From Afghanistan to Zambia via Jamaica and Montenegro join Fork and Flag for an epic voyage around the world on a culinary journey through London town. Forget expensive flights, carbon guilt and irksome visa regulations. Trade timezones for tube zones and sample 111 countries through the eclectic cuisine, eccentric waiters, eye-watering decor and evocative entertainment of its restaurants

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Norway




Restaurant: Nordic
Location: Fitzrovia

By Boeing: 3712 miles
By Boris Bike: 2 miles


It costs the equivalent of £8.10 for a pint of beer in Norway. That isn't afjordable in anyones book. In fact it is roughly the same price as a four seasons pizza in a suburban trattoria. If these costs are scaled up that would make a Ford Focus with executive trim cost as much a semi detached in Cleethorpes. Or, to put it differently, a pitcher of riverside Pimms on the weekend on a par with ensuring the safety of a hectare of Orangutangs through an adoption scheme.

This expense, along with the more established charms of Stockholm make Oslo and Bergen a relatively unattractive proposition for a four figure city break. Best then to sample the culture over here, where the receipt won't read like an enigma code transcript.

With nordic culture very much in vogue I opted for somewhere trendy rather than traditional. Hidden down some iron stairs in a side street in Fitzrovia the Nordic bar is low lit and intriguing. Basement bars have an air of the seedy, it comes with their subterranean location, but they have a way of beckoning you in. It is certainly in stark contrasts to the old fashioned British boozers in the vicinity, where tweed rubs shoulders with herringbone on thronged thoroughfares.



The heavy pine door opens to a narrow, claustrophobic (or intimate depending on your mood) space with clusters of tables and a long, low lit bar. Though not mathmatically feasible everyone appears to be sitting in a corner. As you walk towards the bar it is apparent that the venue is larger than first supposed, broadening out to a lighted restaurant area to the back.

The d├ęcor is trendy and understated though there are some Nordic nods. These are mainly glossy, high resolution adverts for Tuborg, the beer of choice, showcasing the crisp living and understated style of Scandinavian urban culture. But there is also a surreal twist, an alabaster stag's head protruding from the wall. Nordic hedges its bets. On the one hand it seeks enough authenticity to be the favoured choice of the homesick hordes but on the other softens its soul to appeal to generic good time drinkers.

Cocktails were most prominent on the menu but there was also an impressive selection of craft ales, all boasting more umlauts than Harveys or Theakstons. But I played it safe and ordered a Tuborg and sat down to peruse the menu. The manager was sat opposite interviewing a prospective DJ for the Saturday night. They were talking business, the business of margins. It all sounded a bit corporate but then my eavesdropping continued the reason became clear, Nordic was part of west end chain and needed to earn its keep in the line-up.

Its Nordicness was, in effect, an experiment. They watch Borgen when they are in, perhaps they'll enjoy a Smorgasboard when they are out. That is, I can only presume, the logic. I must admit I'd rather it was a family run affair presided over by an emigre addled with pride. But food is about forecasting profits as much as the next commodity.

It was an eclectic crowd. Bearded twenty somethings with unusual trousers writing notes on needlessly small sheaves were flanked by couples, one half of which looked suitably arian. Others just seemed to have dropped by and stayed. I was bouyed by the news that there was a midweek half price food promotion and set about the menu with renewed relish. I recognised many dishes from the Denmark leg but there were some interesting variations along with with a non Nordic selection for the less adventurous.



With a taste for seafood that can fluctuate from disinclined to dismay I gave the Gravad Lax, Pickled Herring and Crayfish tails a wide berth and settled on more familiar tastes. My first pick was Roast Beef with onions and a traditional remoulade sauce, which is a tangy mustardy, curry like staple. The next was the wonderfully worded Pytt I Panna, an indulgent fry up of bacon, sausage and onions, topped with an egg. Then of course I had to have Kottbullar, or meatballs to you and I. Finally my eye was drawn to a dish I'd seen previously in my Czech excursion, fried cheese. I love the simplicity of the concept. Not something fried with cheese. Just cheese, fried. A lady on a nearby table knew instinctively that there was a genius there that had moved me deeply.

It all came loaded on a single, Alan Partridge proportioned plate. And it looked mightily tempting. The Beef was cold, which was a bit of shock, though less of a surprise than the fact the Remoulade was hot. In my view a Silverside shouldn't be taken lightly or indeed in modest portions and I suspect the herring may have been the shrewder acquisition. But it provided some body, in a cold buffet kind of a way.

The Pytt I Panna was what students dream of when waking up with a hang over in a springless bed in a room in which the wallpaper has long since fallen out and separated from the wall. Nothing sophisticated about it but very, very moreish. The fried cheese presented no unwanted surprises and the kottbullar had a pleasing depth of flavour.

As with many dishes in Northern Europe there is a heft to Norwegian cuisine that helps get a snow bound people through a virtually lightless winter. They need calories just as they need long, thin skis. In the midst of winter even familiar cul-de-sacs become wild wildernesses and when the door shuts the winter out and flakes of ice begin to thaw on the cuticles of chapped noses what is required to recuperate is warmth and wholesomeness. That isn't to say there is no craft or subtlety on display, there is that too in the preparation of fish, salads and delicate desserts. But at heart dining for the Norsemen is about the day to day rather than delicacy.

You can almost picture Dumas preparing an intricate dinner of precision and panache. But I rather think Ibsen would just sling an elk over the hearth.