Published July 22, 2011

Ragnar Egilsson

Last time we reviewed Núðluskálin was a year ago, and in comparison with their Skólavörðustígur neighbours, Noodle Station. Núðluskálin was the loser in that comparison, but that was a different reviewer and I can’t say I entirely agree. We noted the same things but reached very different conclusions. However, I’ll grant that there may have been some improvements since last year’s review—some growing pains are to be expected.
It’s impossible not to compare the two, though. Here are two proper Reykjavík noodle bars that happen to be within spitting distance of each other. And let me make it absolutely clear that I have nothing against Noodle Station. It’s a traditional, tasty, glorious hole-in-the-wall noodle place that does the job and then some.  Both places sport fresh ingredients, heaping portions and give a respectful nod to the traditional offerings. These are definitely not the noodles of your college years. But, people, there must be a winner! We’re talking noodles, man, and you bet your tootsy I’m taking this job seriously (noodles!!!).
Before we get to the comparison let me remark that the decor seemed perfectly appropriate. Nothing fancy, maybe a bit kitsch, but then again I don’t need my noodle place distracting from the noodles at hand. And anyway, the kitchen was clean and in full view—that’s enough for me.
The service was lightning fast and the staff were friendly. My vegetarian dining partner opted out of the veggie option on offer, because he felt it wasn’t spicy enough. Instead, he customised another dish, which was a thoroughly painless process.
I had ‘Gwiddíáw Domm Kha’ and my eating partner had ‘Núðlur fyrir sálina’ (“Noodles for the Soul”). All the noodle soups sell for a very reasonable 1.090 ISK. The first dish is their most popular offering, egg noodles, chicken breast and coconut milk. The second is a lighter, brothier chicken soup with egg noodles (with some modifications).
I immediately noticed a nice balance between the heat, the sour and sweet (I refuse to recognise umami as a real flavour). They didn’t skimp on the cilantro—a big plus—and I noticed that they favoured ginger over the five-spice flavour at The Noodle Station. The noodles were fresh and perfectly cooked. The only nitpicking was that the ‘Gwiddíáw Domm Kha’ was a little heavy on the coconut milk. They clearly advertise that this is a coconut milk heavy dish, and as the joint’s main favourite, I felt I had to try it. Although a little tired of the coconut milk soups, it doesn’t surprise me that Icelanders are going for it. After all, most Icelanders grew up with soups that were more butter than water.
Finally, I loved that the place was stacked to the rafters with water pitchers and all the condiments were right there on the table for the plucking, including agave syrup and tamari soy—and not to mention MSG! It’s a rare treat in these health-scare days to see nice big bowl of cancer-powder in plain sight. I for one do not believe that a naturally occurring amino acid that the Chinese have been gobbling down by the bucketloads for ages to no discernible ill effect will do anything other than punch up your meal. But as all their dishes are MSG-free, it’s simply on offer for those willing to risk cranial collapse and spontaneous teratomas.
I am still suspicious of the turkey balls included in a couple of the dishes. I automatically suspect anything containing turkey of being a dish that favours slimming over flavouring. Also, the thought of greasy balls suspended in a thin solution and cupped by whirling noodles feels disturbing for some reason. But maybe that’s not the case at all—I didn’t try it.
Núðluskálin does, in my opinion, marginally overtake Noodle Station on a couple of points. Although Núðluskálin is far from traditional and mix their Asian traditions up, they do offer a greater selection of dishes. There’s nothing wrong with Noodle Station keeping it simple, but in case you want to try something new Núðluskálin enables that. Secondly, Núðluskálin has a much better name. I find the English naming tradition that is taking root very tacky and “Núðluskálin” (the noodle bowl) is a nice workmanlike name (although I would have preferred ‘Núðluskálinn’—“The Noodle Hut”). It also offers outdoor seating, but as Noodle Station is marginally cheaper we can say that it evens out.
Granted, this isn’t by a wide margin but I’m casting my vote for Núðluskálin.
Rating: 4.5
Address: Skólavörðustígur 8

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