I fell in love with Norse, the Nordic influenced restaurant in Harrogate three years ago when they opened as the evening switch over of the daytime café Baltzersens. Like any love affair, there’s the possibility it would fade, but having been back several times since it has not, not even when the head chef Murray Wilson left. However, recently things changed radically.
Norse decided to go as a stand-alone which was a surprise when they were doing so well with accolades and awards rolling in. And what about the cost of a move on this scale? A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign plus private investment, however, sorted out the money side once they had secured the location on Swan Road in the former Mirabelle (another of my great favourites).
So what has changed? The understated jeans and lumberjack shirts remain, but the beards, for the most part, have gone; the front of house crew is no longer just blokes and the menu still offers just 11 dishes plus snacks. The significant difference though is the décor; it is all grown up and serious and quite rightly so; the stripped-back industrialised simplicity of the café wouldn’t work here.
My Norse favourite of flavoured schnapps and a bowl of nutty grains to kick off dinner had gone but replaced with two great snacks of a fresh radish and seaweed butter or linseed crisps with pickled beetroot and an ever-so-slightly bitter sorrel emulsion. An exceptional Palomino Fino Sherry ordered alongside lived up to its promise of being expressive, saline and moreish. There is a well-researched gin menu and carefully thought through wine list of less common varietals (note wine by the glass only comes in small quality-over-quantity 125ml measures).
The abandonment of listing dishes as starters, mains, pudds, which I so liked the first time, is now pretty much old hat; everyone is on that one to the point of annoyance as not many carry it off as well as here. Choosing three savoury plates is recommended with the promise of ordering more if you are left hungry, which I doubt you will. From Ken’s Salad to the top-dog dish (and star of the evening for the accomplished cooking) of yeast glazed short rib of beef, Jansson’s Temptation and greens they cover all bases.
Ken Holland, of the salad mentioned above, is a grower in Ponteland with a walled garden and indoor ecosystem using growing methods involving low power LED lighting which to some may sound a little sci-fi but is an exciting development in sustainable growing methods. The root vegetables, leafy greens and edible flowers on the plate created not just a work of art but an enormously delicious salad loaded with flavour. Add to that the skills of head chef Simon Jewitt with a little pickling here and proper seasoning there meant this was possibly my favourite dish this time.
Whitby crab with cucumber and a silky pea emulsion was squeaky fresh and, even though the promised horseradish failed to surface, the dish was still a delight. So too was a slow-cooked duck egg, wild garlic, parsnip as both a crisp and a puree, and salty cured pork. No complaints from across the way, apart from a mention that eating this from a small rounded bowl was not very easy.
Scallops came described as cooked over pine but I must say that one passed me by, but meaty, tender chunks of scallop, turnip, leeks, sea spinach and lightly pickled cauliflower florets did not suffer without it.
I struggled with my last savoury plate of celeriac baked in hay, mushrooms, sea vegetables and beer cream; though cooked well it was discordant. As a lover of celeriac, the hefty chunk underwhelmed and was clumsy alongside the other ingredients. The beer cream was bitter and rather than bringing everything together, threw them further apart. A very odd experience from the usual high calibre of food at Norse.
There are only two puds, of chocolate ganache, pine nut crumb, blackcurrant and buttermilk sorbet and a Skyr cheesecake, gin-compressed strawberry, tonka meringue and strawberry sorbet which were both faultless.
Did I leave Norse more in love than ever? No but still in love. I left happy with this new phase in the development. All that is important in a great restaurant is still there; service is impeccable, the food continues to develop and excite, and blips will always happen when challenging boundaries, but long may they continue pushing them.
Prices are staggeringly good for food at this level and Norse is one of the few remaining independents in Harrogate. We all should support them so we can continue to have such a great place on our doorstep.
Norse, 28A Swan Road, Harrogate, HG1 2SA. 01423 313400, norserestaurant.co.uk.
Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 12–2pm; Tuesday to Saturday, 5–9pm. Dinner for two with snacks, sherry, two glasses of wine each £84.80.