16 March 2012

Maaemo, Oslo – Restaurant Review (Mar '12)

(You can read a more recent review of Maaemo from me here and here)

This week’s release of the 2012 Michelin Guide brought with it what will surely be the story of the year for the usually quiet Oslo restaurant scene. The latest Guide Rouge for Europe came with the news that Oslo’s restaurant Maaemo had been awarded not one, but two of the French company’s coveted stars. In doing so, Maaemo becomes the only Nordic restaurant in history to have entered the famous guide directly at the two star level. In one fell swoop, a restaurant that has been in existence for just over a year joins a rare club that includes restaurant titans such as Noma, Le Gavroche, Mugaritz, and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

It’s a fantastic achievement that is thoroughly deserved, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the Maaemo team. I’ve eaten at Maaemo a few times since it opened, and you’re probably bored of me writing gushing prose about it (see earlier reviews here, here, here, and here), but I've been totally bowled over by the level of cooking here. My meals at Maaemo have been among the best I’ve had anywhere. It really is that good.

For the Michelin sceptics, I know that Michelin isn’t the ultimate arbiter or guarantor of a restaurant’s quality, and outside of its comfort zone of judging high-end ‘Modern European Cuisine,’ it becomes less relevant. However, if people doubt the importance of Michelin, they need only look at its motivational power among many of the world’s top chefs. If you want to see what winning two Michelin stars looks like then check out this video of the Maaemo team learning of the news for the very first time. That is what this accolade means to the professionals putting in the long hours on the front lines of fine dining.

I was lucky enough to be on one of only four tables being served on the same day as the Michelin announcement, so there was a festive mood in the air, although I don’t think the news had fully sunk in yet for the staff. Even though I’ve had the ‘Maaemo experience’ a few times now, our dinner that night at Maaemo was just as astonishing and just as beautiful as the previous times.

Maaemo offers a tasting menu of nine dishes made with organic or biodynamic produce sourced predominantly from Norway, the majority of which come from less than 100km away from the restaurant.

We begin our meal with a glass of a fresh-tasting Blanc de Blancs champagne from Veuve Fourny & Fils. This is then followed by a series of small snacks.

Amuse Bouche 1: Potato crisps were served with an emulsion made from pullet eggs (eggs from a young hen less than a year old). The crisp translucent slices of fried potatoes were turbocharged by the addition of umami-rich seaweed powder. The crisps were dipped in the velvety soft warm emulsion before being greedily devoured. This was a great start.

Amuse Bouche 2: Lightly pickled onions had been filled with a mousse made from soft-ripened cheese and sprinkled with crumbs of toasted rye. These little one-bite morsels packed quite a flavour punch and were delicious.

Amuse Bouche 3: Next was a snack I had at my last meal here. Discs of nýr – a type of tart cream cheese made at Grøndalen Farm in Nes – are frozen on an anti-griddle, a device that chills food instantly to a frosty -35 ºC. A layer of vibrant orange pearls of løyrom (Kalix bleak roe) is then added and the whole thing is topped not with more nýr, although this time the top layer wasn't frozen, its softness adding a nice textural contrast. The frozen nýr melted nicely on the tongue and it's a great companion to the mild salty tang of the roe.

Amuse Bouche 4: Next were lightly smoked scallops from the island of Frøya that had been topped with scallop roe emulsion and a sliver of fresh tarragon. This was another well-executed dish. Surely Norwegian scallops have to be among the best in the world? The cold, clear waters of these northern climes mean that shellfish grows more slowly and results in an extraordinarily sweet and pure flavour. I still find it incredible to think that until relatively recently scallops were not widely eaten in Norway, and for centuries they were considered only good for bait.

Amuse Bouche 5: A vibrant looking dish of hibiscus-infused apple was served next. Small pucks of apple had been hollowed out and filled with chicken liver parfait and dotted with leaves of lemon thyme. This was such a great combination – the earthy richness of the parfait was balanced perfectly by the sweet aromatic apple.

Amuse Bouche 6: Next was a seemingly simple dish of just two flavours: red cabbage and horseradish. However, nothing at Maaemo is simple. Here a tube of red cabbage jelly was filled with a sharp and fresh horseradish cream and the whole thing was garnished with crisp curls of lightly cured red cabbage. The genius of this dish was in its pure, focused flavours and the nice contrast of textures.

Amuse Bouche 7: For the final snack we were served a Maaemo classic. This dish has been on the menu since the start and it is simply astonishing. In fact, it was my number one choice in my 2011 'Dishes of the Year' list. Oysters from Bømlo are served as an emulsion and as a thin disc of jelly, while a light horseradish and dill cream sauce is spooned over the top tableside. The taste is the very quintessence of the sea and is as good as it gets in my book. I love this dish. Deeply.

