It was a one night only Maaemo pop-up at Brutus. The event sold out in 20 minutes. One Instagram post to advertise is all it took. That’s more a testament to the status of Esben Holmboe Bang – Norway’s best chef – than the power of social media, though. As the founder and owner of the country’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant (of which there are only one other in the Nordics), he has a unique brand. I was on the waiting list myself, at first, but was lucky to get a seat in the end.
5 Dishes, Served in 50 minutes, Priced at NOK 500
In all honesty, it’s pretty pointless to review a pop-up dinner. Especially when it’s a one-off event. You’re never going to experience it anyway, so who cares? Yet, here we go … Since Esben managed to showcase some of the most iconic flavors of the Norwegian food culture in such a short menu, I think it’s interesting to have a closer look.
This was a 5-course dinner priced at NOK 500 (food only), that took the guys only 50 minutes to serve us from start to finish. It was clear from the moment we sat down, that time was of the essence. With three full seatings ahead, they had to get people seated and served – fast! At this point, I also understood how we had gotten a spot despite being on the waiting list. Tables and chairs were crammed in everywhere, and people were even seated in the windows. Add some 80s and 90s hits blasting over the speakers, and waiters trying to squeeze in-between to serve food, and you have a great Sunday evening ambiance.
Esben Holmboe Bang did not meet up alone. Accompanying him was a handful of his most trusted chefs and waiters. I spotted his sous chef, Peder Støylen, head of R&D, Rob Jacob Drennan, and sommelier Petter Svanæs. If you showed up this evening with expectations to be served a Maaemo-level meal at a fraction of the cost – you might have been disappointed. However, if you enjoyed the food as casual interpretations of some of Esben Holmboe Bang’s classics, you may have left as happy as me.
1st Course – Waffles & Løyrom
Literally placed on the table the moment I sat down on my chair, was the first serving of waffles with løyrom (vendace roe). Presumably, made with dry-aged beef fat and the same waffle recipe as the petits fours at Maaemo. However, they were not as good as the originals. Clearly, they had been pre-made so they could be served quickly, but that also meant they were not as warm, light and crispy as I have learned to love them.
At Maaemo, your fingers are coated in the beef fat when you eat these waffles, but that was not the case here. Still, with a bowl filled with cream and løyrom to dip in – how bad can it be? I enjoyed the first snack, but five waffle hearts per person was already too much. We could sense that gluten allergics were not welcome this evening (then again, are they ever?).
2nd Course – Potato & Herring
Potato and herring is a good example of how Holmboe Bang manages to take two of Norway’s most typical, but also simplest products, and turn them into a magnificent dish. The winner of the pop-up, in my opinion, with a great balance of flavors. Salty and sweet, with a lovely acidity, and warm and creamy textures.
3rd Course – Fermented Trout & Potato Pancake
I was surprised to see another stack of wheat cakes arrive at our table. No one was leaving hungry tonight, for sure! This time, it was the potato pancake that we call lefse. On the side, was a rillette of rakfisk (fermented trout) with horseradish shavings. At Maaemo, you get a more elaborate version of this served as a small snack. Check my recent post if you are curious about how it looks like. I loved this rustic presentation as well, but, compared to the original, the dish was missing acidity.
4th Course – Sour Cream Porridge & Browned Butter
A warm sour cream porridge drizzled with hearty amounts of browned butter. Served with cured meat and flatbreads on the side. A weird but wonderful main course. Wonderful because I’m a sucker for browned butter, and I love Esben’s take on a sour cream porridge. Weird because it didn’t look much like an entrée. Yet, it sort of worked. I’d like to get my hands on more of that cured ham, but I forgot to ask where it was from. Maybe Indre Oslo Matforedling?
Course 5 – Fastlavnsbolle
Fastelavnsbolle, misspelled Fastelavensbolle both on the menu and in my Instagram story (shame on me, at least), is a traditional Norwegian sweet roll. Yes … more gluten! We eat them during Shrovetide, and they are equally common in Sweden and Denmark. Esben’s version of the bun was glazed with ox fat, and stuffed with marzipan and raspberry jam. On top, was a cream with freeze-dried raspberry dust. Delicious, but oh-so-filling!
Varieties of wheat bread in four out of five courses was a bit of a killer. That’s the risk you run with a one-off pop-up dinner where the menu is untested. When the biggest complaint about a meal is that you got too full, however, you know it’s a first-world problem. We had juicy natural wines and sparkling ciders in our glasses and could not have been happier. The evening ended with more wine at Brutus’ weird cousin bar next door – Gurken Gurken Gurke Gurken.
Did you attend the pop-up? Feel free to share your experience in a comment below.