So after months and months of planning, booking planes, restaurants, a hotel, museums, a short northern lights tour (the sarcastic in me, sorry), looking at all the flight and ferry options and finalising my itinerary and it was the final day. I was somewhat exhausted, having crammed in as much as I could on my 1st few days in Tromsø, what a beautiful city it was too. Holmen and the Lofoten Islands were just indescribable in their beauty, the support act delivered well beyond expectations.
I had missed a couple of events on the basis that I will be back and do them the next time, maybe with the family, the break in my itinerary meant I could recover a bit and catch my breath, take stock of what I had actually done, Norway is an exhilarating country.
I took the decision to miss the optional last day events, not because I did not want to do them, more because my brain probably could not take anymore and my blog needing attention and updating. When I am travelling I need to commit some words, get it done so the little feeling and expression I could include in descriptions wouldn’t dissipate. I sat down in the dining room with my iPad, iPhone delivering tunes via Spotify, Blue Öyster Cult, Yes, Jethro Tull and simultaneously watching the kitchen team prepare the days delights, something I find deeply relaxing.
It was soon time for lunch, as previously mentioned these are a simpler affair to dinner, to provide a little respite and give a chance for the body to do its stuff, the volume and balance of food seemed perfect, breakfast was never too much or too heavy but you did need to feed the body with all the activities taking place, along with the climate which could take it out of you if not careful.
I had been noticing a number of different aroma’s as I thought back through the previous days and scribed my thoughts on my blog, it maybe obvious when you look at the picture, but sitting many feet from the pass, trying to work out what was going into dinner was interesting. I had spoken with the head shelf ‘coxy’ earlier, all the chefs were extremely approachable and would happily discuss the merits of certain ingredients like, using little known parts of the Cod, like the collar, more gelatinous that pure fillet it would add some body to a flavourful curry, which was what our lunch was, and it was bloody good too.
My mind wandered back to the museum I had visited in Tromsø, Full Steam a fish factory from the early 1900’s that was now both a museum/exhibition and also a restaurant where I ate a rich and delicious Reindeer Stew, I suspect they ate and used as much of the fish and other produce as possible in those days compared to now, where we only seem to like food that looks pretty according to the super markets, who only seem to supply “perfect’ everything with no comprehension of what flavour really means. Sorry, off my soapbox!
There was a hive of activity in the kitchen, more so it seemed than usual, it was the last night, the last supper, A Rick Stein banquet with all sorts of delicious food, and the brilliant Nick Strangeway supplying delicious drinks to match it was going to be a great evening. Throughout the week, the place settings had been moved about so attendees got to sit and mingle with different people which was really nice. I couldn’t see my name anywhere, until I went over the chefs table and there was my name, I was on the top table on the last night, With Rick, his wife Sass, my good friend Richard Bertinet, Nick Strangeway and when he wasn’t in the kitchen, the maestro Rick Stein, what an honour and privilege, I couldn’t believe it.
What a night, alongside stunning food, amazing cocktails and an atmosphere akin to the best party ever the conversation, laughter, jokes, tales and, well, it was just indescribable, in a brilliant way, even the Northern Lights made a brief appearance!
Thanks Rick and Sass for a very special evening and one I will never forget, ever. And to the other friends on my table, thank-you for putting up with my constant enthusiasm, which I know can sometimes be overwhelming :-
Holmen Lofoten is a very special place indeed, unlike anywhere I have ever been, which is quite a few nice places. #KitchenOnTheEdgeOfTheWorld is an experience like no other, its unique and if you have the slightest interest in food, or doing something different, read the description on their website like I did, and if you can, just GO. You won’t ever regret it.
Thank – you Ingunn Rasmussen & Valentine Warner
…………………………………………Until Next Time ……………….L8ers…………………..
I am currently sitting in the departure lounge at Bodø airport, having taken the 20 minute flight from Leknes on Lofoten Island. It’s been a sombre morning as the adventure has concluded and we are all on our way homebound in some form or another. I have personally been subdued, I am extremely emotional when it comes to goodbyes and mentally, have been focussing on ‘till next time’, rather than goodbye to try and hold back the tears.
Anyway back to Saturday, another fun packed programme of activities to enthral us all, of course after a delicious substantial breakfast. I am fighting back the aroma magnetism of Bacon and Eggs and this morning opt for the Cold Smoked Haddock, Poached Eggs, Horseradish Labneh and Pickles with Salmon Roe, another brilliantly conceived plate of food.
The kitchen staff at Holmen are truly wonderful, their coffee skills able to whisk up the most flavourful coffees (in my case Latte), and all the food and service is top drawer, and with a meaningful smile wedded to real enthusiasm and passion. I fancied desert so they also made me a half portion of Waffles, Brunost (that sweet salty Goats Cheese), Berries, Gooseberry Yoghurt and Sour Cream…. Yummy.
The first session of the day was a hike, I needed it after the breakfast I had just consumed! We headed into the hills, admiring the environment, inhaling air so fresh it had not been polluted by modern industry. The views were stunning, the snow crisp and in places extremely deep. I had spent the last few months going out for walks practising, but nothing could have prepared me for the drag of 2 1/2 feet of snow on the legs and thighs, it was very hard work but worth it nonetheless, another truly amazing experience. The pace was managed so even the old gits like me could enjoy things, we stopped to take rest and thoroughly enjoyed sliding down a steep bank, fresh snow creating a slide of sorts, our back-sides helping us navigate the slope!
