I love the style of cooking and storytelling of chef Simon Weinberg at restaurant Bokbacka. At the time of this writing, Bokbacka is my second choice only to Maaemo in Oslo. Through his cooking, the Swedish head chef tells a tale about his childhood memories related to food. The stories take place in the area he grew up: the Bokbacka farm in Österlen. Although the inspiration comes from the Swedish region of Skåne, the ingredients are very much from Norway.
Most of the seats in the restaurant are along a bar counter. This is the perfect place to sit if you want to watch the chefs work. A former Norwegian prime minister and his wife sat on the bar stools this night, with their feet dangling and shoes lying on the floor. That should give you an idea of how casual the vibe is at Bokbacka. We joined our friends who had already arrived, and similar to my previous visit to Bokbacka, we were seated at one of the few tables in the restaurant. Next time, I’m gonna ask specifically in my booking for a bar seat, as I think that can add an extra element to the experience. Soon, though, we got some wine, and I forgot all about my seat preferences.
Note: This restaurant has closed permanently.
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A New Nordic Menu of Culinary Childhood Memories
Bokbacka’s restaurant manager and head sommelier, Alexander Jones, is a big reason why I love Bokbacka. He is polite, attentive, always smiling, and even funny at times. Jones carried “the tree” to our table, thus, opening the book of Bokbacka – Chapter 1. The tree represents Simon’s memories of Bokbacka’s blooming vegetable fields in Skåne. Fresh cheese was sprinkled with a fake soil of rye crumbs and planted with vegetables from the farmer Finn Dale’s biondynamic farm Bergsmyrende in Hurum (60 km from Bokbacka). It was messy to eat, but wet napkins were quickly handed out so that we could wash our hands.
“Insalata Caprese” is Bokbacka’s version of a classic Italian Campania salad. Buffalo mozzarella had company from tomatoes in different colors and flavors (sweet and acidic), olive oil sorbet, basil oil, and tomato water from grilled tomatoes. This ode to tomatoes was colorful, tasty and well-balanced and one of the evening’s favorites on my part. I like small details, like how they make an extra effort by decorating the bottle of tomato water. The tomatoes came from Hanasand gård at Rennesøy, 500 km away – at least in driving distance.
Signature Dishes & Innovative Ingredients
Bokbacka opened for business a little more than a year ago, and yet they’ve already manage to establish some classics on the menu. The tree is one. Another is the langoustine from Midsund, skewered on a rosemary stalk, and cooked tableside on a burning hot, pink Himalayan salt stone. The local fishermen in Midsund, west of Molde, lives about 550 km from Bokbacka. Great produce like this doesn’t need much added to it, and Bokbacka respects that. The langoustine is served with nothing but a ceps puree, crispy panko, and cress.
I was surprised to see the entire head of a sunflower served as dish number three. That’s a first for me. The petals, sure, but I’ve never seen the whole flower being used. In fact, it was Leif from the organic farm Sansegården, 100 km from Bokbacka, who came up with the idea. Of course, it’s of the utmost importance that the flowers have not been sprayed with any pesticides. The sunflower disk was deep-fried and served with Jerusalem artichoke in three variations: puree, chips and raw. By the table, a milk infused with crab fat was mixed with the sunflower oil as a finishing touch. Together, it made up a beautiful and tasty sauce. I really liked this dish, but I could tell from the reactions of my table companions that not everyone was pleased with the somewhat unfamiliar textures of the sunflower disk.
A Picnic in Kåseberga
Next, Bokbacka wanted us to get in a picnic mood. That’s not an easy task at a fine dining restaurant, but this serving worked extremely well. Once again we were visiting head chef Simon’s childhood.
– Al’s smokery, idyllically situated by an old Viking graveyard, is a popular place in Kåseberga to have a picnic. The locals buy the smoked fish from Al and bring their own bread and beer, Alexander told us.
Luckily, we didn’t have to bring anything with us. Instead, the Kåseberga-inspired picnic was served on a tray for us to make our own small sandwiches. The sour milk bread was so full of fat and juices that I wish they would offer it as take away to enjoy at home too.
“Ut På Tur, Aldri Sur”
Chef Weinberg masters simplicity in the art of plating. The presentation of the main course of lamb from Jæren reminded me of another dish I ate for lunch here earlier this year. Once again, a cheaper and more fatty cut of meat was used. Cooked to perfection, it tastes a lot better than the sirloin or other more fine and expensive cuts of the lamb. The bonus: it’s also more sustainable to use the whole animal. Served with a reduction of cream with garlic, green salad mixed with a vinaigrette tableside, a purple carrot and a green butter sauce with spinach and crown dill, this dish was to-die-for.
We have an expression in Norway: “Ut på tur, aldri sur.” It can roughly be translated to: “On a hike – never gripe!” Especially if you have kids, you need to bring some candy when you go hiking to keep up the good spirits. Bokbacka’s trail lunch was a thermos filled with warm blueberry soup with lemon thyme. As a substitute to the Norwegian chocolate “Marsipanbrød” they had made a marzipan ice cream and topped it with a pine and spruce-flavored granita and wood sorrel. Welcome to the forest!
Oslo’s Next Michelin Star?
Bokbacka opened in the autumn of 2015 with little chances of a star in the Michelin guide. First of all, the guide had probably finished their coverage of the city already. Furthermore, it’s rare that the guide awards any recognition to a restaurant in the first year of opening. After all, consistency in quality over time is a key trait they are looking for. Indeed, Bokbacka was not even mentioned in the red book when they launched the Nordic Guide in February 2016. There’s no guarantee that Bokbacka will be awarded a star next year either – as the inspectors may want to see another year in operation. However, my guess is: if any new Oslo restaurant is awarded a star next year it will be Bokbacka. They certainly deserve one, in my opinion.
As always, though, there’s room for improvement. “The tree” has been on the menu since the beginning. In my opinion, they should scrap that idea for something else now. Although a signature, I don’t think it’s an outstanding dish. I like the palate cleanser: a fake oyster pearl, served in an oyster shell. The sphere pops in your mouth and releases its gin & tonic-flavored content. However, that remains unchanged since last year as well. The same goes for the petit four: a tasty, yet quite ordinary chocolate-coated marshmallow treat. Bokbacka also has a way to go still with the front of house. Many of them come about as a bit anonymous compared to Jones. Train more storytellers like him! He even had interesting histories related to the coffee from La Cabra in Aarhus and the Finnish brandy Jaloviina. If you visit Bokbacka, you might find out what they were. Leave me a comment if you do.
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