Lars Åke Andersen

Umami in Harstad serves the fifth taste

“Wonderful atmosphere, food and service. This was simply heavenly. Harstad’s secret. World class. Michelin-star worthy.” These are all reviews left by guests who have dined at Umami. The restaurant brings out superlatives from both food critics and ordinary guests.

Umami is the fifth taste, and the word means ‘pleasant savoury taste’ in Japanese. At this restaurant in Harstad, they want the food to taste good, of course, but they also want it to be pleasing to the eye. “We want to offer tastes you have not experienced before, with new combinations and in an environment where you want to stay for hours,” Kim-Håvard Larsen says. He and Sigrid Rafaelsen founded Umami in 2011, after they had both worked for several excellent restaurant down south.

New menu every month

Some people travel to Harstad for the sole purpose of eating at Umami. Many guests return again and again, and the restaurant changes its menu every month, to give its guests new flavourful experiences. Guests are served a multi-course tasting menu, with the option of selecting a carefully selected wine pairing. “With that trust, we want to offer a little bit of a challenge, but we don’t want to push things too far. Everyone working will come out to interact with guests over the course of the evening, contributing to the high-quality dining experience. Our open kitchen also contributes to the intimate atmosphere and ambiance,” Kim-Håvard says.

Umami shuts out the tedium of everyday life

The dining room at Umami is airy, with high ceilings and plenty of space between the tables. But it is also cozy, with floor-to-ceiling curtains, flowers, sofas and soft colours. “We want the space to feel relaxed – no suit and tie required,” Kim-Håvard says. He wants his guests to have time to shut out the tedium of everyday life. It is time to create memories. “I have eaten at many nice restaurants all over the world, and this is one of my favourites,” one guest wrote. Kim-Håvard says they get very nice reviews. “We have poured a lot of time and effort into this place, and we offer up a lot of ourselves. It feels luxurious to get these kinds of reviews. It’s fun to see people who come to Harstad specifically to dine in our restaurant, and we see that as a mark of quality.”

Respect for raw materials paramount

Umami was awarded Northern Norway’s best restaurant in 2017 and is listed in the White Guide with the classification “Very Fine Level”. The secret is to respect the ingredients. “Carrots should taste like carrots. We source our products as locally as possible, and we respect the product. I think that is part of Umami’s success,” says Head Chef Bjørn-Erik Liljevangen. The beef, from an old Norwegian breed of cattle, comes from Helgeland, and the fish comes from the fjords around Harstad. Local ingredients take centre-stage when the chefs are preparing. Cooking methods from all over the world are used to create new and exciting flavours.

Farm work is part of the job

Once a month, staff sit down to discuss menu ideas and wine pairings. The goal is to find flavours and combinations that can bring something new to the table, so to speak. Seasonal vegetables come from Kvæfjord, among other places. But Umami also grows its own vegetables, and all members of staff take part in the occasional round of farm work. The restaurant grows its own amandine potatoes and carrots at a farm owned by the father of co-founder Sigrid Rafaelsen. “Harvesting potatoes and picking mushrooms and berries are staff activities – a team-building exercise. We make harvesting a social activity. It’s a lot of fun and a great experience, and it also builds a great work environment.”

Ever heard of caramelized cauliflower cream?

Back in the restaurant, Head Chef Liljevangen is preparing a cured and smoked halibut from Senja. With a steady hand, he mixes the fish with, among other things, marinated cauliflower and caramelized cauliflower cream. “I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to have such a selection of high-quality ingredients right at our doorstep,” Kim-Håvard concludes.

Lars Åke Andersen is a photographer and journalist from Northern Norway with a passion for food, local culture and everything to do with Northern Norway.

The guests for tonight are expected at Umami © Lars Åke Andersen

Litt mer praktisk om Umami

Umami is a Japanese word meaning tasty or good taste. It is the name of the fifth taste, in addition to sweet, sour, salt and bitter. The umami taste was first identified in Japan by the chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1907, but was not recognised by the science until 2002. The umami taste is dominating in foodstuffs like milk, meat, aspargus, tomatoes and Japanese specialities like shiitake mushroom and seaweed.

You find Restaurant Umami in the street Hans Egedes gate 12 in central Harstad. The restaurant is found a few minutes on foot from the downtown hotels, the Main Street, the Hurtigruten dock, the catamaran terminal and the bus terminal. It’s so close you can say it’s around the corner.

You should not just drop by. Umami runs preset menus at set times, and is not open early in the week. Umami is, otherwise said, a restaurant you need to plan in. That said, you can always give them a ring to check if cancellations have come in or if there are free tables.

Their website is as elegant at the restaurant itself. Unfortunately not in English, but all contact info is on the first page.

Harstad has a selection of good places to eat. We recommend a look at the website of the local tourist board, Visit Harstad.