How a Norwegian Chef Collective Is Upping the Countries Culinary Game

© Knut Egil Wang

They've been friends for more than a decade, after meeting while working at Oslo’s storied Palace Grill. Today, the four chefs—Anders Braathen, Stian Floer, Tom Victor Gausdal, and Even Ramsvik—make up Lava Oslo, which has become one of the most successful restaurant groups in Norway through a combination of passion, coincidence, and an intuition for changing tastes.

In 2010, they opened Strand in a historic house on the outskirts of the city, a laid-back spot that serves small plates focused on seasonal produce. Before anyone had heard about natural wine, a friend of the group advised them to start pouring it. A selection of those wines has come to define several of their restaurants. They debuted Smalhans two years later as a neighborhood eatery in the central St. Hanshaugen district, offering a simple lunch and an evening tasting menu with home-style dishes like pork knuckle with red currants and chanterelles. “We create what we want to experience in Oslo and try to fill in the missing blanks,” says Ramsvik.

Seafood dishes at Lava Oslo's Nordic brasserie, Sentralen. Anne Valeur

Seeing the city’s enthusiasm for international dining, Floer opened Hitchhiker in 2014, serving global street foods like Singaporean chili crab and kimchi salads. “Every new concept comes from our customers’ growing more adventurous,” says Gausdal, who oversees a team of developers who travel to find recipes, which they then rework with local ingredients. Next up was an Asian dumpling spot, the Golden Chimp; a Nordic brasserie within the performance venue Sentralen; a pub and natural-wine bar Gurken Gurken Gurken Gurken; its accompanying restaurant, Brutus, a pan-Nordic café; and a small chain of sourdough bakeries dubbed Handwerk.

In August they opened Katla, an Asian-Latin fusion spot, with the acclaimed Icelandic chef Atli Mar Yngvason, who for many years ran Oslo’s favorite chefs’ hangout, Pjoltergeist. And there are more to come: canteen-style veggie-centric Dugurd and wood-fire-focused Stasjonen. Despite all the expansion, they prefer not to duplicate concepts. “We try to create places that make people travel to different parts of the city and have a new experience in each,” says Braathen.