Fermented Faroese Delight in Torshaven
Picture the scene. You’re in the alleyways of Torshaven (literally Thor’s Harbor, how badass is that), the largest city in the Faroe Islands. It’s past sunset in mid-September, meaning that a fairly steady cold rain is falling and threatening to soak you through as temperatures fall into the 40s and a near fog holds the city in a briny embrace.
Against this, you follow the alleys and stumble into Ræst (fermented in Faroese), a restaurant that offers an unapologetically modern take on food that most of the world would instinctively recoil at. For Ræst specializes in Faroese food; food that, like the Faroe Islands themselves, seems inhospitable and undigestible at first countenance. But the moment you set foot in Ræst, any doubt you have as to whether or not you can safely eat, say, cod dried hanging from the restaurant’s windows topped with fermented lamb belly fat sauce, dissipates as quickly as the warmth of the restaurant replaces the chill of the outside.
Walking into Ræst is like stumbling from the Narnia-esque grandeur of the Faroe Islands into the loving embrace of a Tolkien-esque hobbit house. The restaurant, which is simply the first floor of a 400-year-old house, keeps all the touches of warmth and humanity needed to thrive on these islands. Restaurant tables are set amid bookshelves in the study in one room, for instance, and we were immediately beckoned into the house and stripped of our soggy coats by who happened to be both the maitre de and the head chef. For perhaps the greatest charm to Ræst, aside from the incredible nature of how good fermented food actually is, is the knowledge that everything is prepared and made with love fresh each night from just two employees who together play host, waiter, chef, busboy, and sommelier.
So, seated at one of two tables in the house’s drawing room, soaking in warmth from a fire in the next door dining room and looking at the titles of books above us, Jen and I dove into a six course pairing meal. (We should note that everything is expensive in the Faroe Islands, due to their remote location, and Ræst is absolutely no exception. However, if you are looking for a single splurge meal while away, this is it; we found it was best to eat here for the experience while, most of the rest of the time, cooking our own meals at Airbnbs). Below are our edited and increasingly drunk notes from the meal.
For the table
Less a full course than the equivalent of a breadbasket, the meal started off with a hearty serving of dried cod jerky. A wholly traditional Faroese dish, we saw villages throughout the islands hanging strings of cod outside their homes to dry in the brisk sea air. Served with a pad of butter, the cod was welcomingly chewy without being too overwhelmingly salty or fishy.
This is the point, so essentially immediately, that the menu challenges your notions. A month old aged cod combined with fermented lamb belly fat sauce, the dish came out smelling earthy and strongly like manure. On top of the dish sat a thin layer of freshly sliced turnips for extra crunch and a freshness to balance the otherwise strong flavor. Tasting like a perfect union of fish and lamb, Jeremy loved it while Jen gave it props for creativity. It was paired with a French mix of a sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
Course two started to play with the traditions of Faroese cuisine, serving fermented perch (classic) with a mango ceviche, egg yolk, seaweed, and fermented sunflower seeds (woah). While the first dish smelled earthy and a little intimidating, this had a perfect smell and flavor blend of citrus, brine, and seaweed. It was paired with a Westmalle Tripel, the fruitiness of which perfectly complemented the citrus of the dish.
Another “am I sure I want to eat this, sure why not, oh wow it’s delicious” serving, course three was dried pilot whale meat, blubber, and mashed potatoes covered in cottage cheese and dried raspberries. Nothing makes sense anymore — the dish smelled like fruity pebbles, tasted like mackerel sushi, and was overwhelmingly delicious (though not as overwhelming as the guilt of eating a whale, according to Jen). It came paired with a Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry, which provided a sharp, fruity, and lingering palate cleanser.
Perhaps the most challenging course, even for Jeremy, course four was two-to-three month aged lamb neck served with a broth made from the lamb, green cabbage, rutabaga, and carrot. The broth was rich, hearty, and warming, as were the vegetables, which were perfectly cooked. The lamb, according to Jeremy: was super gamey with a very strong almost cheese-like flavor; according to Jen: it tasted butthole-y. But for both of us, the paired Brutal red wine from France paired perfectly, as the strong flavors of the meal brought out fruity flavors from an otherwise slightly dry red.
Perhaps one of the best desserts we’ve had, we were served rhubarb, creme freche, and hazelnuts. Perfectly sweet with an amazing taste of hazelnut, the dessert left you wanting to sink into a pot of it and die because there’s no coming back from it. So masterfully flavored while being light with a hazelnut crunch, it was the perfect end to a meal with unceasingly bold flavors. The course was paired with a Normandy apple cider, which was made from apples that had fallen off of the trees. The cider was also some of the best we’ve had in our lives, with a naturally sweet apple flavor accompanied by a small amount of tartness.
Bonus course! Ah!
Possibly seeing how much we loved the food and wolfed it all down, the owner/waiter/chef brought us out fresh made waffles with brown sugar butter — a traditional favorite among Scandinavians. This was an absolute show stopper it was so good. The waffles were super light and fluffy, and were almost crepe-like, while the butter was perfectly sweet, whipped, and light to the point of being like a slice of literal heaven.
And as an even further bonus, following the meal, we were too warm and drunk from within to even notice the rain as we left the restaurant and headed back out for our final night in the Faroe Islands.
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