Owner and chef Siv-Hilde Lillehaug harvesting seaweed.

The small restaurant with local food at heart

TEXT: INGRID OPSTAD | PHOTOS © LOFOTMAT

In the middle of the food mecca that is Lofoten, a place bursting with fresh fish and meat of all kinds, is a small restaurant with a big love for local food and history. The menu changes with the seasons, and excellent cookery, along with the captivating stories told as part of the dining experience make the restaurant a popular and well-visited spot all year round.

A shared passion for celebrating local ingredients and traditions led Siv-Hilde Lillehaug and her husband Geir Robertsen, who are both skilled chefs, to taking on a small location in the fishing village of Henningsvær in northern Norway’s Lofoten islands in 2010. After taking the leap from being a small delicatessen boutique with three tables to becoming a restaurant in new, beautiful premises in 2015, Lofotmat is today a popular place among both the 450 locals and tourists who are looking for great, authentic Norwegian food in pleasant, homely surroundings. With seating available for about 40 guests and catering for up to 60 people on the roof terrace, the restaurant also offers events such as wine-makers’ dinners in collaboration with its wine suppliers.

Generous, honest and local

“Our motto is to be generous, honest and local,” says manager and master chef Lillehaug. Lofotmat strives to be a place where you feel like home, where customers are seen as guests and greeted with a smile. “Our kitchen is open because I like to feel connected with our guests, but also so that they can feel safe and see the food being prepared,” she explains. “We care about our guests and want to tell stories about the food, the premises and Lofoten, to make their experience here optimal.” Her passion and dedication shine though when she talks about her restaurant and its cuisine, and as a result, Lofotmat has seen a considerable increase in both customer visits and satisfaction.

Menu changes with the seasons

Along with its idyllic location in Lofoten comes great access to the best locally sourced seafood and meat, and the little restaurant is proud to offer everything from stockfish and dried and salted cod to lamb from the area. The chefs are experts at transforming the fresh ingredients into culinary delights that end up on the plates of the happy guests. “Everything is cooked from scratch by us, and we use local ingredients as often as it is possible. Our focus is on the seasons and making sure that the menu changes along with them, to offer the best-quality food possible,” says Lillehaug. Her husband, who is also a chef at the restaurant, gets up early every morning to prepare the freshly baked bread.

Running an eco-conscious restaurant, the couple are also concerned with being sustainable and taking care of the environment around them. “We can tell you everything about the ingredients. We know where and when the fish was caught and which field the bulls have grazed in,” says Lillehaug. This also results in the restaurant being skilful when adapting the food for guests’ special requirements, whether it is an allergy or someone requesting a vegetarian version of a dish.

Taking inspiration from travels

“Even though our menu changes regularly, you can always find our classic signature dishes, like the delicious fish soup with our own little touch and the gratinated, dried stockfish,” says Lillehaug. “If we would ever remove the fish soup from the menu, I just don’t know what would happen!” she laughs.

The ingredients are typically Norwegian and local, but the experienced chefs enjoy playing around and getting creative with the food to prepare exciting dishes inspired by their travels. “Geir and I travel around Norway and abroad several times a year to get inspiration – in a small business like ours, we have to do that to develop and keep evolving,” says Lillehaug, explaining that, while on the road, they may discover anything from little details to enhance flavours and methods to prepare the food, to interesting ways of plating and serving it and even interior trends for the restaurant.

Representing the essence of northern Norway

In January this year, Lofotmat was invited to the world’s largest food and agricultural fair, International Grüne Woche in Berlin, together with other chefs from Nordland, Troms and Finnmark. Cooperatively, they represented the essence of northern Norway with exciting food from the area to help people discover this booming culinary destination. “We are incredibly proud to have been part of the team this year and really had an amazing experience in Germany. It was so inspiring to meet so many people and a great way to show the world what we have to offer in Lofoten,” says Lillehaug. “It was a real boost for a small restaurant like ours!”

In the last few years, this small restaurant has truly marked its place on the Lofoten food scene and become an important part of the thriving archipelago. If you want to enjoy a great dining experience in a charming, typically Norwegian atmosphere, Lofotmat is the right place to visit.

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