26 April 2012

Maaemo, Oslo – Restaurant Review (Apr '12)

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

If you've just discovered my blog, then let me bring you up to speed by saying that over the last year or so I may have developed a teeny-tiny addiction to a certain restaurant in Oslo. Maaemo opened its doors just over a year ago, and in that short space of time its unique brand of food made from organic ingredients sourced predominantly from less than 100km away has revolutionised the Norwegian dining scene. If you've got a spare hour or five, then pour yourself a glass of something nice and read up on the background and philosophy of Maaemo from the 14,000 or so words I've written (yikes!) about my previous meals at the restaurant, which can be found here, here, here, here, and here. If you're a regular reader then you'll probably be thinking it's déjà vu all over again. Again.

The big news for Maaemo was last month's announcement that Michelin had awarded the restaurant not one, but two of their coveted stars. In doing so Maaemo became the only Nordic restaurant in history to enter the guide with two stars. It's a thoroughly deserved accolade and is a feat usually reserved for the hallowed dining rooms of Paris, New York and London. Of course, along with the popping of champagne corks, the Michelin stars mean that the Maaemo team are now treated to the sound of the non-stop ringing and pinging of their telephone and email reservation lines. The word is out and it seems everyone in Norway wants a taste of this ground-breaking restaurant. So if you're thinking of eating here then plan early; I guarantee you the wait will be worth it and you'll be rewarded with one of the most extraordinary meals of your life.

It was my father-in-law's birthday recently, and when he very generously offered to take the family out for dinner there was no question about where we would eat. I'll try and let the pictures do most of the talking, but suffice it to say that over the course of a few hours, as we watched the sun set over the Oslo skyline, we experienced over 20 dishes that took us an incredible culinary tour of Norway.

Our meal at Maaemo saw us smile at the pure beauty of the dishes, sit slacked-jawed with eyes agog at the flavours, and it even caused some misty-eyed reminiscing from my parents-in-law. This really is a special place indeed.

Amuse Bouche 1: Potato crisps served with a warm and velvety soft egg emulsion. Translucent slices of fried potatoes were dusted with umami-rich seaweed powder that gave them a real savoury kick.

Amuse Bouche 2: An incredibly simple, yet effective dish of small leaves of smørbukk (I forget the English name), a perennial wild plant whose crisp succulent leaves had a refreshingly bitter and sour tang. Nature at its simplest and finest.

Amuse Bouche 3: Lightly pickled onions filled with a sharp rhubarb gel were tiny one-bite morsels that packed an intense punch of flavour.

Amuse Bouche 4: Next was a familiar dish from my previous meals here. Discs of nýr – a fresh acidic cream cheese made in Nes, some 50km from Oslo – sandwiched a filling of salty orange pearls of løyrom (Kalix bleak roe). The bottom layer of nýr is frozen while the top is still soft, giving a nice contrast in texture and temperature.

Amuse Bouche 5: Another familiar dish was lightly smoked scallops from the island of Frøya topped with a thick scallop coral sauce and a sliver of fresh tarragon. This was a beautiful dish that really showcases the sheer quality of Norwegian shellfish. The dish is served under a glass cloche that is removed at the table releasing wafts of wood smoke, instantly transporting me to the hytte (cabin) and its comforting fireplace.

Amuse Bouche 6: Small rounds of hibiscus-infused apple had been hollowed out and filled with chicken liver parfait and dotted with leaves of lemon thyme. This was a really well balanced bite of food – the richness of the parfait was balanced perfectly by the sweet aromatic apple.

Amuse Bouche 7: A seemingly simple dish of red cabbage and horseradish was astonishing in the clarity of its flavours. A tube of red cabbage jelly was filled with a sharp and fresh horseradish cream and the whole thing was garnished with discs of lightly pickled red cabbage – as refreshing as a blast of cool mountain air.

Amuse Bouche 8: Pearls of cucumbers and goat milk was a new dish for me and looked achingly pretty on the plate. A herb sauce was poured over the top, which added grassy fragrance to the cooling cucumber and freshness of the goats' milk – from goats milked that very morning. It's testament to Maaemo's incessant obsession with sourcing the very best Norwegian ingredients that the restaurant had to wait for over a year to get their hands on goats' milk of this quality.

