Michelin-Star Heaven Costs $650 for One at Oslo’s Maaemo

I wouldn’t describe Maaemo as expensive. That would hardly cover it.

Dinner with matching wines for one in this Oslo restaurant costs 3,250 kroner ($570). There’s no choice on the menu, and almost all diners take the drinks pairing. Add an aperitif, water, coffee, taxes and service, and you exceed $650. OK, I’ll admit: I tipped less than 10 percent to keep the price down.

You might think Maaemo is for the very rich and/or the very stupid. If so, there are a lot of us. It’s tough to get a table, and I didn’t spot anyone in the dining room sporting bling or a dunce’s cap. They were mostly quiet middle-aged people like myself. I wasn’t saying much (apart from the occasional “wow”) because I was alone.

The food, fortunately, is sublime. The 10-course menu runs to 26 plates, if you include the canapes etc. (Elsewhere, these extras are termed “freebies”: The word hardly applies here.) The pairings are inspired, and the service is faultless.

(Restaurants in Norway’s capital are generally hideously expensive, and cost doesn’t necessarily equate to value.)

Maaemo, which opened in December 2010, landed two Michelin stars last year. Michelin’s 2013 assessment is due later this month. The chef, Esben Holmboe Bang -- a Dane -- is 30 years old. “Maaemo” means “Mother Earth,” or “all that is living” in old Norse, according to Bang.

Glass Kitchen

Maaemo is housed in a new office building on the wrong side of the tracks -- near the city’s central railway station. It’s hushed and dark, and every table is illuminated by a spotlight. Candles are dotted around a room that seats 25 to 30. The kitchen is in a glass box on a mezzanine overlooking the diners.

Ingredients are predominantly from Norway or the Nordic region. Your waiter can tell you the area, the supplier, and sometimes even the farm where they’re from. The meal begins with as many as 10 small plates before you get to the first course.

These appetizers may include frozen cow’s milk; salsify pickled in juniper; red-cabbage gel with horseradish; a traditional porridge with reindeer heart and brown butter; a cornet of chicken liver cream with dried chanterelle gel; grilled cucumber and parsley; and an oyster emulsion served in a beautiful dish with oyster shells. The presentation of each plate is striking.

Spruce Juice

The first course of two langoustines with a glaze of pickled spruce juice comes atop a rock and cuttings of spruce, with spruce smoke.

Two of the four hand-dived scallops from Norway’s west coast that follow come as a mousseline, with sea buckthorn. They are served with Sydre Argelette Eric Bordelet 2011, a cider made by chef Alain Passard’s former sommelier at Arpege.

Bread is a course in itself, served on a warm millstone together with Bogedal Hvede 2012 wheat beer from Denmark with orange peel and coriander seeds. Celeriac & apple is followed by cod with aquavit jelly, charred shallots and cheese-fat jus, then potatoes with mutton-infused butter.

Other dishes include reindeer with Jerusalem artichoke and walnut muesli, with Swedish truffle foam; blue cheese from Eggen Farm with trompette gel (with Mas Amiel 1980); buttermilk sorbet with mountain herbs; fried rye-bread cream with a disc of mead gel; burnt marzipan and wheat-beer vinegar; brown-butter ice cream; birch macaroon; brown cheese with last year’s strawberry.

Noma, Ego

This may all sound rather a lot to eat -- I’ve skipped a few of the plates for brevity -- and I wouldn’t recommend Maaemo for those short on passion for gastronomy. This is cooking at the highest level, and it’s cooking with no ego: Search the website all you want, you won’t find the name of the chef.

When you think of what $650 could buy you, dinner for one might not figure. (If it did, how about a round-trip air fare and a visit to Noma -- the world’s best restaurant -- where dinner with wine costs $440, including tax?)

Yet I do hope to go back to Maaemo. This is a chef with a unique voice surrounded by a team with which he is in harmony.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? The set menu is 1,900 kroner ($333); the drinks pairing is 1,350 kroner ($236) plus taxes and service.

Sound level? Below 70 decibels. You can hear your jaw drop.

Inside tip? Book early.

Special feature? It’s one of the best restaurants in the world and it’s in Norway. What could be more special?

Will I be back? I’d like to.

Date place? Yes, if you’re planning to propose.

Rating? ****. (I don’t have five to give.)

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience.
***          First-class of its kind.
** Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Maaemo is at 15 Schweigaards Gate, Oslo, 0191. Information: +47-91-994-805 or http://maaemo.no/.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Richard Vines on food, John Mariani on wine, Lance Esplund on art and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.

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