Monthly Archives: June 2009

Við Tjörnina

Templarasund 3
101 Reykjavík
+354 551 8666
http://www.vidtjornina.is/

Lonely planet gave this restaurant an outstanding review, so for our very last meal in Iceland, we headed for Við Tjörnina. The restaurant is very quirkily decorated, like a “1950s drawing room” (Lonely Planet guide), and very brightly lit and inviting.

When we opened the menu, I was delighted to find that they had a starter called “Pickled herring with ryebread, shark and schnaps”. This was what I have been searching for every since we set foot in Iceland. In Iceland, there is a strange local ‘delicacy’ called kæstur hákarl, which translates to “fermented shark”. It is shark meat that has been cured with the most peculiar method.

When fresh, the shark is actually poisonous, so you’d think that people would simply give up and not eat it. However in Iceland, perhaps due to lack of alternative foods, desperate times call for desperate measures. What Icelanders do is that they gut the shark, and place it in a hole in the sand, and pile sand back over the hole to press out all the water in the meat. They leave the shark in the hole for 6-12 weeks to ferment. At the end of it, the shark is taken out and cut into strips and hung to dry for several more months. The result is kæstur hákarl. The dude who first discovered this strange delicacy must have been sick in the head.

So what does it taste like? Surely, after all the effort to preserve and cure this otherwise inedible meat, kæstur hákarl should be the ultimate most delicious thing in the world. I’m sorry folks; this was the singularly most disgusting thing I have ever eaten.

 

When it arrived, it was placed in a very small bowl at the corner of the plate, with other traditional starters like marinated herring and ryebread. Those were pretty good, but I really wanted to try the shark, as I have heard so much about it. Every source that has commented on the shark has called it foul and disgusting with a strong ammonia smell. The shark was just 3 little innocent pieces, about the size of a cornflake perhaps, and I thought, how bad could it be? I was in for a huge shock.

It was foul and disgusting, just as it was advertised. When I first bit into it I felt the ammonia rush to my nose, and then all of a sudden my entire mouth was filled with the most revolting taste I have ever experienced. I reached for the schnapps immediately, and took a swig. This strong alcoholic drink was the perfect thing to distract me from the taste of that disgusting shark, and even then, it definitely took me a while to get rid of the aftertaste of the shark in my mouth.

Our waiter told us that we’d be surprised how many people actually enjoy kæstur hákarl. We think they’re lying. They probably think it’s manly to say that they enjoy kæstur hákarl, when they’re secretly gagging inside. There is no way in hell that anyone could possibly enjoy that dish. In fact, why anyone would eat it is just beyond me. It’s such a small piece of crap (I mean, shark) that it won’t fill you up, and it takes such a long time to prepare. Worst of all, it’s not even remotely pleasant tasting! I absolutely hated it, but I was very glad that I tried it. This was however, going to be the only time I would voluntarily put that nasty thing in my mouth.

The rest of our meal went on very well.

A’s starter of fried salt cod mousse and langoustine tail on tomato salad was incredibly fresh and the mousse was light and wrapped in the most delicate pastry ever. Our fish soup with cream was also outstanding – full of flavor and yet not too heavy for a starter.

 

Our mains were also very successful. A had the Langoustines with spinach, garlic-butter and lobster-mayonnaise and I had the Marinated Cod chins. A’s langoustines were perfectly grilled and very fresh. Marinated cod chins seems like a weird choice for me, but it was highly recommended by our guide, and our server, and hey, I’ve ordered weirder things haven’t I? It was also excellent. It seems bizarre to be eating cod chins – it has never crossed my mind for one moment until that meal that fishes actually have chins, but you soon forget that when you dig in. The chins were tender and very tasty.

This meal wrapped up our culinary adventure in Iceland. We were glad that we got to try a lot of exotic meats, Icelandic specialties and delicacies, for better or for worse. We didn’t eat in that many restaurants, but when we did, we made it count. Overall we had a fantastic time travelling in Iceland, seeing the most amazing scenery, the most beautiful waterfalls, and expanding our food horizons.

Service: 8/10
Food: 8/10

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Þrír Frakkar

3 Frakkar Restaurant
Baldursgata 14
101 Reykjavík
+354 552 3939
http://www.3frakkar.com/

As mentioned in our review of Bautinn Akureyri, when we travelled in Iceland we ate in restaurants very selectively. Þrír Frakkar was one which we read about in our guide book, and it was written that they serve seal meat. When we enquired, we were told that seal season was over, so they didn’t serve seal meat at that time in the year, which was a real bummer. However, since we were already there, we went ahead with ordering whatever we fancied from their rather extensive menu.

