“You have arrived,” said a mechanical voice. “Your destination is on the right.”
I looked to my right. There was a high fence with some houses behind it. It seemed unlikely, but maybe the restaurant was in one of those?
I looked to the left. Another fence with a house behind it. Straight ahead, a dock with a motorboat.
Suddenly, I remembered the website. Didn’t it say something about taking a ferry to the restaurant?
“Is this the ferry to Lille Herbern?” I asked tentatively. In return, a nod from the young man at the helm.
Why Lille Herbern?
I first read about Lille Herbern in an airline magazine. I took a picture of the mention so I would remember it later, but quickly forgot. Then my friend Natalie came to visit and I suggested we go there for lunch after visiting some Bygdøy museums. But I was desperately trying to get Luca to stick to his nap schedule, so the 2 p.m. opening didn’t work for us.
Fast forward a couple months to my parents’ visit. As it happened they came in September, after the tourist season, which isn’t ideal for Oslo. While there’s quite a lot to do here during July (and to a lesser extent August) the list of attractions starts to dwindle quickly. Especially in September when the weather is starting to turn.
So as I opened my computer to search for a place for lunch, I tried not to get my hopes up. But wouldn’t you know, the weekend my parents were in Oslo was also the last weekend Lille Herbern would be open for the season. And it opened at noon. 😊
And thus, it was decided. Dressed in sweaters and hoping for an indoor table, we were off to enjoy some fresh seafood at a seasonal restaurant!
Calling the final leg of the journey to Lille Herbern a “ferry” is a bit misleading. Once you are seated on the 12-person boat, you can practically touch the boats on the other side of the marina. And loading four adults and a stroller on board definitely took more time than the trip, which couldn’t have been more than two minutes.
Once on the island, the doubt started to sink in again. Nevermind the silent assurance of the ferryman, we didn’t see any signs for the restaurant when we got to the island. But the logo of the Oslo Seilforening (Oslo Sailing Association) was everywhere, along with grounded sailboats and some shed-like buildings marked for changing clothes.
But at the top of the dock there was an arrow pointing towards a “restaurant” and through the trees a building that looked more like a house than a lean-to. Climbing over tables and chairs that seem to have been placed haphazardly on the patio, we made our way to the entrance on the back side of the building. It turned out we didn’t have to worry about getting an indoor table. We were the only ones in the restaurant that day.
I don’t know if it was because of the cold or because people thought the restaurant was already closed for the season. Because it definitely isn’t like that on a sunny day in July. But either way, our wish was granted.
Fresh Seafood the Norwegian Way
If you are looking for fancy food and inventive flavors, I’d recommend staying in the city and spending a lot more money at some place like Kontrast. But if you want fresh food that’s perfectly seasoned, Lille Herbern just might be the place for you. Especially if you appreciate a side of salty air.
The menu is simple, with a handful of grilled meat dishes to accompany the seafood specialties. And what are those specialties? One of the most flavorful fish soups I’ve ever had, fresh pasta with spinach chips and roe, steamed mussels, and, of course, shrimp. I’ve yet to actually try the shrimp, but on a recent July visit, it seemed that every table we passed had a huge platter of small Greenland shrimp, served simply with some lemon, aioli, and baguette.
Like the birds that discard the shells from their lunch all along the surrounding beach, Luca’s favorite dish—or at least the only one he’s interested in trying—is mussels. Served in a fennely broth, he loves using one shell to take the mussel out of the next one. Indeed, I think it is the only utensil he actually likes to use.
But don’t worry if you can’t imagine your kids eating mussels. In addition to the grilled meats on the adult menu, there is a kids’ menu that includes the more universal delights of burgers and fish and chips.
And for the adults, this is my favorite perfect place in Oslo to sit and sip a glass of rosé.
Enjoying the Island
Don’t forget to budget plenty of time because after your meal you—and especially your kids—will want to explore. The island isn’t that big but unless it is pouring rain, you’ll want at least a half hour to spend on the beach. Sadly, the swing set that was by the bar on our first visit has been removed, but a stroll down the peninsula provides you with fresh air, wildlife, and quintessential views.
And don’t forget to stop at the bar and get an ice cream bar on your way back to the ferry.
Lille Herbern is a seasonal restaurant, open May 1 to September 30. It doesn’t open until 2 on weekdays (noon on weekends and holidays), making it best suited for dinner or a late lunch after exploring one or more of Bygdøy’s museums. Outdoor seating is drop-in only, but you can make a reservation to sit indoors.
In the summer, you can take the bus or ferry to Bygdøy, both of which depart from Rådhuset. I strongly prefer the ferry because the bus gets very crowded and if you have a stroller, you might have to wait a long time in the sun for a bus with enough space for you to board. But don’t forget that the last ferry from Bygdøy departs from the dock in front of the Fram museum (a ~10-minute walk from the Lille Herbern ferry dock) at 6:40 p.m. Also, the ferry does not accept Ruter tickets. Instead, you must buy tickets from the main terminal at Rådhuset (where you can choose one-way tickets or roundtrip) or for a premium on board.
As an alternative, many people ride their bikes to Bygdøy and leave them leaning against the fence while they visit the island.
Located just off Bygdøy, Lille Herbern might seem a bit out of the way, but most visitors to Oslo will spend at least a day here visiting the peninsula’s many museums. So if you are in Oslo during the summer, try to time your Bydgøy explorations to include a meal at this special restaurant.
What is your favorite seasonal restaurant?