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Dan Jörgenson
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Air of confidence and pride crucial in Fish & Cow´s design 2014-06-06

The big question for most diners heading for a restaurant is: fish or meat?

To the creatives at advertising- and design agency Melvaer & Lien that basic question was the reason they came up with the name Fish & Cow for  a classy year-old brasserie located in the center of Stavanger. 

Apologies to the vegetarians out there, but for the majority of people who sit themselves down at a table and get a menu in their hands, it’s all about the tempting choice of whether to eat a creature that lives below or above the surface of the water.

“This knowledge became the point of departure. The ambition was to break down everything superfluous to just the most critical components and create a pithy name for the restaurant. Fish & Cow is straight to the point and unpretentious. As an added bonus, it provides a clear statement of what is on offer”, says Sanda Zahirovic, creative manager at Melvaer & Lien.

Fish & Cow opened its doors to the public in March 2013. Its geographic location in central Stavanger couldn’t have been better. The restaurant is situated directly below the imposing cathedral and the steps leading down to Torgterassen, with a view over the city quay. 

"Stavanger offers a relatively broad choice of restaurants, and has a discerning public. But something that was missing here was a modern brasserie with a focus on Nordic flavours. That inspired us to establis_DSC5904.jpg_DSC5904.jpgh a new restaurant”, says Aslak Dalehaug, business director and joint owner at Fish & Cow.

What Dalehaug alludes to when he says “new” is that he has also run Tango for several years. In addition to being a high-quality fine-dining restaurant, Tango is also one of the city’s most popular nightclubs.

Fish & Cow’s premises previously housed a pizza shop. That time feels long gone now. Today, guests are met by inviting minimalistic interiors. Wood, steel and glass are materials that are combined in a raw but tasteful mix, behind large panorama windows. The premises seat up to 120 diners, and offer an outdoor section. The classic marble bar, where guests can enjoy a pre-dinner drink, is placed in the centre of the restaurant.

Everything is the collaborative work of Melvaer & Lien and the Rambøll firm of architects.
“Sometimes architect’s firms can have a condescending view of designers, who end up just being ‘subcontractors’. We never felt anything like that with Jonas Roalsø at Rambøll. He understood that the graphic elements clearly need to blend with the interiors. Our close cooperation was inspiring throughout the journey. We were given plenty of scope and were encouraged to come up with more cross-cutting ideas that became more far-reaching than we’d initially imagined. Our common goal was to find something that felt modern and continental”, says Dag Terje Klarp Solvang, managing director at Melvaer & Lien. 

The agency has existed for many years. What distinguishes it from others is that it has succeeded with the difficult balancing act of being a nationally respected design as well as
advertising agency. Its clients are not just isolated to Western Norway either. 

A prestigious assignment was, for example, being given the responsibility for the graphic profile of Norway’s pavilion at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The experience from this job is something the staff took with them to the restaurant project, and that contributed to their ability to create service design”, says Klarp Solvang.

Fish & Cow’s visual identity is immediately showcased at the entrance, with a silver and blue neon sign in Art Deco style. The hand-drawn logo contrasts effectively with the geometric illustrations on the menus. A fish and cow are depicted with just a few simple lines.
35 members of staff work at the restaurant. The waiters and waitresses are dressed in a black top at lunchtime, and white during the evening shift. Always, with the discrete monogram on the breast-pocket.

“We are careful in not littering the restaurant with the logo on plates, glasses and carpets. When you overexpose you create an unsavoury ambiance of a cheap restaurant chain. We want to convey an air of confidence and pride. Look and feel!” says Sanda Zahirovic.

The response from the hungry Stavanger crowd was not long in coming when Fish & Cow opened. People even started booking tables a year before the launch. The restaurant quickly gained attention and publicity, in particular in social media discussion forums.  

“The crowds have flocked here just as we hoped. We’re fully booked several evenings a week. Lunches are still a bit tricky here in Norway, with our tradition of canteens in the workplace. But we’re noticing a change in this area too. One new feature that we’ve introduced once a month is a three-course business lunch. This has gone down well”, says Aslak Dalehaug.

He also says without beating about the bush that they have modified the original motto of just serving meat dishes of beef. Today, for example, the kitchen prepares lamb, pork and duck-breast, without deviating too much from their point of departure. After six months, they also started to offer catering services, which are predicted to have great potential.

The big hit for the restaurant has, nevertheless, been dry-aged. This is, quite simply, tender and tasty meat from Angus cows supplied from local farmers in Rogaland.

“It’s a complicated process to get it exactly the way you want it. The meat is hung for at least three to four weeks and should have an even temperature of +1 C. The real epicures love this dish.2.2_GD_Ident_F_C_sz2.jpg That’s why we, at request, are now able to offer dry-aged entrecôte, with an extra long drying time”, says Aslak Dalehaug.

A fascinating detail is that these costly Angus parts are exhibited to the public during the maturing process in the restaurant’s illuminated display cabinets, which attracts attention.

Melvaer & Lien’s appetite has been whetted after the success of the Stavanger restaurant.

“The concept is so strong that it would be a shame if the owners don’t establish themselves in other parts of Norway. They have a unique profile, that today’s urban public seek”, says Sanda Zahirovic.

It remains to be seen whether this will become a reality. Until then, all passing visitors, or permanent inhabitants, in Norway’s oil centre can book a table and order food and wine at a place with an atmosphere reminiscent of classy restaurants in Paris, London or New York.

Dan Jörgenson
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