Fjalakötturinn is Hotel Centrum’s corrugated conjoined twin. Despite the faux-antique exterior, the buildings are riddled with cultural heritage within and without. The hotel and restaurant at Aðalstræti 16 stand by the oldest street in Reykjavík, Aðalstræti literally translates to “Main Street.” One house over is the oldest house in downtown Reykjavík, which has served as a seat of private enterprise since the 18th century and once housed a pulsating gay club named after our “founding father” Jón Sigurðsson who supposedly stayed there during a period (imagine a gay club in Abraham Lincoln’s cabin named “Abe’s Sweatlodge”). But those days are gone; it now belongs to Kraum, a well-considered Icelandic design hub catering to a blossoming tourist industry.
Fjalakötturinn offers another example of how Icelanders are trying to leave behind their haphazard handling of historical heritage, the restaurant taking its name from what had been the oldest known cinema in the world when it was demolished in 1985 during the reign of Mayor Davíð Oddsson.
Beneath the floorboards of Fjalakötturinn are, what may be, the ruins of the first settlement in Iceland, where Ingólfur Arnarson landed 1130 years ago after wandering up north to escape Norwegian taxation.
Fjalakötturinn is us trying to do it right this time, brush over the recent past and make a direct connection with the romantic past. And there’s an interesting mojo to that corner of Reykjavík, a place where the needs of private enterprise and our shared cultural heritage are interwoven—where we are learning how to broadcast our history to the outside world and ourselves.
With all that in mind, we started with a Xanté Crush from the bar—pear liquor with large wedges of pears. Refreshing and still seasonal enough.
I chose the Advent menu (10.900 ISK w/wine) and wifey couldn’t decide between the langoustine (6.290 ISK) and the lobster soup (1.990 ISK) so she had both.
A pre-menu taster from the kitchen: morsels of smoked salmon, beef tongue, pickled herring and pâté—not often enough you get to see beef tongue in Icelandic restaurants.
The Advent menu started with sea-buckthorn (really?) and yellow beets, a nice combination but the langoustine had quite a strong fish sauce smell to it, which wasn’t entirely unpleasant but a little unsettling.
Next was a dense, lightly smoked eel with cauliflower that had been crumbled into couscous, surprisingly tasty, especially since I’m no fan of the cauliflower.
Wifey had her lobster soup, very decent although a little heavy on the saffron. The waiter who had been providing a great service was temporarily replaced by a waitress that poured a red wine into our white wine glasses and managed to make the simplest things sound vaguely threatening.
For the main course, wifey’s lobster was excellent, a large portion, simply but perfectly cooked and not a ladle of garlic butter in sight.
On the Advent menu, I had the choice between the reindeer or the duck breast, and I knew I made the right choice when I saw red beetroot, pinkish red onions, lightly pickled red cabbage and small, dark purple potatoes with reindeer draped over them, red and maroon like waste-rich blood and with the same metallic aftertaste. List that under “Things I’m always happy to see on my plate”.
The dessert is called “Chocolate six ways.” And as the name (sort of) implies, it is white, milk and dark chocolate presented in three different ways. A truffle, a mousse and a sauce. Too heavy for a last course and didn’t really leave much of an impression aside from an extra hole in my belt. But I also noticed a celery granite on the menu, which sounded a lot more interesting and I will have to try that next time.
What We Think: A well put-together Christmas menu. Well balanced, knows when to keep it simple, professional, tight. Could be more innovative
Flavour: Yuletide flavours this time around but generally quite partial to new Nordic. Locally sourced. Tubers, lamb, ling, langoustine…you know the dill (pun intended)
Ambiance: Calm and classy. Could have been a little more lively on a Friday night
Service: Waiter was top notch. Phone service too.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5