OSLO comes to Hackney
OSLO Hackney, George Akins’ dining, drinking and musical vision, has not been an easy labour. In November last year, Victorian architecture on Amhurst Road was declared unsafe and subsequently demolished. For a time, plans seemed, literally, on the verge of collapse. But last night, with the authorities’ all clear, we gathered for the long-awaited launch.
OSLO is housed in the reclaimed ticket office of Hackney Central station. The capacious interior leans towards that stripped-brick, frosted-glass industrial brutalism so favoured by East London restaurateurs nowadays. The wintry starkness fits the name and slant of the venue, but not without a cosy ambiance created with warm lighting, muslin drapes and chilled, approachable staff. The bar groans with numerous unusual spirits and an extensive wine selection. From the twelve draughts, we opt for the house Oslo lager, a fresh, light Nordic brew.
The mood remains tranquil, even as the room fills up to standing room only. This is aided by mellow beats from vinyl spinning in one corner, and occasional, unexpected trilling of birdsong over the sound system. Through the kitchen hatch, head chef Dave Ahern assembles canapés with a Buddha-like calm. Occasionally, the pervading nonchalance of OSLO is a little affronting. When I ask the waitress to describe the canapés, she replies “erm… it’s salmon, on a wafer…” – silly me. But in a way it’s refreshing, OSLO is a stylish, pretence-free vortex, where no one is working too hard.
The “salmon on wafer” turns out to be Cured Salmon with Young Coriander, on a modest wafer (actually, we glimpse Ahern removing these wafers callously from a plastic packet through the open hatch). As my companion observes: “Anyone can slap salmon on a crispbread.” A hint of citrus, a gesture of creaminess or a whisper of salt would not have gone a miss.
Next up, a Beetroot Tartlet, which sings to the genuine beetroot enthusiast, before evolving into a caramelised sweetness offset with a yoghurt dressing and light, buttery pastry. This is real Nordic soul food; bare elements, well handled. Dainty glazed burgers emerge next, a throwback to Ahern’s days as head of 2012 pop-up Burger Breakout.
The vegetarian option is unlike any veggie burger previously encountered – it’s so hearty. To start with, the flavour is intense and delicious, crammed with rosemary. But it’s a little over-salted, and it’s pâté-like wetness soon becomes cloying. A sweet horseradish sauce, delicious in itself, is too powerful as an accompaniment and “too saucy” – a serious statement from a New Yorker. The omnivorous option, Pulled Pork with Tomato Relish and Cheddar Mayonnaise, is a patty with a punch – undeniably tasty and the meat so tender. The buns, though are a let down, dry and fluffy like cheap barbecue baps, tarted up in a fancy glaze.
Although the cuisine is unexceptional, Ahern’s team show fine technical ability with stark Nordic flavours. If the seasoning and flavour pairings are more carefully monitored for the restaurant’s ambitious regular menu, there’s a chance of OSLO becoming the centre point on London’s Scandinavian food map. With weekly club nights at upstairs Valhalla, which boasts another bar, clean sound system and video-art platform, it has serious potential. Set to host Dry the River and Chrome Hoof among others this January, OSLO can expect to remain the buzzing, heaving hotspot that it was on the night, though it will perhaps be more famous for late-night hedonism than for its cuisine.
OSLO Hackney: 40/60
To book a table at OSLO, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, London E8 1LL call 020 3553 4831 or for further information visit here.