After enjoying a thoroughly delicious hot fruit tea, served in traditional wooden cups we headed back to Holmen, stopping by racks of Cod drying in the cold dry crisp air, a local tradition on Lofoten, the smell was obvious, heady and pungent.
All the food so far had been exceptional, no faf, but hearty, wholesome and packed with flavour. The lunches were lighter as during the evenings we were delighted with multiple courses, matched with a variety of delicious wines, cocktails, punches and witches brew, that the genius that is Nick Strangeway pulled together. I was really looking forward to todays lunch, Arctic Hare, a la Pasty, a nod to Rick Stein who set his stable in Cornwall where the pie like food originated. It was outrageously delicious, served with mash, appropriately drenched in Butter! It was a Val Warner creation and more complex than its description, with added Goats Sausage, a variety of vegetables and a matching sauce including the cooking liquor and a whole host of other delicious ingredients that resulted in a really rich and tasty gravy, and a Pasty to die for!
There is a tradition in parts of Norway where fishing is the prevalent industry, the young children from approximately 8 years to 15 years of age get paid for removing the tongues from Cod’s heads, they can earn up to $2000 per day when at their prime, and some are able to buy houses and cars by the time they are 18. We were treated to a talk and live demonstration of this fascinating part of the history of Norway by our host Ingunns daughter, and then some of us were able to have a go ourselves, it’s not as easy at it seems and I was struggling, imagining an 8 year old knife wielding tongue remover, in orange coveralls attacking a massive crate of cod heads, a great theme for the next Norweigian Chainsaw Massacre film!
Our next workshop was with the brilliant Tom Frost, apart from being a totally lovely bloke, he is a master at the art of screen printing and we were to receive a masterclass, followed by assistance to have a go on our own. It was hilarious, the guidance to keep things simple failed miserably as we seemed to create all manner of challengers with multiple colours and lots of challenging processes. I suspect most people have had a go at screen printing, something we did in junior school so reliving our childhood created a further sense of fun, and remembering happy childhood times which was really nice.
If you cannot remember, screen printing requires making a mask, which prevents ink getting onto the paper, so as you make the image more complicated, and with more colours there are multiple time consuming steps as the ink has to drive after every ‘press’. It quite some time to first, work out a design that would actually work, and then, using a very sharp scalpel trying to cut the paper image accurately. Trying to align and register each layer was an added complication.
Having worn Tom out with our ‘simple’ screen printing there was time for relaxing and then one of the highlights, (apart from Ricks food), an hour’s talk by Rick on his life and the numerous experiences he has had over the years, before a dinner curated and prepared by the kitchen team at Holmen Lofoten.
During the talk, we were also treated to a variety of nibbles and some delicious drinks curated by the brilliant Nick Strangeway, like a Lingonberry Negroni, or hows about a Seaweed Martini, all very delicious indeed, as was the food. During the talk, and speaking with Sass Stein, Ricks wife I was made aware of a couple of books he had written that were not in my library, thanks to smart phones and online shopping they had both arrived on my doorstop by the time I got home. Thanks for the heads up Sass.
The talent of the Holmen kitchen, with Richard ‘Coxy’ Cox at the helm was inspiring and just brilliant. If you look at the menu above, Tongue & Cheek Terrine, Bottarga Fish Skin Crisp and Beetroot was standout, and Skrei and Whey, Periwinkles and Salsify, well everyone was blown away at the quality and inspiration behind the food. Ingunn, Richard’s boss pictured above mentioned on numerous occasions how lucky she was to have found such as amazing calm, and professional chef (no swearing or shouting at anyone, especially staff). He was just brilliant, and a really top bloke!
It was the start of a new day. I have this problem, had it for years and not yet found a way to solve it, sleep, I can’t, it takes me hours, i have an overactive brain, could be ADHD I have been told but when I was a youngster such things didn’t exist, or at least had not been discovered.
I was watching the light show at 02:00 the previous evening and had managed to get some light rest but I was excited, it was a new day and we had a lot happening on our first full day at Kitchen On the Edge Of the World.
As we settled down to breakfast there was a lot of discussion about the previous evenings light show, which was amazing. The breakfast menu at Holmen provides some recognisable options including local Bacon and Eggs and some more local delights such as Waffles with Brunost, the local Goats Cheese Whey that is boiled down to provide a brown Cheese which is both sweet and savoury, it’s extremely nice, especially when served with Gooseberry Jam, Sour Cream and berries. It was my intention to avoid anything that looked ‘british’ and experience the Norwegian way as much as possible.
Richard Bertinet is a friend of mine, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying as I actually haven’t been to his cookery school since before Covid, but having met him 10 times prior we know each other enough to joke with each other and play tomfoolery! My 1st session of the day is with some other guests and Richard, learning (in my case re-learning) how to make bread the traditional way, it takes a lot of effort to really do it properly.
