K-Bar, Laugavegur 74, 101 Reykjavík
Several attempts have already been made to open up a Korean restaurant in Iceland—at least once in the mid-nineties and again at the turn of the century. For inexplicable reasons all previous attempts have failed, which is why there is so much riding on this newest attempt at Korean cuisine in Reykjavík.
To be honest, I had been to K-Bar a few times of my own accord before this particular visit. The place opened up to high acclaim in the wake of the Iceland Airwaves festival in early November last year. It serves a wide variety of craft beers from around the globe and also has one of the most enticing cocktail menus in the city. K-Bar also offers happy-hour prices between 17:00 and 18:00 where KFC (meaning Korean Fried Chicken) wings and the beer of the week are available for a measly 990 ISK. So needless to say I’ve been there once or twice.
This particular visit however took place late on a Saturday night. It had obviously been a busy evening as the place was a bit chaotic when we arrived and our table wasn’t yet ready. This might have presented a problem but we were eager to sit by the bar for a few minutes given that the cocktails served at K-Bar are of immense quality and ambition. My companion chose the Kim-Jong Collins (1,990 ISK) a sweet and tangy emulsion of gin, ginger beer and orange zest, a true delight. I chose the French 74, a lovely concoction of gin, lemongrass, sparkling wine and lime (1,990 ISK).
The cocktails made for a good start to the evening, making my companion and myself even hungrier. For a starter my companion chose the Kimchi-Mandu dumplings (1,790 ISK) with tofu served with a soy-based dipping sauce with spring onions and sesame seeds. The dumplings were grilled on one side making for a crispy contrast to the smooth and savoury kimchi on the inside. The dipping sauce gave the dish a lighter, fresher overtone. I chose the Soft-Shell Crab Tempura (2,290 ISK) which, as the name suggests, was a soft-shell crab, deep fried in tempura batter. It was really crispy and appetizing, the kind of dish you eat with your hands, served with chilli-mayo that was obviously made from scratch and had, surprisingly, some heat. Very nice indeed.
For the main course my companion chose one of K-Bar’s signature dishes, The Bi Bim Bap hot pot (2,590 ISK). A Bi Bim Bap is basically steamed rice and vegetables, pickled vegetables, dried seaweed and a source of protein (pork/beef/chicken/tofu) along with an egg that is cooked in the pot by the heat of the other elements. A splash of Sriracha chilli sauce is added to bind the flavours together, and it is quite popular to add an extra splash of that elixir once the dish has been served. The Bi Bim Bap is a very hearty dish that is sufficient as a meal on its own. The dish is beautifully crafted, colourful and bright, although this time around the rice was a bit dry, which was something of a disappointment.
I on the other hand chose a Ssäm dish as my main course. The Bo Ssäm with pork shoulder (2,690 ISK) is served with ssäm-sauce, kimchi, rice and lettuce leaves, the idea being to use the lettuce leaves to wrap up the pork, rice and kimchi. The roll is then supposed to be dipped in the aforementioned sauce. The idea is a fine one, but my dish suffered from the same affliction as my companion’s Bi Bim Bap, meaning that the rice was way too dry, from which there was no escape. The pork itself could also have been a bit more tender.
For dessert we decided to try the now infamous, though certainly not very Korean, Cronut (790 ISK). This was a new experience for both of us and it was very interesting. The cronut is the bastard child of the French croissant and the American donut served with a sweet frosting. It was quite tasty, I must admit, but a bit heavy. Probably heavier than either a croissant or a donut, both of which are usually light as a feather.
All in all, my companion and I had a good time, but I know that K-Bar can do better. Everything started off the way you would expect, but our main courses really left for something to be desired.
Laugavegur 74, 101 Reykjavík
What We Think: A much needed answer to a huge demand
Flavour: Savoury, spicy, sweet, pickled
Ambiance: Upscale dive bar
Service: Friendly and professional
Price for 2 (with drinks): 8,000 ISK (a steal)
Our Rating: 3.5/5