Review: Brutus Natural Wine Bar & New Nordic Bistro in Oslo

Located in in the neighborhood of Tøyen in Oslo, Brutus is a new natural wine bar and New Nordic bistro. The place gives me Copenhagen vibes – I can barely wait till summer comes and we can sit on the benches outside and drink fermented grape juice in the sun. Wine importer and sommelier John Sonnichsen from Vin John is the restaurant manager, and his business partner Jens Føien is the general manager. They’ve joined forces with the restaurant group Lava and teamed up with a bunch of other talented young guys, like our host and waiter this evening, Mathias Lyngholm Dardeau, and the head chef Arnar Jakob Gudmundsson.

Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in Norway’s capital? Check out our city map of Oslo!

The dining room of Brutus.
The dining room of Brutus.

Et Tu, Brute?

There’s elements of Brutus that remind me of places like Pjoltergeist in Oslo, as well as Ved Stranden 10Admiralgade 26Manfreds, and restaurant 108 in Copenhagen. I’m guessing, the inspiration may as well be from London bars Noble Rot and Terroirs, or Parisian wine bars like Septime, Clamato and Clown Bar, which I know are personal favorites of some of the people involved. In any case, I’m sure Brutus will soon become a reference point of its own for Oslo.

I’m not sure what exactly one of Julius Caesar’s assassins have in common with a wine bar at Tøyen. A challenger to the establishment, perhaps? Just like Tøyen is referred to as the new it-area in Oslo, Brutus has been named the most hipster restaurant to strike Oslo since the arrival of Pjoltergeist or Smalhans. That’s not the worst comparison, in my opinion, as they happen to be two of my top recommendations in Oslo. Brutus follows a similar recipe as the other Lava restaurants: a relaxed atmosphere, natural wines, and local, organic, and seasonal ingredients.

Dass – the toilet.
Dass – the toilet.
An example of the colorful art on the walls of Brutus.
An example of the colorful art on the walls of Brutus.

Pioneers of Natural Wine

The term natural wine can be loosely defined as grapes that have been grown organically and/or biodynamically and then left to spontaneously ferment and develop on their own without anything added to the process like yeast, sugar, coloring, stabilizers or other additives (except sometimes small amounts of sulfites).

Vin John was a pioneer of natural wine import to Norway, and I would argue the most hardcore and rowdy of them all when it comes to introducing Norwegians to the ultimate of funky, unfiltered, and unpredictable grape juices. Obviously, Brutus has a lot of wines from Vin John, but they’re not limiting themselves to their own selection. You’ll also find bottles in their cellar from Non Dos, Vinum, and Autentico & Unico Real Wines, to name a few other importers. We started with a glass of Solhøi – a cider produced right here in Oslo from 100% apples and nothing else, by a Danish artist living in Norway.

Natural wines from La Sorga.
Natural wines from La Sorga.
Shelves upon shelves of fermented ingredients.
Shelves upon shelves of fermented ingredients.
Solhøi natural cider by artist Martin Bech-Ravn.
Solhøi natural cider by artist Martin Bech-Ravn.

Nice-Price Neighborhood Bistro

The menu at Brutus consists of a selection of medium sized dishes, priced between NOK 55 and NOK 109, plus a sharing dish priced at NOK 245 per person. All of these are served between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. In addition, simpler snacks priced at NOK 55-150, are served all night from 5:00 pm until half past midnight. However, this evening we ordered the full eight-course tasting menu (NOK 750). There’s also a smaller 4-course menu (NOK 375). This kind of reasonable pricing is a new and welcoming trend in Oslo that caters to people who enjoy going out often for good wine and food, but without emptying their wallets every time. I also love that the kitchen is open past midnight, which only Pjoltergeist and the food bar at Arakataka does to my knowledge (ok, you have Café Sara and a bunch of kebab shops, but I’m talking about decent restaurants).

