“We don’t do fusion cooking here,” says chef Birgir Karl Ólafsson. “We have a framework for our menu. It’s alright to put one step out of the frame, but we don’t leave the frame. Classical French cuisine is what we do.”
Birgir received his certification from Argentina Steakhouse and has been running Hótel Holt’s kitchen for two years now. Many of the cooks working under him have studied in France, and French chefs visit the kitchen regularly.
I went to check out the lunch special myself with one of our photographers, Gummi. I started off with the snails and chorizo served in a bone with gnocchi and pistou. The contrasting flavours of snail and chorizo complemented each other very well, but what impressed me most was how fresh and crisp the radicchio that it was topped with was. Icelandic restaurants already have the deck stacked against them; most of the vegetables they have to work with are shipped in from overseas, which can make it exceedingly difficult to get anything as fresh as I was eating at Hótel Holt.
“We do a count every night of all our vegetables, salads and herbs,” explained Birgir, “and then do our ordering the next morning.” That commitment to freshness was evident in the kitchen itself, which was probably the cleanest and most organised restaurant kitchen I’d ever seen. Even the bread put on the table before the meal is baked by the restaurant itself.
For the main course I ordered the fried ling with asparagus-potato purée, warm ruccola salad and parmesan sauce. The plate was artfully done, with obvious attention put to complementary colours, and the fish had a subtle but succulent flavour that’s hard to achieve with white saltwater fish.
The serving staff, who won the Copa America sommelier competition in 2003, are quick, efficient and unobtrusive – no one’s going to swoop in to ask how everything is right after you’ve put a forkful of food in your mouth.
Hótel Holt’s lunch special is available every day from noon to 14:15. For the quality of the food and service you receive, you’ll be stunned that the most you’ll pay is 2,700 ISK. It’s a good deal, even if you do the conversion to your home currency. Better get it while it lasts.
Hótel Holt, Bergstaðastræti 37, 101 Reykjavík
Ph# 552-5700 www.holt.is