Oslo Court is an institution rather than merely a restaurant. To a casual passer-by this is just another north London residential mansion block, with an authentic art deco style lobby. The staff I spoke to seemed a little hazy about the exact opening date of the restaurant, but its longest serving staff member (working here for 42 years!) reckoned 1968, though some sources think it was 1970. At one time in the distant past it was a drinking club (belly dancers were said to feature) and in World War II was popular with Norwegian military types.
The family current ownership has been in place since 1982, and little has changed ever since. The dining rooms seats 80 odd guests at one time and the décor is pink: very pink. The room is carpeted so noise levels are manageable, the lighting levels enable you to read the menu without a torch and the chairs are very comfortable: if only I could say the same of most London dining rooms. Waiters wear dinner jackets and sweep the tables clear of crumbs between courses; it is that sort of a place. The menu is a museum piece – where else in London can you see melba toast, “steak Diane” and “veal Holstein”? The list of daily specials recited by the waiter is longer than the entire menu at many restaurants.
Three courses cost £44.50 at dinner, £33.50 at lunch. Female diners are spared the disconcerting sight of menu prices even if, as tonight, the booking is in their name and they happen to be paying. The wine list had pleasingly old-fashioned mark-up levels. The Crossings Pinot Noir 2013 was £24.50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Chateau Batailley 2009 at £65 for a label with a retail price of £41, and Girardin Chassagne Montrachet 2012 at £82for a wine that will set you back £44 in a shop. As can be seen, mark-up levels are as much from another era as the décor.
The rather cosy (small, if you are not an estate agent) tables are set with pink tablecloths, upon which are vegetable crudies, aioli and melba toast. Before your starters arrive some garlic bread appears, reinforcing the notion that you have been transported to a 1970s dinner party.
Crab and avocado with a slightly gloopy cocktail sauce had perfectly good crab and nearly ripe avocado (12/20). Lobster cocktail was generous in volume and the shellfish entirely avoided chewiness (13/20).
A special of the day of grilled and apparently wild sea bass was correctly cooked and had good flavour (13/20). Beef Wellington had somewhat soggy pastry and lacklustre duxelle, though the flllet steak was decent (11/20). On the side there were pleasant potato latkes and rather overcooked carrots and green beans.
The dessert trolley is presented with remarkable enthusiasm by a veteran waiter who has become a fixture here across the decades. The reality of what appears does not match his charm, sadly. An apple dessert was soggy, a sherry trifle lacking much in the way of sponge or fruit, or indeed sherry (10/20).
Service was delightful. We were delayed en route, and when I called to apologise I was told: “come whenever you like, sir” rather than being scolded. In the dining room the dinner-jacketed waiters fall over themselves to grant your every wish. Some have been working here for decades, the guardian of the dessert trolley here for 42 years and counting. The frinedlness of the service is surely the key to the undeniable succss of the place.
The bill came to £93 with a good bottle of champagne. If you order a modest bottle of wine to share then a typical bill at dinner would be around £70 all in. Objectively this is way too much for the standard of food that arrives. In practice no one cares. On this mid-week evening every single table was taken, as it doubtless is every night. The charm of the staff and the history of the place somehow cause economic gravity to be defied. Oslo Court is a place that, whatever the objective quality of the food, is a wild success story, with an army of happy returning customers, all tickled pink to be here.
Further reviews: 16th Apr 2010