Review: Maaemo (2016) Norway's Three-Michelin-Starred Restaurant

I don’t always eat my dinners at Maaemo when I am in Oslo, but when I do, it’s fun to bring someone who hasn’t been there before. This evening, a table for two was booked at the chef’s table in the test kitchen upstairs. We ordered an Uber Black for the occasion because you might as well arrive at Maaemo in style. At the entrance of Maaemo, we were met by a new kind of greeting. Head chef Esben Holmboe Bang and restaurant manager Benjamin Ausland stood outside and waited for us, and the entire front of house was lined up further inside the hallway. This reminded me of the famous “Noma welcome,” except at Noma all the chefs come out of the kitchen to say hi as well. Well, lo and behold, as we walked up the stairs to the test kitchen all the chefs did indeed come out to greet us. The kitchen in Maaemo is located on the second floor, and the chef’s table has a direct view of the busy kitchen. This reservation is a unique experience and highly recommended if the table is available.

Potato pancake with king crab from Finnmark, elderberry & seaweed.
Potato pancake with king crab from Finnmark, elderberry & seaweed.

A Three Michelin Star Experience

Even though I have been to Maaemo a few times already, I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I take a seat at the chef’s table. There are so many expressions to take in: the way in which you are greeted like an old friend upon arrival, the elegant interior that surrounds you, the stunning view of the Barcode buildings in the background – and that’s all before you even had a bite of the food. As we sat down we found ourselves just giggling and smiling. That’s the magic of Maaemo.

My last visit to Maaemo was in early February, a few weeks prior to the launch of the 2016 Michelin Nordic Guide. Since I had a good feeling that Maaemo would get their third star I had prepared a video from that visit, which I published the moment it was announced on stage by the Michelin Guide’s international director Michael Ellis. I recommend to check out that video if you want to get the true sense of what a meal at this level looks like. This latest visit was an evening of celebration and not work. Thus, I only captured a few of the new dishes we got in the test kitchen.

Chef Esben Holmboe Bang was in a particularly good mood.
Chef Esben Holmboe Bang was in a particularly good mood.
Fava beans from Hvaler, red gooseberry, and fresh fermented cheese.
Fava beans from Hvaler, red gooseberry, and fresh fermented cheese.
Salted onion from last summer, aquavit & essence of rhubarb roots.
Salted onion from last summer, aquavit & essence of rhubarb roots.

New Dishes in the Test Kitchen

The classic dishes, like the “rømmegrøt” with shavings of reindeer heart and the brown butter ice cream, were as pleasant and tasty as always. One of my favorite new dishes this evening was actually the first bite: a tartelette with grilled vegetables, flowers, and ants. Say what you want about eating ants, but they can give an amazing acidity to a dish if used correctly. I loved it. The third dish, a potato pancake topped with king crab, had an incredibly rich, buttery, mouthfeel. The kind of flavor you wish would never end. I am glad other people had decided the size of the dish, because I would just have kept on eating more of that. Maybe Esben could make a casual Norwegian taco joint where they served only this?

Check out the plate with mackerel and summer flowers below. If that does not showcase how the food at this level is elevated to an art, then few things will. It’s so pretty that you want to just give it back to the waiter. “Thanks for letting me have a look.” That is until you taste it, of course. The fresh summer peas and sweetbreads from Anni’s Pølsemakeri was the next highlight for me. Esben explained: “We’ve chosen to keep the skin on the peas, because the texture when you chew them is so much better.” He was right. I love sweetbreads, but in this dish, they were actually just a supplement to the peas which were the stars.

The restaurant manager, 22-year-old Benjamin Ausland, was our host upstairs and once again did an exceptionally good job. It makes me wonder: Where was I in life when I was at that age? I certainly was not leading a three Michelin-starred restaurant. Esben made a few appearances too during the meal, presenting some of the dishes, and he was in a particularly good mood this evening. In the kitchen, though, he controls his workforce with military precision. He shouts orders and they answer: “Ja, takk!” A welcoming sight was one of the new sommelier in the house – Einar Bakkemoen. He used to work at Statholdergaarden and spent a few weeks last summer pouring wines at Territoriet. He looked very happy to be part of the Maaemo team.

Lightly pickled mackerel from the Oslo fjord with summer flowers and ramson.
Lightly pickled mackerel from the Oslo fjord with summer flowers and ramson.
Scallops from Frøya prepared with fermented honey from Maaemo's own bees, fresh chanterelles, and thyme.
Scallops from Frøya prepared with fermented honey from Maaemo’s own bees, fresh chanterelles, and thyme.
Biodynamic raspberries, verbena & oxalis.
Biodynamic raspberries, verbena & oxalis.
Burnt green juniper berries and fermented red currants.
Burnt green juniper berries and fermented red currants.
Petits fours. In the back: Norwegian "chocolate" made from buckwheat with freeze-dried strawberry dust. Brown cheese tart in the front.
Petits fours. In the back: Norwegian “chocolate” made from buckwheat with freeze-dried strawberry dust. Brown cheese tart in the front.

Have you experienced the magic of Maaemo? Please share your story in a comment.

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8 comments

  • I just discovered your website – gorgeous pictures! Very excited to visit Maaemo early next year. How does one make a reservation at the test kitchen table?

  • I have been there twice – the autumn of 2012. An experience like no other. Must go back soon. Meanwhile I can avert my eyes from my work computer, turn my head 40 degrees if i feel like it, and share their wiev, from the slightly different perspective of 7 meters above. Or see the staff on the way to their changing room, and get a glimpse of their stockroom in the basement. I work in the floor right above the restaurant!

  • Will dining at the test kitchen table cost the same as dining at a regular table? I have a booking for one november 2. and I’m concidering trying to change to a test kitchen booking. Do you prefer the test kitchen?

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