REVIEW: Norse, Harrogate

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Norse Restaurant, 22 Oxford Street, Harrogate, HG1 1PU

http://www.norserestaurant.co.uk/

Every now and again you visit a restaurant that restores your faith in modern eateries and everything that they are trying to achieve. A place where the food leads you to make the kind of noises that some only reserve for the bedroom and to leave you marveling at the effort and skill that has gone into its production. For good measure, they go and leave lasting memories in your mind about their food that are so vivid, your waistline expands at their mere recollection. Such places are rare, but Norse now fits into that category.

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That Norse masquerades as a café during the day could be seen to belie their serious cooking intentions – but in reality, it shouldn’t. In fact, the space it represents with white walls, retro lighting and plenty of exposed wood (I liked to imagine I was aboard a Viking Longboat…but that’s probably just me!) offers a bare canvas on which to imprint their Nordic nature.

This clean, simple and direct approach to the interior continues throughout the kitchen and their eight course taster menu. Now my knowledge of Scandanavia and its cuisine extends to watching a couple of episodes of Wallander, wondering what on earth Kenneth Branagh has been doing for two solid hours and leaving the fish out for too long before introducing it to the pan, producing my own terrible fermentation in the process.  That said, although Norse pays homage to the Scandinavian staples such as pickling, smoking and fermenting, it also has a refined touch to it which, while never playing fast and loose with idea of Nordic cuisine, adds a distinct elevation to their food and certainly left me eager to learn more!

A wooden platter of amuse bouche vibrancy was first to be delivered – full of colour, leaves and anticipation. Filled with caviar, the thinnest of pickled vegetable discs, potato salad and their own version of a mini taco, we were both amused and booshed for the meal ahead (It doesn’t get any better than that so you may as well leave now!)

Carrot prepared four ways was a delightfully light start – and for a fully paid-up member of the beardy meat eaters society to say that, we are probably on to a win already. Barbecued carrot was definitely the star – the crisp smokey outer and sweet interior a brilliant match for the crumbed lardo and smoked curd that accompanied it.

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A dish of barbecued beetroot, horseradish ice-cream and cocoa was next and, put quite simply, was sublime. A smoky warm, acidic beet, a dainty crunch of cocoa and sweetly warming ice-cream come together in a mix that makes everything in life seem worthwhile. One of those dishes that you do not need to take photos or notes of to remember – the taste lives with you for far longer. A thing of beauty that you fondly remember a year or two down the line in conversation with the better half; do you remember that beetroot dish at Norse… (conversations about food like that occur more often than you would think in our house don’t you know!). One of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a very long while.

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It would be difficult for the next course to live up to the highs of that beetroot, and for that dish to include a trout cooked sous vide (a method of cooking that I am still not sold on for fish – all slimy, sweaty, anemia as it seems); the task was a steep one. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the Sea Trout and it’s array of pickled vegetables and white currants but there wasn’t the same textured comfort that came with the beetroot. Maybe it is harsh to try and compare the two but the fish seemed very one dimensional in comparison.

A beautifully cooked piece of Brill however was a welcome return to the gratuitous noises of early that evening. The flaky fish sat proudly on the plate with crispy skin fascinator, roasted cauliflower on a bed of salty samphire and was accompanied by not one, but two sauces. The first was poured over the fish at the table and gave and interesting earthy miso flavour that complimented the fish wonderfully. The rich, salty fish sauce surrounding the outer of the plate brought the dish to another level however and when all the elements were eaten together, it was another round of mmm’s and ahh’s from us increasingly satisfied diners.

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At this point the naive, yet professional waitress inquired as to whether our stomachs were straining at the thought of more food. Considering the quality of the food on offer, the knowledge of what was yet to come and the fact that I had just settled in for another Norwegian beer – although admirable, her judgement of her diners may have been a little skewed on this occasion – a burly, beardy Yorshireman more than ready for a good feed! No criticism of her on this by the way, just a jovial aside to a wonderful meal which was happily, no where near the end.

A pork dish was well cooked; the sweet meat accompanied by thin discs of pickled turnip and a wonderful roasted garlic puree that certainly packed a punch. A crisp stem of broccoli sat well with the meat and the puree but if I was to pick the odd hole it may be that there wasn’t enough of of the pickled vegetable to offset the sweetness of the dish, especially when the honey-sweet sauce was added over the top.

The meat was yet to done however, a pink as you like aged portion of beef with sweet roasted onion and, what could be modernly known as, textures of mushroom. Classic flavours were in evidence but as it should have been, the beef was the star of the show – soft, pink and brilliantly tasty. An earthy mushroom undertone of puree, jus and sauteed girolles made for a very pleasant dish.

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Dessert of sweet plum, almond brittle and salted honey ice-cream was nothing short of nice. The trouble is I couldn’t describe it as anything more either, which is a shame considering the previous courses. It was a good palate cleanser with an excellent ice-cream, but I would have preferred some more beetroot!

And with that, our vigil of over two hours at Norse was over. A taster menu of variety, surprises and more than a little quality represents great value for money too at £60 per person. An expansive drinks list including some unusual craft beers is also available, all reasonably priced. Norse is a gem of a restaurant, a place that even though it is over 50 miles away, we wouldn’t hesitate to visit again should the mood, and those thought of the beetroot dish, take us there. Anyone with a couple of hours spare, choose Norse over Wallander every time, you won’t be disapointed.

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