Published March 10, 2017
Rok is a beautiful building. It’s understated and unobtrusive, and its architecture references the turf-roofed houses that once dominated Iceland, done in a contemporary style. The interior is similarly a nice balance of sharper geometric forms and softer, organic materials. And you simply couldn’t ask for a better location, right smack next to Reykjavík’s most-photographed structure. Which begs the question: why wasn’t I wowed by the food? If I had to assign blame, I’d start with the location.
Around the corner, the people at Café Loki have similarly begun to rest on their laurels. A guaranteed steady flow of hungry tourists means that you don’t need to work as hard to charm them, nor to establish a consistent customer base. It’s the same phenomenon you’ll witness near any Times Square, Strøget, or Colosseum. Because all the ingredients are there, literally and figuratively. It’s an inviting place with a nice view for people-watching on sunny days; the New Nordic and ambiguously Mediterranean menu is a pretty safe bet in this day and age, and in this part of the world. But, sadly, it left a meagre impression.
Their Sunday brunch menu has a pretty decent deal where you can pick two dishes for 2590 ISK. Granted, the individual dishes aren’t enormous, but you could do worse. The problem is both in the strange composition and the execution. The beef sandwich (1690 ISK) with nuts, dates, cabbage, hollandaise, and chilli teetering on top of a single slice of sourdough (not technically a sandwich, but who needs the carbs) was both a weird congregation of ingredients, and surprisingly straightforward. But it was a heavy dish, and landed about as subtly as a high striker mallet. I didn’t taste much that put it over a Philly sandwich or a New York chopped cheese. Next was the Spanish omelette (1290 ISK), which I will bet good money was made with pre-boiled or parboiled potatoes, and barely saw a lick of real olive oil. That’s a serious offence when the dish consists of three ingredients, and the heresy was compounded with a mound of salsa and guacamole.
The “Egg Islandaise” (1690 ISK) was a poached egg over citrus-cured salmon on sourdough. This was the most solid dish out of the bunch. The slice of orange was unnecessary, but the egg was on-point, and cured salmon is a safe bet. The side of American pancakes with blueberries and rhubarb syrup (1290 ISK) didn’t really live up to the description. I like all the ingredients individually, but the pancakes were soggy and spongy, and the serving of syrup came in an adorable doll-sized pitcher but didn’t give much of a rhubarb kick.
Finally, there were the cocktails: a pair of Bloody Marys (1890 ISK) and an Irish coffee (1690 ISK). The Bloody Marys came with a giant rib of celery which, in a sneaky budgetary move, took up half the volume of the glass. The rest of the glass contained lemon, water, and ice from the taste of it. The Irish coffee was fine. “No one under sixty orders Irish coffee,” you say? Screw you! No one but God can judge me!
The service was amicable, but with forgotten orders, glasses of water arriving right before we left, and general inattention despite a two-to-one ratio of customers to employees, it wasn’t the saving grace for a mediocre meal.
The verdict? I’d come there for a beer on a sunny day in a heartbeat, but I’ll be going elsewhere for my grub unless Rok aspires to transcend its undemanding location in better ways than with architectural appeal and celery ribs the size of walking canes.
Rok is situated at Frakkastigur 26, 101 Reykjavik. To contact them call: 544 4443 or visit their website: www.rokrestaurant.is Rok is open every day 11:30 – 23:00.