 

We had a sharing platter of traditional Icelandic starters to begin our meal. This included Whale belly (the white pieces on the top right corner), 2 types of caviar, cod liver (the white-ish thing between the 2 piles of caviar), herring 3 ways, some traditional brown bread, 2 types of pate, marinated seaweed (the black slices at the top left corner) and dried fish (a local snack, at the very top left corner).

 

This got me really excited, as I love all sorts of weird food, and having a platter like these that allows me to try everything at one go was fantastic. The whale belly wasn’t as fatty as I thought it would be, and the texture was like what I would expect to have if I bit into a sponge. The meat didn’t taste of much, and it was overpowered by the sour-ish dressing. The pates were both rather dry and hard actually, and I also didn’t like the dried fish and the seaweed, which was utterly tasteless.

The herring 3 ways was probably my favorite part of the platter. Each had a vastly different flavor from the other, and they were all very tasty. The caviar was also very good, and though a little too salty, went perfectly with the brown bread. The cod liver was also very yummy and oily.

 

We also ordered whale sashimi (Japanese style), which came with a few slices of salmon on the side (perhaps that was the Japanese style they were referring to). Having tasted whale meat in Akureyri we knew what to expect this time, and were very excited to try whale meat raw. It was definitely what we imagined it to be, with the texture of meat but with a (much stronger this time) fishy aftertaste. It was definitely not bad, but we’d gladly have salmon sashimi anytime thank you very much.

 

Having had some fantastic seafood soup in Iceland throughout our trip, we decided to give it a go again, and so we ordered some. This came with 2 of the largest and most wonderful slices of garlic and cheese bread. The soup was rich and creamy (which unfortunately wasn’t to A’s liking since she dislikes all creamy foods) and the garlic bread was heavenly.

 

For mains we had whale again, which was once again very nice. However, the highlight of our meal was our main course. We ordered the Icelandic lamb, which came with a generous serving of mushrooms and potatoes. This was definitely the best lamb we’ve ever had, and nothing has ever come close to topping it. It was just a very simple dish – very simply cooked and marinated, but the meat was oh-so-tender and juicy. We had to double check if it was indeed lamb that they served us. Turns out, in Iceland their farm-stock are allowed to roam around freely, and with very little air and water pollution around, the result is that they have the best lamb money can buy.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7.5/10

Bautinn Akureyri

Hafnarstræti 92
IS-600 Akureyri
462 1818
http://www.bautinn.is/

Iceland is not usually known for food, but for its amazing scenery. Also, eating out in restaurants is very expensive in Iceland. The crash of the Icelandic economy definitely helped made things much cheaper; in fact, we found Iceland cheaper than London when we were there, thanks to the bad economy. However, we were very happy shopping for groceries and cooking in our hostel kitchens. It is true that A is a fantastic cook, so we definitely ate well, despite not dining at that many restaurants. When we did eat at restaurants in Iceland however, we made sure that we went for the best, and we tried the food that best defines Icelandic cuisine, for better or for worse.

 

One of the restaurants we went to was Bautinn Akureyri. According to our guide book, Bautinn Akureyri serves a wide variety of exotic meats like whale and puffin, which are commonly eaten in Iceland. We could not miss out on this great opportunity to widen our food horizons, so we went there when we were in Akureyri (North Iceland).

The great thing about Iceland is that the pace of life is very relaxed, and everyone is very friendly. The locals take pride in their very high quality of life, and hence service in Iceland is generally very good. In Bautinn Akureyri we experienced very good service as well, and dining there was a real pleasure.

The exotic meats we wanted to try at Bautinn Akureyri were whale, puffin and horse. Since we didn’t want to stuff ourselves silly and order all 3 mains in one meal, we split it into 2 meals. The first time we were there, we ordered whale, and being much less adventurous than I am, A ordered a seafood stew and a seafood soup, which was something she could fall back on and eat, in case the whale turned out to be disgusting.

 

Well, it wasn’t disgusting. In fact, it was so good that A liked it more than her seafood stew. (By the way, seafood soup or stew is very good in Iceland. We’ve had it in many of those gift-shop cafes near touristy sites, and every one of them made a seafood soup that could put most restaurants in other countries to shame.) This seafood stew was good as well, but we’d kind of reached a saturation point with seafood stew by now.

 

The taste of the whale surprised us. Well, to begin with, we didn’t know what to expect, and when we tried it, we found it absolutely intriguing. The texture of the meat is just like a very tender beef steak, yet there is a slight fishy aftertaste. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised, after all whale is a mammal, so it having the texture of meat like beef shouldn’t come as a surprise; and it lives in the sea, so it is almost part-fish. The whale steak was served with a summer berry sauce on the side, which was lovely.