I won’t describe the method, get his book(s) or go on one of his awesome courses at his Bath Cookery School. It was great fun, he is a brilliant Teacher and everyone had great fun trying to master the process of getting air into the dough mix, Flour, Salt, Yeast and Water, nothing more, nothing less the results are yummy.
Imagine the picture above was your classroom, it was a stunning location, a tad cold but we had gas heaters providing enough warmth to not feel cold or hot, so just right for working our dough. Once we completed the dough making session we went into the main kitchen were there is a wood fired oven, some previously prepared dough had risen and was ready for shaping and baking, which is exactly what we did next. Fougasse all sorts of different forms as well as a flat bread, smothered in garlic butter one of the Holmen chefs had prepared for us, the results were crunchy, fluffy, garlicky, buttery and delicious. We made enough to go with the lunch that was to follow later.
The next session was all about Cod, and more importantly how to make the most of this regal and majestic beast of a fish, one of my favourites when not overcooked to destruction! With the help of the lovely and extremely hospitable Holmen owner Ingunn, our chef Val Warner took us through the process of breaking down the fish to extract as many different parts as possible, explaining their use in a number of different dishes, it was really enlightening to see how much is unnecessarily wasted, which is tragic considering how much can actually be used.
Let’s go Arctic fishing, hell yes….. After lunch we had our fishing trip and after making sure we had enough warm layers on, we donned flotation suits which also acted as an insulating layer, and set off in metal ribs out into the cold (very), to see if the sea was going to provide us with some jewels in the form of fish. Our skipper Daniel was young but well travelled and experienced using a sonar to try and find elusive shoals of fish.
After some searching we found an couple of spots and the bites started, I fish in the UK, but have not managed a trip for some time, my fishing budding being of an age now where its just not possible for him to venture out onto the sea, the delight in getting a rod tip bending was the start of a few hours of cold weather sea fishing the likes I had never experienced before. In the end my tally was 5 Coley, they all went back into the sea for another day, it was a thoroughly enjoyable, but a very cold experience.
Nick Strangeway is a God, the master of drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. His knowledge is beyond reproach and we were going to be treated to a masterclass, all about Punch and Cocktails, it was absolutely fascinating and delivered with some comedy and amusement we all laughed as he provided some accurately corrected history about how drinks had developed from time immemorial. Nick was to provide us with treats during various meals over the days, they have all been glorious so far with unique blends and flavours to tickle all taste buds.
It was Ricks night to delight food wise, and boy did that happen the food was so delicious, subtle, punchy, flavourful I will say no more other than having eaten as his Seafood Restaurant, St Petrocs Bistro and attended a 2 day Seafood Class at his Cookery School he can still cook the most tasty food, it was sublime. As the night before we were treated to some more of natures fireworks and this particular shot of the mountain ‘on-fire’ is one of my favourite. Thanks Rick for bringing seafood to the attention of the British public all those years ago, and being such a lovely bloke, joining in the conversation, signing stuff and providing such lovely stories which will remain forever at Holmen 🙂
Having arrived at Holmen Lofoten early evening, and after a few minutes to offload the luggage into my delightful room, I was off into the main lounge area, not sure of what to expect. Håvar and I had chatted non-stop pretty much on our journey from Leknes airport, me munching the dried smoked fish which grew on me quite quickly, salty, savoury and smokey, great with something chilled.
I recognised familiar faces as I topped the stairs, Richard Bertinet, my cookery school owner friend, Val Warner, he has a great Patreon site which i had recently subscribed too and there he was, one of my real food heroes, Rick Stein! People were saying hello and introducing each other as we settled into the evening, shortly after, following a brief introduction into the proceedings, some history and we ventured downstairs to eat.
Each of us had our own personal itinerary ready in our room for the few days we were at Holmen, which in fact means ‘an island on a lake, river or estuary’, our location was a rocky outcrop, stunning Norwegian scenery, biting cold, occasional blizzards the location was breathtaking beyond imagination. The days and evenings gave a chance for each of the guest chefs, and the Holmen team to produce some stunning food with a minimum waste ethos, using parts of animals usually discarded, or used to produce animal feed or fertiliser components! We were in for a real treat with such star quality worldly experienced masters of food producing our meals.
Hello, let’s get right into it, roast Cod’s and Pig’s heads. We had already had nibbles upstairs, the Cod’s Liver on Richard Bertinets’ amazing fresh Brioche bread were just off the planet, something that most people would turn away, until you try it, don’t knock it as it’s delicious. Sweet Buttery Bread, with a beautiful slice of slightly crispy edged Liver it was sublime.
The Raw Scallop with Bergamot and Rhubarb was another delight, giving, tender, the cut of citrus working with the succulent scallop flesh to deliver a taste unlike no other.
I was excited to see the Bitter Leaf Salad on the menu as I had seen Val describe this dish on his Patreon site, something a recently departed chef Alastair Little had taught him a long time ago whilst under his employ, truly punchy and delightful it certainly matched the description I had heard.
The menu that evening was a tribute to a combination of no-waste and hardcore cuisine, punchy flavours and something a little unusual, but at the same time worthy of any quality restaurant and certainly delivered on all levels, thanks Val!
