Nora Magasin opened earlier this year under the ownership and guidance of celebrity chef Völli Snær from the next-door Borg Restaurant. Unlike Borg, however, its objective is to offer a casual bistro atmosphere where guests can relax, have a drink and a bite to eat.
My companion and I visited Nora on one of those rare, sunny summer evenings in Reykjavík when it’s warm enough (approx. 15 degrees) to sit outside. In keeping with the excitement of those evenings, most of the seats outside the restaurant were filled when we arrived, either by tourists wearing their Cintamani fleece wear, or sunburned Icelanders wearing shorts and T-shirts. As the place does not take reservations, it was clear from the start that the service here would be laid-back but friendly, and the hipster devil was in the details: the cocktails were ushered out in charming, glass jars. Keeping good tempo on food, the staff did perhaps fall a bit behind on drinks, but then again, it was very, very busy.
The appetizers and small tapas courses were obviously quite popular, as most guests were always snacking on something while drinking from their jars. And understandably so: these small dishes are well-presented, most of them easy to eat with your hands, and also very fairly priced—which is true of the whole menu. The cuisine at Nora consists of some kind of French-Asian fusion, not surprisingly, perhaps, since the head chef, Akane Monavon, is half-French, half-Japanese.
For starters we chose the lobster tempura (1350 ISK) and the ‘Come-on-bert” (950 ISK). The lobster was very well cooked and the addition of sumac was quite pleasing, though the dish could have done with a touch more seasoning of salt. The addition of a cold salad of veggies including carrots and corn was perhaps a bit odd but not displeasing. The Camembert cheese was oozing after being set aflame tableside—very theatrical and impressive (no worries, the fire burns out in a matter of seconds). It was seasoned with rose pepper and served with a delicious crusty baguette and a berry emulsion. I stress that the bread should not be underestimated, it is the very key to the success of this dish—which is hereby recommended to all.
For the main course we ordered the fish of day (priced humbly at 1750 ISK) and a Szechuan-style duck breast (3690 ISK). The fish, which was a fried tusk, was beautifully presented, colourful and vibrant. The tuskfish was perfectly cooked, flaky on the inside while keeping its shape—as it should—with a smear of fresh basil pesto on top. It was served on a small bed of green salad and topped with strips of pickled red beets and fresh-picked butter fried potatoes, onions and carrots.
The Szechuan duck breast was served on a hot plate, which meant that it continued to cook tableside. This presented a problem. Although very delicious, the duck was perfectly cooked when it arrived, crisp skin yet pink on the inside, but dry and overcooked at the latter stages. It was served with coarsely mashed potatoes on a bed of red peppers (a peculiar choice) alongside dipping sauce made out of soy, sesame oil, orange zest and honey (a complementary mix). It was all-in-all an OK dish, which perhaps needs some refinement.
For dessert we had the chocolate lava cake (850 ISK) and the cardamom crème brulée (850 ISK). The lava cake had a hint of anise/liquorice taste, which was nice. The cake was a bit heavy though and a bit too ‘wheat-y’ perhaps. The crème brulée was light and airy, the sugar-coating crisp like glass—as it should be. The cardamom was a nice touch. Very pleasing.
Overall, my companion and I had a very fine evening. Nora is pretty much doing what it set out to do. The atmosphere is relaxed, the service is nice and the drinks are good. Not to mention, it is very fairly priced. Nora is essentially answering the long-standing demand for a proper bistro, ‘gastro-pub’ if you will. For a few drinks and a taste of French-Asian fusion without needing to declare bankruptcy, Nora Magasin comes highly recommended.
What We Think: Hipsteresque features, good prices, very modern, very positive.
Flavour: French-Asian fusion, bistro, tapas/mezze.
Ambiance: Easy going, laid back. Intoxication above average (which can be seen as positive/negative).
Service: Friendly, accommodating.
Four course menu for two (no drinks): 8–10,000 ISK
Our Rating: 4/5