Sunday, March 19, 2023

Michelin Stars in Greenland

Trip date: July 2022

Even though I had wanted to go to Greenland for a long time, this trip really came about because of a pop-up! The Faroese restaurant KOKS, which I had had the pleasure of dining at with my friend Aaron, decided to move to the beautiful Ilimanaq Lodge in Greenland while their new restaurant in T├│rshavn is being built. When I saw this on Instagram I immediately texted my friend Forest in Paris and asked if she wanted to meet for dinner in Greenland!

I'll say right off the bat that this was not an easy reservation to book! Ilimanaq is a tiny village only accessible by boat (or sled dog in the winter) with no other places to stay besides the lodge. There are only 30 seats per night and there are also only 15 cabins. It was like piecing together a puzzle to get the dinner and cabin booked, the flights into Greenland, since they don't go every day, and the transfer boat to take us from Ilulissat to Ilimanaq. Similarly to when I went to the glorious Hayman Island, this transfer cost 600 DKK each way/ each person. And it wasn't fancy like the yacht in Australia! So just to get there and back was $170. 

This season it looks like the cabin, dinner, and boat transfers are all included for 8,700 DKK per person.

The boat transfer is generally 30 minutes but as it goes right thru the ice flow from the Ilulissat Icefjord it can take up to 2 hours if the ice is heavy. It was a spectacular ride, and loud! You could hear the smaller ice hitting the hull of the boat as we zoomed past large icebergs.

There was one other couple on our boat and it turned out they were from the same arrondissement in Paris as Forest. Small world indeed!

Luckily we took the advice given by the lodge to only bring an overnight bag, as the transfer boat was small and getting on and off it was a scramble. We had left our suitcases at the Hotel Icefiord and arranged for the Hotel Arctic to pick them up as that is where we would be headed upon our return. 

We arrived at the tiny settlement village, greeted by the lodge staff, and made our way to the check-in building which is one of the oldest buildings in town; originally built in the 1700s by the colony founder Paul Egede. Inside it is now quite hygge!

Once checked in we made our way to Bungalow #9 via a boardwalk. WOW! Each of the 15 A-frames sits on the edge of a cliff and has full ocean views. Ours was a standard cabin so we were in the inlet, the superior one's look straight out.

We walked onto the large deck, outfitted with sealskin lounge chairs, and entered the very Danish designed living room. So pretty! Upstairs there were two beds looking out to the sea (and no blinds! LOL!) The lodge was built in 2017 with sustainability in mind; all of the cabins have solar panels for power and the lodge uses an electric cart to transfer luggage.

The weather was just glorious, and we had bought a cold bottle of white wine from reception, so we spent the time before dinner sitting on our deck, enjoying the sun and watching the icebergs drift by. It wasn't long before we spotted a whale and her baby! We must have watched them for 30+ minutes, it was sooooo great!

When it was time for dinner we walked the short way back to where reception was. KOKS was housed in the other oldest building, this one originally the home of settler Egede. Head chef Poul Andrias Ziska and his team greeted us as we walked in which was very fun!

We were seated in a very pretty little room with just 3 other tables. The other rooms of the house had the other diners. The sun was streaming in and we were all just steps from the ocean and the icebergs drifting by. Magical!

We chose to have the wine pairings with our 20-dish dinner, which was an additional 3,200 DKK total; there is also a juice tasting available. They started us off with a lovely champagne to accompany a trio of 1-bite starters: mattak (whale blubber) wrapped in a "taco" of wild greens, seal blood tartelette with mussel and seaweed, and this gorgeous Greenlandic halibut with horseradish and dill.

As I had eaten at KOKS before, I knew that they serve hyper-local ingredients. And since we had already spent 3 days exploring Greenland, we knew that very little grows here so we weren't surprised by the use of whale and seal. But obviously that might not be for everyone. From the KOKS website "due to our geographical location in the North Atlantic, we do not have access to a broad variety of vegetables for a good part of the year. Therefore, it is not possible for us to create a vegetarian or vegan tasting menu."

All the dishes were small, most just a bite or two, which is perfect for me. There were a handful of lovely seafood dishes using shrimp, scallops, snow crab, and salmon. This scallop and caviar dish was wonderful!

After the seafood dishes we had a series of land proteins including muskox, reindeer, and ptarmigan which is a type of cold region grouse. The presentation was a bit shocking but the meat was delicious!

Special knives, inlaid with mother of pearl images of whaling boats, were brought out for our bowhead whale course. The meat surprised me by being very gamey, not what I expected. It wasn't my favorite.

We took a little break before dessert and stepped outside for some fresh air. And of course full sunshine at 10:45pm!

Dessert consisted of 4 small bites, all very unique both in presentation and ingredients. Limpet (small sea snails) made into a sweet cream and served in their shells, looked and tasted a bit like caramel. Fermented garlic fudge, was indeed fudgy! The roasted bladderwrack cake was the only thing I actively disliked from the entire meal, it's a type of algae. And the stone bramble and blood meringues seemed too pretty (and delicious) to be made of blood!

We also had some lovely Calvados after, so not everything was local!

It was a super unique meal and did not feel gimmicky but more an education about the ingredients and then elevated as you would expect at any Michelin starred restaurant. I am super happy to have been able to experience KOKS in both the Faroe Islands and in Greenland. 

We headed back to our cabin just before midnight and spotted the whales again! We stayed up way too late watching them and having a nightcap. And also it is very hard to go to bed when the sun is up!

The next morning we caught the tail end of breakfast in another of the lodge's buildings and then went on a settlement walk (an additional charge). Our guide was probably about 20 and was born and raised in the village. There are only 50 people who call Ilimanaq home and the new tourism that the lodge brings was directly responsible for him having this job. His friend was from another area of Greenland but was there training to be a guide also. 

It was a great little walk and interesting to learn a bit about the village. We learned that Ilimanaq was once a major fish processing center but the company moved to a larger city where they had access to more employees. Since towns are only accessible by boat or dogsled, no one could commute so most people were sadly out of work. 

There is a post office and grocery store but in the winter supplies get very low so people will trade things out of their own pantry. 

Our guide's grandmother was the pastor of the tiny village church until she passed, he was very proud of her and pointed out her house as well as his. 
After our walk we had lunch back at the lodge's main room, which is available as an add-on. We were very disappointed in this! 2 types of dried whale, 2 types of dried halibut, and dried reindeer. Basically a meal of jerky. 

I saw 2 women at the next table having lovely shrimp smorrebrod and figured that we had the appetizer and that the shrimp was the main. But when I asked our waitress she let me know that the shrimp was the vegetarian option! ­čĄ»

When we went to board the transfer boat back to Ilulissat I noticed our captain on his knees on the dock reaching into the water and asked what he was doing. He told me he was getting dinner for the night and pointed to a bucket that had sea urchin he had harvested right from the dock!

Our trip back was just as gorgeous as the ride out there. The icebergs are just so amazing!

It was such an amazing overnight experience at Ilimanaq. It's expensive for sure but I'm so happy that I had a chance to go! Like nothing I've ever experienced before. KOKS is doing service there for 2023 also so if you are interested you can check into the booking here. I also had friends randomly in Greenland a few weeks after I was there and they were able to book just dinner and had a transfer boat back the same night.

Pro tip: Ilimanaq Lodge is proudly wifi-free so this is not the place for your remote work trip!

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