From Iceland — VIÐ TJÖRNINA


Published December 5, 2005


ATTENTION TOURISTS! Are you looking for an authentic Icelandic dining experience? Then Við Tjörnina is just the place for you. It’s how you would imagine the genuine thing; ignore the fact that the authentic Iceland of your guidebooks might be a marketing creation. Let’s just suspend our disbelief for a few hours and wallow in this re-creation of what, should they have existed, an upscale Reykjavík seafood restaurant in the 1940s would have felt like.
“It’s just like my gran’s front room,” exclaimed my dining companion when we were shown into the bar area. The majority of diners at Við Tjörnina choose to begin their evening in one of the many wing-backed chairs relaxing with a drink in the small seating area of this snug and cosy restaurant. This also gives people an opportunity to peruse the hand-designed menus and listen to the music on the wireless (you’d refer to the sound device as that too if you had been there).
The main dining area, just another collection of a few smallish rooms, continues in the quaint tradition of “the past,” with lace curtains and embroidered tablecloths. With all these rooms, it never feels too busy, although the place is usually infested with hungry patrons.
These patrons are not dining on the food of the times. Real 1940s Iceland had potatoes, salty fish, and more potatoes. Við Tjörnina, on the other hand, serves delicious but straightforward fish and seafood cuisine. Gunnar Örn Jónsson, the restaurant’s chef, says “we don’t really run after the new fashions [in food].” Good for him. This is well-presented, tasty, and unpretentious food. Highlights of our five-course “Gourmet Maison” (ISK 5900) were the exquisitely prepared scallop with tomato sauce and a wonderful halibut main course; the fish was incredibly fresh tasting. For those visitors seeking the “real” experience, a starter of hákarl (putrified shark) and brennivín is a permanent fixture on the menu. My one disappointment of the evening was that each course was served without explanation (my companion and I are still debating whether the soft vegetable cubes with the main dish were parsnip or celeriac).
Við Tjörnina can seem a little old-fashioned at first. This only adds to its unique charm. For tourists in town, this is the “genuine” Icelandic experience you are probably looking for; the locals keep coming back too. It’s the bees’ knees– if you know what I mean by that, you will be able to appreciate this fine establishment.
Við Tjörnina
Templarasund 3, Open Daily,
Tel. 551 8666
There is a special Christmas menu in December, featuring wild duck.

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