If you have already read Part 2 of my Norwegian Adventure you will have seen my 10 hour trip to Finland to see the Northern Lights on Tuesday evening, a truly memorial experience, Lofoten was not to outdone. Around 21:30 there were signs we were in for an interesting night. The familiar greyish trails were forming as we all dashed outside to see another great show which carried on for several hours. Maybe not a colourful as those in Finland, but, due to the mountainous backdrop they provided a completely different experience like the selection above, truly unique and ever changing .
We all went back inside, out of the chill of sub-zero temperatures and continued our amazing meal, the finale being a delightful punchy Aquavit and Prune Crème Brûlée, which finished things off really nicely. We continued into the night moving around tables getting to know each other and saying hello to the amazing band of chefs that were soon to become friends and family, finally retuning to our rooms to try and sleep. I was still up at 02:00, popping outside to capture more of the Aurora Borealis and witness it’s magical prescience.
It’s never easy for me to leave places, many memories but some stay behind in the shadows, I end up with mixed emotions both happy and sad. I will be very happy that I will have enriched my life with new amazing experiences, food, smells, views, excitement and adventure but sad that most of the fantastic people I will have met will be distance memories over time, and mostly to never meet again, but for a few unfortunate souls that will feature in future travels!
As we sat on the runway at Tromsø airport a scandinavian accent with eloquent English reminds me just how far north we are and preparing for take-off involves a trip to the ‘de-icier’, jeez, what’s that all about, a new one for me. Memories of cold UK winters with a screen scraper trying too remove ice from a frozen windscreen, using a combination of grunt, spray and warm water to expedite the process of removing ice in the cold breath of winter, this will be an interesting experience. My mind wanders briefly imaging a team of well covered individuals clambering all over the plane to make sure it’s safe to make our journey south to Bodø!
We are in a super efficient land of common sense and very soon a big elevated cab with an individual onboard, controlling a pair of high pressure sprays, dosing the plane with a pinkish fluid which has immediate effect on the frost and ice, soon we are heading for the runway, a pause for a couple of minutes as a twin prop plane lines up to land, and then we are off, heading into the sky and down towards my next stop, Bodø.
During the planning phase of my Norwegian adventure which had taken many months, I tried to find places of interest both from a culture perspective as well as cuisine as my main draw to travel is food, very closely followed by culture, and Bodø has it in lorry loads. Having got up a ‘silly o’clock’ and not wanting to consume plastic wrapped food which would probably contain more un-recognisable chemicals that ‘real’ ingredients I had planned to have breakfast when I landed. That’s actually more difficult that it seems as we glided into Bodø just before 8’o’clock and this sleepy coastal town didn’t seem to wake before 10:00! Bugger!
It took me quite some time to find a ‘cult’, ‘artisan’ eatery that was going to be open at a sensible hour, my taxi driver suggested the locals were lazy, she was up at 04:00 every day but this sleepy little town didn’t really awaken until 10:00 at the earliest. My destination was Berbusmel, a delicatessen that opened at 09:00, which seemed to offer the kind of food I was interested in.
I arrived in town at 08:15 so took a wander, rang the wife to catch up on happenings at home, luckily no dramas and before too long it was opening time, within seconds of 9 o’clock locals were clambering to purchase the wonderful delights inside. I entered, found a quiet corner to settle and enquired as to what was typical for breakfast, the suggestion was to try a ‘Svinenakke’! Oerrrr missus, sounds interesting, a Pork Ciabatta with Pesto, Cheese and Salad so definitely not your typical fry up! I did fancy something sweet as well and the ‘house special’ was ‘Skolebrød’ so one of those was ordered along with a Latte. Booooom, absolutely delicious the whole selection was perfect and I took my time to savour every bite.
I had arranged my onward transport for later that afternoon over to Lofoten, both Ferry and Plane were booked as the weather can change very quickly here, I didn’t want to risk not getting over that evening and miss the start of my time at Holmen Lofoten and the ‘Kitchen On The Edge of The Earth’ experience. I had already checked in, the flight was only 20 minutes and I could enjoy some scenery after I landed, on the drive up to Søvågen, the final destination. There were as couple of places I had planned to visit during the stopover, The Norwegian Aviation Museum, and the Jektefartsmuseet a maritime and cultural museum which also looked interesting.
The museum was really interesting, covering both civil and military aircraft and associated paraphernalia, I wandered though time, exploring the different craft and their specific role and history and before long it was close to lunch and my back was aching. I decided to miss the other museum and get back to the airport, I could return another day with the family, they would love this place. I sat down at the airport and decided to use the time to write the blog from the previous day before my creative spirit vanished. Soon, we were boarding the plane to Leknes, the airport on Lofoten.
A Dash 8 was to be our vessel of transport, no seats were allocated but I was in ‘Group A’, the 1st to board so had plenty of choice, settling down for the 20 minute flight we were soon in the air and on the way. There is something romantic about small planes with propellers, a vulnerability, they don’t fly high, seem somewhat flimsy but ‘Bernoullis Principle of Laminar Flow’ ensures that unless the wings fall off, it’s as safe as houses!
