Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Emma Sturgess and olive reader Andrew Murphy compare notes on this new Scandi-inspired opening
Following a successful kickstarter campaign, Paul Rawlinson and Simon Jewitt (pictured below, left to right) have upped their game from an evening pop-up in Harrogate’s Scandi café, Baltzersens, to a permanent home in the pretty spa town in North Yorkshire.
Norse plays on Paul’s Norwegian heritage to offer a Scandi-inspired casual-dining restaurant –plenty of oak and beech wood, a wall of moss, smart leather banquettes – with waiters dressed casually and a Nordic menu to match.
Go all in with the weekly-changing seasonal tasting menu (£49), or choose from a dozen or so small plates. Dishes include Whitby crab with cucumber and pea; and confit hake with hay-baked celeriac, mussels, roasted lettuce and BBQ bone sauce.
Well-balanced desserts range from crisp Norwegian krumkake waffle biscuits with whisky gel and blackcurrant, to sharp sea buckthorn tart with cardamom ice cream.
Our pro’s Norse restaurant review… *I was not recognised.
If not by the fermented vegetables, you shall know Norse’s intentions by its Scandi-modern décor. Or, of course, the casual but knowledgeable service, as predictable a feature of contemporary Nordic-inspired restaurants as the ornamental moss in the loo.
In fact, just one plaid-shirted member of staff made the effort to engage with us, warmly and well, while her colleagues favoured the dish-delivery equivalent of a Gallic shrug.
Like Harrogate’s famous silver Viking hoard, Norse’s menu is an embarrassment of riches. It’s written on brown paper, but it glints with possibility: icy aperitifs, sourdough with caramelised yeast butter, and plentiful veggie options among the ‘small plates’, which effectively function as starters –you’re advised to order two each – and then mini mains.
We loved playing flavour-chase with the medicinal herb (a spindly but powerful thing called olive oil leaf) scattered over fudgy confit duck egg yolk with charred sweetcorn and garlic soured cream. Raw peas and a rock of matching green sorbet added texture to a simple crab salad with the right kind of seaside whiff.
Although Nidderdale chicken was deadly dull apart from coins of mustard-glazed turnip, seared chunks of aged beef were an ideal match for strands of fermented veg. With it, Norse serves an aerated bone marrow hollandaise with the slightly musty roasting-tin savour that every Sunday cook recognises as the best bit.
We finished with less-than-silky chocolate ganache with bilberries, and crisp-bottomed sea buckthorn tart with cardamom ice cream. This acidic berry had been sugared enough to chase away its natural pucker and bring out breezy citrus notes – a better call than the decision to cut a small tart in half rather than serving a proper slice.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Moving Norse from its café base to new, bigger digs can only have been a labour of love but, at the moment, service doesn’t always reflect that. Neither this nor the occasional lapse in kitchen concentration would be enough to keep me away long term, though – both drinks and ideas are good, and I admit to a weakness for ornamental moss.
Total for two, excluding service: £95.60
Our punter’s Norse restaurant review…
We were warmly welcomed by our waiter and taken straight to our table. The restaurant is cool and casual – the jazzy soundtrack and waiters wearing checked shirts and jeans contribute to the relaxed vibe. After a few minutes we were taken through the ‘small plates’ format and advised to order three dishes per person.
We asked our waiter to recommend a medium-bodied wine. The unusual choice of German dornfelder red was excellent – velvety and intensely fruity. Sourdough bread and a decent portion of a yeasty, caramelised, salty butter was devoured before our ‘snacks’ of fried cod cheeks arrived. These were moist and succulent in a crispy coating, although I felt the brown butter mayonnaise was slightly under-seasoned.
The menu uses local ingredients and embraces Scandi influences throughout, with 11 savoury dishes priced from £5 to £17 (gluten-free and veggie options clearly identified). We enquired about ‘Ken’s salad’ and were informed in detail about its provenance.
Ken is a farmer focussed on baby and micro heritage-variety herbs and leaves, and intent on harvesting only what is in peak condition. The chefs at Norse ferment, pickle and dry ingredients to deliver a balance of earthy, sweet, sour and salty notes, while keeping plenty of crunch in the veg.
Melt-in-the-mouth mackerel tartare followed, balanced by sour pickled gooseberry slices, although I felt the smoked eel described in the menu was lost. The aged beef was pink, moist and tender, seasoned perfectly and lightly coloured on the outside, which I would have preferred a little more caramelised.
A bone marrow hollandaise to accompany was rich and punchy. Sea buckthorn tart to finish had a crisp, golden base with a citrussy filling served with subtly perfumed cardamom ice cream scattered with flower petals – a perfect end to the meal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Superb value for such quality food was delivered with attentive and unobtrusive service from a knowledgeable team in a relaxing, uncluttered environment. The food on the well-balanced menu was well cooked, interesting, varied and beautifully presented. We will return.