We visited Iceland back in 2008. We watched geysers shoot their scalding jets into the air; we ate hot beef stew out of bowls made of bread; we explored delightfully poky shops selling stylish and quirky furniture and clothing; we swam in the Blue Lagoon wincing as hail fell on our heads.
Since then, it’s fair to say I’ve developed more than just a mild obsession with anything Scandinavian.
So when I heard that Harrogate, only 20 minutes from my house, had its own highly-regarded Scandi chic restaurant, Norse, I more or less picked up the phone then and there to make a reservation. I was desperate to try the seven course tasting menu.
Inside, everything at Norse looks as if it was made out of reclaimed wood; no surprises there. A wooden deer’s head juts from the wall eyeing the folk below. And industrial-style light bulbs hang daringly from long black wired. The two funky waitresses dart about daintily with their high cheekbones: I think one of them is actually from Scandinavia, judging by her accent.
Very very cool. Very very understated.
You can see Jake here buttering bread, a basket of which was served with the most unusual and delightful mixture of aubergine puree, puffed rice, mixed grains and fennel seeds. It was an explosion of flavour reminiscent of a very elegant and refined Bombay mix.
The first course proper was wild garlic and potato veloute with horseradish cream. An almost Martian-like pea green coloured slightly foamy soup waited patiently for me to dip my spoon in, but I was reticent as it contained horseradish.
Nevertheless, without this fiery accompaniment, the veloute would have been quite plain. Instead, this creamy and fresh Spring-like dish had a delightful, slightly burning aftertaste which tantalised. I was sad there was only a few mouthfuls of the stuff.
Tastebuds tingling, we were thrilled when the prettiest bowl of food in Harrogate arrived at our table: Whitby crab, charred cucumber, fermented rhubarb and lemon puree. A delicate blend of flavours offset by the sharp but welcome hit of lemon.
I was a little worried about the next course as it contained eel. But I was very pleasantly surprised.
The eel had a beautiful texture, just like fish; very similar to mackerel in fact. I absolutely loved the beetroot relish with caraway with its pungent heady flavours. The dish showed how versatile this root could be as it was served with a paled back version in the form of sorbet. That colour would not look out of place on the lips of a pretty girl.
The next dish was one of our favourites of the evening; Cornish turbot, roasted salsify and hay-baked mussel sauce with pickled clams.
The buttery, juicy fish was deliciously cooked and it sat proudly atop the salsify: a root vegetable I had never eaten before, but that I now absolutely adore. It tastes better than it sounds, trust me. The little sweet nuggets of clam adorned with shards of dill reminded me Cornish sands flecked with seaweed.
Another thing I’ve never tried before: hogget. To be honest, I thought it was a type of pig (stupid, I know). But it’s actually an animal that is between a lamb and a sheep in age; it has a much richer and more gamey flavour than lamb. To be honest, it’s much more flavoursome.
This dish was like proper Yorkshire pub grub in a scaled down, much more elegant form. The meat was perfectly cooked and the little sweet peas toned down the rich sauce. I absolutely adored the corkscrews of parsnip – absolute genius.
Just a note to say sorry that the quality of the photos has declined somewhat since the beginning: I was dealing with poor light conditions!
Anyway, I hope you can see how pretty this next dish was; girly almost. It reminds me of Nigella Lawson’s new kitchen.
The best things about this dish? The contrast between the crunchy coconut shards and the juicy sweet rhubarb. But most memorable of all: the kaffir lime custard. One taste of this and I was back in Thailand; the aromatic flavour was almost intoxicating.
Ok, so you thought the last dish was pretty? Take a look at this. I struggle to explain it without sounding insulting; but the strawberry flavours in this dish were so strong, so powerful, that they almost tasted artificial. It was as if a scientist had created the best tasting strawberry ever within a laboratory and had then served it to us that evening.
It was an explosion of flavour. This dish was exciting, innovative, incredible. An absolutely outstanding way to end our seven course banquet.
At £54 per head, this seven course tasting menu may sound expensive. But it’s about half the price of what you would pay at Michelin starred establishments. And believe me, Norse is up there with the best Michelin restaurants I’ve been to.
My advice? Go before it follows in the footsteps of Man Behind The Curtain and gets a Michelin star. Then you’ll be waiting months for a table.