On latitude78 in Longyearbyen stands the world's northernmost fine dining restaurant Huset. Just before four-months-long polar-night casts its darkness to this administrative center of Svalbard, Norway, Nøgne Ø teamed up with the chefs and dynamic team of Huset restaurant and organized a 7 course gourmet sake- and beer tasting dinner on 21 October 2016.
Idea first came from the head chef of Huset, Simon Liestøl Idsø, who has been a chef at Norwegian Ambassador's residence in Washington DC catering for political elites and diplomatic corps around the Capitol Hill that he wanted to do a sake tasting event with us, knowing Nøgne Ø being the first craft sake brewery in Europe and the northernmost in the world.
He worked in Michelin star restaurants in Oslo before taking up current position in Svalbard and was familiar with sake and how it brings out Umami of the food when paired together.
Moreover, Huset houses one of the largest wine cellars in Scandinavia with more than 20,000 bottles of wine and a selection of our sake has been in their wine (sake) list for sometime. They have also been a loyal customer of Nøgne Ø craft beer.
A series of skype conference with Simon and his right-hand-man Sous Chef Mattias Hemhagen, started with sharing experimental food-sake pairing experience at Alchemist in Copenhagen in August this year where Nøgne Ø Junmai was paired with owner-chef Rasmus Munk's concoction of creamed sheep's brain with wood ants and grubs.
We exchanged ideas for sake which we can offer and what plates to pair with ingredients sourced within the arctic circle. Toji Brock Bennett scheduled new batch of sake to be brewed in time so that we could release fresh Nigori for this special occasion. Nigori is slightly effervescent cloudy sake reminiscent of arctic snow storm.
We also had the pleasure of introducing 100% European Junmai Namagenshu (unpasteurized and undiluted sake) made from Carnaroli rice from Lombardia, Italy.
The menu followed the sequence of:
Amuse Bouche: Roasted carrots with løyrom and creme fraiche,
Rye bread with whipped butter from Sønderhaven Gårdsmejeri in Denmark,
Langoustine carpaccio (usuzukuri) from Tromsø and tarragon, red beets cream, pickled red beets and red beets vinaigrette paired with Sparkling Sake,
Grilled tartar of bearded seal from Svalbard, marinated wtih soysauce and shallots, dill, flax seeds chips and pickled pear paired with fresh Nigori Sake,
Bouillon of reindeer from Svalbard, barley chips and chives emulsion, sugar snaps, spring onions and raddish, paired with Havre Stout,
Smoked cod from Svalbard and homemade coppa ham, potato cream and leek foam paired with Junmai sake,
Resting Course: Hibiscus and black currant ice tea,
Grilled reindeer from Svalbard and beef tail sauce, morels, brussel sprouts and chanterelle cream paired with Junmai Namagenshu and Imperial Brown Ale,
Blue cheese cream and plums, crispy rye bread and cress, paired with aged Kijoshu dessert sake,
Stout icecream and dill bread, lemon curd paired with Imperial Stout.
Guests were welcomed by restaurant manager, Cathrine Thoresen and were served special cocktail made of Junmai and green tea syrup with some twist of citrus. All pairings were fantastic but the consensus was that Sparkling Sake and carpaccio of langoustine was especially divine bringing out sweetness of raw langousitne to the full, and pairing of intricate blue cheese concoction and Kijoshu was heavenly.
The response from the participants was very positive where we had nearly 40 who were half local residents and half visitors. One visitor posted photographs of all the food on Tripadvisor's page commenting it was «Spennende kveld med mange interessante smaker og parret med sake og øl fra Nøgne Ø. Herlig kveld! Utsøkt service».
Some of the active members of Japan-Norway Society from Oslo joined us at the table. Mr. Tore Fossen who was celebrating his 87th birthday thanked us for fantastic evening as this was his first time to be on the island as well as the first time to have Nordic fine cuisine paired with sake. We overheard his wife Takako whispering to him “Now that we are in Longyearbyen, enjoying beautiful food with delicious Norwegian sake and since sake is known to be good for long and healthy life, let's enjoy our long life together”.
Ms. Aino Karvo, a Sake Sommelier from Finland, who was with Culinary Institute in Helsinki and who helped introducing Nønge Ø Sparkling Sake to “Hella ja Huone” in Tampere earlier this year, joined to witness what magic Nordc food and Sake pairing can make and seemed to have been inspired to replicate something similar back in Finland.
There was a logistical challenge to have all the beer and sake to be delivered in time as they only have one shipment of goods from Tromsø per month. Both my colleague Ingebjørg who represented Nøgne Ø and presented beer selection to the guests and myself had to carry some in our suitcases. Unfortunately a couple of sake bottles were damaged in my suitcase and I had splash of sake all over my clothes, which was actually a lucky sign in Japan. One downside was perhaps sake-perfumed attire during the evening which may not have pleased everyone!.
Longyearbyen is a fantastic destination for those who love aventure and wilderness. If the gourmet food and sake-beer pairing experience is added to these already attractive features of the northernmost town in the world, it is not difficult to imagine anyone wanting to come back and experience everything it has to offer. We were in the vicinity of a polar bear when we took a RIB tour across the Isfjorden the following day. The towering glaciers from the ocean and the thunder-like fall of some was awe-inspiring. We wish to thank Simon, Mattias and Cathrine of great Huset team to host Nøgne Ø sake-beer tasting dinner and Toji, Brock Bennett who brewed two new beautiful artisan sake in time for this event. Kanpai!
(Huset, Alchemist and Hella ja Huone are all listed in White -guide Nordic 2016 and this exemplifies how sake can pair well with new Nordic dishes.)