by Nick Harman - Tuesday May 28, 2019 12:05 pm
1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, London E8 1ll oslohackney.com
Nick finds travelling north to Oslo was well worth it, despite some initial misgivings
I rarely go to Hackney. I’m a south London lad, so anywhere north of the river feels peculiar.
Crossing London to Oslo, I felt more disconnected as every mile passed. By the time I got on the overground at Highbury to Hackney I was in a different world; who were all these people and what kind of accents were these? And why did every bloke under 25 have a premier footballer haircut?
Still, I was at home the moment we walked into Oslo which as an old railway station building is handily located right next to the station. It instantly put me in mind of places in Norway and Sweden that I’ve been too and really liked. The decor, the lighting, it all felt smart without being snobby. A bit hipster, but not full on.
I was there primarily to see a band; upstairs there’s a small venue. A band made up of people even older than me, fronted by a musician who quite simply is one of the greatest songwriters and guitarists of his generation, admired by cognoscenti such as Evan Dando and J. Mascis. You won’t have heard of him.
It’s not often you can have a meal in the same place as a gig, so we’d booked ahead to make sure we got fuelled. Tables at the back of the room are a mix of doubles and eight /twelve seaters - East London loves sharing plates - and a hatch at the back revealed Head Chef, Adrian Watters (ex Soho House Group) in a small kitchen putting out a lot of fancy burgers.
Not for us, instead I went for salt and pepper squid. I know, I know, not an inspired choice but I like it. I liked this too, even though it needed more salt (and pepper) and the batter quickly fell off of most of the squid.
It was properly cooked and had great flavour of its own, which was handy as the accompanying harissa mayonnaise was as underpowered as a Citroen 2CV carrying a large Frenchman.
P had a more quintessential East London choice; whipped goats cheese, pickled beetroot and ‘Epping good honey’. Deliciously done, especially with the flaked almonds on top (they might want to mention the presence of nuts on the menu). We both really liked the sweet honey against the tangy cheese.
It was let down a little by too much vinegar from the beets, which were themselves extremely raw. A bit of flatbread might have been a good idea too, as the texture of the dish made it hard to lift up from the plate with a fork, as it ran straight back through the tines.
We watched more burgers go out, it seemed a shame they were so popular, given there was more interesting stuff on the menu, then we got our mains.
Spatchcocked chicken, which I decided a long time ago is the best way to eat a whole chicken, came with sautéed new potatoes and purple broccoli and a chimichurri sauce and was a winner visually.
Tasted great too, you really need to eat chicken off the bone for the most taste and the best bits are the ones you nibble at the last.
I liked the new potatoes which had been well sautéed, but the broccoli had only glimpsed the boiling water. I like my vegetables crisp, but there’s a limit and this almost crossed it. The chimichurri was fiery, but not overdone.
Fish for P, bream, sautéed new potatoes, spinach and wild garlic pesto. I judge a kitchen’s fish by how well they crisp the skin and this was as it should be. Quality fish, generously portioned.
Wild garlic has a more reasonable, less assertive flavour than the usual garlic, it's also avallable to forage in the UK and here, leavened with the spinach’s iron twang, it made a very decent ‘pesto’.
With showtime approaching, we quickly shared chocolate and Guinness cake with Baileys pouring cream, and it was suitably gooey and enjoyable.
I liked Oslo a lot, it’s the sort of place I’d frequent if, God forbid, I lived in Hackney. A civilised oasis in what looked to me to be an otherwise fairly fearsome high street. Almost as rough, in fact, as my beloved Streatham where we are still waiting to be gentrified. We are not holding our breath.
A bit more care in the kitchen, and precision on the vegetables, wouldn’t go amiss, but nothing to complain about really. Oslo has got just about everything else right.
Oh and the band were brilliant and if you are seeing a show on the same day, you get 20% off your bill. Poptastic!