Bon Lio: Wonderfully Spanish
By Eva-Kristin U. Pedersen | Photos: Margrethe Myhrer
Going out for a meal in Norway used to be a formal undertaking. It was perhaps because Norwegians didn’t use to go out so often, that when they first did, they preferred for things to be a certain way. But in 2013, in an old wooden house in Fredensborgveien, a new kind of restaurant was born.
Inspired by high-end Spanish chefs that opened small gastrobars and served cuisine in less pretentious scenery to make ends meet during the financial crisis, Bon Lio set out to give Norwegian clients something new: superb food in a very relaxed atmosphere.
So relaxed in fact, that it borders on disorderly. The music is a bit louder than in other places, the temperature slightly higher, the interior is somewhat disorganised. Even the food is continuously changing. Bon Lio aims for perfect imperfection. In short, it’s a mess. But it’s a good mess. It’s Bon Lio.
No fixed menu
“We don’t really have a menu. It changes all the time, depending on what ingredients are available. We use whatever seasonal products are available and create from that,” says Cato Pedersen Wara, who owns Bon Lio together with his wife, Kitty Knutzen. “The most important thing to us is that clients feel welcome and relaxed while they’re here. We take care of them as if they were coming to our home.”
In this extraordinary atmosphere, guests can enjoy contemporary Spanish food with a twist: the ingredients are almost exclusively Norwegian. The only exception are those products that really cannot be reproduced outside of Spain, like the Pata Negra.
Quality and sustainability
The reasons are sustainability and quality. Bon Lio takes extreme care to ensure that ingredients are the very best available and that they are in season. “It is very important to us to use local, organic food and to make use of the excellent ingredients we have available here in Norway. In the end, that’s what they do in Spain and that’s what makes the food so tasty,” Wara says.
According to Wara, the most difficult to source are the vegetables. Tomatoes, for example, are only used for a few selected weeks and only from one organic producer who can guarantee the quality they’re after. “That’s why we’re able to make a really good gazpacho,” Wara says with a smile, underlining that while the base of the traditional Spanish vegetable soup is the same as in Spain, Bon Lio has personalised it.
Another example of a ‘Norwegianised’ Spanish dish is Bon Lio’s turbot, one of their signature dishes. The chefs treat the turbot as if it were a piglet, frying the skin until it becomes crispy and then serving it with carrot purée. In general, there’s a lot of seafood at Bon Lio, thanks to the restaurant’s proximity to fish of supreme quality. “Out of 12 servings, only one is meat,” Ware says.
One dish you’d might expect to find at a Spanish restaurant, but is yet to be served at Bon Lio, is paella. The reason is that the ingredients just don’t make for a paella as good as the original. And if it’s not good enough, it will not be served at Bon Lio.
Wara explains that in spite of the twists, all dishes have a background. “The food speaks for itself but has undeniable Spanish roots. We’ve taken a lot of old Spanish recipes and turned them into our own,” says Wara. He grew up in Mallorca and is passionate about bringing not only Spanish food, but also the laid-back approach to eating it, to Norway.
Ambassador for Spanish gastronomy
His and his wife’s efforts to ensure both quality and authenticity have paid off, and Bon Lio, which is now located at Grünerløkka, is the only Nordic restaurant to have been designated an ‘Ambassador for Spanish gastronomy outside Spain’. Apart from the approach to food, one of the criteria for the award is to have Spanish speakers available at all times. At Bon Lio about half of the staff speak Spanish.
To make sure Bon Lio is open to everyone, guests can opt for half a menu – or just for a glass of wine with a croquette at the bar after work. “We want to be a great restaurant but also a neighbourhood café,” Wara stresses.
Modern Spanish wine
To accompany the food, waiters at Bon Lio are happy to suggest their preferred choices from the rich assortment of predominantly Spanish wine. “We use a lot of modern Spanish wines – most clients are very pleasantly surprised,” Wara explains, while adding that they have also selected non-Spanish favourites on the list.
Bon Lio is open from Wednesday to Saturday. The restaurant being closed for three days a week, staff can rest and recuperate and come back to work energised. “It’s a matter of sustainability,” explains Wara. “Being a waiter is a full-time job. In order for our staff to cope, we must make sure their salaries are good enough to live off, and that they get sufficient rest.”
Bon Lio’s next venture is to open a summer-only hub at where it all began – in Mallorca. Wara is excited. “We’re going back to the roots, but we are still searching for the perfect venue.”
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