For years now, all my holiday plans have been determined by food—the more far-out (and I mean that literally and metaphorically), the better. So, when my husband suggested a week in the Faroe Islands, he didn’t need to tell me that the Danish archipelago in the northern Atlantic is an ornithologist’s paradise, a hiker’s heaven, or stunningly beautiful.
All he had to say was that we had a reservation at Koks.
One of the most remote of the world’s great restaurants, Koks is the domain of chef Poul Andrias Ziska, who has built a reputation (among non-queasy gastronomes) for applying modern cooking techniques to traditional Faroese ingredients. Those can include fermented lamb tallow, air-dried fish, and pilot whale.
In all honesty, I was not expecting very much else from the trip. My husband said the Faroes are very small—50,000 people and 70,000 sheep—and I assumed the local economy would not be able to sustain more than one exceptional restaurant.
The Faroes are very small—50,000 people and 70,000 sheep.
Turns out, Koks is not the only game in town. The entrepreneurs behind it have opened half a dozen other restaurants close to the harbor in the capital, Tórshavn. One of our favorites was Raest. (The name means “fermented” in Faroese and is a process where fish and meat are hung to ferment and dry in little huts called “hjallur.”) The restaurant is dedicated entirely to traditional Faroese food and is set in a beautifully preserved 400-year-old house where a young chef, Allan Henriksen, produced such wonders as pilot whale and dried fish, fermented-fish-and-lamb-tallow soup, fermented cod cheeks with fennel, and fermented lamb with carrots. The entire meal was uniquely umami and singularly Faroese.
Koks is not the only game in town. The entrepreneurs behind it have opened half a dozen other restaurants.
As we made our way to Áarstova, a turf-roofed restaurant located in the heart of Tórshavn, we could see the familiar sight of fish drying outside. The dimly lit inside of this two-story 17th-century house was irresistibly charming. I started the meal with a refreshing cocktail of Crémant and homemade rhubarb juice but should have tried harder to stay away from the dangerously delicious freshly baked sourdough bread and Áarstova’s signature caramelized butter. Our five-course tasting menu included cured salmon, lamb tartare, langoustine bisque with monkfish, then rack of lamb followed by rhubarb-strawberry compote.
Luckily, none of these restaurants spoiled our appetite for Koks, which is just as well, because we had been looking forward to the marquee meal of our trip ever since we made the reservation four months before. Koks is open from March through November, and reservations can be made through their web site (bookings for the 2020 season will open on January 2 at 11 A.M. local time), and on any given night the restaurant can accommodate a maximum of 24 diners. The tasting menu with wine pairing costs about $445 per person, and with juice pairing about $350.
On any given night the restaurant can accommodate a maximum of 24 diners.
Set in a beautiful 17th-century stone-walled farmhouse with the distinctive Faroese turf roof, the restaurant is about a 30-minute drive from the capital (and only a five-minute taxi ride from our cottage in the tiny village of Leynar). The restaurant directed us to first gather at a lakeside hjallur, called Skerpi, in Leynavatn, where we drank house-made beer and ate buckwheat-and-dried-fish crisps in awkward silence. A short, bumpy ride on a dirt track loosened us up quite a bit.
We shared a communal table of eight with a Danish civil servant, a Russian-born Danish pharmacist and her businessman husband, two newly minted Stanford business-school graduates, and our New York friend. By the time we were biting into the hundreds-of-years-old Mahogany clam (the waitress informed us that these clams can live more than 500 years!) served in a squid-ink tart, we were deep in discussion about geopolitics (yes, a lot of time was dedicated to Brexit and the 2020 U.S. elections) and our culinary experiences.
Our 20-course tasting menu started with a buttery queen scallop served with buckwheat and watercress. As it turned out, there was very little pilot whale on offer: one dish featured little strips of fermented blubber, glistening among various roots and smoked cod roe, and another one had tiny pieces of pilot-whale heart on lamb-blood wafers.
One dish featured little strips of fermented blubber.
But we didn’t let that disappoint us. There were plenty of other delicacies, including raest kjøt, or fermented lamb served with onion, lingonberry, and thyme; bacalao with parsley and grilled blue mussels; horse mussels with elderflower and beach herbs; fermented lamb tallow with dried fish; halibut tartare with sturgeon caviar; cured mackerel with nettle juice; cod-skin sandwich and sea urchin with pickled parsley stems. And then came the grilled saddle of lamb with celeriac, elderberries, beetroot, and thyme. Once our palates were cleansed with flower currant and rose-hip sorbet, we finished with wild-arctic-thyme ice cream with pickled crowberries, followed by rhubarb with Spanish chervil.
Deeply satisfied with our gastronomic adventure, we departed under a perfect clear night sky and a canopy of stars, the kind you only see in documentaries about the universe narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
On the last day, we signed up for a fishing trip on Norðlýsið, a beautiful schooner in the Tórshavn harbor. Captain Birgir Enni is the epitome of an old sea dog—a shaggy, grumpy man with a deep scowl and a big heart. His all-female crew served us an intensely garlicky and delicious Faroese fish soup for lunch. It turns out, Captain Birgir is famous for his fish soup and notorious for not sharing his recipe. Which surely means we will be back.
Bipasha Ghosh is a marketing consultant based in London and New York