From Iceland — Íslenski barinn

Íslenski barinn

Published August 17, 2009

Íslenski barinn

Opened earlier this year, Íslenski Barinn (The Icelandic bar) is a mid-range restaurant serving Icelandic food, bistro style.
With a purposely cheesy brand, cosy décor and a roofed terrace, it caters for 20-something beer drinkers (stocking all Icelandic beers) and tourists.
The menu combines Icelandic ingredients with ambition, plus the usual plokkfiskur and meat soup, all for a fair price.
My date started off with a lamb carpaccio plate that he did not order. The mistake was quickly and politely rectified, and he got to bite into his mixed game plate (1480 ISK) of puffin, goose and hangikjöt (tar smoked lamb—not game, in fact) with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. He began his liquid courses with a bottle of Jökull from Snaefellsnes. I started off with a bottle of El Grillo, a beer brewed in Seydisfjördur, named for a famous a shipwreck off the Eastcoast of Iceland. All three were good.
For the main, I had reindeer burger with jellied red onions, and blue cheese (1760 ISK). It was large, fluffy and slightly sloppy, which caused trouble for a small-mouthed eater. The blue cheese sadly covered any extra flavour that the reindeer meat may have brought. The fries where crunchy, fresh and delicious, well above average and authentically served with cocktail sauce (Iceland’s contribution to burger culture, a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise that kills the sharpness of ketchup and the freshness of mayonnaise). Thankfully, ketchup is also available.  
My date chose a slow-cooked shank of lamb (2620 ISK) with mashed potatoes and gravy. The shank was of an impressive size, and whilst the flavours were nothing spectacular the dish did provide a hearty portion of meat and potatoes. The slow-cooked label led to disappointment though, promising a melt in the mouth experience which the course did not offer.
For dessert, I tried Hjónabandssæla (wedding bliss) rhubarb cake (590 ISK), thus named for being an easy cake to make that it will ensure a happy marriage even if the wife’s strengths do not lie in the kitchen. The Íslenski barinn version came without crunch or the traditional cross-pattern, but a softer doughy touch and a heap of cream—needless to say, it was good.
My date finished off the meal with a bottle of Móri, a red ale. Of the three beers, we found by consensus Jökull to be the best one, with the Móri offering a welcome alternative to the lighter lagers most common in this country.
Íslenski barinn’s trashy branding deceives. If you make it through the hideous facade, the place offers an easygoing, moderately priced meal in a surprisingly cosy environment. If the food had been kept a little simpler, without the fancy names or wasted ingredients, our expectations would not have been dashed by what was in truth some good honest grub.

  • Íslenski barinn (Lækjargata 2a)
  • What we think: Better than it looks
  • Flavour: Icelandic
  • Ambiance: relaxed bistro with Icelandic soundtrack
  • Service: very good
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