Northern Skies

Saturday, July 09th , 2016

 oslo 5472 fortress main building-crop-v4.JPG 

Oslo now has six Michelin starred restaurants in addition to Maaemo, which in the 2016 guide was promoted from two stars to the ultimate three. The city itself is beside the water, with a mediaeval fortress (pictured) and port area, and a museum dedicated to the Viking era, including some well-preserved Viking longships from a thousand years ago. These days Norway is a petro economy, its oil reserves supporting a high level of infrastructure. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, right up there with the likes of Kuwait and Brunei, so as a visitor expect prices that reflect this, though it seemed to me no costlier than Denmark. Incidentally, if you want to get an insight into Scandinavia society you could do worse than read the slightly controversial book “The Almost Nearly Perfect People“ by Michael Booth, an Englishman living in Denmark who has a breezy writing style and some interesting insights into the societies of this region. 

Maaemo itself was quite impressive, with an airy dining room and modern cooking that emphasises the best in Norwegian produce. An example of this was a spectacularly good scallop dish, the scallops in their shell shown to us just before they were cooked. There were plenty of artfully tweezered flowers in some of the dishes, but such presentation was not at the expense of flavour. Even desserts were, whisper it, actually sweet, with strawberries rather than the weird sweet/savoury combinations that dominate New Nordic cooking. While the dishes were rarely at quite the level of those I had eaten recently at Pic and Troisgros, they were nonetheless very good indeed.  I found this a very enjoyable meal indeed, as well as it being technically superb.

While in Oslo I also visited Statholdergaarden, a one star restaurant and the first in Norway ever to receive that accolade. It serves quite classical food, exactly the kind of food that I particularly like, and it had a lovely dining room. Unfortunately the cooking was not very consistent at the meal that I tried, and there were one or two dishes that seemed inappropriate to the general classical culinary theme. Worse, there were slips, such as a slightly overcooked scallop and distinctly overcooked duck, and at this price level even small technical slips are hard to forgive.

Additionally I tried a casual pizzeria called Brunello, which although recommended locally was actually pretty ordinary, and just demonstrated how good places like Santa Maria and Franco Manca in London really are. Oslo is a very pleasant city to visit, and Maaemo in particular is well worthy going to. 

Following the Maaemo meal I have now been to all 113 of the restaurants in the world that currently have three Michelin stars. There are 63 in Europe, 13 in the USA, 8 in China and the rest in Japan. I first completed a tour around all the three star restaurants in the world in 2004, when there were just 49 places to try, all in Europe. Of course it is a moving target, with guides now coming out from September through to March, and occasionally outside this window (such as the one-off guide to Hokkaido that was published in 2012). Each year Michelin promote some restaurants and demote others, so the total number of three star places fluctuates. In the 2016 season there were nine promotions (Kohaku, Manresa, Tang Court, Cheval Blanc, The Table Kevin Fehling, Cinq, Plaza Athenee, Geranium, Maaemo) and five demotions: the Fat Duck was closed last year, and La Belle Epoque’s chef Kevin Fehling moved to Hamburg, Amador shut its doors while both Le Meurice and Le Relae Bernard Loiseau were straight demotions. Since 2004 there have been additions and demotions like this every year, and I have caught up with Michelin in 2008, 2012, 2014 and again now. In total I have actually visited 164 separate three star restaurants over that twelve-year period, taking into account all the restaurants that no longer have three stars but once did during that time.

As can be seen, on average roughly four places per year are either demoted from the three star level or, in cases like Las Vegas, a guide was dropped entirely. So, I now have a brief period where I am completely caught up with Michelin, just until the next guide comes out. This may be the 2017 UK guide, expected to be published at the end of September 2016. However there are seemingly some brand new guides appearing in the new 2017 season – to Singapore, Seoul, Washington DC and Shanghai. At this stage it is unclear whether these guides will become regular ones that are updated yearly, or merely one off guides, such as those to Hokkaido and Hiroshima, where the new stars flicker for a year and then expire after twelve months. The exact publication timing of these new guides is not yet public as far as I am aware.