Statholdergaarden opened in 1994 in central Oslo in a building dating back to 1640. The name is dervived from the “King’s Steward”, who lived in the building at the end of the 17th century. The founder of the restaurant and executive chef is Bent Stiansen, who was the first Norwegian to win the prestigious Bocuse d’Or international chef competition in 1993. You could choose from four courses at NOK 1,095 (£95), five at NOK 1,195 (£104) or six courses at NOK 1,295 (£113), or select from the carte. The restaurant won a Michelin star in 1998, which it has held ever since.
The main dining room was very grand, with well-spaced tables, impeccably ironed white tablecloths and very comfortable chairs. There was a tasting menu at NOK 1,795 (£158), or you could have a four course meant at NOK 975 (£86) as well as a full a la carte choice. The menu was very appealing, the cooking style classical rather than modernist. Mr Stiansen was not present in the kitchen tonight.
The wine list was extensive, with around 400 labels from around the world. The pricing structure was unusual, the cheapest wine of the list as far as I could see being a chunky NOK 570 (£50). The cheaper wines were heavily marked up, several at four or five times their retail price. For example the excellent Chateau Musar 2008 was priced here at a steep NOK 1,120 (£98) but can be found in a shop for NOK 226. By contrast, as you moved up the list the higher priced wines were frequently marked up quite kindly. Further examples were Regis Minet Le Vin du Desert Pouilly Fume 2013 at an excessive NOK 795 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for NOK 170, Torres Mas la Plana 2008 was NOK 1,260 compared to its retail price of NOK 396, and Ornellaia 2010 at NOK 2,050 for a wine that will set you back about NOK 1,402 in a shop. The growers were well chosen throughout, with for example the lovely Didier Dagenau Silex 2010 at NOK 1,750 compared to its retail price of NOK 782. There were grander choices too, so as Guigal La Mouline 1998 at a very fair NOK 3,990 for a bottle with a retail price of NOK 3,835, and Romanee Conti Grand Echezaux 2012 at a relative bargain of NOK 6,000 given that its current market price is NOK 7,500.
As nibbles, a croquette of creamy sweetbread was excellent, rich and with plenty of flavour. A flat bread with pepper, cream and cured ham was decent enough but much less interesting. Asparagus soup had good stock but curiously little asparagus flavour, while a fish cake was fine. A fried quail egg was, well, a fried quail egg, so pleasant but hardly dazzling (14/20 average). Bread was made in the kitchen, a brioche being carefully made but the other rolls rather hard in texture (14/20 average).
We fancied trying all of the starters, so the kitchen plated a miniature version of all four. Coriander cured salmon with mango, bell pepper and chilli emulsion was fine, but this vaguely Asian fusion dish felt as if it had been teleported in from a different restaurant given the general style of cooking here. Mackerel with dill, potato chips, horseradish and chive emulsion had muted flavour, the horseradish in particular missing in action, though the potato was good. Scallop with artichoke and pomegranate suffered from slightly overcooked shellfish. By far the best was langoustine and salmon croquette with coriander, which had plenty of flavour and was fried carefully. A little apple soup was lukewarm and did not really add anything. These dishes were rather inconsistent, with the langoustine dish excellent but otherwise some fairly disappointing elements (13/20 average).
Monkfish was accurately cooked and tasted fine, though the accompanying carrot, kale, capers and parsley sauce had strangely muted flavour given the quite distinctive natural tastes of these accompaniments. The issue was not one of seasoning; the flavours just did not come through as strongly as they might have done. However the cooking of this dish was accurate (14/20).
Duck breast came with a little duck liver puff, duck heart, peas and a reduction of the cooking juices. The sauce had good depth and flavour and the vegetables were fine, but the duck breast was over cooked, not grey but distinctly on the dark side of the light pink that it should have been. It was also cut rather too thickly to my taste. I can give this dish 12/20 overall given the good accompaniments, but the duck breast should have been cooked a little less.
For dessert, rhubarb and milk chocolate with coconut and almond had pleasant chocolate and rhubarb that was not overly sharp, but the mix of flavours did not feel entirely coherent (13/20). Strawberry and milk chocolate with nyr (sour cream), vanilla and almond was more successful, the fruit having good flavour, the strawberry sorbet good and the combination of flavours worked nicely together (15/20).
Service was friendly and generally capable, though things rather flagged towards the end of the service in terms of drinks topping up. The bill came to NOK 1,629 (£144) per person, including an excellent bottle of Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet. A typical cost per head sharing a modest bottle of wine (if you could find one on this list) would be around £135.
The food at Statholdergaarden was just the kind of classical cooking that I particularly enjoy, so it was a little frustrating that the consistency was rather uneven. The best dishes, such as the langoustine starter were very good, but not everything was to this standard, and my overcooked scallop and duck breast was the kind of technical error that should not occur at this price point. It felt like a restaurant that was somewhat coasting on its past reputation. Perhaps the standard is better when the head chef bothers to turn up, but I can only judge what I was served.