From Iceland — Grillið


Published April 7, 2006


Fine dining costs money. Typically, it costs a lot of money. Occasionally, though, you’ll find a place that’s not only worth dropping a sizeable portion of your salary for; they meet you halfway and don’t demand that much of you financially after all. Grillið, located on the 8th floor of the Radisson SAS hotel on Hagatorg, is not only such a restaurant – it also provided what, for me, was the most perfect dining experience of my life.
Guests are first seated in a lounge – leather couches and chairs arranged near a large window overlooking a spectacular view of Reykjavík’s southern shore – where they are offered aperitifs. I went with a Rémy Martin. The hostess, noticing that my wife is very pregnant, offered to “make up” a non-alcoholic cocktail for her. The result – a mixture of banana, pineapple, lime juice and cream – proved far better than it sounds.
We were given our menus with our cocktails. Prices range between the high end, with the Gourmet Game Menu (five courses for 7,900 ISK) to a fish entrée (3,600 ISK). Always up for a surprise, we decided instead to go for the Discovery Menu – five courses for 6,900 ISK, where you only discover what you’re going to eat when it’s brought to your table.
The dining room of Grillið is enormous, with tall windows on three sides providing more of the stunning view seen from the lounge, and classic place settings that reminded me of a hotel dining room from the 1940s. Miles Davis played at an unobtrusive, atmospheric volume. From the moment the first of three starters was brought to us – fresh scallops in a cold orange and chilli soup – one thing became immediately apparent about Grillið: the service. The servers move quickly, quietly and leave enough time between courses for the memory of the previous one to linger while not leaving you wondering if you’ve been forgotten.
The second starter, grilled langoustines with cauliflower sauce and nut foam, was extraordinary. The freshness and natural flavour of the meal made it clear that the chef had an emphasis on classical French cuisine. This was confirmed when we were brought the grilled turbot with olive purée and aubergine in a passion fruit sauce. Again, the pacing between these courses was impeccable.
We arrived at last at the main event – in this case, tenderloin of beef and veal with half a lobster tail, potatoes and Madeira glaze. The sheer brilliance and spectrum of flavour in this course is off the charts. Suffice it to say we chewed each bite slowly, our faces in goofy ecstasy.
At this point we were both stuffed beyond hope, but when the desserts were brought to the table – a chocolate cylinder over a chocolate-covered strawberry with melted chocolate poured over top of it at the table, alongside a lychee sorbet, as well as a milk chocolate mousse – we decided it wouldn’t hurt to at least try it. In the end, it was all we could do to keep from licking the plates. I had to have a word with the chef.
Bjarni Gunnar Kristinsson, the chef de cuisine, received his certification at Grillið, but told us that he travels “constantly” to France, New York and the UK to keep up with the ever-changing trends in fine cuisine.
“You have to,” he said, as if it were a given that a chef should fly overseas several times a year just to visit other kitchens.
When asked about the freshness of the ingredients, Kristinsson said he considered this a special point of pride for the restaurant.
“Everything is either produced as close by as possible,” he said, “or flown in fresh, twice a week.” (Insider’s tip: book a reservation for a Wednesday evening – that’s when the veggies from France arrive.)
After a meal at Grillið, it’s hard to take the elevator back down to your slightly less glamorous life, but with the prices as they are, repeat visits are a realistic and well-deserved possibility.

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