I can’t be the only person who travels around pristine fjord regions and begins to daydream about escaping to a cute fishing village, to live out my days reading, writing and walking in the hills. It’s not just me, right? In my daydream, my village of choice has a restaurant a lot like Isafjordur’s Tjoruhusid (“The Tar House”). On a recent visit to town, the photographer and I followed our noses to the end of the docks, where heady aromas tempted us inside for dinner. The postcard-pretty red wooden building dates from 1782, and inside it’s a haven of timber-lined hygge (mind your head on the low beams, and listen out for vintage vinyl on the turntable).
There’s no menu here, but trust that fish-lovers are in for a treat. You can safely put yourself in the hands of host Haukur S. Magnusson – his parents are weaving their magic behind the scenes (Haukur’s father Magnus mans the stoves). The restaurant started somewhat by accident around 2003 – the family opened a café here, offering waffles and coffee to visitors of the neighbouring museum. Magnus had access to super-fresh local seafood (as well as the restaurant, he has a fish transport business) plus time-honoured recipes, so why not offer fish, too? From little things, big things grow. Fifteen years on, the restaurant subscribes to the notion of perfecting your craft, without the need to add bells and whistles.
My best advice: wear a generous waistband and come hungry.
Beginning the buffet is a tureen of seafood soup, made from a base of halibut and langoustine infused with white wine, tomato and coconut cream. Go easy on the soup and fresh bread (trust me, it’s hard to resist). The cast-iron skillets arrayed on the bench deserve plenty of attention: these hold a cornucopia of fishy treats, including cod, pollock, wolffish, plaice and more. The fillets might be simply grilled in butter and sprinkled with cayenne, or come in a sauce combination that defies logic but works (case in point: the signature wolffish dish with cream cheese, capers, mushrooms and grapes). There are accompaniments for sauce-soaking, like potatoes, rice and salad, and the beauty of the buffet is that you can try a little of everything, including some flavours you might otherwise avoid (for me, the cod tongues, pan-fried in butter and garlic, were a revelation). My best advice: wear a generous waistband and come hungry. The buffet’s final note is help-yourself tea and coffee, with a bowl of chocolate and dates to nibble on (if you’ve managed to find your dessert pocket). If you’re anything like us, you’re going to need a post-dinner walk to digest, admire the gorgeous scenery and start plotting your return.
Text: Carolyn Bain. Photos: Arni Saeberg