Maaemo (“mother earth” in old Norse) opened in December 2010 and is the only multi- Michelin starred restaurant in Norway. Six restaurants in Oslo have a solitary star in the 2016 guide, and there was just one (Bagatelle, now closed) that had two stars in the past. Unusually, Maaemo entered the Michelin guide with two stars in 2012, and was awarded the ultimate third star in the 2016 guide. The executive chef, Esben Holmboe Bang, is actually Danish though he has spent most of his culinary career in Oslo. The cooking draws heavily on organic produce from small regional farmers in Norway. According to the restaurant, 85% of the produce used comes from within 60 miles of Oslo. In charge of the kitchen tonight was Jordan Bailey, who previously worked at Sat Bains and with Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay. It is an international brigade, with just one Norwegian working in the kitchen on the night of my visit.
Maaemo is not easy to find, located above a modern block of flats and overlooking some railway tracks. You access the restaurant either via a long flight of steps or a lift that serves the flats. The dining room itself is airy, with double height ceiling and floor to ceiling windows, the kitchen a flight of stairs up from the diners. There are just eight tables, as well as a chef’s table just next to the kitchen. There is no menu selection, just a tasting menu at NOK 2,300 (£203), though they will happily adjust for culinary preferences.
The wine list had around 350 different labels, extending beyond the obvious French regions. There was a good German Riesling selection, as well as growers from Spain, Italy and beyond. Sample bottles were Domaine Mark Angeli La Lune 2012 at NOK 780 for a bottle whose retail price is NOK 190, Fritz Haag Juffer Brauneberger Sonnenuhr 2014 at a steep NOK 1,050 for a wine that will set you back just NOK 267 in the shops, and Thomas Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Macherelles 2013 at NOK 1,350 compared to its retail price of NOK 404. At the high end of the list there were prestige bottles like Lafon Meursault Charmes 2012 at NOK 3,300 compared to a shop price of NOK 1,749, and Etienne Sauzet Batard Montrachet 2013 at NOK 6,000 for a bottle with a current market value of NOK 2,725. We drank the very enjoyable Wittmann Westhofener Riesling Trocken 2012 at a distinctly chunky NOK 950 compared to a shop price of NOK 212. As can be seen, although the growers are well chosen, this is not a kindly priced list, and so not somewhere to splurge unless you are unconcerned about value for money.
The meal began with a sequence of nibbles. A chanterelle biscuit had pickled mushroom and a puree of chanterelles along with dehydrated chicken stock, which tasted a lot better than it sounds, the flavour of the chanterelles coming through well (18/20). A sorbet of yeast emulsion came with vendace (a freshwater whitefish) roe, the yeast bringing an almost sesame-like flavour note, which contrasted nicely with the roe (18/20). A pretty tartlet of fennel emulsion came with pickled garlic, salad leaves and flowers, black garlic emulsion and a few wood ants. The ants, an idea borrowed from South American cuisine, add a slight lemony acidity and otherwise have minimal flavour, so are unfamiliar to most western diners but are inoffensive in taste terms. My only issue with this dish was that the fennel flavour seemed overly subdued, though the pastry itself was delicate (17/20).
I preferred a "crab taco", the base made from potato bread, topped with kelp puree and king crab emulsion and finally a generous topping of king crab that had been cooked with mead. This was lovely, the crab tasting very fresh (18/20). Next was white trout that had been fermented in salt, a tartare of trout with sour cream and horseradish, barbecued leek and a sauce of lettuce juice and leek oil. This was really excellent, the trout flavour coming through well and lifted by the gentle heat if the horseradish, with a touch of acidity from the sour cream bring freshness (19/20).
This was followed by mahogany clam (these, incidentally, can live to a great age); they lay down rings a bit like tree rings, with one authenticated at 405 years old) that was both raw and diced, served with shiitake mushrooms from Telemark, with crispy chicken skin and a seaweed broth. This was a very umami-rich dish, the chicken skin adding a useful extra texture to the dish (17/20). We were next shown the scallops that were to form the basis of a later dish. These were from Trondheim, large specimens that were hand-dived and are delivered here daily, very much alive before they are cooked. While they were being prepared we had a "troll potato" with a layer of local cheese with dill oil along with a little cream and malt. This was very enjoyable, the warming combination of cheese and potato very comforting (18/20).
