You would be forgiven for thinking that with a name like Norjske the country has just added yet another Noma copycat to the ever-growing list of Noma copycats. That’s another eatery that will be foraging, pickling, and taking regionalism to the extreme in an attempt to follow the tracks of the number one restaurant in the world. Not that there is nothing wrong with this; foods follow trends as much as fashion does (with equal cost implications and faux-paus), but after half a decade the Scandi food revolution is becoming a little staid. Maybe it is just me, but why would you look for alternatives to the acidity of a lemon, when the acidity of a lemon is the perfect candidate for the job? I know, it’s a mental concept, but you can step away from the elderflower, I wont tell anyone that we have had this conversation.
Norjske is thankfully nothing like that. The closest it gets to Scandinavia is the cool white interior and occasional drape of fake animal hide. The building has been here for some time, with no real extravagance other than a fine deli down below where the well heeled of Edgbaston would be wise to purchase their quinoa salads from, whilst the rest of us argue over how to pronounce it. Back upstairs and the kitchen, now headed up by Midlands collective Fybin and Loin, are making the most of the deli’s well established connections. Bread comes from the cities finest, Peel and Stone, with olives from Kalamata and Rovies Estate. An endless list of suppliers can some times be tiring – here it is because they are proud of the quality of the raw ingredients: We agree; the green olives in particular are better than the ones I would have 48 hours later in a 2* restaurant in London. Muffeletta is a dip full of funk and savour from olives and pickled vegetables, whilst fava is the trendier elder sibling of hummus, with lentils holding fort over the tasteless chickpea. Both are new to us in a genuinely exciting way that makes us hanker for recipes.
Portions are somewhere between starter and main course in size, in a way that two would probably do, but three is more satisfying. This halfway mark could have got frustrating had it all not been so good and keenly priced. A smoked pork ribeye is paired with torched Comte cheese which extends the length of the meats flavour whilst providing a sauce in itself. A pesto with mustard and mint cuts through the cheese, pistachios add texture. It feels completely original and at just over nine quid, a total steal. If I were the type of person to compile a list of 2015’s best dishes, this would be on it for sure.
A braised Ox cheek was a striking plate of darkness, drawing the eyes attention to a white bone containing marrow that bolstered the plates meatiness. The additions of cavelo nero, a smokey onion puree and tiny mushrooms amplifying its northern Italian feel. Geographically similar, a cutlet of lamb was the only misstep of the evening. The accurately cooked meat struggling to find its feet amongst an expertly made aoili and braised beans that lacked the pizazz of previous courses. Its no bother; it leaves room to finish off crisp roasted potatoes dusted with truffled Pecorino which taste every bit as good as they sound.
They cater for the non-carnivorous equally well. A dish of burratta belays the blustery weather outside by pairing it with a autumnal salad of apricot, chicory and radish, all held tightly together by a herby dressing that cuts through the rich cheese. Even better saw more of the torched Comte with young broccoli and pesto. It was a deceptively simple dish transcended by impeccable cooking and seasoning.
Many of these dishes have been honed over Fybin and Loins successful stint at street food, which is perhaps why dessert felt like work in progress. A solitary offering of a Portugese custard tart, delicate with puff pastry and rich with vanilla and raspberry. It tasted great and given time it will be interesting to see how a sweet menu evolves, especially considering how assured the cooking is after two weeks of being in the kitchen. Norjske has some serious competition locally, but it is already making a strong case for itself as a frontrunner. All with an identity of its own.
Please note; it appears that Fybin & Loin are no longer at Norjske, with food no longer available at the premises (11/01/2016)