“It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread, to think of nothing, to hear no thunder, no rain, no splashing from the gutter, no gurgling around the house. Perhaps no pagoda will emerge, but the night will pass.” -Man in the Holocene by Max Frisch
Fish Market was a trailblazer. An innovative, modern, fun, high-end, seafood restaurant with Icelandic ingredients and an Asian bent. Piloted by wunderkind Hrefna Sætran, the first female chef/restaurateur to rise to prominence in Iceland. But lately Fish Market has been overshadowed by her other venture, The Grill Market. So the question on my mind when I visited Fish Market in November of last year, was whether The Grill Market’s success had caused them to neglect the first born. The short answer: Maybe.
Me and my new favourite dining partner, my mom, were seated in the basement, surrounded by the now-familiar design that blends Icelandic materials and subtle references to the Asian continent in a way that reflects the culinary chimeras on the menu. But the design can no longer keep up with the wow-factor at work at The Grill Market, and it all seems a little obvious in 2013.
Tom Waits sounded from the stereo, the ambiance was comfortable and the service, throughout the night, was beyond reproach.
As a starter, I picked one of the house specialties, the king crab claws with chilli mayonnaise (3,900 ISK). Mom picked the lychée-glazed smoked puffin with fig and cumin jam (2,800 ISK).
Warning to those ordering the crab claws: those on first row will get wet. There is no dainty way of eating crab claws, but without the proper implements it feels like you’re field dressing one of the arachnids from Starship Troopers with a baseball bat. It wouldn’t kill them to provide customers with a lobster fork. The crab was decent, but the sauce was a bland version of the spicy tuna mayo that seems to be squirted on everything sushi-like these days. However, the portion was massive and the dish was more impressive for the fact that this is something you would never be able to make at home in Iceland.
The lychée glaze and fig jam with the puffin were excellent, but dominated the innocent little puffin. And my mom felt it was too salty—and she’s of a generation where people would eat a block of salt as an appetizer.
Between courses, we decided to share a small sushi platter (Christmas special—price not available). My mom has taken to sushi (although she still insists on using a fork) and I wanted to see how they handled a straight Japanese plate without all the bells and whistles.
The sushi turned out to be the biggest letdown of the night.
The Christmas maki were completely ridiculous. The uramaki were rolled into dry and squished rice. The addition of pineapple was uninspired and the smoked trout was redundant. The tuna was dry and flavourless, even by Icelandic sushi standards. The only half-decent thing present were the small, pale-orange scallops, but they were a little fishy (and not in the good drag queen way).
My mom’s main course was a grilled monkfish with a squash purée (4,600 ISK). Again, the sides outshone the main the attraction. The purée was delicious and the sides were very well balanced. But the monkfish was rather dry. A good dish, but not as good as it could have been.
I had the tuna steak pakoda (5,900 ISK). At first I thought it was a spelling error and I’d be getting a Japanese style tiered “pagoda” tower of tuna steaks. I was disappointed to find it was just the Indian potato and onion fritters. It was a tangle of fried onion similar to a Swiss rösti. The tuna was very lightly seared, and the tomato and lime brought the flavour close to a ceviche and it was far better than the sushi tuna had been.
For dessert, I had the sorbet and a selection of fruit (1,600 ISK). It wasn’t quite as inviting as the pictures in the menu, but still miles above the fruit salad one usually gets. And the sorbet was delicious.
Mom had the cinnamon apple cake with caramel sorbet and cinnamon caramel sauce (1.900 ISK). Not bad, but too sweet and a bit of an overkill in my opinion. However, my mom quite liked it.
What’s the verdict, doc? Is Fish Market on its last legs (fins?). No. The place still has a lot to offer and there are exceptionally talented people working behind the scenes. This seems more the case of them taking the eye off the ball while the new baby is taking its first steps. Pan-Asian-Icelandic-Nordic thingamajig may seem like a muddled concept to some, but it hides a unique and clear vision and there is no other restaurant in Iceland sitting at this table.
Fish Market, Aðalstræti 12, 101 Reykjavik
Tel: (+354) 578 8877
email: fiskmarkadurinn.is firstname.lastname@example.org
Lunch hours (mon-fri): 11:30am – 14:00
Dinner hours (mon-sun): 18:00 – 23:30
What We Think: A trend-setting power-house in need of an arse-kick
Flavour: Pan-Asian-Icelandic-Nordic thingamajig
Ambiance: A busy forest clearing
Service: Helpful, smiling, knowledgeable, good flow.
Price for 2 (with drinks): 20-30.000 ISK