When it comes to dining aboard Hurtigruten ships, they do things a little differently.
Breakfast and lunch are buffet options with counters of hot, cold, sweet and savoury choices.
Dinner is served in the main restaurant and is formed of a fixed three-course menu on most nights, with a buffet replacing this on certain nights.
With a set meal, there is no need for difficult nightly decisions. Instead, you get what the chef has prepared for you. While it takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you have experienced the wealth of choices on traditional cruise sailings, it is a novel way of trying something different (and authentically local) each night.
The menus have been designed to reflect seasonality and make the most of the local produce abundant in the region. During my Hurtigruten adventure in early November, my meals made liberal use of fish, including Arctic Char; meats, such as beef and reindeer; and local fruits such as cloudberries.
As a guide, here are the three-course set menus from the four days I spent aboard the ship:
- Creamed carrot soup with crispy cured ham; baked Arctic Char with pickled vegetables, baked beetroot and potatoes; and cloudberries with sour cream.
- The North Cape buffet (instead of a set menu) with cauliflower soup with hot smoked herring; Aurora salmon in two varieties; fresh shrimps; Pollock; and chocolate terrine with cognac and blueberry sorbet.
- Borscht; baked reindeer with pelmeni and celery puree; and pavlova with berries
- Potato and leek soup with salmon caviar; vodka marinated entrecôte with savoy cabbage and potatoes; and blackberry pannacotta with syrup from Reisa
Each menu repeats itself after every 12-day round trip. The restaurant menu changes four times a year to reflect the progression through the seasons.
Realising that some people would prefer a choice for dinner, Hurtigruten recently unveiled their Coastal Kitchen à la carte restaurant concept: premium locally sourced cuisine served within a refined setting.
Two pricing models are available. Passengers sailing on a full board basis (included in the cost of a full round-trip sailing from Bergen) can pay a reduced upgrade fee, while those who opt to pay as they eat pay the full fee. The 2015 prices are as follows:
|Courses||Upgrade price||Full price|
|2 courses||NOK 160 (≈ £16)||NOK 395 (≈ £39)|
|3 courses||NOK 190 (≈ £19)||NOK 495 (≈ £49)|
|4 courses||NOK 230 (≈ £23)||NOK 595 (≈ £59)|
|5 courses||NOK 290 (≈ £29)||NOK 695 (≈ £68)|
The menu available when I was onboard offered a good depth of choice:
- Scallops, cauliflower cream and spicy sausage
- Cod tongue and klippfisk
- Reindeer carpaccio with marinated mushrooms, cranberry cream, crisp bread and local cheese
- Crayfish soup with langoustine tails and parsley oil
- Cod loin with carrots, chive sauce, lentils and herbs
- Arctic Char with green cabbage, white wine sauce and potatoes
- Fish cake , crispy fried haddock, remoulade and potato sticks
- Reindeer with goats cheese, pickled red onions, turnips and blackcurrants
- Extra hung sirloin steak with potatoes, red wine sauce, mushrooms and baked beetroot
- Three cheeses with fruit compote, nut and fruit breads, roasted nuts and honey
- Cloudberries with cloudberry cream and krumkake pudding
- Chocolate terrine with blueberry sorbet
- Apple tart with hazelnuts and baked apples
It is just a case of mixing and matching depending on how many courses you desire.
I opted to pay to upgrade to a three-course meal on one night as the restaurant was recommended to me.
In the literature, the principal selling point of the à la carte restaurant is its use of locally sourced ingredients. While this is true, it also happens to be the same ethos found in the main restaurant, so the message of what sets this venue apart seems a little lost.
On Nordlys, the generous space used for this new restaurant looks like it was formerly a lounge. The chef prepared meals in full view of the restaurant at what perhaps was once the bar.
Besides locally sourced food, the upgraded experience offers more attentive waiter service compared to the main restaurant.
The venue would be a perfect choice to enjoy a romantic meal for two, or for a small gathering of friends to get together in a more private environment than the main restaurant, perhaps to celebrate an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary.
Interestingly, I was the only customer on the night I visited. While I did feel a little lost in the space, I did benefit from my very own private chef and private waiter!
