Saturday, July 13, 2019

Restaurant Ulo at Hotel Arctic - Ilulissat, Greenland

After a night at the Hotel Icefiord, we moved to the Hotel Arctic on the other side of Ilulissat for two nights. We'd originally booked all of our nights at the Hotel Arctic, but cancellation of an Air Greenland flight several months prior to our trip took a day off of our Greenland itinerary, so we reshuffled, reducing our stay in Iceland by a day (which was all free-time) and going to Greenland a day earlier. The Hotel Arctic was booked, so the Hotel Icefiord was our alternative. I was happy to experience both.

The view from our room at the Hotel Arctic was not as good, but the view from the in-house Restaurant Ulo was fantastic, giving a panoramic view of the iceberg-choked mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord. Frankly, I think the view of Ilulissat and the Icefiord is one of the most sublime views I've ever seen. 
This sunny view of Ilulissat and the Icefjord is spectacular. 
This view, taken through a car window near the Hotel, is not sunny and has a whole different feel. I love the whites and gentle blues. 
This is a more expansive view of the Icefjord on a sunny day. 
I'd read that the Restaurant Ulo had some wonderful local dishes on their menu and was somewhat disappointed by their offerings on the one night we ate there. However, I was thrilled to see that they offered mattak, an inuit dish of raw whale skin and blubber. 
This painting of the Icefjord hangs in the restaurant.
As does this artwork featuring halibut. 
A muskox skull. Only in Greenland. 
Not many menus in the world include this. 
Mattak is usually made from the bowhead whale, beluga whale or narwhal, but my recollection is that this mattak was from a fin whale. Wikipedia notes that "when chewed raw, the blubber becomes oily, with a nutty taste; if not diced, or at least serrated, the skin is quite rubbery." This mattak was serrated into cube-like pieces that reminded me of movable type. Despite this preparation, the skin was still very rubbery, or even more like chewing on hard plastic. A writer from Smithsonian described eating narwhal mattak "like chomping down on a thick vein of gristle." That was generous, it is harder than gristle. It is like chewing on a piece of a plastic toy, and has about the same taste. You can chew and chew and chew and it does not soften. You may end up breaking it into smaller pieces and then swallowing them, but it is a matter of swallowing pieces, it does not soften. It was served with rock salt and soy sauce and I didn't feel like they added much. I think it would have been improved with more blubber and less skin, a much improved variation we had at Restaurant Mammartut, a later post. I've eaten a lot of unusual food and this was one of the weirdest. The skin does not taste bad, it just does not taste. The hard texture is what sets it apart. However, the skin does contain vitamin C and that is where the genius is as far as it being consumed by the Inuits. 

This photo of whale skin, blubber and meat, found here, helps convey the point that the mattak, above, has been substantially modified from its original form. 
My main dish was Greenland lamb, with a celery puree, large slices of onion and a crowberry sauce. Amazingly, I found the lamb to be more gamy than the muskox and I did not like it as well. The lamb was fatty, which I like, but the gaminess was different than what I normally associate with lamb. The vegetables were great. I love the root vegetables in Greenland and the creative way they serve them. 
Greenland lamb
I also got a green salad, partly because I missed salads by this point of our trip, and partly because I wanted to see what would be in it. Not surprisingly, it had both red and green cabbage, cucumber, some small tomatoes and a preponderance of hazelnuts. I did not like the hazelnut addition, or the salad particularly, but ate it all anyway as I figured I needed the nutrition. 
Judy ordered wolffish, also known as wolf eel and Atlantic catfish (I saw it on some menus as catfish). It is a gruesome looking creature with huge teeth which it uses to puncture such tough prey as sea urchins, green crab, whelks, cockles, sea clams and starfish.
Atlantic wolffish, from Wikipedia.
Wolffish skull, from Wikipedia.
However, I'd read that it is excellent eating, and it was. It was much better than the salmon and halibut we had, and perhaps only surpassed by the eel we ate later in Kaliningrad. It is oily, with a strong, but not fishy flavor, and a very pleasant mouth feel. The presentation was also beautiful. 

1 comment:

  1. It's good I didn't get a whole wolffish, head included. I'm not sure I could have eaten it. As it was, it was beautiful (and delicious).