Marius Fiskum/Helmersen

Restaurants in Tromsø serve up the tastes of the Arctic

Where should you eat in Tromsø? This metropolis of the high north has the finest gourmet for that special occasion, a debateable pizza speciality, plenty of fishy business and a lot of sociable eating. This is your palate guide in Tromsø.

Gourmets come to Tromsø to eat fish. Couples come for festive and romantic dinners. Skiers enjoy a good steak after a hard climb. Groups of friends go for shareable tapas things, many of which have a local twist. Where you should go, thus depends a bit on yourself and your situation. Fortunately, you cannot go all that wrong in Tromsø.

What is worth looking out for?

One tends to go to Tromsø to eat fish. Some come for the traditional, rustic fish specialities that are served when they are in season. Others go for the unique combo of fresh, local fish and modern, innovative and international cooking. Reindeer, moose, lamb and goat are locally sourced, and with some luck you can also get ptarmigan. At the end of summer, you can look for local vegetable, such as carrots, swedes and the little, yellow Målselv turnip. They are all sweet and crunchy, since they have grown in a cool, bright Arctic summer. Berries, both the tart lingonberries and the golden cloudberries, add colour and taste to sweet and savoury foods.  

Today’s catch is a sustainable choice

The responsible diner should look out for “dagens fangst” – today’s catch. This means that the restaurant serves whatever fish their connections in the fishing villages around Tromsø have caught that day. The fish is thus freshly caught and benefits the local community. Another sustainable keyword is “bifangst” – bycatch. Let’s say a fishing boat is about to fish its cod quota, but also gets some monkfish and saithe in the net. Earlier, this would just be thrown back in the sea, a practice that is banned these days. By eating bycatch, you contribute to a more sustainable harvesting of the sea.

Going exclusive means booking well ahead

Gourmets from the capital make reservations at restaurant «Smak» before reserving the air ticket. More often than not, one should reserve months ahead. And it’s well worth it; they have set menus full of surprises. Espen and Eva, the dream team running the place, pick their foodstuffs from the sea and from free-range Arctic agriculture, and add a few secrets from exotic kitchens. The food is unsnobbish and straight-forward, yet elegant and perfectly balanced. In Tromsø on an impulse visit? Then just call, they might have got cancellations.

Fish is the speciality of the north

The world’s richest ocean on Northern Norway’s doorstep is the main reason for a foodie to go north. Arctandria is consecrated to traditional fare, and is an excellent chance to get to know grandma’s favourites in fine dining presentation. The service is humorous, including lots of banter in Tromsø dialect with the local clientele.  Fiskekompaniet – «The Fish Company», by contrast, is modern, sleek and elegant. Come here for today’s catch accompanied by elegant sauces and perfectly matched wines.

Go to fine dining the Northern way

Emma’s Drømmekjøkken & Bar sums up Northern Norwegian foodstuffs available right now in their finely tuned menus. All is served in a small lounge overlooking the Cathedral. Skirri specialises in Northern raw materials, such as reindeer and fish, depending on the season. The view of the Tromsø sound is to die for. Mathallen serves foodstuffs sourced in the Arctic inspired both by the cook’s childhood in the north as well as an international twist. Go to Skirri or Mathallen for lighter lunches, whereas Emma’s bar is good for an apéritif.

When eating is low key and fun

Sometimes eating is not about white tablecloths and silverware, but of sharing, chit-chatting and having a good time. Nitty gritty in the main street Storgata serves up small dishes from the kitchens of the world, including our local one. Equally young and funky is Kitchen & Table, with a select menu of original combos of local food and the latest impulses. RÅ Sushi explores the northern waters for new takes on the sushi we all love. Tromsø Tapas is a highly sociable affair, with both classic tapas and some local inventions. Indie takes the hot spices of the Subcontinent to Tromsø, to the delight of the locals.

Get a break from the fish

If you end up in Tromsø after a prolonged tour of the north, chances are that you want to eat meat after a lot of fish. Skarvens Biffhus goes a long way back, and in addition to succulent steaks, they are also known for goat meat, this tasty yet underrated delicacy. Another respite from fish can be enjoyed at Bardus, where honest international food is served for lunch and dinner at good prices, their backyard terrace is a summer favourite.

Tako Pizza is a marmite case

A pizza with shredded Chinese cabbage? Legendary Yonas deserves attention for an original topping. The secret, however, is the sauce that goes with it. Tromsøites either love it with a passion or will have nothing of it. Fortunately for the latter, more conventional American style pizza, with or without the pineapple, is available. Casa Inferno, however, considers pineapple a sacrilege. Here you can enjoy classic pizzas, albeit with some inventive twists, along with light, Italian wines and a tiramisù and grappa to finish it off with. Italy in the Arctic!

Sometimes, it should be informal

Right in the middle of the Main Street, Helmersen is a delicatessen with a twist. Come here to stock up on ham, cheese and olives, or have an espresso and a bun. Open from early on, locals have breakfast and lunch here. Around dinner time, the banter around the tables is fuelled by wine and tapas. Full steam down on the wharf enjoys sheltered al fresco serving with a view to die for. Their indoor menu is as northern as it gets, with dried fish playing the main character.

Where should you go for that lunch hunger?

Skarvens Vertshus is your favourite for fish soups and other northern specialities and is very popular for lunch and right after work. When the sun comes out in summer, their sheltered, sunny terrace is where you find everybody. Koseverden serves up international comfort food, and has excellent cakes. Smørtorget is a colourful combo of a second hand shop and a soup and sandwich lunch place.

Seasons vary

Some favourites can’t be sampled all year. The migration of the Norwegian-Arctic cod in January means the restaurants are full of fresh cod. Some serve the rustic “mølja” – cod, cod liver and cod roe served together. Others go for more elegance, be it with classical French sauces or in new and inventive ways. The summer fish of choice is saithe, storsei, also called pollack or colefish in English. Lutefisk, stockfish soaked with a hint of caustic soda, is a pre-Christmas rite. Halibut is the preferred fish for Christmas. Many order shellfish and prawns in summer, but in fact these sea fruits are tastier and more succulent in winter.

Ufesk is an ugly fish that tastes good

Ufesk – “unfish” – is a dialect expression for all those fish species that don’t look good. We northerners are spoilt when it comes to fish, so we traditionally preferred cod, halibut, herring and other good-looking fish species. However, at legendary “Peppermøllen” in Tromsø in the 1970’ies, Austrian chef – a landlocked expert – Sepp Perger started preparing wolf fish, monk fish, redfish and shells, previously considered bait in the north. For restaurant diners used to a good steak, these were completely new ideas. After all, fish would be something mum makes at home. But it was the start of good, original cooking in Tromsø.

Booking ahead is a good idea

Stories of hot dogs on seven eleven on Saturday night abound. And if you don’t plan your Friday, Saturday, Valentine’s Day or 17th of May, a kebab under constant air attacks by hungry seagulls might be your gourmet experience. In the December to March Northern Lights season, things can be hectic all week, but the rest of the year, there is usually a table free somewhere on short notice. It also helps to be willing to dine early or late, if tables are hard to come by.

Frequently asked Questions

Opinions are divided. The most exclusive restaurant, though, is Smak.

Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Valentine’s Day, the 17th of May National Day and New Year’s Eve tend to be pretty full, and you should reserve ahead. Mid week it’s usually much easier, even if it can be busy in the winter season between December and March.

In short, it is fish. In every possible shape, and varying throughout the year. Lyngen lamb and reindeer are things carnivores should look out for.

Visit Tromsø, the tourist organisation, informs both on restaurants and everything else on their informative website.