(A more recent review of Maaemo can be found here)
Regular readers of my blog (hello, Mum) will know that I am more than somewhat enamoured by this utterly captivating restaurant. Indeed, Maaemo has been the location for some of the greatest meals of my life, and since it opened just over two years ago its food has unequivocally topped my annual list of the 10 Best Restaurant Dishes.
I've written at length about Maaemo from my previous visits to the restaurant, so I'll just try and focus on the food for this review. You can read a more comprehensive account of my meal from Starvefood, who kindly invited me to join him for this dinner.
Suffice it to say that the Maaemo team headed by chef Esben Holmboe Bang and sommelier Pontus Dahlström are serving some of the most exciting food I've had, and their use of only organic, biodynamic, or wild produce that originates mostly from within 100km of Oslo has transformed the once staid Oslo dining scene. But if you want to read more about the restaurant and the people behind it then you can read my earlier posts from Feb '11, May '11, Aug '11, Oct '11, Mar '12, Apr '12, and Jun'12.
Amuse Bouche 1: Cooling pucks of frozen nýr (a fresh, acidic cream cheese) and salty orange pearls of løyrom (Kalix bleak roe) – a nice contrast of texture and temperature.
Amuse Bouche 2: Small batons of salsify lightly pickled in juniper arrived under a smoke-filled glass cloche, which was removed with great flourish at the table to release that warming evocative smell of the campfire.
Amuse Bouche 3: Smoked rygeost cheese from Fyn in Denmark, a soft sour milk cheese, was served with crisp pieces of chicken skin and some cress.
Amuse Bouche 4: Small pucks of sloe berry-filled biodymanic beetroot, which had a sweet earthy intensity to them.
Amuse Bouche 5: Nature at its finest in the form of a single pristine bite of raw sea urchin. The urchins had been caught by Scotsman Roddie Sloan who dives for them in the icy waters off Nordskot in the Arctic Circle and they are about as good as it gets in my book – a sweet, custard-like taste of the ocean itself. Just close your eyes and imagine you're snogging a mermaid.
Amuse Bouche 6: Rømmegrøt is a traditional Norwegian staple typically eaten around Christmas time. Here, the warm sour cream porridge was elevated to Michelin level, and its silky smooth texture was enhanced by the addition of brown butter and tiny cubes of cured reindeer heart. A bowl of pure soothing comfort.
Amuse Bouche 7: Crisp chanterelle-dusted cones filled with chicken liver mousse and topped with a sweet chanterelle gel.
Amuse Bouche 8: Prawns from Hvaler served with cucumber balls, lobster mayonnaise, horseradish and smoked parsley sauce. A dish as fresh and cooling as it was beautiful.
Amuse Bouche 9: This next course hardly needs any introduction. It's been a staple of the Maaemo menu since they opened and it's still every bit as stunning as when I first tried it. Oysters from Bømlo are served as a creamy, voluptuous emulsion blanketed by a thin disc of mussel gel, while a light mussel and dill cream sauce is spooned over the top. Its taste is haunting: ethereal and fresh, a multi-layered burst of an ozone-rich sea breeze on a warm windy day.
Amuse Bouche 10: Bitter leaves of curly kale were served with a sweet caramelised onion sauce, cauliflower purée and a smoked cream sauce.
Course 1: Gran Fra i Fjor & Sjøkreps fra Frøya (Last Year's Pine & Langoustine from Frøya). Another Maaemo classic is this jaw-droppingly good dish. An enormous langoustine tail from Frøya has been lightly sautéed in pine butter and brushed with a sweet rapeseed oil, pine and vinegar emulsion. A pine infusion was poured over dry ice hidden around the dish releasing clouds of pine-scented smoke across the table. If you've never tried a Norwegian langoustine in its prime before, then biting into the sweet, fresh tail will be one of those life-affirming moments. Incredible!
Drink pairing: A fruity and acidic 2011 Egon Müller Riesling QbA Scharzhof that was a good foil to the sweetness of the shellfish.
