The late John S. Wilson, who wrote about music for the New York Times for half a century, used an interesting test procedure for measuring the quality of restaurants. His “Before and After System” is simple and effective. Have an extra dry martini before the meal and a single espresso after the meal. If the drink and the coffee are good, the kitchen cannot be below average. Perhaps not very logical, but nevertheless…
Some of my friends in Reykjavík are very sceptical about hotel restaurants, especially restaurants that are a part of a hotel foyer or located to the side
of the main lobby. Unfortunately, this strange belief is often too true. This may have something to do with the myth about restaurants in railway stations and big hotels, but then Icelanders have not, until recently, had big hotels and some have still never seen a train.
When I entered the spacious and fancy lobby of the new Nordica Hotel in Reykjavík, all the myths about big hotels, lobbies and railway stations came to mind. However, my uneasiness disappeared as soon as we entered the VOX Restaurant whose Maitre´d asked if we had a reservation, etc., in a smooth professional manner. Not very common in Icelandic restaurants.
While being ushered to a window table in the far end of the restaurant, we had a glimpse of the general interior and the feeling came back. The décor is expensive but impersonal, if you know what I mean. Not really classical/international (like Harry’s Bar in Venice) and definitely not Icelandic. Perhaps a little bit railway-ish. Something, I am sorry to say, British architects get stuck with nowadays.
If you thought I was going to write about the food at the Restaurant VOX, you are only partly right. I am a great believer in the general ambiance of restaurants. The atmosphere is, for me, a big part of the ease and the pleasure that one should experience when “going out.” That certain feeling created by good food, selected wines, and personal service should necessarily be complimented by comfort –
furniture and pleasing décor.
It was soon obvious that the VOX not only has a very professional staff of waiters but a fine kitchen in which some of the best chefs in Reykjavík practice their skills. The VOX menu is decorated with outstanding fish and meat dishes that must be the envy of the competition. The beef, for instance, was simply outstanding.
Many chefs have difficulties in combining their culinary skills with a tasteful decoration of the food on the plates. A common misunderstanding nowadays is believing that “French Modern” styles depend wholly on arty decorations, thus forgetting the core of delicate dishes – the taste and the condition of the food itself.
This, I am glad to report, has not happened at the VOX. The food decorations are minimal but good looking; no fancy experiments. The professional need for “showing off” was beautifully introduced in several little side offerings, whose tasteful froths made our mouths water in anticipation of the next dish.
The VOX has no doubt an outstanding kitchen. The professionalism of the staff calls for high praise. Praise on an international level. I particularly liked the waiters´ introduction of the wines that were offered with each dish.
Oh yes, the dry martini was almost perfect. (Sorry, but you never put stuffed olives into a real martini.) And the espresso was good to the last drop!