Essensia: A New Taste Of Italy In Iceland

York Underwood
Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published October 10, 2016

Essensia

Hverfisgata 4-6, Reykjavík 101
Sun-Thursday 17-22; Fri-Sat 17-23
What we think
A New Taste Of Italy In Iceland
Flavour
Mediterranean and Italian
Ambiance
Fun and professional with a view of the park
Service
Knowledgable and Friendly
Price for 2
7000- 12,000 ISK

One thing Iceland does really well is pizza. Hold on! Iceland? Yes, Iceland. Iceland might be the only place in the world where Domino’s Pizza is good. There are many theories as to why this is correct: the water, ancient sourdough starters passed down through a secret society of bread makers for a thousand years, or even market pressure in a place where a slice of pizza is the only reasonably priced food item in the whole country. Does a city—nay, a country—that already runs on pizza, a dough-mocracy, need another pizza joint?

Essensia is different. It’s not your typical pizza place, nor is it a specialty pizza place like Hverfisgata 12. Essensia is a Italian/Mediterranean restaurant built with locals in mind. It’s a calm and social atmosphere with high ceilings and huge front windows giving a view of Arnarhólland Harpa. It’s near the National Theatre. This wasn’t a mistake. Its location is on purpose.

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“I want to build regulars,” said Hákon Már Örvarsson, head chef and owner. “I want people to be able to come here, grab a nice Neapolitan-style pizza (nine-inch) and head to the theatre, if they only have an hour. They can also share as well, a few antipasti, a pizza, and maybe some pasta. They can also come with a big table, sample everything and stay all night and drink our great Italian wines. This is a place for either type of customer.”

The place was designed and planned with the help of Italian designers and chefs. You can see it in the futurist font of the logo and the layout of the restaurant. It’s something different in Iceland. Any doubts I harboured about the place disappeared with the first dish: almonds and olives (850 ISK). It’s difficult to find really high-quality olives, not soggy or mushy, in Iceland. Wherever Essensia gets theirs, BUONISSIMO! The salty, snappy flesh of their olives gets you in the mood.

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Next I had beef tenderloin carpaccio with parmesan and lemon (1750 ISK). This is one of my favourite antipasto dishes and I’ve tried it in the various Icelandic variations, mainly horse or whale; Essensia’s is delicious. The meat has the right amount of marbling to taste nutty against the sourness of the lemon and the saltiness of the parmesan. This led into a platter of freshly sliced ham and cheese with mustard and grilled bread (2050 ISK). If this was lunch time, this would have been enough—especially with the two glasses of wine.

This was not lunch and I was here with a photographer and an intern, so I figured we could handle anything, if we worked together. The next dish was a Margherita pizza (1850 ISK). The crust was perfect, the sauce wasn’t to acidic or too sweet and the cheese was gooey without being greasy. It’s a great pizza.

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We split a bowl of crab linguine, which was rich and buttery (2750 ISK). I was too full for dessert, but my guess would be that it’s delicious. I really want to come back to this place and eat slower and try the bigger dishes, such as the lamb shank with Moroccan spices and dried fruit (7900 ISK for two people) or the Bistecca Fiorentina 800 gram grilled Porterhouse (12,900 ISK for three to six people).

This is a really fun place to start off your evening,  especially if you are attending the National Theatre or a show at Harpa. The wine, variety of food and the atmosphere make this place the perfect restaurant for a large group of friends or coworkers to eat, drink and partake in Iceland’s official pastime: gossip.

Arrivederci!

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