For our second visit to Bautinn Akureyri we had the puffin (goulimot) and the horse (foal). The foal was very tender, and the texture was a cross between beef and pork. When we first bit into it we were like, okay, so this is how horse tastes like.  It wasn’t a particularly interesting meat for us texture and taste wise, but it was very nice nevertheless.

 

The puffin was more of a surprise. I guess being such a small bird they couldn’t serve you a huge slab of meat, so it came as 3 smaller chunks, served with a wild herb sauce. A really didn’t like this at all. The texture of puffin is a mix between beef and liver, in fact, it was a little more like liver than beef. A does not like the texture or taste of liver, so it was no surprise that she didn’t like this. She was very happy to finish the rest of the horse dish and let me finish the puffin. Personally, I love liver, so I enjoyed the texture of the puffin very much.

Service: 7.5/10
Food: 7.5/10

Roscioli

Via dei Giubbonari 21
00186 Rome
06 6875287
http://www.salumeriaroscioli.com/

When we visited Grappolo d’Oro Zampano, there was a sign outside the restaurant, showing a list of the top ten carbonaras in Rome. Grappolo was ranked only 4th, yet K already loved it to pieces. However, since the address of the restaurant selling the number one carbonara in Rome was provided on the sign, why stop at the 4th? So we made a special trip to Roscioli in search of the best carbonara in Rome (and possibly the best in the world as well).

Roscioli is a relatively small restaurant. The cured pork meats, cheeses, vinegar and olive oil bottles made this place seems more like a produce and wine shop on the outside. We did not make any reservation, but the benefit of travelling in pairs is that you get a table relatively easily and quickly without the need to reserve one.

Deciding on our dishes was not a problem at all. K was clearly there for carbonara, and only carbonara. Since I am not a huge fan of carbonara, I opted for La Matriciana o Amatriciana, which is a simple and traditional Italian pasta.

 

The carbonara served in Grappolo was so mind blowing that K could go on and on and on about it the whole day. I was really questioning the ability of Roscioli to bring that to the next level. But boy was I wrong. K felt that Roscioli did indeed serve a better plate of carbonara than that at Grappolo. The pasta was perfectly cooked, and the consistency of the carbonara sauce was fantastic. The bacon bits were also perfection, and they didn’t taste like your average bacon bits. They tasted almost like they were marinated somewhat. That’s attention to detail for you. K’s mecca in search for the perfect carbonara was complete. He was immensely satisfied. It’s amazing how mind blowing a simple plate of carbonara can be. The only down side is the price. Well, it’s not as if Roscioli is unaffordably expensive, but K felt that Grappolo gave the better value for money, even though Roscioli did have the better carbonara.

 

The La Matriciana o Amatriciana that I had was good. However, that was not the real reason why we were there. Nevertheless I enjoyed my plate of pasta, but all the more I enjoyed watching K savour his carbonara.

Service: 7/10
Food: 8.5/10

I Buoni amici

Via Aleardo Aleardi 4
06 7049 1993

As long time users of Let’s Go guidebooks, we know from past experience that the food section in their city guides is very reliable. After all, it has brought us to amazing restaurants and fantastic foods, so we were confident that I Buoni Amici would be no different. However, we felt a little let down by our experience at I Buoni Amici.

Once we entered we saw the salad bar, with a huge variety of squid, olives, and some vegetables. The restaurant was quite empty when we first entered, but quickly filled up.

 

We ordered an octopus salad, which was rather nice, but it was as if it was just scooped from the salad bar a minute ago. It didn’t blow us away, mainly because it didn’t taste as fresh as it should have been.

 

Our frito misto (mixed fried seafood) came next. This looked quite promising. It was definitely far better than the octopus salad, and K loved the batter, which he felt help bring out the flavor of the calamari and the prawns.

 

Our vongole (clam) pasta was flavorful, but a huge let down because the pasta was not fresh. It might have been that we’ve been pampered silly by the plates and plates of fresh pasta we’ve been having all trip long, so we’re particularly critical to this plate of dried pasta, but we just felt that it didn’t hit the mark.

 

The most disappointing dish was the steak, which was just as dry as it looked, and cut rather thinly. The meager salad on the side was also sloppily chopped up and not one bit appetizing.

Overall, we felt that our calories would have been better saved for another carbonara at Grappolo d’Oro, and it was a shame that we spent it at I Buoni Amici. The food was not horrible, but considering the other fantastic options available, this one falls short completely.

Service: 7/10
Food: 6.5/10

Grappolo d’Oro Zampano

Via della Cancelleria 80
066 897080
http://www.grappolodorozampano.it/

Usually, restaurants that are located near touristy places are those we tend to avoid. Hence, when our guide book brought us to Grappolo d’Oro, located near the Piazza Nuovo in pretty much the heart of touristy Rome, plus the fact that it was practically empty when we were there, you can imagine how apprehensive we were.

