From Iceland — Painted Ship Upon A Painted Ocean

Painted Ship Upon A Painted Ocean

Published February 6, 2012

Painted Ship Upon A Painted Ocean
Ragnar Egilsson

Back in the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. Back in The Borg starship (see Kolabrautin review). Except the place is shifting in my eyes every time. One moment it is a lifeless, futuristic cube and the next it is a lively and entertaining (if somewhat gaudy) airport terminal. That may not sound like much of an improvement, but the place is slowly growing on me.
Still, it provides a unique set of problems to anyone trying to run a restaurant in the building. There is a great deal of empty space, which can be taken as an opportunity to explore new and interesting concepts, but the lack of dividers can easily make the diner feel exposed and uneasy. However, this problem is really no different from that which museum eateries must contend with (the “how to not look like a food court in a shopping mall” conundrum).
Munnharpan is owned by the same people that run Jómfrúin, a long-standing favourite in the local scene, which focuses on Danish open faced sandwiches. A particularly popular place with groups of ladies, 30 years and older, I thought it was fitting to bring mom along (she still doesn’t look a day over 40).
Arriving at 19:30 on Saturday night, the place was empty. It wasn’t until 20 that people came flooding in, which is not unusual as Munnharpan was clearly built with the intention of attracting concert guests for a light meal before the show. So Harpa must respond to these bursts of activity before sinking back to idleness like Coleridge’s “painted ship upon a painted ocean.” But despite our off-peak arrival, I would have expected the service to be a little more attentive.
The meals are mostly suitable with plenty of light courses. As with Jómfrúin, they offer a selection of smørrebrød (Danish open faced sandwiches) mixed with classic French courses. I must say that we were both a little confused how to assemble a full meal out of the selection. I felt like trying the smørrebrød, but wasn’t sure if that would substitute a starter or work as a main course. I ended up treating it like a main course and started with the smoked lamb’s liver with apples and almonds (1990 ISK). They called it a “ballotine,” but it was basically forcemeat on a bed of lettuce. Actually I quite liked it mostly thanks to the apples and lightly roasted almonds.
Mom had the smoked salmon on potato galette with fried lobster and basil cream (2750 ISK). Again I would have to say that “galette” was stretching the definition a little too far, as there was nothing particularly cakey about it. The salmon worked very well, lightly smoked with nice colouring. The large piece of lobster tasted delicious, but it was surrounded by bits of lobster that were bland, and left an unpleasant aftertaste. The basil cream left no impression either way.
For the main course I had the “beef tartar, the classic way” (2750 ISK). The addition of rye bread meant that this could only be called “classic” in the Danish tradition (called “tartarmad”). Otherwise it was a good steak tartar by the numbers: capers, raw onions, raw egg yolk and a nice heap of freshly minced beef. The meat was a little lacking in flavour, which can be attributed to what I see as a general lack of quality beef in Iceland. The mincing should also have been a little coarser.
The “woman who hath birthed me” had the pork confit side with lemon, thyme and Jerusalem artichoke (3590 ISK). When I hear “a side of pork confit” I think of some kind of rogue pancetta, but it turns out they were playing fast and loose with the definitions again. The Jerusalem artichokes were a nice touch (you don’t see that much–they must be using the same supplier as Kolabrautin), but they can be tricky to handle and those had lost their delicate flavour. The pork was understandably very fatty, but the texture didn’t work in its favour. Mom ended up leaving half the plate uneaten. The pork belly was a letdown.
For dessert I had a meh Irish coffee and mom ordered the French apple tart with cinnamon ice cream (1450). The cinnamon ice cream was delicious, but the tart was soggy and easily overpowered by the butter. A crisper, lighter tart would have resulted in an excellent dish.
On the way out we ran into a certain infamous, corpulent strip club owner who was out on the town with his harem of morose women trying their hardest not to freeze to death while outside smoking in mini-skirts. So much for keeping it classy, Harpa!
What We Think
: They do the smørrebrød well and I’d recommend them. The rest is firmly based in Danish cuisine but you will be able to find better. Some strange attempts at redefining established culinary terms on the menu.
: Danish cuisine with the inherent French influence and a little more French sprinkled on top.
: Too exposed for lounging, but adequate for a quick bite before a show.
: Well staffed, carry themselves well but could have been more responsive.
: (two people): 20–25,000 ISK for going all-out. 8–10,000 ISK for grabbing a smørrebrød and a drink.
Rating: 2.5/5

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