Vandelay! Say Vandelay!” Are you picturing Kramer on the phone and George bursting out of the bathroom with his pants down around his ankles? If not, you might just have missed out on one of the greatest television shows to come out of the 1990s. Art Vandelay is a fictional character invented by George Costanza on Jerry Seinfeld’s eponymous sitcom. Inspired by the hit TV show, The Vandelay restaurant is an all-day bistro that serves American-style pancakes, cheeseburgers, and avocado toast in a buzzy, bubblegum pink dining room. After ten years of exclusively running his Michelin-starred restaurant, Maaemo, Chef Esben Holmboe Bang has finally opened a casual eatery in Oslo.
Did you read our interview with Esben Holmboe Bang when we broke the news about The Vandelay back in January?
The Vandelay – Maaemo’s Casual Little Sister
In September, we flew from Copenhagen to Oslo for the sole purpose of trying The Vandelay – for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner! Hyped? Norway’s largest newspaper, VG, gave The Vandelay top score the day after opening. Rumor has it that Dagbladet was there the same night, but they were slower to publish. When they did, however, it was also a perfect score. More rave reviews followed from Dagens Nærlingsliv and Finansavisen, resulting in sold-out seats for the foreseeable future.
It takes a lot to run a world-class restaurant like Maaemo. Upper echelon eateries have such low profit margins that few can sustain themselves. Therefore, it was puzzling that Holmboe Bang took so long to branch out and open something casual. Our dream would be a brown butter ice cream shop, featuring Maaemo’s signature dessert. Although The Vandelay’s menu does not include brown butter ice cream, it does offer an enticing alternative – keep reading to learn more. Let’s look at the menu, item by item, starting with our favorites.
Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in Norway’s capital? Check out our city map of Oslo!
We had seen photos of the pancakes on Instagram, and admittedly, we were a bit worried. Would they be fluffy enough? Buttery enough? Steaming hot and fresh from the griddle? Our worries were put to rest. The pancakes turned out to be our favorite item on the menu, which is especially surprising since Kaitlin is a harsh critic of this American breakfast staple. She has grown up with them, eaten them for Sunday breakfast countless times, and eventually perfected her own recipe. Many of you may have already tried Kaitlin’s recipe for super fluffy buttermilk pancakes at home, but click here if you haven’t.
“We tried multiple recipes,” Esben said when he served the pancakes, “but we ended up with the one my kids make on the weekends.” Sometimes simple is best! The Vandelay’s fluffy pancakes are served with a birch syrup, which is slightly darker and stronger in flavor, and has an ever-so-slightly more “Nordic” feel to it than syrup of the maple variety. (Or maybe it just feels more Nordic to us because Maaemo’s bread serving once came drenched in a similarly sticky birch syrup that left us licking our fingers.) Butter, jam, and bacon are also available to accompany the pancakes, but, if you’re looking to indulge, we recommend asking for a side of the signature ice cream…
The Ice Cream
“Vanilla and port ice cream.” That’s what the menu says – and once again, we hesitated. Port wine and vanilla? Let us be clear – we adore a classic vanilla ice cream. While some may think vanilla is plain or boring, ice cream connoisseurs know it’s the perfect quality test. It’s seemingly simple, but it reveals everything – is the ice cream made with superb ingredients or not?
The Vandelay vanilla ice cream is anything but basic – it’s the stuff of legends. We feared that the wine flavor could easily be too dominating in this combo, but the port was nowhere to be seen. Maaemo’s R&D chef, Jay Boyle, used it only as an invisible flavor enhancer. Just like a hint of bourbon or whiskey can lift up and enhance the vanilla flavor, so can port wine, apparently. There was also a nice saltiness that left us craving spoonful after spoonful – that classically addicting sweet and salty combination, like sea salt sprinkled on top of chocolate chip cookies.
The texture is so light, so airy, and so creamy, practically like whipped cream. We almost expected there to be some meringue mixed in, but there’s not. Boyle explained that they played around with the fat percentage to get the right texture. “If we churn it a little longer, I’m pretty sure it would become butter,” he said. That’s it! Vanilla butter is a great description for this frozen treat. Maybe that’s why it works like a charm on top of the pancakes. Trust us, you want to try this combo!
The Chocolate Chip Cookie
Maaemo’s pastry chef Diana Elizondo makes some of the baked goods for brunch at The Vandelay. Whatever you do, make sure you order the chocolate chip cookie. It’s one of the best cookies we’ve ever had, with a crispy, buttery edge, a soft doughy center, the tiniest little chocolate chips, and a sprinkle of sea salt on top. Biting into it almost feels like eating raw cookie dough – in the best way. We even bought a bag of cookies to take home with us!
You have to be a die-hard burger enthusiast to criticize the much-lauded The Vandelay burger. It checks a lot of the boxes which could have made it one of our favorite burgers. It’s a pretty classic cheeseburger – high-quality, freshly-ground meat, a soft brioche bun, cheddar cheese, pickle mayo, caramelized onions, and a sweet tomato chutney. It’s juicy, umami-rich, cheesy, and creamy, with a nice caramelized sweetness. But is it Oslo’s best burger? Not quite.
Over the course of 24 hours, we shared five Vandelay burgers, attempting to pinpoint the element that was throwing us off. Based solely on appearance, it looks like a perfect burger. Juicy meat cooked medium rare and pink in the middle, lots of sauce, cheese, and caramelized onions. We took bite after bite trying to understand the flavors, and waiting to love it. But we just couldn’t quite get there. It’s not bad (mind you, we finished all five burgers!), but did it leave us craving more? No, it left us asking questions. Should a burger trigger mental aerobics? Perhaps not. Isn’t the joy of a burger the fact that it’s simple and easy to enjoy?
