Published February 26, 2018
It’s not every day that a restaurant pushes the established culinary rules, especially in a small city like Reykjavík. But an enterprising group of people have done just that with Nostra.
The restaurant is headed up by chefs Carl K. Frederikson and Einar B Guðnýjarson, both young chefs with fine dining experience behind them. Carl has previously worked in New York and Copenhagen and Einar at Dill. For both, Nostra is a true passion project.
The space is stunningly modern, replete with an open kitchen, space-age restrooms and a sublime rainbow spectrum glass wall that changes colours with the light. The interior is a breath of fresh air from the ‘distressed industrial’ look of many contemporary restaurants.
But the food is a revelation, too. Missing from Nostra’s menu are the dairy and butter-heavy sauces and mayonnaise that are so common on Reykjavík menus. “We’re yet to do a mayonnaise,” quips Einar. “When we started, we said: ‘No heavy cream and brown butter.’”
Although the restaurant has only been open since November, the menu changes with the freshness of ingredients. The chefs are committed to a seasonal menu, but not at the cost of quality.
“We try to source as locally as possible,” says Carl. “We don’t want to pay more for produce just because it’s Icelandic—it needs to be up to our standards.” This persistence has led the chefs to work with providers on products that are otherwise hard to come by here in Iceland, such as salmon belly. The kitchen also has a temperature controlled room to grow fresh herbs and store lemons and tomatoes at sunny temperatures that improve their flavour.
Their conscious approach reaches the bar as well. Artson, the artisanal cocktail bar, uses leftover bobs and bits from the kitchen to infuse alcohol, and brew bitters and syrups. Refreshingly, teetotallers aren’t sidelined here, and the bar has some ingenious alcohol-free concoctions like a drink with smoked pistachio shell syrup. Talk about root to stem!
Nostra literally translates to “meticulous detail.” The spirit behind the name is visible in everything down to the cutlery—the knives stand on edge, as if standing to attention. And it’s on display, of course, in the food. Here, an amuse bouche of whipped skyr, no more than a spoonful, hides a brunoise of pickled celery. There, a downy blanket of ‘vichyssoise’ buries a mound of mushrooms and potatoes.
The dishes unfold in a harmonious progression of textures, flavours and intriguingly, temperatures. The cold plaice is delicately cured two ways—with green strawberry juice, and kelp. The timbale holds thinly sliced fresh sugar snap peas, segueing perfectly to the warm salmon belly.
“The salmon belly is a good example of how we work together,” says Karl. “I wanted to use the ingredient, and Einar had an idea about an onion dish. We married the two together.” The partnership works—the richness of the belly is both cut and enhanced by the sweet onion broth.
It speaks volumes about the confidence and skill of the kitchen that the ingredients are put centre stage, and achieve a delicate balance of flavour without the need for gaudy accoutrements. The service is top-notch, with cloth napkins refolded if you leave the table, and water glasses replenished as if by magic. For jaded palettes done with tired tricks, Nostra is a very welcome jolt.
Read more about Reykjavík dining here.