At KOKS Restaurant – the first and only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands – one should not expect crisp, white tablecloths, renaissance silverware and foie gras. Instead, you’ll dine inside a cozy smithy from 1741 that’s nestled in a stunning green valley with no one around. Here, Faroese cooking traditions and the freshness of the sea take centre stage.
Large, succulent lobsters, sea urchins, scallops, fish like halibut, plaice, haddock and cod are just a few of the treasures found in the ocean around KOKS. What’s more, local sea birds and lamb are featured on the restaurant’s 17-20 course tasting menu. Crunchy to smooth textures, and salted to smoked and fermented flavours, are just some of head chef Poul Andrias Ziska and his team’s proud dishes, highlighting the rich delights of the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands are an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, and located in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are midway between Scotland and Iceland. A population of just over 52.000 inhabits the 18 mountainous islands, with KOKS Restaurant just 30 minutes from the capital city of Tórshavn.
It feels like worlds away, even though chef Ziska says, “By now I actually thought I would be working at some great restaurants across the world.” In late 2013 (at just 23 years of age), Ziska was invited back to his native Faroe Islands from Copenhagen to take over KOKS Restaurant where he had worked as a chef and later sous chef from 2011 to 2013. “I wanted to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to know my own country even better through my profession and I’m happy that I’ve further developed my skills and my own style here in the islands rather than outside,” he explains.
Seafood and Ræst
Ziska describes KOKS as a seafood restaurant – but it’s unlike other seafood restaurants. KOKS is 5 minutes from the ocean and the seafood is so fresh the chef can dash down to the ocean to get more langoustines, sea urchins or clams if he is running low during service. “The overall territory of the Faroe Islands consists of 99% ocean and 1% land, so we have an amazing variety of fish and seafood at our disposal – but we also like to incorporate local seabirds and lamb in our menu,” he explains.
The Faroe Islands have a 1000-year history of fermenting food. The unique Faroese flavour “Ræst” is “a combination of the wind, heat, altitude, cold, level of humidity, and salinity, as well as the microorganisms that are endemic to the island,” according to the authors of the KOKS book form 2016. The fish, bird and lamb meat are hung up around September or October, with attention given to the right weather conditions throughout the process. At the end of winter, they are usually ready to consume the Ræst which, according to the Faroese, is impossible to obtain in other countries despite attempts in Iceland and Scotland.
The Art of Pairing
So, what does one drink with Ræst? KOKS’ sommelier Karin Visth has that all figured out. Originally from Switzerland, Visth moved to the Faroe Islands in 2013. Having trained in Switzerland, Copenhagen and at the WSET School in London, a food critic suggested she move to Tórshavn for what would be a ‘unique experience’.
“It’s been the perfect challenge for me,” says Visth. “In Paris, you can almost open a book and read what wines to serve with which foods but in the Faroe Islands, no one has ever spent time or energy doing pairings or thinking about what to serve with Ræst.”
Visth has discovered that old-aged Sake from Japan works beautifully with fermented lamb – as does Madeira sherry. KOKS also offers non-alcoholic parings to enjoy with their tasting menu such as homemade Kombucha and water kefir, as well as broths and juices. But Visth add, “We also have very elegant Champagnes and outstanding wines – mostly from small European producers and a couple of South African producers,” she says. Visth has visited most of the vineyards and knows exactly what each producer stands for.
Michelin Stars and Staying Grounded
On February 22nd 2017, KOKS was awarded its first Michelin Star. The international director of the Michelin guides, Michael Ellis was “impressed with the chef’s use of indigenous ingredients and traditional techniques like smoking and salting.” Ziska notes, “It was an unforgettable day, but I did not see it coming” because he was convinced Michelin did not consider small countries, rustic settings and remote cities in Scandinavia.
KOKS has consistently received two Michelin Stars for three years, adding to a large number of awards and in 2019, Ziska received Michelin’s “Young Chef Award.” Ziska and Visth are proud of their team’s achievements and plan to stay true to Faroese cooking traditions and its produce. Now constrained by the 26-seat former smithy, “KOKS hopes to expand in two to three years-time and to build a brand-new restaurant,” says Visth. The new restaurant will have a sea view and hopefully a location closer to Tórshavn with the same familiar and isolated feeling.
“We plan to build a few rooms allowing for guests to stay,” explains Visth who reveals the plan for the future KOKS experience. Guests will start in the afternoon with a hot tub in the mountains, then proceed to dinner, drinks in the lounge and finally breakfast the next morning – featuring our own chicken eggs and fresh cow milk,” she says.
The new dining experience will likely sell out quickly, with bookings 3-6 months in advance. “When we open up our booking system for the new year on January 2nd, the month of July is usually fully booked within a couple of hours,” says Visth. Guests from all over the world flock to the green valley at Kirkjubøur – and many tourists book their table at KOKS before they book their flight tickets. The team at KOKS hope never to disappoint. Our idea of a perfect dining experience is the same today as it was when we started,” says Ziska and adds “it’s honest and we have faith in our product and keep looking inside rather than outside.”
Afterscript: COVID-19 consequences
In 2020, what would usually have been 8 months of business turned into 3 months instead. During the early summer, KOKS decided to make a sister pop-up restaurant for the local community in Tórshavn and by the time KOKS could finally open its doors again in July, the borders had closed.
“But, thanks to a large number of local guests, we have managed to stay almost fully booked,” says Visth. Direct flights from Iceland, Norway and Scotland got cancelled due to COVID-19 so only tourists from Denmark, Germany and Sweden can currently travel into The Faroe Islands. “Since the Faroese are not able to travel at the moment, they are spending money on the Islands which is great for us,” she says.