Amuse Bouche 9:  For the final amuse bouche we were served a Maaemo classic that remains one of the best things I have ever eaten. The day this dish comes off the Maaemo menu I think I will genuinely weep hot tears of sadness. Here, oysters from Bømlo are served as an emulsion blanketed by a thin sheet of oyster jelly, and a light sauce of mussel and dill is spooned over the top tableside.

Course 1: "Gran Fra i Fjor & Sjøkreps" (Last Year's Spruce & Langoustine). This was the fifth time I've had this dish and its ability to stun me into silence never ceases. Atop a warm stone sat a huge langoustine tail from the island of Frøya that had been lightly sautéed in butter and brushed with a sweet and acidic rapeseed oil and vinegar emulsion. A pine infusion is poured over dry ice hidden under the stone releasing clouds of pine-scented smoke across the table. I cannot possibly do justice in describing just how fresh and sweet this langoustine is – it's shockingly good.

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

Course 2: "Sellerirot & Kjørvel" (Celeriac & Chervil) Pucks of celeriac had been cooked in birch sap and were served with a warm fluffy celeriac purée, apple slices, chervil stalks and a chervil sauce. It was a 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). Bread at Maaemo is served as a separate course – all the better to fully appreciate these warm rolls made from wheat, spelt and emmer flours. The bread is served on squares of traditional Norwegian matpapir (food wrapping paper) with individual pots of whipped salted butter from Røros.

Drink pairing: A rich, full-bodied wheat beer from the tiny Bøgedal microbrewery in Vejle, Denmark.

Course 4: "Brent Kveite fra Tromsø" (Burnt Halibut from Tromsø) was almost identical to a dish I had on my last visit. However, instead of Arctic char, we were served halibut that had been lightly scorched and covered with a clear strip of onion jelly. It was garnished with crisp rings of onion and onion purée. At the table a thin aquavit sauce was poured onto one side of the plate. I loved this dish last time and it works just as well with halibut.

Drink pairing: A light Poiré Granit pear cider from Eric Bordelet was bursting with aromas of fruit and herbs.

A little pause was next and a large porcelain dish was placed on the table. The next few dishes would feature spring chicken from Holte Gård in Drangedal. Inside the dish atop some herbs were two surprisingly small organic free-range chicken crowns. We're told that these are from 28-day old birds, which weigh around 400g. This is in stark contrast to intensively farmed chickens, which would weigh almost three times as much at this age – quite a sobering thought.

Course 5: "Kål & Karamelisert Løksaft" (Cabbage & Caramelised Onion) is a dish of sautéed chicken hearts served with cabbage purée, burnt onion syrup and smoked cream. The hearts were tender with a rich meaty taste and the smoky cream and bittersweet syrup complemented them really well.

Drink pairing: A white 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Château de Beaucastel, served at room temperature to really bring out its honeyed floral notes.

Course 6: Next, some bowls of pullet eggs (eggs from hens less than a year old) were placed on the table to set the scene. The next course would feature them in the form of a poached egg served with toasted oats, chicken skin and smoked butter. Cutting into the egg released the remarkably rich yolk of the pullet egg, coating the toasted grains and crisp skin.

Course 7: "Vårtegn" (First Signs of Spring). I'll be honest; it's rare that I get excited about being served chicken breast in a restaurant. It's not that I don't like chicken; it's just that there always seems to be another dish that tempts me away. However, I was left gobsmacked at the utter joy of this next dish. Here chicken breast from Holte Gård was gently poached in milk then sautéed in butter. It was served nestled among a plethora of wild herbs and flowers and a vibrant green ramson cream sauce was poured over the top. Obviously the chicken was the star of this show, soft and bursting with juice, but each bite gave a different riff of herbs, and the ramson sauce was the mild garlicky bassline bringing everything together. Genius.

Drink pairing: An unusual, but gorgeous, off-dry 2004 Riesling Anarchie from Weingut Weingart with spicy notes.

Course 8: "Syltet Rødbet og Fryst Dill" (Pickled Beetroot and Frozen Dill). This semi-sweet course was a great transition to desserts proper. Lightly pickled beetroot sorbet was served with dill granita and a sauce made from seaweed-infused raw milk. An unusual, yet excellent dish.

Drink pairing: This was served with a sweet sparkling red 2011 Birbet Brachetto from Piedmontese producer Malvira, which was packed with flavours of berries.

