Over the past couple of years, Oslo’s food scene has been undergoing a slow and steady boom. Lots of fun new restaurants have opened serving extremely tasty bar snacks, casual menus, and great vibes. While these new hotspots are some of our favorite neighborhood gems, they’re designed mostly for local foodies. Enter: The Tea Room. Oslo’s newest restaurant is an exciting and important contribution to the culinary map of Norway, a restaurant for locals and destination diners alike. Chef Luke Henderson’s finely crafted tasting menu and wonderfully curated dining experience easily deserves two Michelin stars – this is a restaurant worth traveling to.
Update: Due to the tragic death of Luke Henderson, this restaurant is permanently closed.
Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in Norway’s capital? Check out our city map of Oslo!
A Fine Dining Restaurant Inside a Wine Bar
“I love tea,” says Luke Henderson when we ask him about the name he chose for his first restaurant. The Tea Room is situated on Youngstorget (the main square on Torggata) in the restaurant and bar collective Made in Oslo which houses places like My Ugly Baby, Andre Til Høyre, and Håndslag. Chef Luke Henderson and sommelier Jefferson Goldring previously worked at Maaemo together before deciding to open their own restaurant. The duo started by opening a casual wine bar, Imperial, which opened in December 2019. Hidden inside Imperial (tucked in the back, almost like a speakeasy) you’ll find an intimate, five table fine dining restaurant led by a small and passionate young team. This ambitious tasting menu restaurant opened at the beginning of March, just a week before the Coronavirus shut down the entire world. Despite opening a fine dining restaurant at possibly the worst time, The Tea Room has come out of the crisis victorious.
Making Tea Rooms Great Again
The restaurant’s name is inspired by chef Luke’s British heritage (poking fun at the thousands of tea rooms that exist in England), but its produce-driven menu is more New Nordic than British. The offerings changes seasonally; dishes are made with mostly Norwegian ingredients like scallops, langoustine, mountain trout, local vegetables, berries, foraged herbs, and preserves. Henderson reimagines traditional recipes in elegant ways, creating some of the most flavorful and creative food we’ve ever eaten.
Renowned sommelier Jefferson Goldring is in charge of the beverage program at The Tea Room. In keeping with the name, all guests are given tea during the course of the meal, and there are drink pairings (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) available to match the menu. The wine pairing leans a bit more to the natural style, but the wine list is extensive enough to please everyone (even your parents who prefer classical wine). Juices are made in-house by Tony Puerh – some interesting combinations on our pairing included gooseberry and elderflower juice, almond milk with raspberry leaf, tomatillo and apple juice, and black currant and tarragon juice. Beers and ciders are also available.
We’ve been looking forward to this opening for quite a long time, but we had no idea The Tea Room would open at such a high level. After a few courses, we turned to each other and said “this is the best meal we’ve had all year.” Henderson’s cooking is very sharp – each dish was impossibly better than the last, which is especially impressive for a brand new restaurant. Michelin will surely rain some stars down on this place next year (if they know what’s good for them), so book your table now before it’s too late.
The Tasting Menu – Summer 2020
Our meal began with a cup of chilled tomato water with pickled elderflower oil – a cold sip to refresh the palate on a hot day. Some of the flavors reminded us of recent Maaemo dishes, where Luke worked as a chef for years. The first snack was a cod skin chicharron topped with roe, pickled leek, dill, and mayonnaise – a pretty presentation with balanced flavors. The next bite was one of our favorites of the whole meal – a potato doughnut filled with braised pig head, dusted with ramson powder and yogurt. Honestly, we could have eaten five more of these (and would have, if given the chance) – they’re lightly fried, warm, stuffed with lots of savory elements, and dipped in a creamy ramson emulsion.
Following the doughnut was a tartelette made of nori, which was filled with aged mountain trout, egg yolk, and roe. Aged fish can be hit or miss for us, but this fish wasn’t too heavy in flavor (it was only hung for 10 days), and it was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the egg yolk. The flavors reminded us a bit of rakfisk, a traditional Norwegian dish of fermented trout. The last snack was a beer croustade, a puff pastry tart filled with langoustine claw and an emulsion of the langoustine head, with yeast, pickled fennel, and cabbage flowers. This was one of the very best bites, and the flavors reminded us a bit of things we’ve eaten at Maaemo and Frantzén (which is a big compliment!).