Course 2: Kamskjell & Gulrot (Scallops & Carrot). Raw diver scallops from Frøya were served with scallop mousseline, seabuckthorn gel, pickled carrots and carrot vinaigrette. This was a light and fresh dish, with the fluffy mousseline and sweet scallops cut with the sharpness of the berries and pickled carrots.
Drink pairing: A 2011 Sydre Argelette from Eric Bordelet, a wine-like cider made from over 20 different varieties of apples, whose flavours echoed that of the seabuckthorn nicely.
Course 3: A surprise extra dish arrived next in the form of a nugget of flaky white cod that had been lightly torched and topped with a sliver of poached Arctic monkfish liver. A clear buttery rosehip vinaigrette sauce was spooned over the top. This was a gorgeous dish, with the monkfish liver tasting every bit as good as the best foie gras.
Course 4: Hvete (Wheat). Maaemo's separate bread course was next. Here, warm bread rolls made from wheat and wild emmer flours from Holli Mill in Spydeberg were served on squares of traditional Norwegian matpapir (food wrapping paper) with individual pots of whipped salted butter from Røros.
Drink pairing: A refreshing wheat beer from the tiny Bøgedal microbrewery in Vejle, Denmark, which had spicy notes of orange and coriander seed.
Course 5: Sellerirot & Eple (Celeriac and Apple). Celeriac pieces had been baked in salt for five hours and were served with caramelised celeriac cream, crystal clear apple flavoured sage pearls and juices from the baked celeriac.
Drink pairing: 2008 Silvaner Spätlese Trocken from Rudolf May, which lent a bitter freshness to the sweet vegetal grassiness of the celeriac.
Course 6: Løk fra i Fjor med Aquavit (Onions from last year with Aquavit). Pristine fillets of Arctic char came served with pickled onions filled with elderflower purée and topped with discs of red onion gel. An aquavit and wheatgrass sauce was poured over the top tableside. The slightly raw pungency of the pickled onions was tamed with the sweet purée and was a great match with the oily fish.
Drink pairing: A 1998 Riesling Auslese "Ürziger Würzgarten from Jos. Christoffel Jr. Typically quite sweet, the age of this Auslese took the edge off its sugariness and it was full of lively flavours of apples.
Course 7: Another surprise extra course was this little number of fenalår baked potatoes served with grated dried egg yolk and a dollop of warm creamy cheese from the island of Hitra. A wonderfully warming dish, with a nice contrast in textures.
Drink pairing: A powerful and heady 2010 Viré-Clessé from Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon in Burgundy.
Course 8: Brent Purre med Kalvetunge (Burnt Leek and Veal Tongue). An immaculate dish of burnt leeks topped with veal tongue and served with dots of apple-ramson gel, a poached quail egg yolk and an acidic ramson and bone marrow sauce.
Drink pairing: A 2010 Chateauneuf-du-pape from Château de Beaucastel – a smooth and rich white made from 80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache Blanc, whose notes of flowers and honey brought out the sweetness of the leeks.
Course 9: Reinsdyr & Jordskokk (Reindeer and Jerusalem Artichoke). Red meat is something of a rarity at Maaemo yet I've never felt its absence. So this dish of reindeer seemed all the more striking for it. Medium rare medallions of reindeer from Mo i Rana, just south of the Arctic Circle, were ridiculously tender with a mild gamey flavour. They were served with Jerusalem artichokes (roast, purée, raw slivers) and a truffle sauce.
Drink pairing: A 2006 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Prieur from Domaine Trapet – a soft biodynamic wine full of the soft berry flavours of pinot noir.
Course 10: Ost fra Eggen Gårdsysteri (Cheese from Eggen Farm). A welcome return of a course I first had in October 2011. Fjellblå blue cheese from Eggen Farm had been cooked with milk and then frozen in liquid nitrogen. It was served with a purée of lightly pickled black trumpet mushrooms and a sprinkling of black mushroom powder.
Drink pairing: A 1980 Mas Amiel Maury Millésime, an oxidative natural sweet wine made from 90% black grenache, 5% maccabeu, 5% carignan. A bold, yet surprisingly fresh sweet wine full of aromas of chocolate and figs that was a great match with the pungent cheese.
