After seven years as the head chef of Arakataka, Ronny Kolvik is leaving Oslo to open his own restaurant, back in his hometown of Ålesund. Restaurant Bro will be a combined eatery and cultural center and is scheduled to open in May 2018. I’ve only been to Ålesund once, and all I had time for was a very short visit to the coffee bar Jacu. Now, I definitely have a good reason to re-visit! 2018 has not been a great year for the Oslo restaurant scene, thus far. First, the news broke that Pjoltergeist is closing for good, and now we’ve lost Kolvik too. Ronny assures me, however, that his successor, Jonathan Janhed, will do a terrific job. Considering that he’s been the assistant head chef for two and a half years, I believe we are in good hands.
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Ever since its opening in 2001, Arakataka has been a good addition to the restaurant scene of Oslo, offering affordable gourmet and not-too-experimental Nordic food. With the hiring of Ronny Kolvik in 2011 and a total refurbishment of the bistro in 2012, the eatery stepped up its game a notch. Despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Oslo, I’ve only eaten in the actual restaurant part about three times. However, when they launched Matbaren, the food bar, in 2015, it quickly became one of my favorite go-to-spots in Oslo. No reservation needed, loads of bar seats, a short menu offering reasonably priced bar snacks, and food served until half past midnight! It’s also one of the best places in town to drink natural wine. What’s not to love?
I met up with my friend Linn, whom I shared one of my first meals at Arakataka with, and shortly after we were joined by Kristin and Aleksander. In turn, they brought four more friends, making our company a total of eight people. We now occupied the entire mid-section of the food bar. Ronny was quick to suggest that he could make four plates of each dish for us to share. We were not going to argue against that. After all, each dish costs a maximum of NOK 95, and separate orders would have been a logistical nightmare.
First out, oysters with a foam of fermented milk (Kefir) and a herb oil that I failed to write down. Delicious! The gentle sweetness and acidity of the milk balanced the salty oysters well. As always when I dine with people like Linn and Kristin, I let them choose the wines, and their selection of Leclerc Briant Brut Champagne did not disappoint. Linn even has a wine blog, by the way – check it out if you haven’t yet.
The level of cooking in the food bar of Arakataka has not impressed me equally every time I have visited. Due to the nature of the concept, with mainly one chef manning the tiny kitchen, it is very dependent on the skills of that one guy or girl. Without a doubt, though, the food has never been better than it was this evening with Ronny Kolvik at the wheel.
The signature bread made from fermented celeriac was tastier than ever. Still warm from the oven, brushed lightly with crab oil, with a crispy crust that broke easily and revealed a gooey and airy inside. Before, you would get the bread sliced and with a løyrom (vendace roe) mix inside. This night, that salad was served on the side instead and consisted instead of Norwegian king crab. Not at all a bad trade-off! Using the bread, we scooped and scooped till the bowl was clean.
Wonderful Norwegian scallops and razor clams were served raw and thinly sliced, with a rich sauce of porcini soy and tapioca. With scallops of this size, and razor clams so sweet and pure in flavor, am I even allowed to complain? I loved the dish, but if I could make a wish it would be to remove the tapioca. It just cluttered the sauce and made it hard to dip the clams.
Pieces of squid and white asparagus got drowned in a browned butter broth tableside. My goodness, I love that flavor! I think the dish would have been lifted to next level if the squid had been made into linguine pasta, similar to another dish I had at an earlier visit to the food bar. On the drinks side, we had worked our way through the second bottle of sparkling wine at this point, a Loimer Extra Brut, and arrived at one of my all-time favorites: Annie et Philippe Bornard, Les Gaudrettes, Cotes du Jura, Chardonnay. So much Jura-love! ?
Lightly grilled tartar, mixed with bone marrow, was served on warm toast with a creamy green mixture made from grilled little gem salad. Just superb. Small lamb croquettes left their plate almost as fast as they were placed on the table – just quickly dipped in a søl (red dulce) mayo and devoured. Crispy exterior and a meaty, soft interior as they should have. Warm, but not scalding hot.
The main course consisted of two whole, grilled codheads. I recently had a similar dish at Pjoltergeist, but more noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that Noma 2.0 serves this as their main course as well now. Some people think it looks revolting with a head complete with eyes staring at you, but the fact of the matter is that the absolute best meat of the fish is found on the head – in particular, the cheeks and around the eyes.
Dessert this night was a caramel ice cream with blackcurrants and a blackcurrant gel. Tasty, but one of the weaker dishes. I didn’t quite get the textural combination of ice cream and gel. Perhaps that is why I argued that we should end the meal on a salty note instead! Ordering Arakataka’s most famed dish – the spaghetti with løyrom. It could also have been the fact that Ronny revealed that we didn’t get any løyrom to go with our celeriac bread because they needed it for that particular dish. We were having none of that bullshit!
Thanks, Ronny Kolvik, for what you have turned Arakataka into, and for cooking one last, delicious meal for us. Good luck with your new project! I think I say that on behalf of all of Oslo. Hopefully, I’ll be knocking on the door one day in the not-too-distant future…
Have you checked out the food bar of Arakataka? Feel free to share your experience in a comment below.
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Anders Husa & Kaitlin Orr