Every once in a while, a restaurant will go out of its way to do more on every level, providing the perfect blend of tradition and imagination. Vín og Skel is one such restaurant. Located in a courtyard just off of Laugavegur, merely setting foot in the place gives you the impression that you’re in some bistro in Tuscany. Edith Piaf was playing, the classic Belgian beer Leffe was on tap, and best of all, the restaurant is totally smoke-free (although there is a balcony available for people to get their fix).
The menu emphasises seafood, and on weekends they add a theme – a choice of several starters and entrees, all reflecting one type of seafood (in this case, bacalao), with one dessert for 4,950 ISK. On the table were three little bowls of herb butter, olive oil, and a spice mix reminiscent of sweet Balkan spices. These were to accompany the jalapeno and sun-dried tomato bread we were served.
Owner Kristján Nóí explained that most of their menu is locally produced – with a diver up north who provides Vín og Skel with mussels, shrimp and (when available) sea urchins.
The oysters, which were flown in from Brittany, were fresh and flavourful, and we were given a bacalao and clam mousse to sample as well, but the real star of the appetizers was harðfiskur and butter. I’m not making this up. Two small cylinders of butter were rolled in flaked harðfiskur and dill, and topped with a wafer of harðfiskur, giving this Icelandic staple a fresh look and taste. This only stands to reason, as the chef, Kjartan M. Kjartansson, was once given the task of creating a wedding banquet made only from ingredients within a 20-kilometre radius of Akureyri.
Presentation, as they say, is 80% of food service, and Vín og Skel understands this perfectly. Entrees are served in colourful little pots painted with flowers, so you can serve your self a bit at a time and still keep the food hot by having a lid on the pot. The sides came in separate little white bowls, and included lobster sauce, fried red potatoes, a mix of diced fennel root, carrots and celery root cooked in orange juice and saffron, polenta, and onions braised in balsamic vinegar and red wine. These sides we could divide between ourselves, having as much or as little as we pleased.
Overall, Vín og Skel go out of their way to do something new in the Icelandic restaurant scene, and have raised the bar by more than a few notches. Here’s hoping other restaurants follow their example. PN