- 2 October 1999
What a disappointment Bagatelle turned out to be! The highly acclaimed Michelin Guide gives this restaurant two stars (many chefs would offer their first-born to gain just one star; the highest is three stars). The Fodor’s Scandinavia Guide says about Bagatelle, “One of the best restaurants in Europe features the Franco-Norwegian cuisine of internationally known owner-chef Eyvind Hellstrom.” You can imagine how eager we were to dine at this touted Norwegian restaurant.
We arrived to find a lovely setting with pale yellow walls covered sparingly with contemporary art. The rooms held antique pieces blended nicely with modern furniture. I especially liked the lounge/bar with its huge leather and metal sofas that were comfortable yet elegant. A small rectangle of glass set into the dark hardwood floor offered a glimpse into the underground wine cellar filled with world-renowned vintages.
We began by ordering a Mersault ’95, which was delicious, smooth and light. Then a complimentary appetizer arrived. The dish – the size of a quarter – combined a small circle of pink salmon with an oyster stuffing and a cream and herb sauce that encircled the fish. The server offered warm rolls with wonderful Norwegian (government protected) butter.
Then … the much anticipated salmon tartar arrived. (On the way to Oslo, I read about Bagatelle’s famous salmon tartar so when I called for a reservation, I ordered it in advance to ensure it would be available during our dinner. I was told that Bagatelle no longer offered this signature dish on the menu but it could be prepared upon request.)
We both looked at the salmon tartar and our grins fell. The color was much too dark to be freshly prepared – perhaps made earlier in the day and refrigerated since the pink color of the salmon had given way to grey. The Bagatelle dish was no where near as good as the Helsinki salmon tartar we’d eaten a couple of weeks ago. In Finland the dish made us weep it was so delicious. Here any weeping would have come from the fishy smell and taste. Jim’s analogy, ‘it looks like oatmeal and tastes like salmon oatmeal’. The highlight of the dish: three small triangle pieces of toast served next to the three small mounds of tartar. Jim did not eat 25 percent of his and I left over 50 percent of mine. Very disappointing.
Jim’s entrée of deer arrived and the presentation was beautiful – small slices of meat cut and arranged like separated pieces of pie. The taste was good, but he’s eaten better. I ordered another starter, the oysters with horseradish sauce, for my next course. They arrived with a thick horseradish sauce under the oysters that I had to scrape off the plate. Even with the horseradish sauce, the taste was bland. Small cubes of tomato were perched on top of the oysters. The sauce and tomatoes did nothing to help the tasteless oysters. I’ve never had horseradish without a kick before in my life.
Then Jim and I ate small portions of Norwegian lobster, which was overcooked and chewy. Jim said his tasted like ‘cardboard’. Mine wasn’t that tough, but it was the only lobster I’ve ever eaten in my entire life that was not good. Really. The staff insisted on pouring a sauce over the lobster that looked and tasted like Thousand Island Dressing!
After dinner, we moved into the lounge for selections of cheese and a final glass of house red wine, Alox Corton, which was delicious. We sampled several French cheeses and some excellent local goat cheeses.
Just before our departure, the renowned chef Eyvind Hellstrom came over and asked about our meal. Judging from the look on his face, he didn’t expect criticism. He sat down with us when he realized the list of unpleasant food was extensive. He offered a complimentary meal to us on Monday evening, but we told him we were leaving on that morning so we’d call him on our next trip to Oslo.
The biggest shock of the evening was the US$400 total. Food in Norway is absurdly expensive (perhaps the most expensive country we’ve visited besides Japan), but to pay this much and not adore the meal made the hefty amount even more difficult to swallow.