Norway's only 3 Michelin starred restaurant, located in Oslo, serving high grade, modern Scandinavian cuisine
Ok, so all done now, been there, seen it, done it….loved it. Although 3 Michelin starred, I went with an open mind and bar a couple of aspects that might restrict some diners, I am pleased to report there is no doubt that this venue is at the highest levels of a restaurant experience you can have. It is comparably expensive at £313 for the 17-course tasting menu (only choice) all in, but when the food is done to this quality, with so much thought to produce, balance, heritage and all served in the entirely graceful and caring manner that it was, the price washes away into the background. There were moments of food greatness on this lunch and these thoughts are keeping me warm and cosy when I think of them as a result. Bravo to the team here for the whole result. As usual, the food grade is purely for the food with notes on all aspects of the experience in the expansion button below (lengthy review).
Maaemo (an old Norse word meaning Mother Earth) is led by Executive chef Esben Holmboe Bang who is actually Danish (from Copenhagen). The cuisine is representative for the whole of Scandinavia but with the focus of products from Norway. It opened in 2010 and the 17-course tasting menu is the only menu choice which makes for a logistically smoother operation for the kitchen. Allow me to get a couple of niggles out of the way early, in that dietary requirements are catered for as far as can be but I gained the impression that the flexibility for allergies is less so based on the one menu design. Whilst the restaurant will make every effort to make arrangements for all, there may be a possibility on some guests having to skip a course or two depending on circumstances. The wine list is comparably expensive with bottles starting at roughly £90 at the cheapest end and no options by the glass. However, again, there is a silver lining in that the restaurant does a matching wine menu and if you wish to only have one or two of those, it is arranged for the diner’s preferences – you are simply more in their hands. I think the latter of these two points (wine menu) can easily be enhanced in the next re-design. Charm, which all staff at Maaemo seem to exude, had a way of dissipating these smaller restrictions.
The restaurant itself is barely a 10-minute walk from Oslo Central station and getting to it from the airport is a breeze from Oslo Gardermoen airport (20-minute express train rather like the Heathrow Express to Paddington). It overlooks the main approach to the train station and is located in the same block as swish looking apartments so don’t worry if you can’t see the actual sign until you reached the top of the outdoor stairs. There were actually two well-dressed gentlemen at the top of these stairs ready to guide guests into the restaurant as the first very nice touch. Inside is bright, spacious and as nicely Scandinavian-designed as you would expect.
A cold and damp scented towel greets each diner and is another simple and very welcome touch on a hot day and these small things make a huge difference to the overall experience, making you ask yourself just why don’t more places do this when the cost for doing it is not significant?. You can also tell you are in fine hands when the opening greeting is relaxed and sets all of the parameters of the meal in a calm and professional manner and sets the scene. Bravo again here.
On to the canapés and opening bite-fulls. First up was rye bread with compressed and pickled elderflower yeast cream, rhubarb gel, fermented morels and powder which had a lovely cream, crunch and elderflower essence. Sheets of celeriac and berries filled with apple blossom with fermented apple and lingonberry were delicate and floral on the palate. Roasted chicken skin with caviar, pickled shallots and tarragon was absolutely outstanding in every way and a fairly exquisite take on surf and turf with care to making the salt levels not too high. A caramelised onion tube with ‘Rakfisk’ (a Scandinavian classic of rotten trout) came with pickled leek and horseradish and was a perfectly light and pleasant mix between the two.
Salsify gel and salsify cream base with dill oil is a signature dish of the Executive Chef and it is easy to see why. It is beautifully and gently balanced and difficult to see how that can be improved. Another take on salsify on a purée of smoked salsify accompanied a pickled white onion with lemon thyme stems and aquavit. There was wonderful acidity within this and with an actual delayed floral finish. A very clever conceived dish involving a ride of sweet, acid, smoke and vibrant flavours in one. Tender king crab came from Vanager fjord in the very north of Norway where the country meets Russia and the conditions for getting these all year round crab is treacherously cold, rough and dangerous for the divers. The crab itself was beautifully fresh and tender with a simple reindeer stock to accompany which I thought was brilliantly handled. Just in the same way that one of my most revered dishes over time has been the king crab at Noma, glazed with simple egg yolk, this was a marriage of two flavours and confidence of the chef to just stick with those two.
Wild salmon from the west of Norway, was cooked in salted butter and came with wood sorrel, pickled Jasmin, black garlic, fermented white asparagus. There was an absolutely sensational sweet add on from the wild garlic to another fresh, clean and beautiful fish course. Bread was served as a course (an indication of how much work goes into this) and was a brioche bun glazed in honey, served with cultured butter of chamomile and honey. This was utterly beautiful to look at but not my personal favourite flavour for butter as cultured butter is obviously sour; the honey and chamomile did its best to offset this but the tang of the butter was thankfully toned down and is good to try things out of one’s comfort zone. Sticky hands after this led to another cold, wet flannel to wipe hands after breaking the honey bread continuing the quality service.
