Oslo’s Maaemo gets three Michelin stars

The Norwegian capital can now claim to be home to one of the 100 best restaurants in the world.

Oslo’s Maaemo gets three Michelin stars
Maaemo is one of just two Nordic restaurants that can claim three stars. Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB scanpix
Three Michelin stars were awarded to Maaemo on Wednesday, making it just one of two restaurants in the Nordics to receive the coveted distinction. 
“This is just insanely huge,” Maaemo head waiter Benjamin Ausland told NTB after Wednesday’s announcement was made in Copenhagen. “But what we need to do now is think about our guests tonight and the work we need to do to ensure that they have an unforgettable evening.”
He beams with pride with the chefs in the kitchen work in concentrated silence in the background. The photographers aim their cameras at them, but there are few smiles to be found – just focused looks and busy hands. 
“I can assure you that there were many smiles and we toasted with champagne. But we will wait for the big celebration when Esben returns,” Ausland said. 
Maaemo’s head chef, Esben Holmboe-Bang, was in his native Denmark for the Michelin announcement on Wednesday. 
Maaemo was given the top listing in Michelin’s Nordic Guide 2016 with three stars. It is an honour that only a little over 100 restaurants in the world can claim. 
“I have been a chef for 17 years now. I started in Denmark, moved around and then came to Oslo,” Holmboe-Bang said from Copenhagen. 
Maaemo’s online booking absolutely exploded when the stars were announced and now it is not possible to reserve a table for the next three months. 
In the new Michelin guide, Oslo restaurant Konstrast and Stavanger’s Re-Naa also each received one star. 
Food and Agriculture Minister Jon George Dale was delighted with Wednesday’s awards. 
“Congratulations to the Norwegian restaurants that received stars. A special congratulations to Maaemo as the first restaurant in the Nordics with three stars,” Dale said. 
Maaemo actually joins Copenhagen restaurant Geranium as the only three-star restaurants in Scandinavia. 

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Europe’s first underwater restaurant opens in Norway

For the chef and diners alike, each meal beneath the waves at Europe's first underwater restaurant is a thing of wonder.

Europe's first underwater restaurant opens in Norway
Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

“We have this small window next to the kitchen and every time some special kind of fish comes by, I always start thinking about how it would taste,” says chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard.

The aptly named new restaurant Under opened a few weeks ago in Lindesnes on Norway's southern tip.

It serves up Poseidon's delicacies in an architectural showpiece that stretches down five metres underwater, offering a unique closeup of ocean life.

From the outside, the giant concrete monolith juts out from the craggy shoreline, while its other end tips down into the North Sea.

Customers enter the restaurant onshore through a wood-panelled passage and descend down a long, oak staircase into a dimly lit dining room. Here, a gigantic plexiglass underwater window takes centre stage.

The 36-square-metre window — “like a sunken periscope” in the words of its designers — offers a panoramic view of the ever changing live aquatic show.

Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

In Norwegian “'Under' means it's under, like submerged, underwater, and it also means a sense of wonder,” says Stig Ubostad, who co-owns the eatery with his brother, Gaute.

“It is without doubt the largest one in the world and the only one in Europe.”

There are no clown fish or sharks, like at other underwater restaurants in more tropical locations such as the Maldives or Dubai.

Rather, it is in this simple, but no less spectacular forest of kelp that cod, pollock and wrasse swim past depending on the season, with occasional visits from their predators, seals and the large seaducks, eider.

“It's an area on the southern tip where the brackish water from the east meets the salty water from the Atlantic, so the richness of the species is very high,” says Trond Rafoss, a marine biologist involved in the project.

In addition to its distinctive architecture and fine dining, Under wants to shine a spotlight on environmental issues.

The international waiting staff are trained to provide guests with information about the aquatic show they are watching.

“The guests are on an adventure. They are exploring the nature themselves, because this is not an aquarium.

“The fish might look at us as an aquarium because what's happening outside here is under natural control,” Rafoss says.

“You will never be disappointed, nature is never disappointing.”

The restaurant is a 34-metre monolith designed by Norwegian firm Snohetta, known for its celebrated buildings such as the Oslo Opera and the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion in New York.

Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

It can serve up to 40 diners during its one sitting a day, five nights a week.

In the kitchen, Danish chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard and his staff let their imaginations run wild when creating seasonal menus based primarily on what the sea has to offer, including a dessert composed of five different types of algae collected from a nearby shore.

“We try to use things that are in the area, and also use things that nobody else is really using,” Ellitsgaard says.

The restaurant however is probably not for everyone's budget.

The tasting menu, consisting of 16 to 18 dishes, costs 2,250 kroner (230 euros) per person — and double that when wine is included.

Under is nonetheless fully booked for the next six months.

“The wonder is when you come here from the surface and you get into this magnificent light,” says Dag Jacobsen, a 59-year-old professor, who dined there with his wife and another couple.

“You see this kind of underwater light… The greenish, bluish water and all the interior here is also quite tuned to the sea as well, so you get a feeling of just diving into the sea.”

For those who might worry about a catastrophe befalling the underwater structure, the owner says they can rest assured.

The 26-centimetre-thick plexiglass window is designed to withstand storms, and the entire structure, with its thick concrete walls, is built to resist pressure and shocks from the rugged sea conditions.

“We've been through so many consultants I think it's safer than anything else,” says Ubostad. 

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