During our visit to Spitsbergen last weekend, Gruvelageret Restaurant in Longyearbyen (the capital of Svalbard, Norway) invited me to try out their 4-course fine dining menu with wine pairing. I was joined by my wife, Ms B.
The restaurant, whose name translates into mining warehouse, sits 30 metres up the hillside, no more than 200 metres direct distance from Coal Miners’ Cabins, where we were staying (0.5km by car), but – being cautious (everyone seemed to think: overly cautious) people, we took a cab anyway. At least in winter, polar bears occasionally stroll around in this northernmost human settlement on planet Earth, and we didn’t want to end up as polar bear picnic.
Like most structures in town, the building doesn’t look like too much from the outside (even though the whole building has a beautiful history and a lot of love and hard work went into it), but as soon as you enter, you’re completely taken in by the rustic log cabin atmosphere and open candle light, which is beautifully combined with modern elements such as a large floor-to-ceiling window. Being as far from the town centre as it is, this building has never been connected to the local water or sewage networks and operates as self-contained unit in that respect. That said, as nearly everywhere in Norway, all appliances and equipment are very modern and high-quality.
As we visited off-season, there were only two other parties seated at the massive oak tables, when we arrived at 8pm. Due to the midnight sun, people also tend to have their dinners late, as it’s difficult to find sleep anyway.
We were immediately greeted by Jack, our professional, knowledgeable and very pleasant waiter, who also seemed to fulfil an important role in the kitchen. He walked us through each of the courses of the menu and the wine which came with each meal, providing interesting information about the ingredients, how they’re sourced responsibly and masterfully prepared to perfection from scratch, including the curing and smoking.
The restaurant is the #1 culinary destination in this frontier town of 2,000 souls, which has an incredibly diverse and impressive offer of roughly 25 restaurants and eateries, including plenty of fine dining, mainly due to the fact that many of the cruise-liner tourists and visiting top scientists have finer tastes and the extra dollar to spare.
The truly special evening started with two flutes of nice bubbly (not included in the wine-pairing deal) and an amuse-bouche of smoked and cured bear meat (not the polar bear variety) on a bed of horse radish paste. The first course was pan-fried salmon fillet served with pea puree and a lovely ginger beurre blanc, that still contained tiny bits of this tasty root. It was skilfully paired with a young, light, citric, fruity Alsatian Riesling.
Our second course was one of the best borscht we’ve had (and we’ve been to Russia). It came with absolutely delicious little cubes of smoked, cured reindeer heart (which wasn’t at all tough and chewy like the one we had had in Finland during a recent visit, but very soft), bits of apple, peanuts, and the obligatory sour cream. We loved that they used only very little dill, as in our experience the taste of dill often overpowers the taste of the actual borscht.
Then came our third and main course, an enormous portion of four thick, expertly cut slices of medium-rare reindeer loin from northern mainland Norway, on morel mushroom sauce infused with home-made, extremely potent truffle oil, vegetable rosti and fresh fruit. If you are a meat-enthusiast like I am, you must try this meal before you die, or you haven’t lived. What an amazing dish! Even Ms B, who’s not much into red meat, realised on the spot that this was a completely different league or (mind the pun) a whole new game. It was paired with a 2011, heavy, dark Cote du Rhone. A great match.
Dessert, which came with an 8% slightly sparkling 2015 Piedmont dessert wine called Castello Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui, was another winner: a deconstructed cheesecake.
When we’re back in Longyearbyen, probably in May next year, we’ll make sure we return to this true gem of the Scandinavian restaurant scene. Tip to the hat.
For another Norwegian restaurant review click here for Ekeberg Restaurant. Or check out some fine dining in other countries: Lafleur, Frankfurt, Aquavit, Berners Tavern, Fera, Galvin at the Athenaeum, London, and Allard and Benoit, Paris. Or looking for some travel or cultural inspiration, try our London helicopter ride, rock-climbing near Porto, our camel ride in the Sahara., or a concert of the world’s best symphony orchestra in Frankfurt.