It had to be tried. Oslo Court is a genuine oddity, a restaurant tucked away inside a residential mansion block in St Johns Wood. The dining room was originally intended to serve the residents of the block; it was originally frequented by Norwegian World War II veterans; hence the name; accounts differ as to whether the Norwegians came because of the name or the name was because of the Norwegians. After various changes over the years the place has been under the ownership of the Spanish Sanchez family since 1982 (various family members both cook and run front of house). A nod to the largely Jewish clientele of the area can be seen in the latkes on the menu, yet bacon and lobster can also be found, so this is certainly not a kosher restaurant.
The room itself is an explosion of pink: pink tablecloths, pink flowers on the table, apricot/salmon coloured walls. The menu is rooted in an earlier era, the 1970s of Abigail’s Party. As you sit down there are crudités with garlic mayonnaise, and melba toast on the table. Warm garlic bread arrives, and the rest of the menu is in keeping. It is often said in fashion that if you wait long enough an outfit will come back into fashion, and now the menu looks lovingly retro rather than just dated: steak Diane, Veal Holstein and the like. I had somehow expected the clientele to be frozen in time from that era too, but although there was certainly a goodly selection of middle-aged people, there were also a few tables of young people. There is no distracting music, and the carpet keeps noise levels at a sensible level; the diners seemed relaxed and chatty on this busy evening, where tables were being turned around us.
The wine list contains many bargains. At the lower end, Montes Pinot Noir 2008 was £24 for an £8 wine, but Lynch Bages 2003 was just £99 for a wine that will set you back £58 retail. Protos Gran Reserva 2001 was £59 yet will cost you as much as £50 in the shops. Three courses cost £41.50 (and there are a few supplements on the length menu) while lunch was £29.50.
A crab salad had a generous portion of white crab meat served on lettuce, with a Marie Rose sauce on the side. This was simple yet enjoyable, the crab pleasant and properly shelled, the sauce well seasoned (2/10). My starter of scallops wrapped in bacon was less successful, mainly due to a brandy sauce that had been allowed to sit around and develop a skin. The scallops themselves were fine, if rather dominated by the bacon (1/10).
A couple of slices of beef Wellington had nicely cooked beef, though the pastry and mushroom duxelle were ordinary (1/10). Goujons of sole were cooked a little too long (barely 1/10). On the side, French beans were cooked properly, as was cauliflower cheese, though petit pois were uninspiring and sauté potatoes not crisp; seasoning was also lacking in the vegetables. Latkes (a Jewish rosti-like potato pancake) were perhaps the best vegetable dish.
A dessert of cheesecake with red berry sauce was made from scratch but had a spooky resemblance in taste to the packet cheesecake I can recall from my childhood, while apple strudel was pleasant enough. However vanilla ice cream with it did not appear to have more than a passing acquaintance with actual vanilla (desserts between 0/10 and 1/10). Double espresso was at least generous in measure.
I really liked the service here. Our waitress was genuinely welcoming, the dessert waiter entertainingly camp; all the staff we encountered seemed to care about their customers. I think this is the key to the undoubted longevity and success of the restaurant, along with its lengthy and approachable menu. With a good wine, the bill came to £86 each, which objectively is a great deal of money for cooking at this level (indeed the price for three courses is actually about the same as some London Michelin-starred restaurants). Yet such was the welcome of the staff and the palpable enjoyment of the other diners that it was impossible not to get swept up in the charm of the place, and at the end parting with a sizeable sum of money seemed entirely agreeable. It was all a bit of a pink 1970s dream, albeit an expensive one.