Course 1: "Gran Fra i Fjor & Sjøkreps" (Pine From Last Year & Langoustine). This is another familiar dish that has been a regular feature of the Maaemo menu and it's another stunner. An enormous langoustine tail from Frøya was lightly sautéed in pine-infused butter and served warm on a stone. This dish used to be served with blobs of rapeseed oil and vinegar gel on the side, but now the langoustine itself is slicked with the same mixture, which ensures the balance of flavours in each bite is just right. Surrounding the langoustine island was a bubbling sea of pine infusion and dry ice that gently billowed clouds of pine-scented smoke across the table.

Drink pairing: A vibrant and acidic 2010 Riesling Kabinett from the Schätzel winery.

Course 2: "Sellerirot & Kjørvel" (Celeriac & Chervil) arrived looking like an abstract painting, it was achingly pretty. Here celeriac had been cooked in birch sap and was served with a soft celeriac purée, apple slices, chervil stalks and a chervil sauce. It was a wonderfully fresh tasting dish that was really enhanced by the herbal notes of the matching wine.

Drink pairing: A grassy 2010 Verdicchio Tralivio from Italian producer Sartarelli.

Course 3: "Hvete" (Wheat) is a course that's always been on the Maaemo menu. Warm sourdough rolls made from wheat, spelt and emmer flours from Holli Mill in Norway's Østfold region were served on squares of traditional Norwegian matpapir (food wrapping paper) with lashings of whipped salted butter from Røros.  This dish was so impressive in its simplicity and depth of flavour. The fact that Maaemo is able to serve bread and butter as a separate course on the menu and pull it off with such skill speaks volumes about their confidence.

Drink pairing: Wheat beer from the tiny Bøgedal microbrewery in Vejle, Denmark. Each batch of beer is limited to just 500 litres. This was batch number 276 and was a rich golden wheat beer with higher residual sweetness and notes of orange and coriander seed that complemented the bread perfectly.

Course 4: "Aquavit & Brent Løk" (Aquavit & Burnt Onion) was another visually stunning dish, almost architectural in appearance. A strip of Arctic char from Finnmark had been lightly cooked on one side and blanketed with a crystal clear film of onion jelly. It was garnished with crisp rings of onion and soft onion purée. At the table a thin aquavit sauce was poured onto one side of the plate, the fish acting like a dam holding back the flood until you take a bite and release the sauce onto the rest of the plate. The interesting thing about this dish is, contrary to expectations, it's not really a fish course at all: it's an onion dish that's garnished with fish, and the predominant flavour is of aromatic caramelised onions. The combination of flavours works beautifully; the intensity of the onions is offset by the mild, moderately fatty fish and the crisp alcoholic kick of the sauce. Just sublime!

Drink pairing: A light Poiré Granit pear cider from Eric Bordelet (a former sommelier at L'Arpège) was a great match with the food. Made using pears from 300-year-old trees, the cider is low in alcohol but packed with herbal and fruit aromas.

Course 5: "Kålstilker & Hjerte" (Kale Stalks & Heart). In this dish, duck heart from Holte Farm in Drangedal had been cooked en sous vide and then lightly sautéed so they remained meltingly tender. They were served with kale purée, cabbage stems and a smoked cream foam was added tableside. Kale's bitterness can make it a tricky vegetable to work with, but it worked really well with the richness of the duck hearts, and the smoked cream sauce mellowing out the dish nicely.

Drink pairing: A white 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Château de Beaucastel, which was powerful and rich with notes of flowers and honey.

Course 6: "Ristet Havre & Valnøtter" (Toasted Oats & Walnuts) comprised of chicken (again from Holte Farm) cooked with walnut oil at 60°C. It was topped with crisp grains of toasted oats, walnuts and Jerusalem artichoke and was served with walnut purée and Jerusalem artichoke sauce. This was such a clever dish – texturally it worked really well and I loved the contrast between the soft chicken, crunchy topping and smooth sauce. The flavours were incredible too, full of nutty earthy notes.

Drink pairing: A white 2006 Chorey-les-Beune from French producer Sylvain Loichet.

Course 7: "Syltet Rødbet og Fryst Dill" (Pickled Beetroot and Frozen Dill). This was a very creative dish that was, as chef Holmboe Bang stated, "challenging." Having tasted it though, the challenge comes not from its flavours, which are heavenly, but from where it sits on the savoury/sweet spectrum. Lightly pickled beetroot sorbet was served with dill granita and a sauce made from seaweed-infused raw milk. It was really quite extraordinary, being sweet/savoury/umami all at the same time – sweet earthy beetroot, grassy freshness from the dill and creamy savouriness from the raw milk. What an innovative and excellent dish this was!

Drink pairing: A fresh 2010 Rosa del Rosa from Italian winery Proprietà Sperino, which had notes of flowers and strawberries.

Course 8: "Kald Fløte & Tindved" (Cold cream & Sea-buckthorn) was the first dessert course proper. Carrot sorbet was served on a crumble base with sea-buckthorn berries and cubes of caramel jelly. Granules of nitrogen-frozen cream sweetened with sugar beet were sprinkled over the top. The key was to eat this immediately to fully appreciate the mix of textures and temperatures. I particularly liked the way the frozen cream melted in the mouth and made you blow smoke from your nostrils like some fire-breathing dragon. Needless to say, it was also an amazing dish.