Course 9: "Bjørk" (Birch). This was a dish born of serendipity. When a large birch log the restaurant was drying for the purpose of turning into plates started to crack, rather than consign it to firewood, head chef Esben Holmboe Bang's first response was "can we eat it?" The answer, it turns out, is a resounding "yes!" The birch wood is roast in the oven for a couple of hours and then left to infuse into some milk. This milk is then made into an ice cream and is served with nitrogen-frozen sweetened cream and fresh birch shoots.

This was a dish you really had to think about, such was the subtlety of its flavours. Its gentle woody taste was fleeting and at times seemed more like an aroma than an actual taste (although I know the two senses are linked). Someone had described it (quite accurately I thought) as the smell you get when you first enter a hytte (wooden cabin).

Drink pairing: This dish was very cleverly paired with fresh birch sap, which was cool and cleansing with a taste redolent of the smell of the woods in springtime just after a downpour. On tasting this, my father-in-law's face lit up with recognition and he recounted how he used to drain the sap from birch branches to drink when he was a young boy. It never ceases to amaze me how certain tastes have the ability to instantly transport us back to a particular moment in time.

Course 10: "Smør Fra Røros" (Butter from Røros) is another Maaemo classic comprising essentially of butter, sugar and cream – what's not to like?! A smooth, light butter ice cream (made to order) is served with hazelnut-butter crumble, coffee molasses and brown butter caramel. Yup, it tastes every bit as good as you think it does.

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.

We finished our meal with coffee from one of Norway's leading coffee experts and former World Barista Champion, Tim Wendelboe, which is brewed like the traditional kokekaffe over a gas camping stove, so redolent of a trip in the mountains. We were also served wooden mugs of warm blueberry toddy and petit fours of dried brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) from Røldal, topped with plum gel and a coffee covered caramel truffle (not pictured).

Sommelier and co-owner Pontus Dahlström always seems to have a magic stash of unusual booze tucked away somewhere. So when he asked if we wanted any digestifs, I left the choice in his capable hands. "Birkir" from the Foss Distillery in Iceland is a 38% ABV schnapps made from Icelandic birch. It's unusual, yet delicious taste was like the spicy aroma of warm wood resin and it was a fitting end to this Nordic odyssey – the more traditional cognac would have just felt wrong. We also tried a drop of intensely fragrant and crystal clear Framboise Sauvage Eau de Vie from Alsatian wine producer Josmeyer.

It's no exaggeration to say our meal at Maaemo was (yet again) up there with the best. Head chef Esben Holmboe Bang's cooking is characterised by its pure, light and precisely balanced flavours. The breathtaking standard of cooking as well as the warmth, generosity and enthusiasm of the whole Maaemo team will leave you thinking about your experience here for a long time to come.

But, perhaps more importantly, Maaemo is not just a stellar newcomer to the rarefied world of fine dining; it has ushered in a new era for food in Norway. Already in the 16 months they've been open I feel the restaurant's legacy will be felt for a long time to come. Maaemo has helped open a nation's eyes to the wonderful bounty of produce that Norway has to offer. It seems for the first time since I moved here four years ago that people are now taking a much greater interest in the provenance and quality of the food they put on their plates. I really feel we're on the cusp of a major (and long overdue) food revolution in Norway, and in a large part we have Maaemo to thank for that.

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

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


  1. Greetings Mr. Nibbler,
    Thank-you once again for just as excellent an article as the menu you received. Maaemo's style and your reviews are a constant source of ideas and motivation for our restaurant in Zürich.
    Indeed I'm often off in the forest with my kids collecting woodruff, sour clover, fiddle-heads and spruce shoots for our dishes. Local, seasonal and elegant are our ideals as well - thanks in part to your diligent work.
    Please keep it up, best regards,

  2. I got to go home to this restaurant!!!!

    As always inspiring to read your article.. and awsomme pictures!

    Regards from Swiss

  3. I had the pleasure of eating at Maaemo recently, and it is such a joy to be able to relive the experience through your blog and beautiful pictures. Thank you!

  4. I wish i could call certain addictions of mine teeny-tiny! and one also wishes that more father-in-laws were so generous with dinner treats.. Excellent descriptions once again,along with top quality photos, i wonder about the effort and potential embarrasment inherent in assiduously taking all those photos ,even when the server is pouring out the sauces! guess thats the trouble one is compelled to take for accurately recording a stunning meal. Maaemo should strongly consider gifting you bi-annual free meals for all the work you've done in wonderfully showcasing their restaurant!