My First experience of landing at Leknes airport on Lofoten was a runway were people wandered about taking pictures and enjoying the scenario, a lovely, small and simple arrivals hall, and the gift of Dried Smoked Haddock, a local speciality that my driver and part of the Holmen Lofoten ‘family’ friend Håvar, the unknown correspondent at the other end of the numerous emails we had exchanged over the past 10 or so months kindly offered me. I munched away as we drove to Holmen, the scenery was exhilarating, stunning, rugged, unbelievable, you could see and feel Trolls watching as we navigated the windy roads. After an hour we arrived at our final destination.
I have been up since 04:45, yesterday was busy but not so much that I didn’t have a chance to post the story on The Northern Lights Chase, which actually took over 3 hour to compose, blogging isn’t easy, believe me! I got up at a sensible hour after landing in my pit at after 02:15, the chase had been cold, exhilarating and mesmerising all at the same time, the results were worth it and I guess that’s another bucket list item done. The different colours that you saw in the pictures are based on what gases are in the high atmosphere that charges particles from the sun energy, just like how a florescent tube works, different gases create different colours.
Science lesson over, today is going to be a bit more relaxing due to last night. I had planned a couple of museums but my back starts to really create if I overwork it, so I postponed one visit to the next time I am here, hopefully with the family and we can all enjoy Tromsø together. In fact as I sit in Bodø airport waiting for my plane to Leknes (Lofoten Islands) on Thursday, exactly that happened today, my back started to moan at me so I had breakfast at a local artisan establishment, visited the aircraft museum and then back to the airport to relax and be creative, well as much as I can!
I would describe Full Steam as ‘quirky’, in that it serves as a local museum of Sami culture and history, Whaling, and various maritime subjects covering the great wars and also the development of the early fishing industry to today, it’s actually fascinating. The fun part is that I had lunch first, more of that in a minute, I mentioned the museum, the staff added the cost to the bill and almost like Mr Ben, took me behind the bar to a curtain on the right and directed me up the stairs!
I was so relieved, almost to the point of having the sweats which then dissipated in seconds! I had picked Full Steam for one reason…….Whale. It was on a previous menu that I had seen and I was mentally torn as to the morality of eating such animals, luckily it wasn’t on the menu so I opted for the Reindeer Stew instead. Hey, before you start saying that is just as bad, Reindeer in Norway (and Finland) is no different to Beef in the UK, except they are treated better, not locked away in cages for months because of the cold, and they are typically organic and not fed artificial feed to ‘beef’ them up. I have since discovered it’s an evening starter option!
Jeez it was really good, the Reindeer Stew, served with an ultra smooth pomme purée (mash), and some lingonberries it was tasty, filling and certainly hit the spot. I had a nice glass of Tomassi Ripasso to accompany and finished with a typically excellent Latte.
The restaurant is quirky, but with it comes charm and character as the building is old, and filled with all sorts of memorabilia and ‘nick naks’ to add some ancient atmosphere. I paid for the food, which is extremely reasonable and also the ticket for the museum and was shown to the door behind the bar, and up 3 flights off stairs to the starting block.
The museum/exhibition is on several levels, sort of open plan and showing Sami life as it was a long time ago through a combination of exhibits, pictures, stories and objects used in everyday life, some would say it was like an antique jumble sale but that would not be fair, a lot of trouble has gone into creating a natural time-line, taking you through the ages covering different aspects of life.
It was fascinating to wander round and soak in the daily life of Sami People, not those herding the Reindeer which is what a lot of them do. We met some in Finish Lapland many years, this covered the other aspects of Sami life, fisherman, farmers etc. it was really educational and not something I was familiar with.
The collection is huge and must have taken years to collect, order and work out how best to present to a multinational customer base, visitors from all over the world visit Tromsø. I heard accents from the UK, US, Germany and Japan and I suspect some people miss this really important record of history. It took me about 2 hours to cover the 2 or 3 floors and soak in the plethora of objects and mass of historic record.
Tonight’s ‘last night supper’, was to be at Emmas Drømmekjøkken (dream kitchen). It was one of the places I had researched and decided I wanted to experience, it looked pretty good and they did tasting menus, I pre-ordered the 7 course option which is, in fact 10 dishes, and a matching wine flight to accompany what I hoped would be a fantastic dinner, it was beyond all expectations, and some.
So, I asked not to see the menu up front (the lovely Ukrainian waitress asked me), I wanted surprise and wonderment (I think that geezer Heston Bluthmenthal uses that word). I certainly got both in buckets, what a stunning, delicious, tasty, thoughtful, inspiring menu. Its easier to show you the menu, they gave me a copy after, along with a description of the cheese course.
The little cheese course was really good, a small selection of quite young cheese, each with their own character. The marmalade was carrot and worked really well indeed.
The wine flight produced some very interesting, unusual and well matched wines for each course and then measures were generous enough to have some left over after each dish to savour before the next course.
I have to say I have eaten in a fair few restaurants in my years, up to 2 Michelin Star, boutique, a variety of cuisines and this was the best meal I have ever had, particularly mind-blowing good, was the Cod and Mussels, the cook was off the planet awesome and will stick in my mind for ever. There were 3 waitresses that took it in turns to serve both food and wine, describing each dish with clarity and passion. I love good food, this was beyond exceptional and deserves being recognised as such. If you ever visit Tromsø take some extra cash and treat yourself, you will be glad you did.
