Eating out in Bergen

BARE chefs in dining room

Nick is knocked out by another Norwegian city. See also Eating out in Oslo.

On the advice of friends, we took the six-and-a-half-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen and were extremely delighted that we did. The views are spectacular. For the first three hours, the views were like everyone’s idea of Norway, with pines and water everywhere and neat little clapboard houses surrounded by green.

But once the train reaches Finse at 1,222 m (4,009 ft) above sea level, where many on the train disembark, wrapped very sensibly in their waterproof anoraks, trousers and hiking boots, the views become exceptional. The Hardangervidda, Norway’s largest national park, is described as ‘Europe’s greatest mountain plateau’ and the scenery is truly wild, well above the tree line, with multiple powerful waterfalls, glaciers visible off to the left and patches of snow still evident even in September. The last couple of hours downhill to Bergen reveal Norway at its most dramatic. 

We left Oslo at 8.30 am and arrived in Bergen on time at 3 pm. There is apparently talk of replacing the old rolling stock on this route with more modern trains that would shorten the journey time. I hope this never happens. We enjoyed every minute, and it was a short walk through Bergen’s pretty, largely unchanged little streets to our hotel, Opus XVI.

A stone’s throw from the quayside, it had been Bergen’s principal bank and is just opposite the 160-year-old stock exchange which has also been converted into a hotel, Bergen Bors Hotel, where we ate two very different meals: lunch in its casual but spectacular dining room on the ground floor and dinner in its glamorous third-floor restaurant.

Bergen fishing mural

Lunch, which included a bowl of excellent fish soup and a couple of glasses of dry German Riesling, was in the high-vaulted room which must have been the old trading floor where we were surrounded by the original murals of strong young men working hard as fishermen, a reminder of the source of Bergen’s wealth. Lunch cost the equivalent of about £80 for two.

Dinner in the hotel’s restaurant was much more expensive, and the room could not be more different from the ground-floor setting. Here, too, the ceiling is high – there is a ladder behind the bar to enable the barmen to reach the bottles on the highest shelves – but any trace of history has been expunged. There are leather banquettes, pristine wooden tabletops, a counter bar, and walls covered in shiny ‘bricks’ which reflect the light from the chandeliers. It is all very swish, if not exactly quintessentially Norwegian.

Bare of Bergen interior

The city that prospered for many years thanks principally to its harbour and the rich fishing grounds nearby has gained a new lease of life over the past 30 years as North Sea oil has made Norway extremely rich. And with this wealth has come a vast improvement in the quality of the food that is served, the friendliness and enthusiasm of those who work in restaurants, and the quality and range of the wines on offer.

Before dinner, we were led up to the third floor for a glass of 2012 Bruno Paillard Champagne in the bar before being shown into the restaurant. We opted for the menu of eight courses instead of ten. And Jancis, somewhat surprisingly, opted for their wine pairings.

Vlad Pak of Bare

The restaurant is called BARE by Chef PAK (note those capitals) and in fact there are two chefs, brothers Vladimir and Sergey Pak, pictured at the top of this article. It was Vladimir who promptly appeared, smiling and wearing a black beanie, with our first course, an excellent combination of an oyster with caviar and shrimp tartare on a crisp, edible base, all with a tomato and ponzu sauce served separately by him. This was followed by salmon sashimi that was like a painting (see my picture below), the salmon covered in a luscious green sauce of jalapeño studded with green oil and all topped with a savoury biscuit shaped like a tree.

Bare salmon sashimi

Then came succulent halibut topped with slices of crunchy radish, and three very distinctive pieces of nigiri – bluefin tuna toro, wagyu beef and salmon belly – on top of warm, specially sourced Japanese rice that contrasted with the fatty texture of the fish.

Bare nigiri

A piece of cod (this was Norway, after all) came with a pungent miso sauce that continued to demonstrate the chefs’ penchant for sweetness. A piece of Norwegian seawater eel, grilled over charcoal so that its outer edges were crisp, was served with a teriyaki sauce and, like everything else, was beautifully presented.

Bare eel

This was followed by the whale-meat dish in which the cheek meat had been stuffed into gyoza and the tail meat was served as a tartare. We both found the dark meat extremely dry. Perhaps not surprisingly after all this, we passed on dessert and petits fours. The menu cost 1,395 kroner per person and the wines 1,295; with service (not included in Norway), I paid a total of 6,000 kroner, the equivalent of £455 for the two of us.

The drinks on offer were geographically wide ranging. A glass of Henriot 2012 Champagne to start; then to South Africa for Testalonga’s  2022 Colombard pet-nat called ‘I wish I were a ninja’; on to a 2008 (the oldest wine we encountered on the trip) Grüner Veltliner Smaragd from Wachau producer Emmerich Knoll (which was a little long in the tooth); ending with a Morgon 2021 from Jean Foillard. En route there were a couple of side trips to Japan, with a cocktail sake from Nabedana and a lime-infused sake to finish.

Bare Burundi somm

All of this was served with consummate enthusiasm by a team led by the experienced Raymond Mikkelsen, including Gediminas Borisas and the young and extremely keen sommelier Tresor Jawari, pictured above. Jawari, when prompted, explained that he is one of perhaps 3,000 immigrants to Norway from Burundi, the landlocked country in east Africa that borders Rwanda. Tall and seemingly with a permanent smile, he is obviously a good advertisement for thoughtful and benign immigration.

As we walked back to our hotel, we felt somewhat stunned. We had just really enjoyed an eight-course tasting menu, excellently prepared, with drinks served to us in part by a young man born in a country 12,000 km (over 7,000 miles) to the south in a dining room that would not look out of place anywhere.

BARE by Chef PAK Bergen Bors Hotel, Torgallmenningen 2, 5014 Bergen, Norway; tel: +47 40 00 24 55