From Iceland — Under The Paving Stones, The Fish

Under The Paving Stones, The Fish

Published January 6, 2012

Under The Paving Stones, The Fish
Ragnar Egilsson

“It is well understood that fish is less nourishing than meat, because it contains no osmazome, because it is lighter in weight, and contains less weight in the same volume. Shell-fish, and especially oysters, furnish little nutrition, so that one can eat a great many without injury.”
-The Physiology of Taste (Brillat-Savarin)

Down the block from Fjalakötturinn, below street-level, through the Geysir building, nestles Sjávarkjallarinn (“The Seafood Cellar”), formerly of fusion but newly of the new Nordic seasonal bandwagon.
Sjávarkjallarinn has built quite a reputation in the years since it opened. That reputation has formed around an approach to fine dining that is marked by playfulness and surprise.
In the last couple of years the tide may have turned against the Blumenthals of the world—people getting cynical about restaurants manipulating steaks into vapours and presenting them on teaspoons made of frozen guava (btw, feel free to use that). But it’s worth keeping in mind that even when this experimentation goes off the rails, then at least it’s in the service of advancing their art.
 There have been many revolutionary ideas in gastronomy over last decade and that’s a wonderful thing. After all, we are all snobby about something—everyone has some obscure field of interest where they are willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a level of quality that is imperceptible to outsiders (how are those gold audio cables working out?).
Interiors are dim and moderately modern. Stone and black wood, a narrow beam of light over each table. We came in early, so we had the place almost to ourselves.
We both ordered the five course Christmas menu with wine (a hearty 15.900 ISK per person) because I have a gut and, unlike those men in their 30s who are only now putting on weight, I have had time to get settled into my fat and I like feeding it.
First on offer was a taster of a double-smoked lamb tartare with walnut mayo which we nibbled at while wifey washed down, what she claimed, was the best margarita she had had.
The first course was a frozen monkfish with celery and vinegary celeriac. A sharp and shimmering starter, perfectly matched with a grapefruity and almost sparkling Sauvignon blanc from Chile.
This was followed by a pickled herring with skate and tiny laufabrauð (traditional Icelandic Christmas food—crispy, thin, deep-fried cakes sometimes flavoured with caraway). Again, perfectly matched with the Stekkjastaur seasonal brown ale. Also came with a shot of the birch-flavoured liquor, which I don’t feel worked as well.
Third course came with a nice dry Italian wine. Salted halibut cheeks with leeks and angelica. The cheeks were chewy as they usually are, the dish was a little too salty and creamy but the leeks lifted it up, rekindled my love for the leek.
We went splitsies on the main course—wifey had the slow-cooked blue ling with brussel sprouts and I had the wild goose with red cabbage, fried apples and smoked potatoes. With it I got a glass of the lovely Memoro special edition wine from Piccini.
The ling was firmer thanks to the sous-vide process but jumped off the plate.
But as good as it was, I would definitely recommend the goose simply because it brought tears of joy to my eye. I wanted to roll myself up in a ball and live on that plate. That was one tasty goose.
Dessert was a frozen rice pud with caramel ice cream and elderberry jam. Rice pudding is one of those universal treats which you will find on every single continent with mild variation. But I prefer mine unfrozen as the dessert left me quite cold.
A fantastic dining experience and we lucked out by having Gunnar Rafn as our waiter for most of the evening, someone who is easily one of the best waiters I have had.
What We Think: Sjávarkjallarinn is still a major force to be reckoned with.
Flavour: Gorgeous Icelandic-French
Ambiance: Dim and comfy. Gallery-like without being surgical.
Service: Can’t find better.
Rating: 5/5
telephone: (+354) 511 1212
email: here

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