Grapevine’s correspondents arrived at Við tjörnina at ten o’clock one summer evening in June. The late hour was due to the fact that one of us felt compelled to attend an allegedly important football match (his team, KR, won, by the way). Grapevine’s editor was beginning to feel frustrated as it was already hours past his dinner time, which usually lasts straight from 5 pm to 8pm. But all was well as soon as we settled in to comfortable chairs in the restaurant’s homey lounge and leafed through the numerous guest books. Such is the power of the restaurant’s friendly atmosphere and Rhubarb-Rúna.
Entering Við tjörnina is like stepping back into a different age. The décor is reminiscent of an Icelandic home in the 50s and while we dine, the music of classic Icelandic crooners, such as Haukur Morthens, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson and Erla Þorsteinsdóttir, aids our digestion. One song that caught our attention dated from the first Cod War between Iceland and Britain. The lyrics compared the intellect of the cod and the British and, perhaps not surprisingly, judged in favour of the cod. This song was particularly appropriate in this place, as seafood of all kinds is the order of the day here.
The only diners apart from us were two middle-aged Germans at the next table, one of whom bore a striking resemblance to Willy Schäfer, who portrayed police officer Berger so memorably on the popular TV series Derrick. Soon Sonja began to bring us delicious dishes. In a place like this, the surroundings can’t help but affect the conversation, so our editor pontificated about Icelandic culture and the state of the nation, but our starters held our concentration instead: fish soup with cream and baked mousse of salted cod with lobster, hot smoked breast of guillemot with apple salad and horseradish cream, each dish more delicious than the last. We feasted on grilled halibut with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, puffin steak and fried plaice with blue cheese and banana (an absolute highlight). Chocolate cake doesn’t sound like the most exciting desert in the world, but the housecake at Við tjörnina is an endless source of surprises, so that even the skýr-cake (excellent in its own right) pales in comparison. At this point, our editor was starting to feel the effects of all the red and white wine, sherry and Rhubarb-Rúnas, so we decided to head home. On our way out we ran into legendary Icelandic musician Megas and folk music duet Súkkat, who were going to the lounge to spend the night rehearsing for an upcoming concert, proving that Við tjörnina is more than a restaurant – it is a kind of a cultural centre, a friendly oasis in the busy city life that apparantly never sleeps. But sleep beckoned us, so we sauntered into the night one step closer to happiness, fulfilment and obesity.