Published March 1, 2018
The Argentína Steakhouse is a classic Icelandic restaurant that opened its doors way back in 1989. It has since become a popular spot for family meetings, special occasions, or to satisfy meaty cravings with dishes chosen from a simple menu with a cross-generational appeal.
Restaurant trends in Reykjavík have evolved in the intervening decades, and particularly rapidly in recent years. However, the Argentína Steakhouse has stuck to its guns, serving up steak, Icelandic lamb, and seafood, cooked over a charcoal-fired grill that’s located right in the dining room.
It also hit the news lately that the owner, Björn Ingi Hrafnsson—a former Progressive Party politician and failed media mogul—made a meal of his financial problems by trying to pay off one of his debts in steak rather than cash. All of the menu items were still available, so it appears his offer was rebuffed. Perhaps this wheeler-dealing beef baron just bit off more than he could chew.
Dodgy dealings aside, the restaurant’s strategy of catering less to trend-chasers interested in foraged, slow-cooked, pickled or smoked ingredients, and more to traditionalists who like to know exactly what’ll be on their plate seems to have paid off. When we walk into the restaurant through the wood-panelled entrance tunnel, it’s just after opening time on a rainy Tuesday evening, but there are already couples dotted around the room. With exposed brick and plaster walls, pinned up furs, and wood-lined booths in the windowless dining room, there’s a certain masculine, stuffy vibe to the decor; my companion notes that some splashes of colour wouldn’t go amiss.
Nonetheless, the service is attentive throughout, and we’re presented immediately with some soft leatherbound menus. I opt for the 11oz 28 day dry-aged rib eye, and my companion for a 7oz tenderloin. The sides are ordered separately, and we go for grilled Portobello mushrooms and Hasselback potatoes, with a glass of the house Malbec each.
As we crunch through a couple of slightly dry bread rolls, we watch the steaks being cooked before our eyes. The charcoal grill sends swirls of sparks up into a large extractor fan as the sizzling steaks are flipped. More people trickle in as we take in the ambience: a tri-generational family group, some loudly chattering Americans, and a young couple with matching platinum blonde locks. All are dressed up—Argentína Steakhouse’s reputation as a fancy dinner place seems very much intact.
The steaks are simply delicious. The cuts have a balance of fat and lean meat, and they’re sealed to preserve the moisture then seared to smoky medium-rare perfection. The potatoes and mushrooms are on-point, and we’re left leaning back in our chairs, sated. This is exactly how a good steak should be.
Contemporary dining this is not, but if some older relatives should happen to come calling, Argentína Steakhouse would be a safe bet to satisfy them. And based on the quality of the meat we were served, if Björn Ingi should happen to offer to pay you in steaks, it might be worth investing in a chest freezer and a turbo-charged grill for the summer.
Read more about Icelandic restaurants here.