In Oslo, there’s a restaurant that’s only open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner and for lunch on Friday and Saturday. As you can imagine, to get a reservation for one of their eight tables takes dedication. You have to go online and book 90 days in advance [ELIN’s TIP: the website is now open starting at midnight (CET), so the time zone difference now works in our favour.] The lunch and dinner menus are the same, so if you’re lucky and can secure a table, don’t make any other plans – they recommend that you plan at least four hours for your meal, and if you are there for dinner, you will be there all evening.
The restaurant is the brain child of Esben Holmboe Bang and, since 2010, it has been delighting Norwegians and lucky visitors from the rest of the world with a “journey through the Norwegian landscape”. Maaemo (Old Norse for “Mother Earth”) focuses on the seasons, local ingredients and “the raw nature of Norway” – over 20 very imaginative and playful courses!
In 2012, 15 months after opening, Maaemo was the first Nordic spot to be awarded two Michelin stars. How to top that? In 2016, they were awarded the coveted third star. In 2015, Maaemo found themselves on the Pellegrino Top 100 restaurants list, a mere two years (2013) after Head Chef Esben Holmboe Bang was named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential Chefs in the World.
With these accolades, it is no wonder that Pete and I were extremely happy to snag a Friday lunch seating! (Side note, by accident, I managed to book and confirm lunch reservations for both Friday and Saturday. We had just arrived in Oslo when I received an email saying that my Saturday reservations had been cancelled. In a mild panic, we emailed the restaurant asking why our table had been cancelled. It was at this point that they told me that I had actually had two reservations and since I had replied to the Friday one they thought I wanted to keep that one. PHEW!)
The restaurant is a little tricky to find, as it is on the second floor, up a flight of stairs. We didn’t see any signs on the ground level, but once up the stairs were greeted by two staff members outside making sure we knew that we were at the right place.
The room is an anomaly in the restaurant world. With rents at a premium, most restaurants try to maximize their “covers”: seats in the house. Maaemo does the opposite. There are only eight very large tables well spaced in the open room. Our table for two could have easily seated six. The day we were there, we were told that the staff outnumbered the guests. The philosophy behind this is that the menu has to mean something and be a complete meal. The room must be beautiful and clean, but the focus is on what is important, the food.
A note on the staff. Throughout the meal, we had chefs and various servers talking about the food, wines and the wheres and whys of the meal. Our two main servers, Ida and Einar, were amazing. Both were extremely enthusiastic about the food and knowledgeable about the wine/beer/sake that was poured in accompaniment. (We had the wine pairing menu with the meal.) I can not say enough about how high the level of service was, it was incredible.
Pete was in heaven as they explained that, since it was winter, the menu was based on winter foods, which in Norway are heavy on fish, shellfish and preserves. They kitchen (they ask to be notified in advance) was great in creating, in some cases brand new, special items for my non-fish and shellfish meal.
Toronto people – one of the many reasons to love Chef Essen Holmoe Bang? He is a Leafs fan!
Without further ado, here is the Winter Menu that we enjoyed at Maaemo. Warning, serious food porn ahead!
- Warm broth – this duck broth is a 4-day process, with the bones being cooked the first day before being joined by onion, congee and duck neck. It is served with a drizzle of butter that has been infused with the ducks feet.
- Duck feet – the duck’s feet are bathed and deboned, then cooked crispy, topped with duck liver, fermented cherry juice, grains and Oexalis (which look like little feathers)
- Cornet – a crispy coronet with caramelized yeast topped with smoked vendace roe (I had mustard seeds to look like the roe pearls)
- “Lompe” – A traditional potato flat bread with “rockfiska ” (fermented trout which spends six months brined in salt and a little sugar), horseradish, cured egg, sour cream and pickled onions. (I had kale, cabbage and sea grass topped with egg, sour cream and pickled onions.) Eating instructions? Fold it like a taco because it is Friday.
- The signature oyster dish was up next. It was an emulsion of raw Norwegian oysters form Bømlo, topped with a warm sauce made from cream, mussel juice, oyster juice and dill. It was salty like the taste of the ocean. (I had a foam of Norwegian Troll potatoes topped with a foam of cheese.)