Jeez, what an adventure and its only day 2! Monday had been tiring but what a blast, and the best is yet to come. I was quite particular when choosing the hotel as there are quite a few to choose from, but I wanted a harbour and Fjellheisen view and boy, what a view it is when it stops snowing! Seriously though the hotel is perfectly located, very comfortable and clean, easy going and not fussy, the room size is great and the bed very comfortable, important as I usually have big problems with my sleep, I often can’t…..I have an overactive brain…..it doesn’t stop thinking…..
Ok, so I have a thing about Trolls, no, not the annoying dangerous internet ones, the mythical, no, they are real aren’t they? Yes, Trolls in my mind are ancient but did exist in some form, bathed in mysticism and ancient lore they first came into my imagination as a child 50 odd years ago when hearing “In The Hall of The Mountain King”, a piece of music composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875, incidental music for a play, the sixth scene of Act 2 in Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play Peer Gynt. I can still recall the sounds of the old heavy doors closing as young Peer runs out to the mountain with his tail between his legs so to speak. It was a track on a record, yes vinyl, those circular black disks that needed a needle, turntable and amplifier, those were the days!
My musical influences have changes significantly since then and as I write this I am listening to the rock group ‘Yes” in particular their song ‘Awaken’ from the Album ‘Going for the One’, which is very apt for what happened last night, but more of that later.
It’s Jules the Troll. 🙂 The Troll Museum in Tromsø is a very clever museum as it caters for all ages, even us old gits. They have managed to include enough historical content to make it really interesting for the older generation, whilst making it fun for the youngest of children, playrooms allow interaction whilst numerous tablet pc’s spread around the exhibits really bring things to life in a fun sort of way. You have to enter open minded and imagine Trolls existence in some form and if you do, go SLOWLY around each exhibit as there is a lot of information available to the inquisitive.
The clever use of VR really does make a difference with Trolls popping out all over the place, this particular one is actually helping you work out where the troll is on the map, which was both interesting and fun at the same time. If you have children they should love it, especially if you have included the subject prior to your trip and maybe done some research about the history, or watched the odd Troll film as I have done recently. Anyway, it’s great fun and a good way to spend an hour or so out of the blizzard and freezing weather outside.
After a trip to the local tourist office to get a map I was desperate for a good coffee, and with a few minutes wandering around the beautiful streets, hardly a recognisable brand in sight which for me was awesome, I discovered Tøllefsenhjørnet, a coffee and wine café so entered and got myself a most beautiful Latte. Not in a posh cup with bells and whistles, just simply presented in a glass on a paper mat, jeez it was good, really good, I went for a double and it really hit the spot nicely.
Tromsø is beautiful, almost unspoilt by western brands I have only noticed a BK (you know the burger thing) and a Hard Rock Cafe in my wandering so far. There are lots of shops with character and individuality no two looking the same, it’s not dissimilar to when I visit some regions of France, keeping local and supporting small businesses. Yes, it probably costs a bit more but you are directly supporting the local community, local people, local families which I suspect makes for a much stronger feeling of belonging and connection.
Sorry, off my soapbox and it’s time for lunch no less. I had booked Bardus last year, months ago having trawled various platforms looking for recommendations, checking menus etc. to ensure that I stood a chance of eating well, I am fussy, I like good food, I hate paying for something I can cook better myself, cooking is my serious hobby so I am sure you can understand I am not being awkward, well not much.
My waitress was a lovely Portuguese lass who obviously knew her trade, well she was a delight. I had picked Bardus for one reason only; Cod Tongues….! Yep, that little known delicacy unless you recently watched well known Swedish Chef Nikolas Ekstedt on YouTube, cooking them on………. guess where…….. my final destination………Lofoten Islands.
We discussed options at the bistro, I wanted the cod tongues but they also hands an unusual (for me) special on, Rose Fish! It’s red and ugly but beneath its lurid Outer layer is a delicate white flesh, I was convinced and so I got a starter portion of Tongue and the main of Rose Fish with a variety of additions to tempt the palate, which they did admirably!
Wine, it would be rude not too as I was on a vacation so the recommendation was a Portuguese Alvarinho, apparently my new friend/waitress got her mum really drunk in Portugal one year on this stuff, so at least I know it has some alcohol in it, it worked a treat and matched very well.
I am not normally a dessert person being diabetic but i manage to control it well so can treat myself from time to time, this was it for today as there was to be no posh meal in the evening, a Chocolate Fondant with matching dessert wine was ordered and damn good it was too. If you fancy a decent lunch, try Bardus, it has a slightly funky relaxed vibe and the food and service was excellent. The wine grapes in the dessert wine are often used to make ‘orange wine’ where the skins are left on after pressing. It was sweet, spicy and slightly apple flavoured but worked surprisingly well with the oozy Chocolate Fondant, which was cooked perfectly.
