Whether you are eating in a cool quayside restaurant, a royal palace, a cookery school, a culinary academy or an Iron Age hut, you can take one thing for granted about food in Stavanger – it will be exceedingly good.
And exceedingly moreish.
The city’s Délice Network team gave delegates to the annual general meeting a taste of the broad sweep of the local cuisine, starting with lunch under a roof made of peat and bark.
Charles & De, a restaurant in nearby Sandes, laid on a tapas-style buffet in a reconstructed Iron Age settlement.
The food showcased the essence of using the freshest, finest quality produce. Dishes included baked cod with tomato and olives, quiche with bacon and forest mushrooms, pasta salad with boiled egg, tuna and caper, scampi with couscous, lamb curry with chickpeas and ginger.
There’s a good reason why this was one of the finest lunch spreads you could wish for.
Charles Tjessem, the founder of Charles & De, won gold for Norway at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition in 2003 and has been captain of the Norwegian national team of chefs. The early 19th century Ledaal Manor in Stavanger, which is used as a royal residence, provided the backdrop for a gala dinner hosted by the outgoing lord mayor of Stavanger, Leif Johan Sevland.
A starter of creamed Jerusalem artichoke, egg, bacon foam, crispy bacon and breadcrumb (in a kiln jar) was a make-over of an English breakfast.
It was followed by salt-baked Arctic char with chanterelles, pickled beets, potato salad and a sauce of forest mushrooms.
Sadly, the local climate means Norwegians can’t do wine but glasses of Chateau de Myrat Sauternes went down a storm with a sherry pudding with cooked cherries and yoghurt sorbet.
A stand-out dinner was prepared at Tango Bar & Kjøkken, by the quay in the city. Chef/patron Kjartan Skjelde, who looks like a male model and cooks like an angel, is one of those chefs who just know what people want to eat. The breads and the seafood appetisers were a joy, then we were into Arctic char with a butter sauce; foie gras with hazelnut cream, pickles, onion and brioche; confit of chicken leg and breast with forest mushrooms and truffle sauce; and poached plums for pudding.
The place hasn’t got a Michelin star. I can’t understand why. But nobody is bothered. The place is packed and if you go to Stavanger, you’ve got to go here.
The Stavanger dining experience ends with lunch at the Gastronomic Institute, just outside the city centre. Established in 1989, it is a centre for (extreme) excellence in training and food development and its chefs cook for royalty and ambassadors all over the world.
The staff are hand-picked and include former Bocuse D’Or winners, members of the national culinary team and former Michelin star chefs.
Lunch service is supervised by the baby-faced and hugely talented Karl Erik Pallesen and two of the institute’s young chefs. They prepare everything, serve it, do the washing up and wash down the kitchen afterwards. Despite having to feed 30 international food city delegates, everything is calm and measured.
Sous vide cooking is all the rage and Pallesen cuts through the pretence, serving each diner a bag containing a fish portion in a shellfish sauce.
There are individual scissors at each place setting so people can snip into their own delicious “boil in the bag” lunch.
Then a great bowl of salad, containing broccoli, eggs and potatoes is passed round to accompany meltingly slow-cooked veal and rolled and stuffed chicken.
If you were having a party, I couldn’t think of better combination to wow the guests – or a better to place to eat.