- The wild scallop from Nordskot was courtesy of Diver Roderick who dives every morning for wild scallops. It is pan-fried then topped with cream, bacon, juice from the scallop, elderflower mead and roe. (I had a Kohlrabi that was lactose-fermented with lemon verbena and mustard seed.)
- The next dish is a signature dish “Norway-served” representing the forest to the fjords. A Langoustine tail with butter infused with hand-gathered pines, pine pickle, vinegar and “langoustines from days gone by”. This dramatic piece is served on a hand-tied bough of pine and is meant to be eaten with your hands. (I had an oyster mushroom glazed with pine butter and served with a mushroom broth.)
- In celebration of the World Championship of Cod Fishing (which had started two days previously), the next dish was a cod fishing tribute. Lightly-salted cod from the North (it is darker in colour as the fish is from deeper in the sea) is served with a sauce containing mussel juice and “made with tears” – it contains horseradish peals which are also referred to as “Norwegian tapioca” – potatoes mixed with hand-juiced horseradish (harder on the eyes than onions!), parsley and Oexalis. (I had the same sauce, minus the mussel juice with parsley root.)
- The bread and butter course is a tradition in Scandinavian fare. The bread is made with freshly-milled Norwegian heritage wheat (as is the beer it was paired with). It is sour dough bread (the mother bread was started almost one year ago) which is baked daily. The homemade butter is made from Norwegian cream which is whisked, and then the whey is rewhisked into the butter. The beautiful knife is wood with antler.
- Rømmegrøt – porridge made from sour cream topped with dehydrated, smoked and grated reindeer heart, salted brown butter and plum vinegar.
- Another Norwegian tradition – quail egg very gently cooked in roasted bone marrow, cured mutton and charred and pickled onions. The onions were supplied by Finn, an 80-year old gentleman who supplies Maaemo with their onions and vegetables. The instructions were to break the egg and mix it in to make the sauce until creamy. (I thought this would make an awesome Norwegian carbonara!)
- Duck hearts were the last main course, served with salted cherries and cherry blossoms, with a cream sauce made from duck innards and fermented cherry wood.
- Cheese course! Frozen blue cheese with pickled black trumpet mushrooms. The Norwegian blue cheese is made by Lise, a 27-year old with a PhD in cheese making. The cheese is stored for six months and has hints of horseradish and pepper. The cheese is frozen with nitrogen and then served with a purée of pickled black trumpet mushrooms (from last year) and a gel from the black trumpet mushrooms.
- We go camping for the next course. The juniper pine-filled (the pine is harvested three times a week) dish is lit on fire and showcases the smoked juniper ice cream which sits atop a juniper crumble with a fermented black current sauce in the middle. I thought this was similar to a panna cotta.
- Salted brown butter ice cream with coffee molasses and roasted hazelnuts, prepared tableside by Einar was served with a Vin Santo.
- The “Plate of Joy”. Here is the dedication of this chef. The team went to a local dairy farm and tasted the milk of 19 different cows. The milk winner was Isrosa! She was born in the snow and her milk is turned into a milk sorbet with honey crumble, caramelized honey and oil from rhubarb roots. Chef Essen thinks this is his favourite and most meaningful dish as you can follow the seasons with a single animal.
- The last course was warm Norwegian waffles made with beef fat and Koji grains served with brown cheese, preserved berries and whipped rømme. Besides the fact that these waffles are delicious, they give you the opportunity for a romantic photo op!
What a great experience! We loved all 17 courses and the opportunity to speak with Chef Esben Holmboe Bang, who for the record is as incredibly tall as he is passionate about his food.
Added bonus, we got to go into the kitchen to say our thank yous. What a beautiful kitchen with a stunning view!
Where: Schweigaardsgt, 15, N-0191, Oslo, Norway; When: Wednesday – Thursday: 6 pm (latest 7:30 pm) seating, Friday and Saturday: 12 pm (latest 12:45 pm) seating, 7 pm (latest 8:30 pm) seating