Rømmegrøt is a classic Norwegian dish of sour cream porridge and originates from olden times when dairy was extremely expensive and most dairy was sold to Sweden or weddings and the reserve of the privileged. Split cream of wheat flour usually has thin slices of elk meat on top but in this case, had shavings of reindeer heart on top as the meat with pickled plum vinegar. There are rare moments in dining when you have a dish that is utterly faultless and this was one of them. For such a simple offering, the warmth, balance and judgement that has gone into this one dish was on another level and this was the personification of the Michelin guide’s definition for 3 stars of ‘exceptional cuisine worth a special journey’ as I would genuinely fly back for this dish.
Stuffed morels with smoked cheese from Lofoten (islands way off the Northwest coast of Norway) was served with a sauce made from fermented morels, butter and infused in blackcurrant wood and smoked juniper. This a very pleasant way of having morels (usually never a bad time for morels) and the flavour combinations were fine but the cheese inside appeared a touch cold for the warm dish it was which impacted on its texture. It is perhaps better either being hotter or a different cheese that is smoother and runnier in texture but not volcanic in temperature at the same time.
Norwegian Lamb came from the West coast of Norway and the slab shown prior to the meal was slow-cooked for four hours with a range of herbs as its bouquet garni and this ended up being presented as a miniature slice on the plate and served with garlic mustard leaves, pickled violet flowers onion marmalade on bottom, reduction from saddle stock. This was high-grade lamb with lovely crispy skin, well-rendered fat and with wonderful reduction. There was nothing to not like with this and whenever I have lamb in a restaurant which is average in ‘lambness’, it’s times like those I wish I could just teleport them to moments like this to share the taste and show just how lamb can taste. This was another utterly superb and knock out dish albeit in micro form (all diners have a different amount of stomach space I appreciate, but I would have been very happy for a touch more here). This was another dish that was simply hard to fault in all-round cooking and flavours.
The cheese course was a product of liquid nitrogen antics, served frozen with liquid pickled black trumpet mushrooms from Stavanger (Southwest coast). This was a playful invention with it very much needing the pickled sweetness from the black trumpet mushroom and was good to have the cheese within the collection of savouries, but I believe you can gain the same essence of cheese in its normal, room temperature state when it is really good. You might just need to prepare your mouth with some hot water before having this course as possibly the coldest substance in the universe to eat.
Cultured milk was the first dessert with rhubarb & oxalis (an edible flower like wood sorrel). Normally herbs in dessert don’t do much for me other than the picture, but this was actually very good as the leaves had natural sweetness in them when bitten through and the milk and whey completely toned the sourness which was a very good call. Next was a blend of coffee, butter and hazelnut. A super-smooth ice cream with a hint of coffee was on a bed of hazelnut crumbs and coffee gel and drizzles of melted salted butter from Røros (renowned region in central Norway and on the border with Sweden), solidified on top of the ice cream on contact causing a pleasant texture almost like a thin layer of wax. Most importantly, the deliberately scorched hazelnut had a touch of bitterness that was good and all came together nicely. A mini tart of wild strawberries (miniature in themselves and the smallest I have ever seen) came with custard and on a pastry that was deep in flavour. This had a hugely potent strawberry taste and I was sad when it was over.
No Scandinavian meal or outing is complete without waffles. These were beautifully thin and aged in beef fat with buckwheat miso as another lovely twist that did work well with the sweet pots of sour cream, cloudberry jam and brown cheese spreads. I haven’t had Gjetost (pronounced ‘Yetost’) since childhood days and this immediately made me smile as a result being in its more spreadable form. This was all served with a very subtle and drinkable coffee from Tim Wendelboe as the restaurant’s single choice of brand finishing the meal on another very good note. Were it not for the courses with cheese for example, I would have gone with a slightly higher percentile.
On a miscellaneous note, I was informed that Maaemo will be moving from its current premises to another site about 500 metres away in the New Year in order to have greater facilities (more lavatories than the one at present and a greater kitchen and kitchen development area) but the number of covers will remain the same which I was pleased to hear as the focus will / should remain on the diner experience as a result.
You know when you have had a quality meal when you are a bit down when it has to come to an end, even after 17 courses. The whole experience here is one of the greats and at the heights of professionalism which was a true pleasure to be the recipient of. I told the kitchen team afterwards that it is actually not a guarantee these days that going to a 3 Michelin starred restaurant will bring about a grand experience, but on this occasion it very much did and I meant every word as I do now. A super meal and experience in general which I heartily recommend.
Food Grade: 93%
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