Published October 3, 2018
Delicate or robust, white or pink, flat or oblong, from glistening swordfish to speckled flounder fillets—I’ve never met a fish that didn’t love being kissed by a pat of butter.
Of course globalisation has opened our Eurocentric eyes to other ways of celebrating fish, whether it be raw over vinegared rice, pickled with red onions or bobbing in a fiery green curry. If you share my love of dairy fat and seafood, then Messinn is your Shangri La.
Messinn runs deeper than you’d think from looking at the outside. The relatively low ceilings and modest size welcome you in and make you feel at home. The rustic character is accentuated by the balmy ambiance, wooden ceiling beams, portholes, lanterns, and fish-shaped ceramic plates.
Me and Ofragnar, my designated life partner, decided that nobody goes to a fish place to fill up on dessert and opted for more fish and booze to fill the gap. The fish-slapping dance started by sharing the cod cheeks with cherry tomatoes and garlic butter (3,600 ISK) and a portion of the gravlax starter (1,950 ISK). Cod cheeks are an underloved ingredient, rescued from obscurity by 21st century food mavens. With a texture that falls right between a scallop and a cod fillet, the cheek is a firm-flesh favourite whenever you can find it. The gravlax didn’t quite live up to the price tag. The three pieces of cured salmon served over thick cucumber wheels (“blinis”) felt more crude than charming, although pleasant enough.
It’s worth remembering, before you receive your heaping panfuls of fish, that the portions have actually gone through a bit of a downsizing from the early days. Not that I have the faintest idea what I’d have done with a larger portion.
The Atlantic Wolffish pan (4,200 ISK) was phenomenal. The flesh was simultaneously firm and delicate, like your favourite dominatrix; peppery and creamy like her favourite paddle. The red grapes may strike some as an odd addition, but this pairing has some history and I feel the sweet grape juice adds a dimension without being too cloying. Ofragnar did not agree, and I know of others in her camp. Let’s say it’s controversial and leave it at that.
Our second main (technically our third but who’s counting), was the salmon burger (2,950 ISK) which turned out to be more of a salmon sandwich. I’ve seen a lot of love for this plate expressed in the nooks and crannies of the internet, and I can see why. It’s simply a tight salmon fillet served between two exterior-crisp buns with mustardy sauce, corn and onions. The seasoning was great and, like most things at Messinn, it was perfectly filling.
The food at the down-home Messinn isn’t free, but I would deem it pretty reasonable by Icelandic standards, especially when you consider how filling it is and the care taken in preserving the quality of the ingredients. Some of the detours are more miss than hit but the fish pans that earned them their reputation continue to win over fans for good reason. If you’re in the mood for fresh fish served in sauce as rich as Croesus then this is your joint. I’m sold on Messinn. I’m a Messi eater.