Our server was a very nice Albanian, who was very attentive and, perhaps because there weren’t any other diners, we ended up chatting with him for quite a while. He gave us some recommendations on what to order, and we went ahead with it. The result was a fantastic and unforgettable meal. We loved it so very much we went back again on our last day in Rome, and this time, the owner himself served us.

 

We had the cod (if memory serves us well) carpaccio salad, which was fantastic. It was a very crisp and clean salad, with nice fresh herbs and tomatoes, perfect for a hot summer day. Sadly, when we went back and ordered it again, it was as if a totally different dish was presented to us. The fish was cooked and was rather hard, as compared to the translucent, thin delicate slices the first time round. This was a major disappointment for us as we loved it so much the first time we had it.

 

We also had the beef in balsamic vinegar. This was fantastic as well, and A loved the way the sauce complemented the beef in such an unexpected way. The beef was tender and cooked just the way she liked it. It was a very light dish, despite it being a steak, and extremely novel in the use of the balsamic sauce/dressing.

 

On our second visit, we had the fried fishes, which I loved thoroughly. What’s not to like about fried food? The amazing thing was that through all the frying, the fishes still tasted fresh. With a little more salt, this dish would have been perfect.

 

Inspired perhaps by our fantastic baby squid pasta in Hosteria Toledo, we ordered the seafood pasta. This one didn’t quite match up to the pasta dish in Hosteria Toledo, but it was still pretty good in its own right.

The highlight of the whole entire meal, and perhaps also our entire food experiences in Italy, would be the Carbonara at Grappolo d’Oro. Outside the restaurant is a proud sign showing the top 10 Carbonara in Rome. Grappolo d’Oro is featured at Number 4. As such, there were very high expectations put on this dish, and we’re very happy to announce that this met all expectations, then some. The carbonara at Grappolo d’Oro absolutely puts all other carbonaras to shame.

To begin with, it was artfully twirled on the plate, with a generous sprinkling of cheese and bacon all over it. There was no cream at all, and the egg yolk that was stirred into the pasta held up the entire dish very well. Words completely escape me here, but this was the holy grail of carbonara, and we were honored to be able to find it, and taste it. The combination of the black pepper, sea salt, bacon, and all the yummy goodness in the eggy pasta was simply divine. In fact, after my second visit to Grappolo d’Oro, I swore off all carbonara as I refused to let that divine memory of that perfect carbonara be tainted by a lesser carbonara. It was indeed that good.

 

As mentioned, on our second visit the owner himself served us, and after our meal he brought out this amazing bottle of Moscato di Pantelleria, from which he poured 2 shots, one for A and one for myself. We love sweet wine, and Moscato was our dessert wine of choice for that particular trip of ours to Italy. However, we’re used to having it with just ~5% alcohol content. This wine which the owner poured for us was ~17%, and was incredibly rich and totally sealed the deal for us. Grappolo d’Oro is now our favourite restaurant in all of Italy.

Service: 8/10
Food: 8/10

Il Brillo Parlante

Via della Fontanella 12
00187 Roma, Italy
06 324 3334
http://www.ilbrilloparlante.com/

Once again, we followed our guide book to this restaurant. According to the guide book, the one dish that diners at Il Brillo must have is the goats’ cheese and honey with walnuts starter. Despite A’s protests (she hates cheese), I decided to have it, since I do like cheese, and with such a strong endorsement, there was no chance I was going to miss out on this.

 

The dish was served on a very warm plate, and even for a cheese lover like me, I felt that the cheese was slightly too strong. I could almost see and smell the goat with every bite. The walnuts helped distract from the cheese, by providing a slightly bitter taste which was quite welcome. The honey was poured generously over the whole entire thing, and gave a strong contrast to the cheese, but after a while, got too strong for its own good as well. Overall, I felt that indeed it is one dish that every diner should try when they’re at Il Brillo, as it is very special indeed, but it’s one dish that I would only try once.

 

A had the pasta with tomato sauce and minced beef, which came in a sauce that looked rather thick and gooey. It tasted quite nice though, and the fresh pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. We love our pasta to be cooked al dente, just like how the Italians do it, so this was very satisfying. My carbonara was good, but not as amazing as I hoped it would be. Rome, to me, is the best place in the world to have carbonara, but this plate of carbonara fell short. This was definitely not good enough to satisfy my search for the perfect plate of carbonara, and I left wanting more. My search for the perfect carbonara would take me to a few other restaurants, which will be featured in the next few posts.

Service: 7/10
Food: 6.5/10