Oslo Court is a restaurant that doesn’t just defy current trends and conventions. It throws them in a salad spinner, flambés them tableside and serves them with a cuppa from a Teasmade. This restaurant is a C90 cassette in an iTunes age; it rarely features in today’s fashionable guides and wouldn’t know what an ‘influencer’ is if one hit them in the face with a blancmange. It’s stubbornly stuck in its ways and that is its entire raison d’être.
Even its location is deliciously outré. An unassuming residential block in St John’s Wood is the last place you would expect to house a fully functioning restaurant. Inside, it’s part cruise ship, part 1980s wedding reception: all pink tablecloths, sapphire carpets and fan-shaped napkins. Its regular customers tend to be, shall we say, in their twilight years – when my companions and I walked in we wondered if we had stumbled onto the set of Cocoon. At the very least our rejuvenating presence brought the average age down to about 72.
After being ushered to our table by staff in tuxedos, hard copy menus were presented. No QR codes, no kneeling down to explain the restaurant’s concept, no tappity-tap on iPads. To be honest, the service could have been a little warmer but it was pleasing to see waiters actually writing down your order on a notepad. And call me old fashioned but silver service still impresses. Having worked a few silver service shifts back in my brief days as a waiter, I can only admire anyone who still does it. (I never quite got the knack of it and regularly burned myself.)
if there’s anywhere to restore a little joie de vivre it’s this random corner of St John’s Wood
Over crudités and well-made Negronis, we studied the wine list to work out our battle plan. The list is unashamedly, almost hilariously, Old World – Burgundies and Clarets dominate – with just a gentle, if reluctant, nod to the New World. Most importantly, the mark-ups are sensible. The same goes for the food, which won’t win any awards for innovation but would make Egon Ronay proud.
To start, the lobster bisque was velvety and luxurious. It was obvious this had been made with sheer elbow grease, the lobsters presumably crushed with gusto to eke out every drop of flavour. It’s the kind of cooking that reminds you that it is not so much an art as a craft. As for the salmon and asparagus, this was simple yet faultless. Ditto the scallops in a creamy pepper sauce (both cream and pepper tended to be recurring themes throughout).
The steak Diane was the biggest retro revelation: with all the umami notes of a Big Mac turned up to 11, it’s a wonder why a dish so full of flavour fell out of favour. And a humungous portion of Beef Wellington was perfectly cooked: medium rare in the middle, encased in flaky pastry and rich mushroom duxelles. Classics are so-called for a reason.
I’d be lying though if I said it was all gravy boats of pleasure. There were imperfections. One of my companions noted his lamb cutlets were of dubious provenance. We also suspected that some of the desserts, notably the lemon tart and the vanilla cheesecake, were prepared off-site or store-bought.
But, for all the minor faults (and we’re clutching at melba toasts for them really), they’re eclipsed by Oslo Court’s generosity. I’m not sure why we asked for side dishes when vegetables are already served as standard (including the most heavenly gratin dauphinois). If anything, I needed a side order of Gaviscon. My Beef Wellington was served on a plate so crowded it was as if Daniel Lambert had come back from the dead and granted unhindered access to an all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast buffet. Let’s put it this way: you won’t leave this quirky place hungry. I think I’m still digesting that Beef Wellington now as I type.
Admittedly, this restaurant won’t be for everyone. Its lack of pretension will be lost on today’s po-faced intermittent fasters or pouting selfie-takers. Those seeking a ground-breaking gastronomic experience, rather than a time travel trip, may find it derivative and reactionary. But they will miss out on the fun.
Fun has been in short supply in recent times and if there’s anywhere to restore a little joie de vivre it’s this random corner of St John’s Wood. Some restaurants try too hard to emulate a retro vibe and fall into a gimmicky trap (exhibit A: the ill-fated Vivi). Oslo Court doesn’t need PR. It doesn’t need to be “Instagrammable”. It’s driving at a steady ‘twenty is plenty’ in a Morris Minor. Hopefully future generations will appreciate it for the same reasons.
Prince Albert Road
St John's Wood
by J A Smith