Harpa looks a lot better on the inside, doesn’t it? From the outside it’s a sooty ice-cube blocking my view of my favourite range of mountains. On the inside it’s a cavernous house of mirrors with comfortably strange angles.
Two restaurants are tucked away in the corners. Munnharpan on the first floor and Kolabrautin on the fourth.
Kolabrautin follows a naming tradition which may only now be taking root in Iceland, that of naming the bar or restaurant after the role that the location used to serve. Resulting in names like ‘Kex,’ ‘The Candy Shop,’ ‘The Post Office’ or ‘That Place Where They Used to Sell Heroin But is Now Full of Yuppies.’
Kolabrautin (the coal track) is named after the track that ran along the harbour that used to transport coals to/from the ships back in ye olden days.
The restaurant offers a great view over the harbour (and Þór—our awesome brand new coast guard vessel!). A long open kitchen running the length of the room and a nice stack of Italian wines by the entrance. A little too sleek and modern for my tastes and hardly breaking fresh ground but tasteful nevertheless.
I skipped the slow-cooked salmon with dill and sour cream which has become such a stable of New Scandinavian cuisine they might as well make a flag with it. Instead I opted for the cured goose with goose liver mousse (boy, that’s fun to say out loud). Served with a rhubarb jam, anise croutons and cucumbers (3.050 ISK). The few slivers of goose were melt-in-your-mouth perfect but the pâté bullied everything else off the plate and offset the balance. Good otherwise.
Wifey had the langoustine pasta (3.250 ISK) which was a thick spaghetti with a strong stock. Large portion, langoustine was mushy, the pasta was al dente in the extreme and far too salty.
I loved the little armflapping the waitress did when she answered that the chicken was indeed not free-range (I felt like a right snob asking about it). The waitress made a nice impression and the staff in general. I could have used more information about the dishes but the matter-of-fact attitude and likability made up for it.
For the main course I had the fried cod with Jerusalem artichoke, grapes, almonds and beurre noisette (4.260 ISK). Those are five ingredients which I love independently and was happy to see them getting together on the plate. The lemony, charred cod was well cooked (and tasted fresh which is lucky for a man ordering fish on a Sunday) and the Jerusalem artichoke was a great idea. But everything was smothered in a very rich butter-sauce and served on top of a rich cheese ravioli. Had the butter been toned down this dish would have worked great.
Wifey had the wood-roasted lamb shoulder with apples, potatoes and cauliflower (5.320 ISK). A nice, hearty, basic N-European autumn plate. But the same mistake as with the cod. Two massive lumps of butter rested on the lamb and everything was glazed and salted into extinction. They need to take it down a notch and add something not too cloyingly sweet to balance out the fat and salt.
After all this butter we decided to split the dessert. For the dessert display they whipped out the liquid nitrogen which has long-since replaced the crêpe suzette as the token dessert pyrotechnics. And as cynical as I’ve become about the liquid nitrogen I must say they did a great job. A white chocolate and juniper cream, a blueberry and chocolate cream, blueberry granita and a blueberry cake (1.700 ISK) (“I heard you liked blueberries so I put some blueberries on your blueberries”) and the dish was constructed at the table. Goaaaal!
Two courses each, a bottle of wine and a split dessert came in at 26 thousand and for that price it’s only reasonable that expectations run high. It’s a location well suited to romance and a night out with sewing circle. But the over-reliance on the salt-fat-sugar triad should be a last resort.
Having said that I do think that in the long run Harpa is likely to attract an older crowd of ladies dragging their confused husbands along to the opera or ballet. And Scandinavian meets Italian with plenty of butter might not be an unwise strategy for that crowd.
But a Young Turk like myself was jogging palmitic acid out of his veins for the next three days.
Kolabrautin in the Harpa Concert Hall
What We Think: Great view, elegant, good wine selection, too pricey, needs more new ideas and personality
Flavour: Italian + New Scandinavian. Fish, lamb, pasta. Over-reliance on butter and salt..
Ambiance: 40-99 age bracket. Fine dining. Fancypants. A little cold.
Service: Fun and pleasant. Could have used more info