Tag Archives: Icelandic

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