I wandered back to my hotel and started to compose, if I don’t write my blogs up I forget the nuances and character I am trying to re-create. Surprisingly it was snowing (again) heavily, the phone popped, it was Markus from Greenlander Tromsø the Northern Lights people………bugger… I had come all this way and hoped it wasn’t a cancel message! Phew, nope, he wanted us all to meet earlier at 17:30 as the weather in Finland looked good, wait, we are in Norway!
There was a small group of suspicious Northern Lights chasing types outside our rendezvous, the Scandic Ishavshotel, a stones throw, or may be that should be a medium snowball distance from my gaff the aptly named Hotel Aurora. They were sort of mingling, it was difficult to see if there were couples, groups, singletons but as promised, just before 17:30 two ‘hunting’ vehicles appeared before us and two smiley types popped out and started to behave like guides! The groups made a beeline for the guides and before we knew it, we were assigned our vehicle and fellow hunters for the evening, a brief explanation and off we went into the sunset…. Nope sorry I should have said blizzard as it was snowing extremely hard again!
Matteo was a really cool guide, had a sense of humour and was well travelled. He explained to us the number one, rule for chasing the Northern Lights, clear weather and tonight Finland is the best option. So any of you that know the area (HaHa) the roads are at best, variable. I am not saying they are not good, but when you are forced to use snow tyres and its on/off blizzard conditions, the snow ploughs are tanking the E6/E8 trying to keep things moving and many of the roads are not lit you know this journey won’t be easy or quick!
So after about 1.5 hours we stopped for a fuel and 10 minute rest break to stretch legs, pee, catch a coffee or whatever was available at a garage much more sophisticated that any uk effort as you may see in the picture above, there was a lot on offer if you fancied ‘wiener’, kebab, or burger! The journey had only just begun but we were ‘following the weather’ as Matteo had told us. I was sitting next to Michele, a 3rd year medical student who had travelled from Hong Kong for a 3 week tour of Europe, we had a good chat about medicine, what she was going to specialise in (ophthalmology) and the fact she had done this the night before and since a glimpse of something, that was actually more than a glimpse, so tonight might be ok! Don’t believe the figure of 2 hr 18min above, it took about 3.5 hours to get to our final destination.
We crossed the border into Finland……….it’s a long way in blizzards, roads with no lights, snow tyres, the weather continued to look rather unpleasant and all off a sudden we pulled over, Matteo jumped out and proclaimed it’s starting, then a coach pulled up and we moved off, to a ‘secret location’ that now isn’t if you grab the co-ord’s above, I had my GPS on, my watch and phone recording when I took pictures you can see we were on a lake pretty much. The white line is the Swedish border and yes, we crossed over a frozen river too into Sweden, how adventurous.
Who has seen the film twister, seriously now, they look for tell-tale signs something is going to happen, then race in convoys to see who can get their first and record stuff, take pictures, get that amazing bit of kit into the eye so they can capture measurements. Yep, they was us last night. The human eye cannot really see Aurora, it needs a camera, approximately 15-20 seconds exposure, the right aperture, look closely and towards the lower mid right above you can see a slight green fog, to the eye in real life its like a grey mist.
All of sudden it seemed to ‘switch-on’ a bit more, and more, and more, and more. We had decamped onto the lake, donned our arctic suits and started to look skyward and see dancing patterns slowly emerging. Our guide set his Canon EoS 5D camera up, a quality piece of kit, tripod stuck in the snow and started to take some shots of us all, and helped us set our own cameras, those that had bought them along on the extra tripods we had elected Greenlander to provide, it helped a lot. It was -11 on the lake, very cold and the car had its heater running so we had the chance to warm up occasionally, if it got too much!
After about 30 minutes time melted into nothing, we were all looking skyward in awe, moving around to try and get different angles, views, colour bursts which the naked eye couldn’t see, but cameras could. I used my Leica D-Lux 7 to good effect early on and later moved to my iPhone Pro Max, which was surprisingly excellent being easier to manage in the freezing cold, despite having arctic gloves on!
Matteo lit up a fire in a metal open framed pit at some point and small seats were arranged in a circle so we could enjoy the warmth of the embers. Hot delicious carrot soup was passed around in individual thermos flasks along with some seed crackers, a bottle of Tabasco doing the rounds was soon empty. One of the group had acclimatised earlier by eating 2 ice-creams on the way up which didn’t work at all but was a cause of laughter and amusement. It was someone’s birthday and a small marble cake appeared with a candle on it, we all sang happy birthday, the cake passed around and we all were part of a nice touch, for a very special moment.
By the time we got back to Tromsø it was 02:15, we had set out at 17:30, these guys are more than dedicated, they do this every night in season and based on last night, they are the best, committed, we WILL find the Aurora, over 6 hours driving in the worst of conditions, like Ice Road Truckers with an added blizzard for good measure. I woke up at 08:00 and shortly after a message from Matteo with a link to the pictures he took for us, awesome.
This trip has been about a year in the planning, thanks to a brief glance at a post on Instagram, I suspect without social media it would have never happened at all, and all thanks to my Chef/Baker friend Richard Bertinet.
As my followers know, I have been to Richard’s cookery school many times, and had the pleasure to learn from some of the best UK chefs, and Richard had posted something about ‘Kitchen On The Edge of The World’ and Rick Stein, I was immediately distracted, what was Kitchen On the Edge Of the World?
