From Iceland — Nosh, Nosh, Nosh

Nosh, Nosh, Nosh

Published April 26, 2012

Nosh, Nosh, Nosh
Ragnar Egilsson

Forréttabarinn specialises in starters—but think tapas meets bistro rather than 2-for-1 hot wings. In fact, Forréttabarinn (The Starter Bar) is sometimes jokingly referred to by locals as Forréttindabarinn (The Privilege Bar). There is no denying that the place looks a little on the chic side, but it’s hardly the surgical steel of the nouveau riche or the vaulted ceilings of the gentry. I looked around and saw mostly young professionals enjoying a relatively affordable meal. It’s a place of minimal and fashionably raw interiors and an open kitchen.
The starter theme is a playground format that lets Forréttabarinn grind out inventive concoctions mixed in with some safer choices—safe in the sense that any duds are sure to be lost in the avalanche of flavours. It’s essentially one big tasting platter with two to four small dishes taking the place of a traditional three-course meal.
Plates are divided between warm, hot and cold; and everything, except for the desserts, is available in half and full portions. The dishes come at a very reasonable 790 ISK for a half portion and 1190 ISK for a full portion. Desserts are 890 ISK.
The wine was similarly affordable, averaging around 1.000 ISK for a glass, but I had expected more selection. We went with the Folonari Montepulciano, Besheim Pinot Blanc and the surprise cocktail. The cocktail, which turned out to be cherry syrup treacle called lollipop, was not my cup of tea whatsoever. I downed it like cough syrup and tried to forget it ever happened.
On to the dishes that my date and I tried:
Oxtail meatballs with blue cheese and cranberries—fat and pungent, with the cranberries struggling to tart it up. A great dish but you wouldn’t want to follow that up with anything too delicate.
Horse wellington with mushrooms, béarnaise sauce and ham—don’t be shy to try the horse. While well-cooked horse (most likely foal) can be quite good, this was not the best I’ve had (for good horsemeat, I recommend Humarhúsið).
Lamb hearts with bacon, dates & green apples—the hearts had a deep and slightly gamey flavour. This was surprisingly tender, rustic cooking brought to life by skill and great technique.
Beetroot, pears, figs & ricotta cheese—the ingredients had been shredded and stewed together into something almost like a compote. Not sure ricotta was the best choice, but the fig and beetroot were bang on.
Beef belly with apricots and ginger-soy vinaigrette—slow-cooked into a something between a fine stew and a rillettes. A well-balanced dish served in a thin rolled-up pancake. This was the standout dish of the evening.
Beef Carpaccio, Dijon, capers, croutons—simple, classic, fresh, tasty. A very safe bet.
Salted cod waffle with sour milk, crowberries and Masago (capelin roe)—a basic waffle with a light bacalau flavour. I appreciate the risk-taking, but this would have been more at home in the dessert section and the taste wasn’t that interesting.
We finished with the chocolate, raspberries, salted peanuts, caramel desert—even my dessert-detesting wife was happy with it, which says something. Salt and caramel is an established combo by now and the raspberries gave a tart finish. Definitely one of the better desserts I’ve had recently.
All in all, Forréttabarinn is offering a different kind of indulgence. Sure, you could “award” yourself for sticking to the gym routine this week by bludgeoning your tongue with a cheesy Dominos mallet or you could ambush that tongue and tickle it at Forréttabarinn until it cries frændi (“cousin”).
What We Think: A head-on collision between bistro and tapas. Small portions. French/Icelandic. Great meat-dishes. Interesting concept. Surprisingly affordable. Drinks a letdown.
Flavour: Small portions packing a dense, savoury punch. More laborious and constructed than simple and fresh. Spanish portions. French tradition.
Ambiance: Wide-open. Enviable ceiling height. Open kitchen but neither awkward nor clamorous. Guests were chatty and casual. Good for a small group of friends catching up.
Service: Knowledgeable. Top marks.
Price: (for two): 10-12.000 ISK
Rating: 4.5/5

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