A Weekend in The Faroe Islands
Before you ask, the Faroe Islands are in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland. They are remote, windy, wild, and home to a 2 Michelin star destination restaurant called Koks (and also puffins).
Now I love puffins, both the bird and cereal, but for this particular trip it was the fine dining that brought us, not the birds.
The Faroe Islands had been on my travel list for quite a while, it’s not often I go somewhere that feels so cut off but this rugged corner of Scandinavia has always fascinated me. I am a little sad that we didn’t get the full Faroe experience, but with places like Koks you book the meal first and make the travel arrangements around it, and we just didn’t have the time to explore the far off landscapes this time around.
We did get to explore the capitol, Torshavn (Faroese is a such an obscure language that I can’t find the right accent to put over the O to spell that correctly) which is a great little town. Even though it is a European capital city, it feels more like a small fishing village. It is easy to get your bearings in its small and winding streets so you start to feel like you know your way around very quickly.
There are modern parts, with malls and car dealerships, but we stuck mostly to the older town centre where the traditional black houses have green grass roofs. Obviously any place that paints the bulk of their buildings black will speak to my soul, so I was very happy. And despite its small size, there are plenty of spots to check out.
Our first stop was Brell Cafe which is a cute cafe that sells charcuterie in their shop and take their coffee very seriously. No matter how you like your coffee prepared they will have something for you. I’d definitely recommend making it the first stop of your day if you head to Torshavn.
We also become temporary regulars at the Torshavn Mikkeller bar. Ever since finding the Mikkeller while we were in Tokyo we have made it our mission to search out branches of the Copenhagen institution wherever we go. The one in Torshavn is housed in a 500 year old building (with a grass roof!) and is a cosy spot to take cover from the elements in. They also had some very good sour beers on tap, so this weird beer lover was very happy.
The Faroe Islands are made up of 18 major islands, so fishing and sea food is a staple for pretty much everyone there. And just next door to Mikkeller is Barbara Fish House, serving traditional Faroese cuisine with a bit of Spanish/tapas twist. It’s a beautiful restaurant, in an old traditional house, so you can get a bit of an idea of how people lived on the islands hundreds of years ago. The food was amazing, all served sharing style, so make sure you order a few dishes and try everything.
Along with Barbara there are a few other restaurants, all right in Torshavn, that are on the finer end of the dining spectrum but specialising in Faroese food. They seem to take their food very seriously and have a huge respect for the traditional methods. You will eat very well in the Faroe Islands, but you will have to be prepared to open your minds and your palates to really make the most out of it.
There are plenty of sightseeing opportunities around Torshavn, but for a lot of these you will either need to rent a car or book on a planned tour. We are already planning a trip back so we can see more of all the islands have to offer. We did make it to Skansin, which is a fort a 5 minute walk out of the city. It was built to protect the town from pirate raids and gives you a great 360 view of all of Torshavn and out to sea. Despite being so close to the town you get a really good idea of just how wild and windswept these islands are. I couldn’t get nearly as many dramatic pictures of me on cliffs as I wanted since my BF (and defacto photographer) was afraid of silly things like slipping on rocks, or being caught up in a gust of wind and pulled off a cliff into the North Atlantic. Lame I know.
Of course all of this was just a preamble to the main event: dinner at Koks. Which was even more amazing and special than I had hopped it would be. To say Koks is hard to get to is an understatment. First you take a 30 minute taxi ride from town to a designated meeting spot. It feels a little sketchy pulling off at an unmarked exit in the middle of nowhere, it could very easily feel more horror movie than Michelin star. But the meeting place is a cosy shack on the edge of a lake full of candles and sheep skin throws where you are offered homemade beer or kombucha as you wait for your next ride.
Koks is truly remote, and they send a 4X4 Land Rover to take you the rest of the way. It’s a ten minute drive from the cozy shack to the actual restaurant over unmarked dirt roads and, at one point, through a lake. It had been raining all day when we did it which only added to the excitement. If you’ve even been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, it’s a little like that, but without the Disney safety features. I loved it and asked to sit up front with the driver on the way back!
The meal is one of the best I’ve ever had. Every aspect of Koks has been so carefully thought about the whole thing feels like a dream. They do a very seafood heavy menu of about 20 courses. It is all based on and inspired by traditional Faroese cooking and preparation techniques. Whale heart, fermented fish and lamb, langoustine liver and fish skin all feature on the menu; it was all delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had before. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, a truly once in a life time deal, and I am so glad I got to go.
Even if fine dining whale heart isn’t quite your scene, don’t write the Faroe Islands off. They have so much to offer and are absolutely worth a trip. They are still a bit off the beaten track, so nothing feels too touristy and they are maybe the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I cant wait to for my next trip!