A cold dish of raw mackerel kicked off the bigger servings – this dish felt almost like a Nordic ceviche, with the tender and sweet fish balanced by a nice acidity from the pea and gooseberry juice that was poured into the bowl. The dill oil, chamomile gel, and flowers added some lovely herbal notes, and there was absolutely no fishy flavor. The following dish was an almond custard served with white asparagus cooked in whey, and topped with GASTROunika caviar. This dish reminded us of a chawanmushi, but, while tasty, it was perhaps the weakest of the menu. It wasn’t quite as flavor-driven as some of Luke’s other dishes and we felt like it was missing an element – perhaps some sweetness?
Norwegian scallops are, without a doubt, the best in the world. The Tea Room sources theirs from Frøya, where the quality of the scallop is unparalleled. The huge, juicy scallops were perfectly cooked by Henderson, and served in a sauce of celeriac, mussels, and curry leaf oil. The latter gave the dish a similar flavor to the traditional Norwegian fiskeboller med karri (fish balls with curry) that Anders remembers from his childhood.
You can usually tell how good a restaurant will be by looking at their bread. The Tea Room is no exception. They make their buttery rolls with beer and rye – the flavor from the English ale gives the bread a really nice sweet and salty balance, and the buns are so light and fluffy that you can eat four without trying. (Yes, we’re speaking from experience.) On the side, there’s a generous dollop of butter for you to slather on your syrupy-sweet and salty buns.
Another highlight of our meal was the Norwegian langoustine, which also comes from Frøya. Once again, the kitchen cooked the crustacean in a way that preserved all its juiciness, and served it with a garum made from the langoustine head, cabbage, and horseradish. There was something in this umami-rich sauce that (oddly enough) reminded us of a cheeseburger – a beefy, salty, oniony taste that left us craving more. Paired with the exceptionally sweet and buttery langoustine, this is a dish we won’t soon forget.
To finish off the savory portion of the meal, Henderson served a duck breast in a sausage mousseline, with an onion and black garlic sauce, nettles, and a caramelized onion leaf. The flavors of this main course were intense, and we loved the texture mix of the super soft mousseline and the tender duck breast. The meat tasted more like chicken than duck (but with more flavor), and the creamy sweet and salty sauce brought the whole dish together. The caramelized onion leaf seemed to be the most obvious homage to Maaemo in the meal, but the presentation also reminded us a bit of the gorgeous servings we’ve seen at Somni in L.A. Served alongside the main course was a potato nest filled with duck liver and lingonberry – an absolutely perfect bite with incredible textures and an explosion of flavor in your mouth. This crispy little pillow of potato quickly made it onto our short list of the best dishes of 2020.
One flavor combination that Luke seems to bring with him from restaurant to restaurant is licorice and blueberries. At The Tea Room, he used these flavors in a pre-dessert of licorice milk sorbet with preserved blueberries. We had a variation of this dish at Imperial earlier this year, but found it much improved with the addition of tarragon oil and wood ants, which both add a nice acidity and herbaceousness that really lifts the flavor of the creamy sorbet. But save room for the signature woodruff egg custard! This stunning tart is topped with a preserved strawberry jelly, dots of champagne gel, and lemon thyme. It was so tasty that we begged Luke for another slice, and, lucky for us, he obliged.
A parade of petit fours ended our exquisite meal: a beetroot and rose pâte de fruit, a rhubarb ginger ice cream sandwich, an elderflower fritter, and, our personal favorite, a crispy-edged canelé with an ooey-gooey center that tasted of pine. Alongside the sweets, we enjoyed an Ethiopian pour-over roasted by their next-door neighbor, My Ugly Baby, that was brewed tableside using the award-winning GINA smart coffee instrument from Goat Story.
And just like that, our meal had come to an end. The team had an impressive pace, and served eighteen courses in just over three hours. The exceptionally warm hospitality and fantastic playlist kept us dancing in our chairs while we enjoyed bite after bite of Henderson’s creations. This ambitious little restaurant is opening up at a similar level as two Michelin-starred Re-naa in Stavanger, miles ahead of the other Michelin-starred restaurants in Norway. With time, we believe The Tea Room will reach Maaemo level, too. We can’t recommend this place high enough. If you’re in Oslo, get your reservation now – these five tables will be impossible to book once Michelin finds out about them.
Have you been to The Tea Room or Imperial? Let us know in a comment below.