Drink pairing: A 2010 Regina di Felicità from Italian winery Baricchi. This sparkling ice-wine was packed with intense fruity aromas and had lots of residual sugar.

Course 9: "Urter Fra Lom" (Herbs from Lom). This was a very theatrical dish made at the table. A Hario Syphon, typically used for brewing coffee, is used to infuse a stock base of water, vingear and sugar with dried apple mint, raspberry leaves, and linden. The infusion is then poured into a saucepan and liquid nitrogen is stirred in to make a sorbet, which is then served with meringue and a gel of the same herbs. This was a refreshing and light dessert and a perfect way to end the menu.

Drink pairing: A 2010 Riesling Spätlese from the Geltz Zilliken winery in Saarburg.

Course 10: "Smør Fra Røros" (Butter from Røros). Like an encore from your favourite band, Maaemo offers the option of adding a final dessert to your meal. But this isn't just any dessert, it's a dish that has been on the menu since the start and has become a favourite among regulars. They tried to take it off the menu, but such was the outcry that it was reinstated as an optional extra dish. Smooth, light ice cream made from lashings of Røros butter was spooned onto a mound of butter crumble and coffee-infused molasses (yup, more butter in there too). Over this was drizzled a warm brown butter caramel. The taste and texture of this dish is just so sensual – soft, silky ice cream, warm butter sauce, sweet molasses, and a crumble that dissolves on the tongue.

Drink pairing: A sweet and light 1995 Vin Santo from Tuscan wine producer Castello di Monsanto that was full of aromas of tropical fruits, raisins, and vanilla.

To finish our tour of the great Norwegian outdoors, we were served some mugs of warm cherry toddy, a twist on the blackcurrant toddy that is traditional when out skiing.

We end with coffee from one of Norway's leading coffee experts and former World Barista Champion, Tim Wendelboe, as well as petit fours of brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) from Røldal, topped with cherry gel and a coffee covered caramel truffle.

And because I couldn't resist a little nightcap, some unusual but tasty sugar beet rum from Tjudö Vineyard in Finland, as well as a very balanced 8-year-old single malt whisky from Finnish distiller Teerenpeli.
Even though the restaurant team were still clearly running on adrenalin from the day’s events, our dinner was as faultless and precise as ever. Chef Holmboe Bang’s cooking is light of touch and bursting with clear, refined flavours. The matching wines are a real joy and service is of the telepathically good kind. You’ll be thinking about your meal at Maaemo for a long time to come, replaying each taste, sight and sensation in your mind like the recollection of a happy dream.

Looking forward though, what will two Michelin stars mean for Maaemo? Well for one, it pretty much guarantees they’ll be fully booked, which brings with it obvious economic benefits and the creative freedom this generates. But there are other, more important factors to consider; two stars put Maaemo firmly on the map as one of the best restaurants in the world, and chefs as well as diners will be looking to Maaemo to lead the way. The pressure to deliver, to maintain and exceed already lofty standards will be more intense than ever.

But perhaps the main benefit of Maaemo's newfound Michelin status is the publicity it has generated. This was big news in the Norwegian press. It has gotten many Norwegians talking about quality local produce and perhaps looking closer to home for their food inspiration rather than exclusively favouring price and convenience over quality and taste when shopping. For the everyday food scene in Norway to improve, it will take consumers to start demanding easier access to better produce, and this will come from greater awareness of the wonderful fresh produce Norway has to offer. The sort of produce that Maaemo uses every day.

Having seen the pace of the restaurant’s evolution over the last year or so, and from what I know of the team behind Maaemo, I know that they remain as grounded as ever and are laser-focused on providing the best dining experience they possibly can. In fact, I’ve no doubt that Maaemo has several more gears yet to come and we can expect even greater things from the restaurant going forward. Which gets me thinking, isn’t the title of “The Nordics’ First Three-Michelin Star Restaurant” still up for grabs?!

Food:          10 / 10
Service:      10 / 10
Ambiance:  10 / 10

Schweigaardsgate 15
0191 Oslo
Tel: +47 91 99 48 05


  1. Goodness, I really love the sound of this place, I must must must come and visit...

  2. I just tried to book a table at this restaurant for mid May - it is full already. Any tips how to get a table there?

  3. Hi Kavey, it honestly is one of the best food experiences I've had. Well worth a trip over!

    Hi Anon (Mar 19). With just 8 tables, 1 service per day, and now 2 Michelin stars, it's inevitably going to be a lot harder to get a reservation at Maaemo. I'd just be persistent and hang in there, it's well worth the wait.

  4. Fantastic news for Maemo and good to hear that you were well ahead of Michelin in appreciating how good the food is there. Stunning photos as well. Now I have a serious Norway revisit need!

  5. I had a reservation for Saturday, but had to cancel it. Bummer :(

  6. My gosh. Looks absolutely gorgeous and arguable as exciting if not more exciting than Noma. Especially lovin the Siphon effect - looks like something from another planet. A trip to Oslo planned round this place is def in store in the next year or 2.

    Thanks for sharing!