While funky beats were flowing from the speakers, the first course arrived: red beets in a so-called “flatkökur,” served with seaweed and Nýr. NOK 55 for this solid portion is a real steal. The grilled Icelandic flatbread, made of fermented rye, had a subtle bonfire aroma. Slow cooked beets done right can get a texture and taste that resembles meat, and the Brutus beets served as great examples of this archetypical New Nordic food item. The oblong red beets from Alm Østre Gård even appeared to have a muscle fiber-like pattern. Their concentrated sweetness was balanced by the acidic fresh cheese from Grøndalen Gård and salty seaweed. Our umami cravings were satisfied by the dehydrated beets, as well as the seaweed and the smokey bread.

"Flatkökur," Icelandic flatbread with slow-cooked red beets, seaweed & Nýr.
“Flatkökur,” Icelandic flatbread with slow-cooked red beets, seaweed & Nýr.
Chicken liver, onions, caramelized walnuts and fermented rhubarb juice.
Chicken liver, onions, caramelized walnuts and fermented rhubarb juice.

Fermented Food & Grape Juice

I might be an easy guest to please for Brutus, as I’ve learned to love both the New Nordic cooking and spontaneously fermented grape juice (which is basically what natural wine is). The second dish of chicken liver, onion, caramelized walnuts and fermented rhubarb juice was probably my favorite of the night (a tough choice against the beets, though), and was even matched with a wine I love – Bonkers by Patrick Sulivan. The wine has a translucent red color and taste almost like pressed raspberries. In other words, it’s guaranteed to be disliked by anyone who prefers strictly conventional wines and who are reluctant to widen their horizons in terms of a what a good wine can be. To me, it’s summery and fresh, acidic and slightly sweet, easy to drink, but at the same time great for washing down the rich chicken liver. The fermented rhubarb juice was almost like having a bit of the wine in the bowl as well. Together with the caramelized walnuts which add crunch, salt, and sweetness, it made up an irresistibly good dish.

Stockfish and "søl" seaweed.
Stockfish and “søl” seaweed.
Deep fried cod tongue, cod roe & celeriac.
Deep fried cod tongue, cod roe & celeriac.

Hits And Misses

Almost every restaurant meal is bound to have some hits and misses. At Brutus, the stockfish dish was the one big setback in an otherwise great meal. I guess, if you’re Icelandic or just love stockfish, it might be very pleasing to you. Personally, I don’t mind the taste of stockfish, but shaved all over the plate like here, I found that the particular texture of the fish made the entire dish rather dry and difficult to chew. It didn’t help much that the søl seaweed, cabbage, and fennel salad was rather tasteless. Even a brown butter emulsion underneath (which I love) didn’t manage to save this plate. I just couldn’t finish it.

Soon, though, Brutus was back on track. The Icelandic head chef Arnar Jakob Gudmundsson has experience from the one-Michelin-starred restaurant Dill, and now he sent out one flavor bomb after the other. Warm cod roe fried in browned butter was served with piping hot, tempura fried cod tongue, covered with wafer-thin shavings of celeriac. So rich and satisfying. Then, the tartare arrived. Chopped raw meat, mixed with a tarragon emulsion, pickled shitake mushrooms, and fried crisps of Jerusalem artichoke. The balance of both taste and textures was spot on in this one.

The main course of lamb and salsify brought my mind straight back to a meal at restaurant 108 in Copenhagen. Not because of how the dish looked, but rather the flavors of that sauce. The tender mutton was good too, but didn’t quite match the tender texture of the lamb shoulder at 108. The dessert, however, certainly ended things on a high note for us. It’s one of the most interesting desserts I’ve had in a while, but it may be one of those “love or hate” dishes. Just listen to this description: A potato sponge cake (you could feel the occasional bits of potato), came with whipped sour cream, a milk sorbet from Grøndalen Gård, fermented honey, and toasted pumpkin seeds. That’s four layers of deliciousness, in my opinion. We left Brutus almost regretting not having had the time to visit earlier, but at the same time looking so much forward to our next meal here.

Slow cooked lamb and salsify.
Slow cooked lamb and salsify.
Potato sponge cake, whipped sour cream, milk sorbet from Grøndalen Gård, fermented honey & toasted pumpkin seeds.
Potato sponge cake, whipped sour cream, milk sorbet from Grøndalen Gård, fermented honey & toasted pumpkin seeds.
Bye for now, Brutus.
Bye for now, Brutus.

Have you been to Brutus? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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