Having spent the ride over to the hotel gushing about the pristine skies and anticipating heart-stopping views of Esja, my heart sunk when the host guided my date and I to our table along the wall with closed wooden blinds. Seriously? We’re grown adults and all, but we pouted just a little as we gazed across the restaurant, envious of the patrons seated along the length of the windowed wall sans blinds. We tucked our bottom lips back in though once our blinds were raised, unveiling a stunning orange sunset over Vesturbær.
As magnificent as the service and views are, Grillið’s food is what we were there for and we were eager to discover what the collective of chefs had up their sleeves. So, we both ordered the Discovery menu (8.900 ISK), offering four courses of the chefs choosing.
Before we even discovered our first course, out came light-as-air crisp wafers of rye and lamb and smoked salmon, paired with a fresh, whipped horseradish spread. A trio of fresh breads and accompanying spreads – Icelandic butter with red salt, olive and rapeseed – came next. This was followed by yet another pre-order amuse bouche of marinated cucumber with dill granita and parsnip purée – a refreshing palate cleanser with a pleasing crunch.
The first course of our ordered menu turned out to be a salmon dish; a duo comprised of pan-fried and butter smoked miniature fillet with horseradish and celery root. While the pan-fried portion was slightly flaky for my taste, the butter smoked morsel melted in the mouth, as “butter smoked” suggests it would, and let the taste of the high-quality salmon speak for itself.
Secondly we were presented with a portion of halibut alongside a long rectangle of carrot flan painted on the plate, topped with lobster lava rocks and drizzled with beurre blanche infused with orange. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when this dish was placed in front of me, the bright orange, green, white and black combination on the plate was spectacular; the complimentary flavours even more so. The halibut was delectably tender, reminiscent of the butter smoked salmon that preceded it but still new and different; the carrot flan was sweet and savoury all at once; the beurre blanche was a surprising medley, combining the richness of butter with the fresh zing of citrus. The most awesome component of the plate, however, were the lobster lava rocks – seemingly charred to a crisp, portions of lobster identical in appearance to lava rock that somehow managed to not taste at all burnt and were more akin to the Thai shrimp chips. But lobster.
Confession: I was tempted when ordering the discovery menu to request that my main course not be beef. Beef just isn’t my thing. Never has been. But I kept my mouth shut and decided to take whatever Grillið’s masterminds threw at me. This may possibly be the smarted decision I’ve ever made because beef tenderloin on oxtail is without a doubt the most heavenly succulent red meat combo I’ve ever experienced. Just reflecting on it now inspires me to use such youthful acronyms as OMG and the like.
This meat was incredible. The tenderloin was browned on the outside but soft and dark pink inside and the oxtail disintegrated in my mouth, it was so tender. The plate was shared with a potato cake topped with mushrooms, a cone of artichoke purée and a smear of thick date sauce.
I could have done without the artichoke cone. The bottom portion of it tasted too raw, and the gelatinous consistency of the thing rubbed me the wrong way.
Yet another welcome add-on to our four-course menu was the pre-dessert that came next, presented personally by a charming, soft-spoken dessert chef. This was a lovely touch. The little treat was equally lovely. Beetroot and white chocolate sorbet with pistachio and chocolate crumble. My date and I so enjoyed the play between flavours and textures that we both not-so-secretly hoped that our fourth and final course would be more of the same.
Finally, the real dessert. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Chocolate soup beside chocolate foam atop a white chocolate square, beside a milk chocolate brownie, beside rice and pistachio ice cream on a white chocolate parfait. Chocolate overload! The pistachio ice cream, parfait and foam were sinfully rich, the brownie was sticky and moist and gooey. The chocolate soup, my date and I agreed, was on the bitter side. I left most of mine on the plate; my date ate hers but commented that is was her least favourite item in that course.
After four courses and just as many extra little surprises, my date and I sat and watched the few lights of the city’s west side glow in the now dark night. More than three hours had passed since we were first seated but we would have never guessed. Each plate presented to us had grabbed our attention and sparked conversation when the table was empty. This meal was truly a pleasure.
Perched atop the Hotel Saga in Hagatorg, Grillið has been serving up fine-dining and hard-to-top panoramic views of the city, suburbs and Esja for over forty years. Grillið is quite possibly the highest of the high-end. It’s no wonder this classy joint has enjoyed its longevity, with impeccable service from the moment guests step through its door.