“ Address: Caffe Oslo, Sloterkade 1A, 1058 HD, Amsterdam „
~Oslo? But that's in Norway, isn't it?~
Café Oslo in Amsterdam was the choice of a colleague who booked a table and then cried off, leaving us without any particular idea why she chose it other than it wasn't too far from our horrible hotel. It's located in the south western suburbs of the city close to the outermost tip of the Vondelpark. It's hard to imagine you'd come across it unless you were actively looking for it as this isn't an area where tourists tend to go. I believe that it's worth the effort to go and hunt it down.
I went with four colleagues - a German, a Belgian, a French and another Brit. It sounds like the start of bad joke. We arrived by car so I can't give you any tips on how to get there by public transport but any hotelier should be able to offer guidance. On arrival I thought we had the wrong entrance door because everything looked so dark inside. I felt pretty stupid when we stepped in and found a large black curtained area to keep out the drafts from the door. Once inside the place is very stylish and the Scandinavian design influence is quite clear though I'm happy to say it's not like eating in the IKEA café and if I hadn't known from the name and the moose on the menu (a picture, not a steak) I wouldn't necessarily have thought 'Ooh, Norwegian'. They have lots of vintage lamps and light fittings, wooden floors and plenty of mirrors and it's really rather swanky. When we eventually caught the attention of a member of staff, we were waved through to the far side of the restaurant and then a waitress told us we could take either of the two horseshoe shaped tables.
~Service - Amsterdam Style~
Nobody offered to take our coats or bags so we piled them all into the space at the end of the horseshoe and squeezed down either side of the booth. We had five people and it wasn't exactly spacious. I think we'd all have preferred to get rid of our coats and spread out a bit more.
The restaurant was very noisy - almost uncomfortably so - though this seems to be a typical problem these days. Why don't restaurant designers think about putting more soft sound-absorbing surfaces into their places? I always joke that I'll open a restaurant called 'The Library' and fill it with soft furnishings, thick carpets and velvet curtains and it'll be so quiet that people have to whisper, like in an old fashioned gentlemen's club. I'm very noise sensitive and the only thing worse than having to listen to the conversation of the people at the next table, is being somewhere so noisy that you can't even hear the next table above the general background noise.
The waitress brought the drinks menu and we debated whether our presentations earlier in the day were Euro27 or Euro38 bottle of wine worthy and were happy to get the go-ahead for the more expensive option, a delicious bottle of Sancerre. My boss is a red wine drinker so she ordered a 500ml bottle of Barbera. When the waitress came for the drinks order we begged for the food menus because every restaurant in Amsterdam seems reluctant to let you have the menu and to hold out for as long as possible before finally letting you have it.
The menu is small but of great quality. As a non meat eater I still had several choices on the starters and main courses despite there only being five or six choices for each. Three of us ordered a winter bean salad with goat cheese and mushrooms cooked in 12 year old balsamic vinegar, one colleague chose a ravioli dish and the final one a trio of fish. For the main courses we had two vegetarian lasagnes and three fish in tomato-based stew.
~Food - at last~
Our table was booked for 8 pm and we saw our starters an hour later by which time we'd polished off a basket of rye bread and some juicy giant green olives. It's not unusual in Amsterdam restaurants but I really think that an hour is too long to make people wait. It may not be a classy thing to say but part of the point of going out to eat is that you don't have to spend all the time cooking - I'd rather not spend an hour waiting for someone else to assemble a salad that needs maybe 2 minutes of kitchen attention. I guess the delay ensures that we'll be so grateful when the food arrives that we'd eat anything that's put in front of us.
The starters were enormous and well worth the ten or eleven euros each had cost. The bean salad was presented on a long narrow plate with the beans arranged in a band down the plate, three slices of goat cheese perched at intervals and the mushrooms artfully arranged on either side of the beans. Three delicious parmesan crisps were sticking upwards from the plate. I do like a good bean salad and this one was delicious with a very light creamy dressing and a good mix of bean types and even some chick peas. I would have liked the goat cheese a bit 'older' and more runny but that's not something a restaurant can easily control. The mushrooms were pretty standard button mushrooms (I'd hoped for something a bit more exotic) but they had been beautifully cooked in the balsamic. My colleagues trio of fish was bizarre. It came with a small jar - like the ones you make jam or pickles in with a rubber seal - and a cone of paper. In the jar there was a base of quinoa with a thick later of slices of octopus on top and in the cone were very tiny fried fish, like whitebate only smaller.
Main courses came about half an hour after the starters by which point our initial hunger had waned somewhat. The colleague who'd had ravioli said he'd been tempted to cancel the main course as he was so full. Three people had the fish dish which came as a large bowl of very red tomato-rich stew with three lumps of white fish perched on top. Two of us had the vegetarian lasagne which was presented in a high sided oblong dish with a small dish of dressed salad by the side. I like to dress my own salad so I left a lot of mine and the shape of the lasagne dish kept the food at near nuclear meltdown temperature. My colleague scraped hers out of the dish and onto her plate to cool it down but I wanted to keep the layered structure and ate mine from the dish. The main vegetable in the lasagne was artichoke heart and I think it was a poor choice. Artichokes don't cool down well, they flop about on your fork and they basically look the same colour as the pasta. This was a very beige dish and would have been improved with a bit of colour and definitely a tomato based sauce. I ate it but I can't say I loved it and I make a much better vegetable lasagne myself so I was disappointed. I wasn't hungry enough to be too bothered though. The fish dishes had clearly been just too big as every one of the three people who ordered it left a large part of the tomato stew and just polished off the fish.
~The cost? Not too bad~
The bill for five people including a bottle of Sancerre and a 2/3 bottle of Barbera and several bottles of water came to Euro214 which didn't seem outrageous for the quality or the location. We were at the restaurant for a little over two hours - half of that just waiting - and I'm sure if we'd not been assertive about getting the menus and placing the order it would have been even longer. Amsterdam restaurateurs really have got into a bizarre habit of stringing out meals to take as long as possible and this has happened in every place I've been with more than 2 people in the last year so it's not just coincidence. I don't understand it, I don't like it and it drives me crazy. However, I did like Café Oslo and - aside from the artichokes - I would like to go again though.
1058 HD Amsterdam
Phone number: 020-6699663
Open daily from 9 am on weekdays and 10 am at weekends until 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays and 1 am on other days. No wonder the food is so slow if the staff are working those hours!