We met two chefs in Oslo who were both passionate about their endeavors and had fascinating ideas to share about food, sustainability and above all, quality. Our first visit was to a large seafood restaurant called Tjuvholem Sjomagasin, right on the water next to a large museum being built to house a collection of artwork. Tobias Gustavsson is the Swedish-born chef who is lucky enough to be able to buy the finest line-caught sustainably harvested fish the north of Norway can provide.
With a 300 seat restaurant providing 80% wild caught fish is quite a task, but Gustavsson told us about how closely they work with fishermen on Norway’s long coastline. He showed us some langoustines and scallops that arrive within 15 hours of their being caught, from the Frjoa and Hitra islands. “This is the world’s best spot for these!” he grinned.
He said the biggest change in his customer’s palate is how much more people want to know what they are eating. Species that were once routinely exported to Spain are now served here. Another popular starter is minke whale, which isn’t common in many Oslo restaurants but delicious he said.
Later that day, we crossed town near where huge buildings are going up in a section called “The Bar Code,” since that’s what it looks like from the sky. At Maaaemo, a seven-month old 36-seat restaurant, the two principals, Pontus Dahlstrom and chef Esben Holmboe Bang approach food as a delicate art.
First we were served a fresh-picked apple juice that had a tartness as if we had just taken a bite. “We try to connect with the real flavor of the vegetable, fruit or herb. We know a crazy old guy with a cabin in the woods who consults with us about the absolutely most perfect timing for our vegetables.” They are fanatics about sourcing, scoffing at the idea of farmed salmon and anything but the most pristine cuts of pork. “We know what the pigs eat, that they run loose without concrete floors, for example.”
Their 9 course tasting menu includes pork neck, served with chantarelles cooked sous vide for many hours, as well as crayfish and pine, potatoes with wild horseradish, blueberries with lav
endar and costs $209 per person before the $178 for 8 glasses of paired wines.
But so far Oslo has embraced their philosophy of ultra top quality and supercharged enthusiasm for natural flavors, since they are booked up for two months ahead. Across the railroad tracks, which are visible in the kitchen’s plate glass windows, 60,000 people will some day work over there. “But we are not getting any bigger!” said Pontus, “We are very happy just like this.”