Another out of town assignment for me, this time in Harrogate. Leeds Living had been invited to sample the new FredagsRamen at Baltzersen’s.
For those of you who are not familiar with the lovely town of Harrogate, Baltzersen’s is a well known cafe serving Scandinavian themed food from 8.00am until 5.00pm daily. Breakfast is served until noon, lunch from noon until closing time, and there is an all day menu which is served – you guessed it – all day. Although having a Scandinavian twist, and yes, they do meatballs, all of the food is locally sourced.
The owner, Paul Rawlinson, set up the cafe in tribute to his grandmother, Liv Baltzersen, who was born in Sauda, Norway, but whilst visiting England for the 1948 Olympic Games she met and later married an Englishman. Paul grew up eating Norwegian food when he went to visit his grandmother, so, when he grew up and realised that not everyone was familiar with this cuisine, he decided to open the eponymous cafe, which he did after a stint as an army officer.
Not only did he want to introduce Harrogate to Scandinavian food, but he also wanted to instil the Nordic culture and atmosphere into the venture. Hygge has become a fairly familiar word recently, meaning a ‘warm and cosy’ lifestyle and this is certainly evident here, with special menus for children all day and even at the FredagsRamen special event which I attended. The brilliant thing about the Younger Guests menu is that the food on the menu is tweaked from the main one rather than replaced with chicken twists or pizza.
FredagsRamen, which translated means Ramen on Friday, is an event which was held on 26th October and will be repeated on 30th November. Friday evenings are the times when Swedes treat themselves to Mexican food and, after successfully trialling FredagsTaco, Paul and his team decided to try a couple of Japanese Friday evenings for a change.
The cafe reopens for this at 6.00pm until 9.00pm or when the food runs out, whichever is the earlier. When I arrived at 5.50pm and saw the length of the queue waiting for the place to open, I had no doubt how closing time would be determined. I decided to go for a stroll as it was freezing cold and I didn’t want to be standing still for any length of time. On arriving back at 6.10pm I found that all the tables were fully occupied. This was not too much of a problem, however, as I was given the option of calling back later on spec or leaving my mobile phone number and having an aperitif in a local hostelry to await a call telling me that there was a vacancy. No prizes for guessing that I chose the latter. An hour, and two pints of Boltmaker, later I received the call and returned for my food.
As soon as I walked back into the cafe it was obvious that the Scandinavian atmosphere had been nailed. I love the Nordic countries and the laid back vibe hit me like a warm, soft brick. Everyone was eating, drinking and generally just enjoying life. The children were much in evidence, but rather than running around being a nuisance they were joining in the conversation with their parents and having fun trying to master the art of eating noodles. I am sure that this was because they were eating natural food and not being fobbed off with junior junk food packed with additives.
I was seated at the bar where some places had been set up and Paul introduced me to a very interesting chap called Mark who supplies the whisky to Baltzersen’s and had called to sample the event. This was a great touch, meaning that we had someone with whom to have a conversation – and with something in common.
There are three versions of Ramen on offer: Meat, Fish and Vegan. I chose the meat version, which was Poached Soy Marinated Chicken in a Shiso ramen broth with noodles, soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, corn and crispy chicken skin. I chose a bottle of Asahi Japanese lager to keep it company. The dish was as amazing as it sounds. I have had ramen before from street food vendors, but this was in a league of its own. The stock had a lovely strong taste rather than being something to cook the noodles in. The other components still held their taste as they had obviously not been left in said stock for so long that their taste had been melded into one. The egg was perfectly cooked and the piece of crispy chicken skin was an extra texture to be savoured, not to mention it being delicious.
Mark’s Spicy Panko Prawn variation also looked very impressive and he confirmed that the taste lived up to the presentation. I decided to skip dessert, which was a choice between Northern Bloc Yuzu and Strawberry Ice Cream and homemade Lemon and Green Tea Cheesecake, and finished the evening by joining Mark in a glass of Kaiyo Whisky. Well, it would have been rude not to have done. It was a bit of a tight squeeze though!
I enjoyed the evening very much indeed and would recommend it highly should you find yourself in Harrogate on Friday 30th November. Be aware that there is no booking – it is first come, first served, but it is well worth the wait should you not feel like queueing from before opening time.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.