The first thing that hit us was the peculiar meat flavor – it was almost gamey. Kaitlin was wondering if it had a bit of elk or reindeer meat, or maybe some goat or lamb meat in the mix. Anders thought that offal could have been used – perhaps some heart or liver? Neither would have been atypical for a Maaemo burger. But we landed on dry-aged beef, and both Boyle and Bang confirmed our suspicion (although hesitatingly, as if they were reluctant to give up their secrets). The meat comes from Anni’s Pølsemakeri, the butcher shop in Mathallen that has been supplying Maaemo for years. We later learned that it’s the same dry-aged beef that is used for the entrecôte on The Vandelay’s dinner menu.
Don’t get us wrong – we love a dry-aged burger. In fact, our favorite burger in the world also uses dry-aged beef. But in the case of The Vandelay burger, the dry-aged flavor was too strong for our liking. The other toppings almost masked the flavor, but not quite – it was pretty overpowering. We wondered if perhaps the chefs had been advised to keep the trim on the dry-aged beef and grind those hardened outer parts into the patties? These trimmings can have a funky, fermented flavor from the dry-aging process (it’s basically mold!). While some butchers recommend eating that part, we personally find the flavor to be off-putting. We don’t know for sure, but maybe the fix here is as simple as cutting away the trim and not using it in the burger patties?
There were a few more small details that held The Vandelay burger back from being a top burger for us. It was much sweeter than we expected, largely due to the almost candied flavors of the tomato jam. We would have preferred slightly less of this chutney and more of the caramelized onions (whose sweetness has more buttery, umami undertones). But this is obviously a very personal preference; some people crave that sugary sweet ketchup flavor.
The bun is another key element to a good burger. It’s the glue that holds it all together. The Vandelay’s burger bun was very soft and it got soggy pretty quickly. Sure, we spent some time taking photos of the first burger, but we ordered the burger four more times so that we could taste it fresh without taking pictures. Maybe crisping it on the grill would keep it from soaking up all the sauces?
All in all, however, The Vandelay burger has serious potential. With some tweaks, it could go head to head with the best burgers in Norway (which, in our opinion, come from Hekkan Burger in Sandnes/Stavanger and St. Lars in Oslo).
Other Breakfast & Brunch Dishes
Is it even brunch without avocado toast? Open-faced breakfast toasts are by no means newcomers to the brunch scene – they’ve experienced quite the rise in popularity in the last decade, thanks to Australian café culture and restaurants like Café Gitane in New York and Sqirl in Los Angeles. Rest assured, toast lovers – you’ll find a few varieties on The Vandelay’s morning menu.
You either love avocado toast or you don’t. The sliced avocado that comes on this crispy piece of sourdough won’t change your mind, but it will add a pop of color to your breakfast table. The whipped Norwegian ricotta with lavender and honey is a bit more original than its over-hyped counterpart, but it was slightly saltier than than we wanted. When you have such an Instagram-friendly dining room, these simple brunch classics are a no-brainer.
After using Tim Wendelboe for years, Maaemo is now roasting their own coffee beans. The Maaemo brew is served at The Vandelay, too. It’s smooth, easy-drinking, and will likely please most guests.
Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in Norway’s capital? Check out our city map of Oslo!
Dinner at The Vandelay
On the menu for dinner at The Vandelay are some interesting veggie dishes that feel like food Esben would cook at home. The style, which features exciting flavor combinations and lots of spices, is completely different from what we’ve previously seen Holmboe Bang display. The cucumbers with roasted artichoke cream and a secret, homemade chili sauce were a standout, and the roasted habanero peppers were complemented by an incredible chili and yogurt sauce.
Although there’s no cheeseburger on the dinner menu, carnivores won’t leave hungry. The beef tartare comes pre-mixed – it has a strong mustard flavor and is topped with a layer of crispy bread crumbs and cress. In true Parisian bistro style, there’s an entrecôte for two available as a main course. As mentioned previously, the entrecôte is made with the same dry-aged beef as the burger, but we preferred it as a steak. This is a staple on the menu, but the sauce it’s served with changes. On our visit, it came with chimichurri and creamy spinach (which look identical in the photo, but are actually two different sauces).
For dessert, we enjoyed a buttery lemon meringue topped with grilled berries, and some more scoops of the signature vanilla ice cream, of course.
The wine list sports a mix of classical and natural bottles. On this occasion, we selected Heinrich’s Graue Freyheit, a skin contact rosé from Burgenland, Austria. You have to drink pink when you’re eating in a pink dining room, right? The list also includes other producers we love, like Frank Cornelissen and Gut Oggau. The Vandelay also serves ready-to-drink bottled cocktails; we tried the Paloma, which was sweet and refreshing with a hint of bitterness.
A Much-Needed Addition to the Oslo Food Scene
Is this a meal that’s going to change your life, as other Norwegian reviewers imply? No. But if you come to The Vandelay expecting the meal of a lifetime, you’re missing the point. Is this a type of restaurant that was sorely lacking in the Oslo food scene? Absolutely! Holmboe Bang and his team have created a beautiful space with a really fun vibe – an all-day hangout and casual eatery. This is a place meant to be dropped in for breakfast – and once the hype cools down a bit we hope we’ll actually be able to. People who have not yet had the chance to visit Maaemo will finally get to try some of Holmboe Bang’s cooking, while the people who already love Maaemo can now see a different, more casual set of dishes from his home repertoire.
Have you been to The Vandelay? Let us know in a comment below.