Michelin goes Nordic

February 26th 2015 sees the release of what is being labeled “the brand new and completely independent Guide Michelin Nordic Countries (MNC).” It is of course not the first one. The first one was launched last year amidst great expectations during the “Main Cities of Europe” release.

The 2014 MNC was a shambles of unprecedented proportions, in as much as it failed to offer any more geographical depth than what was already covered in the long-standing Main Cites of Europe publication. As one of what I suspect is a select few owners of both publication I can assure you that the inaugural MNC is best used to help one of my wife’s many handbags retain its shape while sitting on the wardrobe shelf.

One would think that this would dampen expectations leading up to this year’s release. However, the cold Nordic air is once again filled with rumors, and many a chef and stakeholder is quivering with anticipation these last few days before the announcement on February 26th.

There seems to be a common belief that every nock and cranny has been thoroughly inspected and evaluated, and as such that we are in for a landslide of new Michelin starred restaurants from the most far-flung reaches of the region.

Also there seems to be a consensus that a new MNC is synonymous with the inclusion of a three-starred restaurant by promoting one of the existing two-starred establishments. In Oslo there are whispers of Maaemo, the city’s only two-star, being lifted to three-star status. However, I am sure the same is being said about the two-starred eateries Franzen and Dahlgren in Stockholm as well as Noma and Geranium in Copenhagen.

Read my review and see my photos from Geranium here.

The possible implications of this long awaited recognition of the region’s culinary excellence are also being voiced. Indeed, Director of Communication with the Norwegian Hospitality Association Merete Habberstad was recently quoted on Norway’s foremost financial news website stating; “This (a new MNC) will strengthen Norway’s position as a food destination.”

With stakes this high, it is perhaps to be expected that the blood runs a little hot with some of those who stand to gain the most. But what if one was to take a more somber look at the cold and clear starry skies in the north. What can we reasonably expect?

Well, the inclusion of a three-star restaurant seems obvious. To the best of my knowledge no other Michelin guide exists without a single three-star. You could get carried away and hope for several, but that seems unlikely. To me Copenhagen’s Geranium is the clear frontrunner, and while there is a strong case to be made for Stockholm’s Franzen in my estimation the previously unlisted Faviken in remote Jarpen is a closer contender. However, a new entry at three stars is almost unprecedented.

Read my review and see my photos from Faviken here.

For those Norwegian readers holding a candle for Maaemo, I can only refer to last year’s predictions where I talked about the historical difficulty of moving up from two stars. Simply improving on last year does not automatically warrant more stars.

As far as inclusions from areas not previously covered I will freely admit that my knowledge of the distant regions of my neighboring countries decreases proportionally with their the distance from a major airport. That said, I do not see how Michelin could afford to yet again overlook such remarkable restaurants as the previously mentioned Faviken in Jarpen and Daniel Berlin in the south Swedish region of Skåne. Henne Kirkeby Kro on the western-most tip of Denmark, run by the charismatic chef Paul Cunningham, also seems like a shoe-in for a star. Chef Cunningham previously held a star at the playful, and now closed “The Paul” in Copenhagen.

In fact there are too many high quality restaurants previously excluded by Michelin’s narrow geographic scope to mention here. As such I feel confident that we are in for an onslaught of new inclusions from both Denmark and Sweden.

However, I fear a much more muted celebration will follow the announcement on February 26th in Norway

Although Oslo started the year with five Michelin starred restaurants it now sits at a modest four after Bagatelle once again closed its doors. All the same, Oslo’s four remaining starred restaurants are all sitting pretty and I predict no change there. Keeping in mind that one-star Ylajali is closing at the end of 2015. My only concern is Statholdergaarden, the Nordics only remaining classical French restaurant, with its ornate ceiling stucco, heavy white tablecloths and freshly pressed staff. While it remains a very good restaurant, Michelin seems to be moving in another direction.

Also Oslo is currently without any serious contenders for first time star status. Recent openings Kontrast and Palmen are both showing early youthful promise, but so far they seem to lack consistency and culinary maturity.

In other Norwegian cities several restaurants consistently deliver food comparable to a Michelin star level, most notably the quiet Måltid in Kristiansand and the conversely loud Lysverket in Bergen. However, to the best of my knowledge neither of those two have had visits from the much-feared Michelin inspectors. That is in itself an obvious red flag.

Read my review and see my photos from Lysverket here.

This leads me to conclude that we will in all likelihood see a much-improved MNC for 2015 with a large number of new inclusions, primarily from cities and villages not previously covered. However, it is also likely to feature far more Swedish and Danish restaurants than any of the other countries in the region. Unfortunately, this will only serve to further any existing misconceptions surrounding the lack to the culinary destinations in the smaller Nordic countries. It is certainly not going to strengthen Norway’s position as a food destination.