I fired up the browser and started to search:
WHAAAAAT…….I searched some more and found my next bucket list item, but suspected this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, how would I find the money, it was a worthy investment. My sales had been good, I was over target, maybe I could make it happen.
So next was the challenging bit, explaining to your wife of 35 years:
A. You wanted to go to Norway
B. It’s going to be an ‘investment’
C. It will never happen, how can I justify etc………
So I showed her the internet advert, she knew how much I liked Rick, having spent a week in Padstow the previous year, two days at his Cookery School and trying the many restaurants which you can read about on a previous blog. The conversation went something like…. How much! You’re Kidding!, well I suppose it’s Rick Stein, and that bloke Valentine Warner who I have heard you talk about occasionally, the one that eats pretty much anything (yep, another food hero)! And Richard Bertinet is going, you know him don’t you, well sort of yes, he is a very good baker and runs that cookery school in Bath I keep going to, for the odd days cookery class.
I let the conversation at that, not saying anymore, it wasn’t going to happen so I would find something closer, and bit more cost effective and tried to put it out of my mind, which was somewhat challenging to say the least.
A week later and ‘The Boss’ suddenly said, hun, that food trip, if you do your target you can go, BOOOOOOOM, it was starting to come together but several months to go before I was in a position to actually book anything and feel confident that it was going to happen.
Over the next few weeks I began to think, The Kitchen on the Edge was Thursday to Monday, it made sense to try an add somewhere to make it a bit more of an experience, I am not saying its not in the slightest, it definitely is but If I was going to travel all that way it would be nice to see somewhere else and maybe eat some local delicacies, ah Tromsø, the most northerly city in the world, where people travel to ‘hunt’ Aurora Borealis, The Northern or Polar Lights (there is a southern version too), that’s the place.
I started to look at options, flights, modes of transport, things to see, do and eat and slowly an itinerary was starting to form. Fly to Tromsø first thing Monday, fly to Bodø first thing Thursday, depending on weather, either a Ferry to Lofoten or a flight, both were options and the timings allowed me to visit The Norweigan Aviation Museum and the Trade Museum before going to Lofoten, perfect.
Time seemed to stand still for months, still no view of target being met and the necessary funds to start my planning in earnest, it was all still a dream until one day the figures came in and I hade done it, over target and enough money to cover the trip and any extras I would need to make it all happen. I appreciate I am in an industry that does mean I can enjoy the odd luxury but my wife cannot work for medical reasons and our son has ADHD so money is not as easy to come by as you might think, but extremely hard work had paid off and I wear able to pay the deposit, if my band would actually let me!!
I went online and within minutes my account was FROZEN! What’s happening, I just want to transfer some money. I had to ring the fraud team and explain for half an hour, that it was a reputable company, I knew what I was doing, it’s wasn’t a fraud, i knew the people involved (Rick bloody Stein, isn’t he a little well known), eventually they cleared the transfer and confirmed future transfers would not be blocked.
For the next few months, apart from Christmas I had one thing on my mind, a place called The Lofoten Islands, a boutique family hotel called Holmen and Tromsø, a city I was going to visit. I remember the city (Paris of the North) from an episode of Michael Palins Pole to Pole, day 14 where he visited the city of then 50,000 people, MUCK actually Mack, a local pure beer which is brewed not far from where I am staying in the city centre and the Ice Cathedral, a modern shaped building close to the the Fjellheisen cable car, the first trip planned on my arrival.
I was determined to pack in a much as possible whilst in Tromsø so looked at Museums, Restaurants, Sight Seeing Trips in fact everything about the city that was for me, interesting and over the next few months I booked, flights, ferries, a hotel, restaurants so that when I arrived everything should fall in to place, and so far it has.
It’s currently Tuesday afternoon and as you can see from my Balcony (not many of those in Tromsø hotels overlooking the harbour, only 3 in the Hotel Clarion Collection Aurora) it’s snowing heavily. Markus Varik from Greenlander contacted me a couple of hours back, I am chasing the Northern Lights tonight and he wants us to leave at 17:30 instead of 19:00 as the weather is good in Finland!! More of that on the next blog.
I created a list of things I wanted to see and do, you have already had the chance to view Tromsø from the mountain overlooking the city (tick), prior to that ‘Rakketen’, smallest bar in the world and famous Hot Dogs (tick). It was very good by the way, and the evenings entertainment was my first restaurant Mathallen which I booked months ago.
The food was exceptional and ‘different’, a definite preference for a sweeter flavour was apparent but nonetheless the chefs excelled, producing plate after plate of delicious delicacies over a period of about two and a half hours. There was Salmon, Herring, Skrei (Cod), Beef Cheek, Duck and Pear with a wine flight perfectly matched to accompany definitely a memorable evening
It was snowing as I walked back to the hotel, and passed the Lutheran Church which looked completely different than I had seen it before, actually quite stunning, eery, almost spiritual I guess. Back in the hotel a quick brandy, I started to write my first blog of the trip and now I have to get my arctic gear on for our trip to Finland, more of that soon.