The last couple of weeks have been particularly damaging on my wallet, so I will use this week as a time out to recall some of my adventures as a ravenous monkey abroad… this one from a recent trip to the teeny township of Haugesund in Norway.
I was sent to Norway for an assignment, a handful of return trips over the past three months or so with my first commenced on Norway’s National day. I was lucky enough to catch the local parade through the main drag of this town. Little did I know then, that it was going to be the only day I would witness so many Norwegians – or just people for that matter – congregate in the high street. Normally, Haugesund looks eerily like a ghost town, albeit, with a beautiful view of the waterfront. The township numbers are around 33,000, although that’s probably spread over large expanses of land. However, alot of people seem to live on the water front, waking to the rising sunshine bounced off the glistening waters. Some in their boats.
The name comes from Haugr for hill or mound, and sund for strait or sound, which as my astoundingly capable deductive ability had worked out the surrounding townships end with -sund, since much of the landmass in this part of the world is surrounded by water. Unsurprisingly then, most restaurants boasts fresh fish caught from the same waters, Haugesund itself once known for its Herring trade. In fact the first thing I ate after I landed on Norge soil were fish and chips. Nuggets as opposed to a whole fried fillet, superbly crispy, golden and fizzy, enveloping oily and flaky cod. The Norwegian chippy was superior to anything I’d had in London, or Durham for that matter. Expensive however, it had set me back around £14. The cost of living in Norway was simply in another league, everything seemed to cost at least twice as much as it would do in the UK. A cheeseburger would set you back at least £15!
So I asked my colleagues about dining options in the town, many had directed me to To-Glass , but some had suggested I try Lothes – the culinary pride & joy of Haugesund… also the reason why some people find the setting a tad intimidating as well. It has a great view of the water, and is based in a large two storey wooden house initially built in the 1850’s, and looking as if it had been restored faithfully to its original rendition.
Inside, one feels the age of the house. The creaking floorboards, the musky smell of dust, the low ceilings and haunting photographs, so aged it is of a parched yellow, like calotypes, of men with surrealistic facial hair wearing riding coats only seen in period films. The rest of the scene were copper lamps, waitresses dressed as French maids and white tulips for table decoration. Was I dreaming? The feeling of being in a state of disillusion was mostly due to long summer days, the summer sun hardly ever set in Norway, seeing as much as sixteen hours of light through the waking day, and night.
“A journey of six courses menu composed of fresh supply from sea and land.” … Lothes’ star feature was a six course menu that changed on daily basis, drawing from ingredients local to the area. Funnily, they are quite flexible regarding the number of courses one would like to have from their six course expedition on a plate. On this visit, I chose three from the six for 529NOK. That’s roughly sixty quid.
Cauliflower soup with crayfish and scallop.
A pan-fried and de-shelled tail of cray fish rested in the centre of the soup. Atop, a single scalllop, shaved leeks and a type of long, black seed which I couldn’t identify. The kitchen was tiny and exposed to the diners, and actually formed part of the bar, inside were two chefs. I heard the whirring of a mixer, before this dish was brought to me. The natural sweetness of the seafood was intoxicating, bursting with liveliness. The cauliflower foam, so delicate, bubbly and warming, with a sharpening intensity which set my throat on fire; Eloquently presented and elegantly cooked.
Halibut, polenta, cous-cous, asparagus, chickpeas and olive jus.
The colour of the pickled onions, drew the eye in, and as I approached the dish, the aromatic steaminess filled my sense of smell with wonderfully hearty flavours. The olive jus had wonderful acidity, and concentration about it, it reminded me of a soya sauce, which was probably from the chickpea and polenta, the fish sat on top of. I had also detected chorizo being paired with the fish – something I had sampled at To Glass as well, a pairing which I assumed was a local favourite – and the entire plate was steaming, it was redolent of something inspired by Japanese cooking. There was a wonderful interplay of competing flavours, strongly salty and sweet, with the arresting layers of textures whirling around.
Reindeer, tarragon, spinach, carrot mash.
I opted for a rich finish with the reindeer fillet, which was not dissimilar to mallard, served medium rare, it featured a hint of game, quickly overridden by the muscular gravy. Interestingly however, most of the firepower came in the form of the oyster mushrooms this dish was served with, so strong in fact, it was as if the chef had injected Stilton into the fungi.
I returned to Lothes three more times, having fallen for its entirely chic style of cooking, and felt rather cheated not taken a picture of the entirely amazing truffle risotto made with a dash of ginger and served with a monkfish fillet. But then again, it was so good, I had opted to record the meal with nothing but my five senses. I savoured every moment. Eventually, I ended one of the return meals with a pudding: An eggy pannacotta served in a juiced, and warmed soup of watermelon…
The Gist of It
Lothes Mat & Vinhus
Norwegian, 6 retter for 769 NOK.
Skippergata 4, 5527 Haugesund, Norge
Tel: 52 71 22 01
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