There are many restaurants, which live up to their reputation and those that leave you in awe of both the experience they offer, and the story around them. Cornelius restaurant, near Bergen, Norway, is one of them. Located on a remote island, or “Holmen”, Cornelius in a short and beautiful 30-minute boat ride from Bergen’s main harbor. As a guest at the restaurant, you are invited to board their boat in Bergen, which will shuttle you over to the island quickly. This is the beginning of the Cornelius experience, so much more than just dinner.
Arriving on the island the boat and your fellow diners are welcomed by the staff of the restaurant and the proprietor who owns, runs and oversees every detail of your experience. His name is Alf Roald Saetre, and he is Norway’s answer to Crocodile Dundee, dressed in blue jeans, a white linen shirt and a worn safari-style hat which could probably tell a plethora of fascinating stories if it had a mouth. But, this “Dundee” doesn’t deal in crocodiles, but oysters, scallops, lobster and other creatures of the sea.
Your welcome to the island is a lovely glass of champagne which is enjoyed on the top floor of the wood and glass structure housing the Cornelius operation. Mr. Saetre stands before the crowd, explaining how Cornelius came to be (named after his grandfather) and what you’re about to experience. He snatches a scallop from the restaurant’s own estuary full of them and pours over its life cycle, growing habits and eventual demise as a delicious morsel on your plate. This experience is very much a show, an authentic one, that does nothing but enchant and captivate you – readying you for the next event, dinner.
In the dining room surrounded by glass with views over the neighboring islands and water, tables are set with white linens, candles, beautiful flatware and crystal wine glasses. It’s high market, but still casual enough to feel comfortable and at home. The walls are filled with original paintings done by Mr. Saetre’s daughter, and they add another layer of art to your experience. The dining room is one of many special rooms which can hold up to 300 guests, all year long.
The food at Cornelius is, obviously, heavy in seafood, every bite delicious. The tasting “meteorological” menus are made to fit diners’ varying needs or dietary requirements – but I suggest trusting the chef. Oysters, scallops, salmon, halibut – they’re all on the menu (which changes daily). Pair dinner with a bottle of the perfect vintage and you’re in heaven. Throughout your experience you might notice the busy young wait staff eagerly explaining the next course or Mr. Saetre heading back out into the water to retrieve more muscles. It’s all very raw, but refined.
Dinner winds down around 9:30 pm as you see your boat come into view from the distance. After the last bite of dessert, you’re off on your journey back to Bergen. Cornelius is not a restaurant, but a destination worth exploring. It’s seen countless guests and each one has left happier than the next – I witnessed that firsthand. For a culinary moment in time that you will remember for a lifetime, make a reservation and expect the unexpected.