Few would disagree that the Marshall Plan money that Iceland received in the aftermath of World War II radically altered the nation’s prospects. It’s small wonder that the newest restaurant in town pays homage to the aid that transformed the country.
The Marshall Restaurant is like being in a chic sit-down in Boston’s Seaport. Like Seaport, Grandi has witnessed a revival in recent times, but few places capture the city-by-the-shore vibe like Marshall does with its sweeping windows, tonnes of natural light, and subdued palette.
We sat down for a tête-à-tête with Chef Leifur Kolbeinsson. His former restaurant, La Primavera, was a pioneer in introducing Italian food to Icelanders way back in 1991 and in recent years Leifur has brought his sensibilities to Kolabrautin at Harpa. And now, Marshall.
“I’d been planning it for a year and a half,” says Leifur. “I want to do simple things, but with top quality ingredients. It’s something I’ve always loved, and I want to keep with the simplicity of the food.” A platter of whole plaice on the bone arrived just in time, as if a testament to the philosophy of the restaurant: fresh fish, with a flourish of anchovy, herb butter, and a wedge of lemon. Simple. Straightforward. Delicious.
Mature diners & heirloom produce
“When I served gnocchi and polenta in Primavera, most people were like, ‘What is this?’” laughs Leifur. “It was considered rubbish.” It seems appropriate that just as the conversation veered towards changing attitudes in today’s diners, we were slurping down house-made linguine with shellfish and spicy nduja: a hard-to-get-in-Iceland Calabrian sausage.
The receptiveness of locals to new flavours has increased noticeably during Leifur’s long career. “Things have changed since I was 20,” he says. “Today, polenta is something anyone would try.”
Leifur places importance on doing justice to the ingredients, whether they be local or imported. “If I see something interesting, and I see a point in using them, I will,” he states, going on to talk about how reviving heirloom ingredients is one of the joys of being a chef. “I was invited to the Truffle Festival in San Miniato last November,” he says. “One of the meals that we had was this fantastic florentine with zolfini beans. We’re all familiar with cannellini beans, but not zolfini—today, producers are sending us their heirloom beans.”
As we sat back satiated, mulling over the many aspects of food, decor, culture and globalisation, we were struck by the nuanced experience Marshall created for us. A simple summer-bright crudo of red snapper festooned with an assortment of citrus zest and capers was a perfect reminder of everything Marshall seems to be about. A lesson in simplicity and contrast, yes—but also in both confidence and restraint. The freshness also shines through in the carefully curated, small but focussed wine selection. We tried an extremely pleasant French Boisjoli, and made plans to revisit for another glass.
We rounded things off with a delectable cheesecake—a recipe the chef wrangled from sources in San Sebastian—and couldn’t agree more with what Leifur said: “We want this to be about the food and the atmosphere. It’s about good food at affordable prices in a beautiful space. This is about simplicity.”
Visit The Marshall House Bar + Restaurant on Grandagarður. Cocktail happy hour is 16:00-18:00 daily, except Thursdays.