It’s noon and I’m sipping an espresso martini. It’s recommended as a dessert cocktail, and I’ve just sat down for brunch; however, I did nab a seat at one of Oslo’s most coveted tables.
I’m spending the afternoon at Ekspedisjonsahallen, the all-day dining destination at luxury five-star hotel Sommerro, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, so who’s complaining? Art deco interiors envelope the space: warm colours, banquette seating, a central bar and frescoes by artist Per Krohg. The ambience takes guests back to another era, one where jazz music permeates the air, and there’s a mix of glamour and danger at every turn.
Now back to that drink. The Galak — named after the white chocolate bar created by Nestle in the 1930s — is crafted from only the finest of ingredients. Grey Goose vodka balances out the sweetness of coconut, white chocolate bubbles, and Borghetti espresso liqueur, whilst nutty tonka beans bring everything together. I peek at the food menu and it boasts a varied list of snacks, starters, mains, and desserts, with classic brasserie-style options like a Caesar salad with organic chicken, and baked lobster with lemon and herb butter.
Whilst our mango sticky rice dessert was too cold for my liking— the rice was more icy than sticky—the rest of our meal was fabulous. Fine de Claire oysters were light and fresh with an apple mignonette to complement the brininess, whilst the signature steak tartare was presented with a deconstructed twist, encouraging some DIY mixing to incorporate the egg yolk, cornichons, capers, and onions. The grilled halibut was perfectly-cooked and came with a beurre blanc sauce laced with a Norwegian spirit, Aquavit.
“From day one, our mission has revolved around developing quality, culinary concepts with compelling stories,” says Jonathan Howell, Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at Sommerro. Howell joins us at our table, his native English accent only coming out after a few minutes as the melodic Norwegian lilt starts to wear off. In his role, Howell oversees the hotel’s seven restaurants and bars, which is no easy feat for the nearly 30-year food industry veteran, who has spent time in high-powered kitchens at The Dorchester, The Ritz, Festningen, and Michelin-starred Le Canard. He tells me how the restaurant we’re in, Ekspedisjonshallen, was created with a European-style brasserie in mind, elevated with characteristics that are unique to Oslo. The team devised a menu and a space that you could easily find in global cities like New York, Paris, or London, and would appeal to the working crowd as much as the ladies who lunch. He then talks about To Søstre (Two Sisters) — the afternoon tea and cocktail bar — where guests can start to wind down with bossa nova music playing in the background. Rounding things off are TAK and Izakaya on the hotel’s upper floors, with stunning views of the Frogner neighbourhood. Award-winning chef Frida Ronge is at the helm of both restaurants, which celebrate Japanese-Nordic cuisine with distinctly Norwegian flair through their use of local and sustainable ingredients.
“Serving as the F&B manager for Sommerro is an inherently demanding yet fulfilling role. It has come with a few exciting challenges—the biggest one for me, personally, is time management. Balancing the daily tasks, while nurturing strong relationships with our team and engaging with our guests have all been a dynamic endeavour,” shares Jonathan. Below Jonathan shares with us the importance of immersing oneself in the local culture and his favourite dishes on the current menu.
If we asked your ten-year-old self what career you’d grow up to have, what would you have said?
Little Jonathan would have probably loved to become a football player. That or something requiring a little less effort, like a lottery winner.
You’ve worked at some really impressive establishments around the world. Have any of those experiences influenced how you run your kitchens today?
Absolutely, my past experiences have shaped who I am and how I work today. Each restaurant and hotel where I've worked has left its imprint on my work style, and I include both the positive and the challenging. It has helped me in honing my problem-solving skills and it has provided me with valuable insight. "Firm but fair” is a mantra I live by.
Luxury hospitality is something Scandinavians are only just starting to embrace. How do you balance creating an experience that both Norwegians and international guests will enjoy?
We have managed to create something special that resonates with the Norwegian sensibility, that is to say, not over-the-top. International guests have more elevated expectations, and we try our best to rise to the occasion for them. Handling hotel guests from around the world may present unique challenges, but I do believe it's impossible not to fall in love with Sommerro.
Has learning Norwegian helped you in getting a better understanding of the Norwegian lifestyle and food culture?
I believe that when you relocate to a new country, learning the language is pivotal for true integration. My wonderful wife is Norwegian, and thanks to her support, I've been able to immerse myself fully in the culture and lifestyle of this beautiful country.
If we were doing a tour of the dining establishments at the hotel, what’s the one dish you suggest we try at each restaurant?
Starting from the top at TAK, I recommend the crispy duck. One floor below, Izakaya’s popular sushi. Moving down to the main floor at our afternoon tea salon To Søstre, you would have to try the scones with clotted cream and jam. At our main restaurant and brasserie, Ekspedisjonshallen, I hold the beef tartare close to my heart. And at Kafé Lucy, the chocolate tarte is simply delicious.
When entertaining guests at home, what’s on the menu?
It varies with the seasons, but I like to plan ahead to ensure that I have quality time to spend with our guests, rather than being confined to the kitchen. I have a fondness for a good old roast dinner, and a raclette experience offers an interactive element to dining.
What’s the one food trend you wish would just go away?
None of them! Trends are important, and keep things in this industry interesting and dynamic. A little innovation is good for everyone.
If you were to put together an itinerary for guests wanting to explore Oslo, where would you send them?
During winter, Holmenkollen: the combination of sauna and plunging into the icy waters of the Oslo fjord is a must. In the summer, again Holmenkollen, a boat trip in the fjord, strolling from Sørenga via the opera house, Tjuvholmen to Bygdøy, of course eating and drinking all the way.