Kystens Mathus in Tromsø is capitalising on its immediate access to some of the world’s best fish – and changing dining culture in Norway’s northernmost city.

In Norway, the further north you go, the more intriguing the surroundings become. The soft, idyllic scenery of the southern coastline seem to grow bolder and more rugged as you move upwards and, as you reach for the Arctic, that same scenery becomes unruly, wild and dramatic – as if people aren’t supposed to live that far north.

Yet, they do. Small communities of mostly wooden houses are scattered along the coast, with the Arctic Sea and the steep mountains as their closest neighbours, stubbornly resisting in every bay and valley that permits it.

The nucleus of this fascinating area is undoubtedly Tromsø, an important port, home to Norway’s northernmost university and an urban break from the wilderness that surrounds it. For many visitors, Tromsø is where the Arctic adventure really begins, but at the same time, it’s also the epicentre of the best that northern Norway can offer.

Kystens Mathus: Eating out in Tromsø tonight?

The bar at Skirri restaurant with local beer on tap and excellent wine.

A cultural challenge

One of the things you will want to take advantage of while in Tromsø is the food. In particular, seafood – given the immediate access to some of the world’s best fish from one of its purest oceans. While fish has always been prepared at home, even northerners are now increasingly appreciating how professional cooks prepare local delicacies for them.

“Northerners just didn’t like to pay for somebody else to prepare the fish for them. It’s something that literally swims in their backyard and is there for them to catch,” explains Lasse Wangberg, the administrative director of Kystens Mathus in Tromsø. However, that perception is changing rapidly. A new wave of restaurants is changing cultural perceptions of how fish can be prepared and enjoyed – to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

Seasonal specialties and signature dishes

The restaurant Skirri at Kystens Mathus, which also includes a fishmonger and aquarium, offers a combination of seasonal specialties and year-round signature dishes. Their menu includes the staple fish soup and a local codfish known as boknafish, but you can also ask the waiter for the catch of the day – and, at times, rare delicacies such as king crab is available. Fish aside, you can opt for a burger. Reindeer patties are offered in the autumn and winter, but replaced by whale in the summer. At lunchtime, a selection of lighter dishes are available.

The selection has become popular among visitors, for whom a meal at Skirri has become a must. Eventually it drew the locals, and today they keep coming back for more. “We want our clients to be able to find certain dishes every time they come to encourage them to return,” says Wangberg.

Kystens Mathus: Eating out in Tromsø tonight?

Enjoy the food and the view at Skirri restaurant in Tromsø.

Tromsø’s best view?

Having a meal at Skirri means not only enjoying excellent food but also appreciating the astonishing surroundings this part of Norway can offer.

“I think we have Tromsø’s best view,” Wangberg says with a smile. From Skirri, guests enjoy a view of both the harbour and Tromsø’s main square. It’s beautiful in both the light of the midnight sun and during the dark winter, when the city itself lights up the sky – unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to catch the Aurora Borealis.

To accompany the food, Wangberg and colleagues enlist a wine importer that visits the restaurant regularly to match the wine selection to the seasonal menu. On tap, they offer local beer Mack, and are the only restaurant in Tromsø to serve Erdinger.

Christmas traditions

As Christmas celebrations start, Skirri changes their regular menu to one of traditional Norwegian Christmas fare, such as the much-loved jelly-like lutefisk, traditional Christmas sausages and other seasonal foods. As well as enjoying the 160-seat main restaurant, parties of 50-plus can rent a spacious private room upstairs.

Eating out was never an inherent part of local culture in the northernmost parts of Norway, but considering the immediate access to fish and meat of superb quality from uncontaminated nature, along with the growing popularity of this fascinating Scandinavian outpost, the time seems ripe for change. At Skirri, staff are determined to capitalise on that opportunity – with style, knowhow and a solid dose of northern charm.

Kystens Mathus: Eating out in Tromsø tonight?

Left: Serving fish in the summer sun at Skirri. Right: Mussels are popular at restaurant Skirri.

Web: www.kystensmathus.no

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