Located on the corner where Skólavörðustígur merges with Laugavegur, Sushibarinn is the archetypal hole-in-a-wall sushi place with seven seats, three chefs and an open kitchen.
I remember when Sushibarinn first opened in 2007— although I don’t think it was the first to serve sushi in Reykjavík, it was around that time that it dawned on me just how damn cosmopolitan and charming my little fishing village was becoming. These days there are now at least ten places serving sushi in Reykjavík and an endless supply of quirky design collectives and vintage stores, but this is all very recent.
Sushibarinn’s standardness is by no means a bad thing. Just don’t expect them to veer too far off the beaten path (although horse and whale meat would probably only be considered a beaten path in Iceland or Japan). The staff is friendly and knows how to make you feel right at home. It helped that this was the day leading up to Culture Night and people outside were spilling into the sunshine from every direction. Three sushi chefs were listening to an audio tape of Stephen Fry reading ‘The Happy Prince’—and if Stephen Fry can’t make you calm and comfy then you’re either deaf or used to work with him during his coke binge years.
A quick primer on sushi in Iceland: Salmon is generally a sure fire bet, but tuna and tiger shrimp normally aren’t as they have likely haven’t been caught in Icelandic waters and usually arrive frozen. Flounder, catfish, plaice, whale and arctic char are all fantastic seafood choices in Iceland, but they don’t lend themselves well to sushi. Cod, pollock, haddock and hake are also fresh and abundant, but they are too dense and prone to ringworms.
Aside from the salmon it is generally smart to go with smoked eel, monkfish, salmon roe, flying fish roe, scallop, red fish or halibut. But I urge you to try the horsemeat (usually foal). It’s fantastic meat, lean, flavourful and no more sinful than the rest of the beasts we lead to slaughter every minute of every day. If it was good enough for Genghis Khan then it’s good enough for you.
The horse tataki (700 ISK, 5 pcs) at Sushibarinn is the best use of the meat although I could do with less of the over-flavoured sauces. A sour ponzu sauce would have been enough.
The tamago nigiri (500 ISK, 2 pcs) at Sushibarinn is the most authentic I’ve seen in Iceland.
In terms of specialty rolls I’d recommend the devil roll (1,700 ISK) with two types of chillis, the Spicy Scallop (1,350 ISK) with scallop and kimchi and the salmon skin futomaki (900 ISK, 5 pcs).
They didn’t offer any deep-fried maki and nothing is drenched in mayo but about half the rolls are westernised. There were dessert options, and thank Shinto for that since Japanese desserts are a stomach-turning blemish on an otherwise remarkable food tradition. Whoever thought of adding sugar to beans should be folded into a beanbag chair and delivered to the home of a particularly exhausted sumo wrestler.
Finally there are three types of omakase choices, the third one being a thirteen piece platter called ‘Best if pregnant’ as it contains no raw fish. Typical of them to buy into the Illuminati mercury conspiracy, any sane person will tell you that mercury is perfectly harmless and in fact will make you 73% more likely to give birth to an awesome liquid metal nanomorph with gills and crab eyes*
The main downside to Sushibarinn is the general un-remarkableness of it all. It is all pretty basic and wouldn’t hold up to any of those insanely specific standards sushi nerds obsess over. The rice is particularly uneven—too dense, too cold and not quite vinegary for my tastes.
On a final note: I wish more sushi places would try their hand at mackerel and herring. It’s tricky and a bit of an acquired taste, but it can be made to work. Also, sushi places need to get more specific about where they source their raw ingredients. At the moment I have no idea whether the salmon I’m eating is farmed, fresh water, Alaskan or just some chicken with pink food dye.
*The Reykjavík Grapevine takes no responsibility for the horde of bloodthirsty fish-machines that may result from sharing this information.
Laugavegur 2, 101 Reykjavík
What we think: Run of the mill sushi place. Good salmon pieces. Charming.
Flavour: Japanese/Sushi. Westernised, but more traditional than many in Iceland.
Ambiance: Great for a quiet moment of pensive people watching.
Service: Cool and intimate
Price for 2 (with drinks): 8-10,000 ISK