This is a restaurant on the Faroe Islands
Three hungry travelwriters were stranded in a foodless hotel at the end of a long, tiring day.
The tourist office on the Faroe island of Sandoy suggested we try a local restaurant.“You will find it most interesting,” she said, conjuring up visions of seafood bistro or perhaps a sophisticated roadside diner.
The restaurant owner offered to collect us from the hotel. Looking back, this generous offer should have alerted us... But there were still no alarm bells when jolly restaurateur Laura appeared out of the thick fog in a mud-splattered off-roader.
We drove for 15 minutes across the island, but only when we turned from tarmac onto a rough track did I start to realise how unusual the evening was going to be. For the track became a footpath, then a flowing stream and finally just a rocky stretch of moorland.
I clung to the off-roader’s grab handles with white knuckles as we bounced and crashed at a walking pace over rocks and holes big enough to hide in. “Don’t worry – it’s not far,” chuckled Laura as if lurching violently from side to side was a perfectly normal way of travelling to a restaurant.
Battered into silence by 45 minutes of this boulder bucking, we finally stopped at a seemingly random spot in the fog. ‘No valet-parking then?’ someone muttered. But we weren’t laughing as we set off on foot after Laura into the drizzle.
She led steeply downhill through the pathless, soaking grass. After about 20 minutes trudging, a building became visible through the mist. See my photo above...
I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t a cosy ivy-covered auberge or brightly-lit seaside trattoria.
In fact Nordasti Hagi is well-known in the Faroes as a traditional rustic restaurant. No-one remarks on the journey to get there. Locals sometimes walk.
But then the Faroese inhabit a surreal fantasy world where there hasn’t been a murder for 15 years, one in five men play football every week and the prime minister works in a wooden shed on the waterfront with grass growing on the roof.
The ‘restaurant’ is in fact a 100-year-old farm building. Bluntly, to someone from outside the Faroes, it was a wooden shed. And it stands alone, many miles from any other buildings, in the middle of boggy tundra.
What other restaurant in western Europe relies on water from a stream, a coal-powered cooker and oil lamps? And what other country would think that being more than an hour from the nearest road is a good place for a restaurant?
By now we were wet, cold, hungry and exasperated… yet somehow the situation seemed so bizarre as to be unreal. No-one wanted to be first to stand up and shout: “Stop this nonsense! I’ll settle for a sandwich back at the hotel thank you.”
Laura bustled on undaunted. She introduced her partner ‘Poddle’ a wild-haired bearded Viking in a check-shirt who was lurking in the doorway when we arrived. Poddle didn’t speak a word of English and looked at us if we’d been send to help him dig some trenches and fell far short of what he’d been expecting.
Laura was happily cooking on the range, while we gathered at the kitchen table under an oil lamp with a bottle of wine. Needless to say, we were the only diners.
A colleague asked for the toilet. “Ah, toilet is lying down,” replied Laura. Amid visions of bizarre Faroese lavatorial practice we rushed outside to find the makeshift cubicle had blown over in a recent storm. With Poddle’s help we clumsily re-erected it.
By now of course we were resigned to being served something disgusting. After all, the previous night we’d suffered a plate of quivering whale blubber in a very smart hotel dining room. Yet Laura somehow prepared a wonderful homely feast of lamb with homegrown turnip and angelica, followed by an unforgettably gorgeous rhubarb tart.
It was an extraordinary culinary performance in the circumstances. We found ourselves warming to the atmosphere of our little wooden hostelery. The wine was flowing, the food fantastic and Laura a lively, if eccentric, maitre d’.
Meanwhile Poddle sat silently at our table, crudely carving chunks of lamb with a huge hunting knife. Suddenly he decided to lie on the floor alongside the table. There he fell asleep, judging from the snores. A little later he woke with a grunt, staggered from the room wordlessly but could be heard outside on the moor producing vigorous outbursts of wind like some deranged elk.
It was clearly time to leave. It was certainly an amazing evening that had ended with laughter, back-slaps all round and the feeling of having eaten really well. The Faroes really are a fantastic place, we agreed.
Then we stepped outside. Oh, yes… I suddenly remembered. There was still the final course to contemplate - a one-and-a-half hour return journey.
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