This was followed by oyster emulsion with a gel of blue mussel and oyster juice with a warm sauce of mussel and dill oil (18/20). This was impressive, the briny oyster flavour intense and working well with the dill. This is an ideal dish for someone who dislikes the texture of a raw oyster but wants to know what it tastes like.
The scallop now reappeared in two stages. The first was raw scallop with smoked cream and salsify puree, with a white currant sauce seasoned with scallop roe. The scallop itself was lovely and sweet, of very high quality, but the smokiness was too strong and distracted from the lovely shellfish (17/20). Much better was the rest of the scallop, which had been cooked over charcoal, and not just any charcoal but expensive imported Japanese bincho, the plus ne ultra of charcoal. This came with butter and apple juice, celeriac puree, raw apples and celeriac,, sorrel dust and a sauce of scallop and apple. This was a glorious dish, the shellfish superb and nicely enhanced by the gentle hint of charcoal, the apple sauce providing balancing acidity to the dish and a touch of earthy contrast from the celeriac. It is hard to imagine how you could improve on this (20/20).
Next was mackerel that had been pickled in brine and was topped with a very pretty selection of edible flowers and wild garlic along with elm seeds. There was a sauce of apple brine with garlic oil poured at the table. This was lovely, the mackerel tasting great and its oiliness nicely balanced by the sharpness of the apple, the garlic adding a pleasing extra flavour note. The sauce in particular was extremely good (19/20).
We were then brought a sourdough bread baked just before service, made just with wheat flour and water, using natural yeasts, and served with the kitchen's own butter (18/20). The next dish was based on a traditional local dish called "romme", a sour cream pudding resembling creme fraiche with vinegar and salt, and then topped with reindeer heart. This may sound odd but was actually very enjoyable, warming and comforting (17/20).
The final savoury course was ox (a working cow) that had been lightly grilled and rubbed with chives, back garlic and elderflower. This came with black garlic puree and a sauce made from the beef bones along with chive oil. On the side was a dish of greens from the same farm as the cow, dressed with an emulsion of ox juices and pickled elderflower. The ox had plenty of flavour and its richness was nicely complemented by the greens (18/20).
The cheese course was interesting. It was an unusual local blue cheese called kraftkar from Tingvoll, which recently won an award as the best Norwegian cheese. This was frozen with liquid nitrogen and served with pickled Trompette mushrooms. It is hard to score a cheese but it tasted fabulous, reminiscent of Stilton but possibly even better.
Norwegian strawberries were macerated and served with grilled roses and rose cream, served with a rose cream patisserie with strawberry jelly, and a juice of strawberry infused with rose. These were gorgeous strawberries (18/20), having the sort of flavour that is only a distant memory in the UK, where these days it almost impossible to find any strawberries with any flavour. Finally there was an ice cream of brown butter with hazelnut crumble, served with warm coffee molasses and caramelised butter. This was fine (17/20) but doesn't really compete with the pastry offerings of a top three star Michelin restaurant in France such as Pic.
Coffee was from Tim Wendelboe, a well-regarded coffee guru in Oslo, made as a filter coffee rather than espresso and very good, a Kenyan coffee having plenty of acidity. Petit fours comprised a bar of buckwheat, toasted and mixed cream and butter and topped with freeze dried strawberries. There was also tartlet with goat milk, goat whey, cow milk and cow whey, which was quite good.
Service was friendly, the dishes being generally delivered by chefs rather than waiters. The bill came to NOK 3,040 (£268) per person before tip. You would pay more if you went for the wine pairing, but if you share a modest bottle of wine then your all-in cost per head would be around £280. I enjoyed my meal at Maaemo. The cooking feels distinctively Scandinavian and makes plentiful use of local products, but the kitchen is not trying to challenge its customers with weird flavour combinations. Although some ingredients are certainly unfamiliar, at least to me, they virtually always seemed to make sense in the context of what the kitchen is trying to achieve.