Why make the journey? Simple – it’s the only Michelin 3-star in Norway.
Situated in a modern glass building next to the pedestrian bridge across from Oslo Central Station, this was the first restaurant in Norway (together with Geranium in Copenhagen) to be awarded (in 2016) a 3-star rating in the Michelin Guide. The name, in case you were wondering, means “mother earth”.
Good service? Yes, flawless – even if it’s a bit on the robotic side.
The setup of the dining area must surely be unique. It’s arranged around a staircase that leads up to the kitchen, which is separated off by a floor-to-ceiling window. Basically, the kitchen is above the dining room giving it a birds-eye view of the whole area. Whenever a course is served, each diner is attended (at the same time) by an individual member of the kitchen staff. On the night we dined at Maaemo, there was a table of nine, and for each and every one of the 15+ courses, nine chefs would queue up in the kitchen holding a plate before walking down the stairs and serving each guest in perfect synchrony. An amusing scene, but also a bit over the top!
What type of cuisine? Typical “New Nordic” fine dining.
After 2010, when chef Rene Redzepi’s Noma hit the #1 spot in the World’s 50 Best list, New Nordic cuisine became something of a trend in the gastronomic world. Its typical themes – foraging, local ingredients, minimalist plating, etc. – became so familiar to me that, like many of my foodie friends, I got a little bored of the whole genre. I always find it too flat for my palate with a narrow range of flavours. And, in winter and spring, when the cold climate forbids too much farming, there’s lots of fermenting, preserving and pickling going on, I find the constant presence of sourness that marks every meal.
And, for me, this disenchantment with New Nordic goes beyond the food itself. It extends to the presentation, too: all that serving of scallops on a shell on a plate decorated with seaweed, or langoustine serving on a pile of pine branches, as if the chef were cooking in the wild. It all strikes me as just a tad pretentious. If this were Faviken, then OK since it is really in the most remote part of the earth; but here, at Maaemo, it just doesn’t work. Rustic and nature-themed serviceware simply doesn’t gel with a contemporary and stylish dining environment situated right next to the busiest train station in the country!
Despite all these negative expectations, the menu on the evening of our booking was seafood oriented, which is very much my thing! So there was hope yet! And, to some extent, that hope was realised. Yes, the flavour of the seafood was quite weak, but it was cooked with care and accompanied by a very tasty sauce, providing a good lift to what would otherwise have been a rather bland dish. The scallops with fermented white asparagus cream and the king crab with miso, are both excellent examples of Chef Esben’s sophisticated skills. But the best dish of the evening was, by far, the langoustine, which somehow managed to preserve a subtle hint of pine without sacrificing the delicate flavour of the fresh langoustine. However, it has to be said that some of the dishes seemed a bit confused in concept. The thin slices of leek with preserved trout, for example, was rather incomplete by itself, while the porridge of sour cream with plum vinegar was simply unpleasant. And then there was the mixture of egg yolk with bone marrow and tapioca. . . I mean, why?
Still, it has to be said that, as with most Michelin 3-star establishments, the tasting menu was very elaborate, and it was very obvious that every dish had been cooked with great care. In summary, if you’re in the mood for fine-dine meal in Oslo, and you’re relaxed about your budget, then this is certainly a place worth considering. As for me, I’m in no hurry to make another special journey to Maaemo.