mentioned on this board, has a Bib Gourmand. A reasonably priced white table cloth place that does Norweigian food. But my colleagues explicitly said that Arakata is better.
Fauna - the other Michelin starred place, with staff from the now closed Oscarsgate. Would probably have been my preferred restaurant of the three starred places but I was unable to get a reservation.