It’s not just crime drama where Norway is making a killing, its food is also being embraced by Britain says Elaine Lemm.
Much as I love Sunday brunch, rarely do I venture out for one. Unless it comes highly recommended of course. I made an exception for Baltzersens in Harrogate. Not because of any endorsement; I was simply intrigued by their claim of Nordic connections.
Thanks to restaurants like Noma, Frantzen, Maaemo, the love affair of all-things-food from Scandinavia continues. These world-acclaimed restaurants may be revolutionary and utterly breathtaking, their chefs unparalleled, but this is only one aspect of their food.
The husmanskost (home cooking) of Northern Europe is, unsurprisingly, not unlike our own here in Yorkshire. The roots of both are born of the landscape, agriculture and fishing. The rigours and demands of the climate bring a wealth of seasonal foods and extensive methods of food preservation. It is this style of food Baltzersens have based their menus on.
The unassuming café sits opposite Argos on Oxford Street. It would be easy to walk past, but brightly coloured chairs outside and a window piled high with tempting breads and cakes are a bit of a give away that there is something interesting within.
And there is. At only 11am this café is rocking.
Decoration comes as white brick-tiles and industrial light fittings, which tie comfortably with the simple, wooden tables and bench seating (though there are squashy sofas and reclining chairs at the fireplace end of the room). In London this look may now be considered a little hipster-cliché; here it is refreshing.
The menu, is simple and direct. Owner Paul Rawlinson’s grandmother was Norwegian and many dishes come from the nearly 100-year-old family recipe book. All cakes, pastries and breads are baked daily in-house. Curing, pickling and salting and other preserving is carried out in the kitchen.
There are enticing hot sandwiches filled with bacon and cherry tomatoes or roasted veg. There are also the ubiquitous Swedish köttbullar – meatballs to you and me. According to the man on the next table, they bear no resemblance to those sold by the ton in the famous Swedish store. As far as I can see, they certainly looked meaty and wholesome.
A few cold sandwiches bear more resemblance in the name to a British sarnie with egg mayo, chicken, beef or ham on offer. Happily though, Gravlax, prawns or a smoked mackerel, potato with capers and horseradish pulled them back to their Nordic promise.
Disappointingly, we missed the 11am deadline for breakfast. However the “don’t ask don’t get” premise worked. Though I had expected a resounding no, chef was more than happy to provide me with the home-cured gravlax and a poached egg on toasted rye I had spotted on the breakfast menu.
For those wanting something with a little more substance than a sandwich there is a selection of koldtbords – Norwegian-style platters – with choices between meat, cheese or fish, home made soups and daily specials.
My gravlax was exactly what I had hoped for, and more. At worst, the cured salmon can be soft, slimy and salty – yuk. Here, taut, thick slices came faultlessly seasoned on chunky bread. On top, delight of delights, was a perfectly poached egg.
The meat platter came laden with ham hock, beef on a bed of creamy horseradish and a chicken liver pate, dressed with plenty of salad. Dotted around were tiny soused carrots and curiously, slivers of pickled rhubarb. I have never come across this before and loved the sweet-sourness from the pickling and the light note of star anise which matched beautifully with the rhubarb. I asked our waitress if the chef were willing to share the recipe. Not only did he say yes, he wrote it down for me and brought it to the table in person explaining how he makes it. What service.
Served alongside the platter was a basket of homemade breads; rye, white and – what turned out to be another delightful discovery – Lefse, Norwegian potato flatbread. Delicious.
Our brunch had been long and leisurely, just the way it should be. It left little room for a dessert, tempting as that was, especially the plate-sized waffles, cinnamon buns and gooey cakes.
My first experience of Baltzersens was not without niggles though. Our table was opposite the washing up area, which would not have been a problem except the door was wedged open. Watching (and listening to the banging and crashing) of pots throughout brunch blotted an otherwise great experience.
In Baltzersens own words their ethos is to serve, “best Yorkshire sourced ingredients prepared with Scandinavian inspiration to deliver a taste of the Nordic north”. And they do, very well. In April, Baltzersens are opening an evening restaurant. They will keep the spirit of the café but with an interesting concept of serving just six to eight plates of food plus two desserts. I hope they keep the same relaxed atmosphere, friendly approach and virtually faultless service. My table is already booked.
• Baltzersens, 22 Oxford Street Harrogate HG1 1PU. 01423 202363, www.baltzersens.co.uk
Open: Monday to Saturday, 8am–5pm; Sunday, 10am–4pm.