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The F Word: Foraging and fermenting in the Faroes

Eating & Drinking
Table talk

Georgina Wilson-Powell

11 April 2017

KOKS reopens this week, its first time as a Michelin star restaurant - the only one in the Faroes Islands. The star is well deserved, it’s not just about taste - the dishes here haunt you for months afterwards and give us a new translation of these harsh islands.

I visited KOKS last September, on a blustery autumn day, weeks before the island was gearing up for its season of fermenting mutton and lamb in wooden sheds across the hills. These small wooden sheds dry the meat using nothing but the salty sea air that whistles through the slats, in a process called raest.

Fat fulmars bobbed on the swirling seas around the Game of Thrones' style black cliffs. We caught cod within seconds of a line sinking into the water. If you know where to look then the Faroes are a feast fit for a king. And no-one knows that better than the team at KOKS.

Koks 4 Claes Bech Poulsen

Breast of fulmar served with beetroot and thyme

The food

Don’t let the remoteness of the 18-strong island chain of the Faroes fool you. There is plenty here to dine on. Chef Poul Andrias Ziska and his team forage, ferment, smoke and source some of the richest, deepest ingredients from their shores - literally using everything from the seabed up to create their own reflection of New Nordic cuisine.

The tasting menu at KOKS was my standout meal of last year. I can still taste the lamb tallow cream I spread on a simple homemade biscuit that was smoky, rich and ancient. It felt like a meal from another age, an age more connected to the land than ours and while dishes were beautifully presented, they had an earthy, raw appeal where you could almost taste the landscape.

Koks 7 Claes Bech Poulsen

Savoury “góðaráð” (girdle cakes), served with a cream made from “garnatálg” (good tallow) and “ræstur fiskur” (fermented fish)

Ziska sticks to whatever is in season on the Faroe Islands, and in the autumn that meant fulmar - the seabirds that the Faroese catch with a net as they whirl around the cliff tops. Raw langoustines are creamy and rich, a dish of sea anemone and nettles looks like a simple painter’s palette. There is fermented fish and the shed-air-dried lamb is carved off the bone next to me, it had a pungency that almost fizzed on my tongue.

When the islands’ landscape disappears into cloud or is reduced to the grey, crashing sea and green of the hills, you might wonder why people live here. It’s a harsh, remote existence. At KOKS though I felt like I had an inkling - the menu is an introduction to the richness of the land, the history of the islands - unchanged and potent. Much like the lamb.

Koks 6 Claes Bech Poulsen

Mousse of dulse (seaweed) with chocolate and fermented blueberries

The drinks

There’s a well stocked cellar with an international wine list that the sommelier is adept at matching to your courses. I went with the pairing option and was pleasantly surprised at every course (and enjoyed so much my notes trail off halfway through the meal). There’s also juice-matching for those that don’t drink (or are driving).

The vibe

KOKS used to be a private home, it’s currently on loan to the restaurant so the whole evening feels more like a pop up or private supper club, peppered with sheep skin throws and beautifully carved tables. The owner’s furniture has been repurposed to house glassware or flatware and the service is better than some five star London joints. The staff are passionate in their explanations of their unique dishes and rightly proud of their islands’ bounty.

The sustainability bit

Being sustainable is inherent in KOKS. The entire culinary team get involved foraging berries and herbs, vegetables and seaweed to use in the menu. The lamb, seabirds and fish are from the islands, grown or caught often just down the road from the restaurant. Anything that isn’t grown on the Faroes comes in from the rest of Scandinavia - but the focus is on showing off what the Faroe Islands can do.

When to visit

The restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturdays, from April to October for dinner only. Booking is essential.

Where is KOKS?

Discover the homely restaurant, which has taken over a private house, on the island of Streymoy, just outside Kirkjubøur.