If you don’t know Robert Lie, it’s time to get to know him. He’s one of Norway’s most award-winning sommeliers, with gold from both the European, Nordic and Norwegian Championships for sommeliers. The latter he won four times in total. Lie is also the wine expert for the national newspaper Dagbladet as well as an experienced restaurateur. In 2014, Robert was the last general manager of the historic restaurant Bagatelle before it closed. Then, he disappeared from the industry. At least for a while. I caught up with Lie at Tjuvholmen, in his new job at The Pink Elephant – a newly-opened restaurant with a modern Indian cuisine. Admittedly, I was surprised at this change of culinary direction for Robert, from classical French gourmet to a more laidback and contemporary Southern Asian kitchen. I wanted to find out what brought him here.
You are Back in the Restaurant Industry – How Did That Happen?
It all started when Jonathan Romano got in touch with me with the idea of opening a contemporary Indian restaurant at Tjuvholmen. Both to explore an exciting genre and to fill a gap in the market here. Noone seemed to be doing anything new in this category, so the plan caught my attention.
What is Your Link to Indian Cuisine?
– I love Indian food! During a three-week long trip to India, I had an awakening. Before the trip, I thought I liked Indian food pretty good, but when I was there and experienced the real deal myself, I realized how basic and bland most Indian food is at restaurants in Norway.
What is the Concept of the Pink Elephant?
– The concept is a modern Indian restaurant, with a Scandinavian atmosphere and interior design. It is important for us to offer a set menu and a good selection of drinks, ranging from wines and beer to cocktails, that also matches the food. I believe we are different than most other Indian restaurants in Norway, both in terms of the room where you dine and our style of food presentation.
Is the Pink Elephant a Fine Dining Restaurant?
– We wouldn’t describe ourselves like that. I think our style is much more informal, but with a clear focus on high-quality food and drink. You can come here for the full tasting experience, or just for a snack in the bar and a plate of curry.
What’s With the Name – Pink Elephant?
– Jonathan’s sister was in Jaipur in India, where all the buildings are pink and elephants wander the streets. She met her now-husband in that city, fell in love and later married him, and that’s how the name came about.
What Have You Learned From Opening a Modern Indian Restaurant in Norway?
– The first menu, when we opened in August last year, was our interpretation of Indian cuisine, without the basic knowledge of authenticity. We had no Indians working in the kitchen. Now, we have much more expertise on board to further develop our style of contemporary Indian cooking.
I Understand There Have Been Some Changes to the Team Lately?
– Yes, Heidi Klipperberg is the new head chef – she came from the Thief. We also have a new restaurant manager, his name is Vishal Duvey, and he came from the same job at Gymkhana in London. That’s actually one of the places we researched before opening, considering its recognition as England’s best Indian restaurant for many years and with one star in the Michelin Guide. Duvey has previously worked in the kitchen as a chef for six years and knows everything there is to know about Indian food at a very high level. Additionally, there’s now two more Indians working in the kitchen to make sure the new menu is anchored in authentic Indian flavors.
You’re the General Manager, but are You Also in Charge of the Wine Selection?
– Marius Hansen has been the wine manager from day one, but I work closely with him on the wine list, of course, since that is my foremost area of expertise. We select some wines together and try out pairings, but he is in charge of the day-to-day decisions.
Will You Still be Writing as Dagbladet’s Wine Expert?
– Yes, I will continue to do that on the side. It’s been my writing job for more than five years, also before I left Bagatelle. I enjoy it a lot.
Finally, What Are Your Favorite Indian Restaurants to Recommend to my Readers?
– In London, it’s Gymkhana, no doubt, but also Amaya – which is another place Vishal has worked. In Oslo, my favorite is Mister India on Dronningens gate, and in March I am headed to Bangkok to check out Gaggan. I’m very much looking forward to tasting his progressive Indian cuisine.