To begin, I opted for Cod Tongue and Klippfisk. I wanted to taste klippfisk after seeing the drying racks along the coastline, and this dish was an excellent example of it used within a gourmet context.
The saltiness of the small tower of klippfisk complimented the breaded and fried cod tongue. A garlic puree and garlic chip cut through the fish flavour nicely, and paired well with the warmed tomatoes.
Reindeer was also something I wanted to try and so became my main course choice. Here the lean meat was cooked just like steak to ‘medium’. The tender slices of reindeer sat on a creamy sauce with warmed pickled red onions.
Thinly sliced wilted spring onions added colour to an otherwise monotone plate. Local goats cheese sat atop of a rectangle of tender turnip and was an acquired taste.
Sadly, the thick and sticky blackcurrant sauce that bordered the plate had set firm by the time it arrived.
As a chocolate addict, the only dessert I contemplated was the chocolate terrine with blueberry sorbet. This dense dessert was delicious, even if I did struggle to polish it off. The sharp blackcurrant sorbet cut through the sweetness of the indulgent terrine.
I had a lovely experience in this restaurant and felt it was superb value for money at an ‘upgrade’ price of around £15 for a three-course meal.
That said, I do think Hurtigruten could better differentiate the experience from that in the main restaurant.
The mere addition of choice did not seem to be enough to convince my fellow diners to part with their Krone, and it cannot be right that I was the only customer on the night I visited, especially given the generous size of the space devoted to this restaurant. The bragging rights of having a private chef and private waiter were priceless, though!
The menu contained a brief explanation of the local connection to each dish, but I would have liked to know more, especially since the concept’s selling point is food provenance.
I left not knowing that much about what was significant about the food I had eaten. Who were the farmers? Why was their produce revered? How did it differ from alternatives? There is certainly scope here to inform and educate but in a light and memorable way.
Also, I would have liked to see small tasting dishes of unusual local delicacies served between courses. On deck, there were regular tastings held across the voyage of unusual delicacies, such as dried reindeer heart. Offering a small dish of the more palatable of these items (perhaps not cod liver oil) per table to share between courses seems like a good way to make the experience a little more unique and immersive.
Overall I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting this restaurant at least one night during the voyage.
Drinks packages on Hurtigruten
Along with your meals onboard, you can choose to buy drinks individually or instead, opt for a drinks package.
Water drinks package
A water bottle drinks package was available onboard which includes a bottle with lunch and another with dinner. At the time of my sailing, this cost NOK 495 (≈ £49) for the full Classic Coastal Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen. For the Tromsø to Kirkenes and back to Tromsø portion I sailed on, the cost was NOK 155 (≈ £16).
At the time of writing, this package could not be pre-booked online.
I read several times that the tap water onboard Nordlys was safe to drink. Even so, I opted to drink bottled water throughout my voyage as did most others.
With no free drinking water available at mealtimes, I purchased a 500ml bottle of water with each meal rather than opt for the package. I soon came to realise that it was priced differently depending on where I bought it on this tiny ship.
In the main restaurant I was charged NOK 25 (≈ £3) per bottle. In the à la carte restaurant it was NOK 40 (≈ £4), and in the café, it was the same – unless I purchased two at a time at NOK 50 (≈ £5) for the pair.
I do not know why Hurtigruten charges different prices for the same bottle of water (same brand, same size, same contents). I would have expected both restaurants to charge the same price at least.
Beer drinks package
A beer package is available to pre-order when you book a sailing online. Two 400ml bottles of beer are served with dinner each night with this package. The beer served onboard is Pilsner from Mack, the northernmost brewery in the world.
At the time of writing this cost £124 for the full Classic Coastal Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen.
Wine drinks package
Wine connoisseurs may prefer to opt for the wine package where a bottle of wine will be served with dinner each day. Each evening wine will be selected by the restaurant to pair nicely with the menu.
At the time of writing this cost £435 for the full Classic Coastal Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen.
Are reindeer, cod tongue, and Klippfisk Norwegian delicacies you would try? Leave a comment below.
Disclosure: Hurtigruten supplied a full-board sailing on MS Nordlys, shore excursions, return flights, overseas transfers, and Tromsø hotel accommodation. I paid for my transport to and from Heathrow Airport, plus incidentals onboard including drinks and a meal upgrade one night. My opinions are my own.