Course 11: Buttermilk sorbet served with brown butter and tea foam. A wonderful palate cleanser with a good contrast in textures. The cooling, fresh and slightly sour sorbet pairing really well with the sweetness and spice notes of the tea foam.
Course 12: Hvete Eddik, Rug & Mjød (Wheat Vinegar, Rye and Mead). Ice cream made from wheat beer vinegar from Herslev brewery in Denmark was served with mead gel, burnt marzipan and a crème pâtissière made from rye bread. This, our first dessert proper, was a crazy combination of flavours that at first glance sounded a little too experimental. But what a spectacular combination of flavours! Tart, acidic ice cream, chewy nuttiness from the marzipan, sweetness from the mead, shards of rye and the soothing embrace of rye cream. Paired with a sour gueuze beer this proved to be a sensational blend of flavours.
Drink pairing: A 2012 Gueuze Tilquin, a sour lambic beer with a touch of sweetness and tart fruit flavours.
Course 13: Smør fra Røros (Butter from Røros). Ahhh, hello my old friend. A dish that's never been off the Maaemo menu and one that never ceases to make me smile. A smooth, light butter ice cream is served with hazelnut-butter crumble, coffee molasses and brown butter caramel. Yes, the earth did move!
Drink pairing: A special treat in the form of a 1949 Don Pedro Ximenez Reserva Especial from Toro Albalá. Shockingly dark in colour, it was smooth as silk with a long finish of dried fruits and caramel.
Coffee is never an afterthought at Maaemo. In fact it's one of the few restaurants that takes the coffee service every bit a seriously as the rest of the dining experience. At Maaemo, coffee from one of Norway's leading roasters, Tim Wendelboe, is steeped in the traditional kokekaffe (literally "boiled coffee") style over a gas camping stove so redolent of a trip in the mountains.
Maaemo usually use their own custom-roasted beans but here we were lucky to sample some award-winning Esmeralda Special from Panama. It's one of the most sought after (and therefore expensive) coffees in the world and had a complex taste of citrus, soft fruits, bergamot and flowers. One coffee reviewer describes it as "more like diving head first into a swimming pool filled with mixed fruits," and I can't say that I disagree. A glorious cup of coffee.
Petit Fours 1: Macarons infused with a subtle taste of birch.
Petit Fours 2: "Liquid waffle." As its name suggests, this one-bite wonder burst in the mouth releasing a sweet liquid tasting exactly of Norwegian waffles.
Petit Fours 3: Nitrogen-frozen granules of brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) and strawberries.
Petit Fours 4: In an echo of our first amuse bouche was this little bite of frozen nýr except this time it was sweetened with maple syrup and filled with a sweet and sour sea buckthorn gel. A cool and cleansing bite.
Petit Fours 5: Finally, some coffee ice cream made from Tim Wendelboe's espresso blend. I'm not usually a fan of coffee ice cream, finding it to be typically too sweet and creamy. Here the balance of flavours was just right and the lightly roasted espresso beans allowed the underlying citrus and berry flavours of the coffee to shine through. A wonderful way to finish the meal.
It's clear that the Maaemo team are far from content with sitting on their laurels. In fact, the team seem to have stepped up yet another gear over the winter, and this focus and precision resulted in perhaps the most comprehensive meal I've had to date at the restaurant. Each of the 28(!) courses was beautifully executed; an exercise in Nordic aesthetics and restrained luxury, full of the clean, vibrant favours that have come to characterise Esben's cooking.
On the 14th of March, Michelin's 'Main Cities of Europe 2013' guide will be published, which covers the Nordic capitals. As of writing, the Nordics have never been home to a three Michelin-starred restaurant, and the excitement is building as to what the latest guide will reveal. For what it's worth, I think Maaemo is certain to achieve Michelin's highest accolade. Having been awarded two Michelin stars a mere year or so after opening, it remains to be seen whether this gem of a restaurant will join the rare club of three Michelin starred restaurant this time round. I for one certainly hope they do, and it would be an achievement that's thoroughly deserved. But regardless of what the Guide Rouge brings, Maaemo remains one of the best restaurants I've ever been to.
Food: 10 / 10
Service: 10 / 10
Ambiance: 10 / 10
Tel: +47 91 99 48 05