Review: Sjávargrillið

12 September 2012

I chose the “Saltwater Grill” for my dinner that first evening in Reykjavík as the menu and reviews have been good. This is a far cry from last time I was in Iceland, a poor student with no money to eat, forced to gorge a canister of fish roe with “orange drink” for dinner in a youth hostel… Something I think time has been kind to me…then back to reality…

The restaurant is close to the tourist strip and has many tourists and groups inside, although you can hear many locals enjoying themselves too. This is an extremely busy restaurant, and dark as Hades. I really don’t like dark restaurants, especially when it is so dark I can’t read the menu. But I managed, as I had previewed the menu beforehand.

The amuse-bouche soon came after I ordered, a nice small bowl of red beets with housemade horseradish mayonnaise, accompanied by walnuts and dill. Yep, the dill, I know I’m back in the Nordic world… A tasty start, alongside a glass of Californian cab to start the night.

The staff ran hectic through the busy restaurant as there were many groups, but soon my starter arrived. Once again I went with a combination dish that had some of the traditional items I cannot get elsewhere: smoked European shag, marinated puffin and cured minke whale, all with an assortment of apple and berry and breadcrumbs.

I do apologise for the poorly-positioned picture as the flash was too annoying to try again in the extremely dark restaurant. The minke whale, this time smoked, was far less strong than during lunch when it was seared. It was almost boring. The puffin was similar to lunch, a nice delicate taste that is less powerful than many would suspect. The shag, also a sea bird, is much saltier with a gamier flavour than the puffin. I suspect it is more due to preparation, but it also has a nice delicate taste to it. I do wish the main ingredients were less adulterated, but I do understand they may be too overbearing to the majority of guests. But this was a nice, if expensive and small start to the meal.

After the starter, looking at what’s to come for my main, I had switched to a very drinkable sangiovese. I needed something more robust than the cab, which worked well with the starter. It took awhile for the main to arrive, but it was worth it.

My main course was the grilled horse fillet with beef belly, with a generous amount of artichoke puree. The horse fillet (an Icelandic specialty), sliced and cooked medium rare, reminded me how much I enjoy horse and how unfortunately you can’t find it in the US (Philadelphia chef-extraordinaire Marc Vetri recently bemoaned this during a trip to Montreal). It is a lean and tasty treat that worked well with the slight use of pepper. Now the beef belly is not lean at all, and today’s large piece was a little stringy at parts (as beef belly tends to be). Excellent juxtaposition to the leanness of the horse. A nice dish.

I had not anticipated eating dessert, but I did have some nice Skyr and white chocolate with my grappa. A nice way to end the evening, as I trudged out into the blistery wind back uphill to my hotel.

Skólavörðustígur 14
Reykjavík, Ísland


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