Published November 8, 2017
Matur og Drykkur is one of the small handful of Icelandic restaurants to be awarded a Michelin Bib, and deservedly so. But recent meals over the past year have left me wondering if they will hold onto the honour.
The restaurant has had some staffing issues in the kitchen—a struggle that has, at times, translated to the plate. On one occasion, we were served pork cheeks with a mound of prune jam almost twice the size of the meat. On another, we were astonished by the veggie chips with carrot marmalade—three shards of dehydrated vegetable juice ‘chips.’ It was a sham of an appetiser that reminded us of stiff, coloured tissue paper at the florist. The fact that it tasted of nothing didn’t help.
The herb coated lamb fries with whey mustard (2,190 ISK) were a pair of shabbily plated ten-krona-coin-sized medallions of fermented sheep’s testicle, dusted with pungent mustard. Having been thrilled to learn about this dish online, tasting it was like experiencing a blind date gone wrong. I later learned the chefs were doing a pop-up in Barcelona at the time of this meal—clearly, the kitchen needs to tighten its reins.
Torched head theatre
I’ve wondered if my nostalgic longing for the restaurant of yore is the source of my dissatisfaction, so I decided to go back once more before writing them off. Matur og Drykkur is still popular, and I enjoyed the pleasant hubbub of a full restaurant while waiting for my dining companion. Not wanting to rock the boat, we decided to play it safe, skip the appetizers, and order the classics—cod head (4,200 ISK) and roast lamb (4,990 ISK).
The theatrical presentation of the torched cod head with sweet seaweed glaze is still a spectacle that continues to drive diners to snap a video. The meat gives in with no resistance, at once moist and firm. It’s a no-holds-barred dining experience. We must have been enjoying it blissfully unaware, as a diner next to us wondered aloud how good the dish must be. I offered her a taste—she agreed it was wonderful. The best part is the cod tongue, deep-fried in a light batter. If all you’ve ever had are boiled gellur, I suggest you try them here to exorcise those ghosts.
The lamb, whilst acceptable, stopped short of being divine. The potatoes were great—craggy and nutty, with a pleasant roasted crunch—but the lamb was a touch dry, and I was disappointed that the accompanying grated lamb’s heart was just a tiny flurry of garnish.
It’s the little flourishes that set a good restaurant apart from a great one. It’s consistently sending out identical plates of the same dish, and the fine balance between a grain of salt being too much or too little. It’s in knowing when to stop piling on the sauces, and when to let an ingredient shine. It’s in confidence, and a steady hand—and often, in restraint.
Matur og Drykkur was built on the premise of elevating traditional Icelandic cuisine—cod tongues and all—from its humble origins. The restaurant’s selling point has been to unapologetically offer the assumed worst of Icelandic cuisine in the best way imaginable. The kitchen needs to think about what that means for them. Sure, the name is still a draw, but to be a memorable experience, they need to find their stride again—and let that confidence play out on the plate.