From Iceland — No Quarter To The Seal-Eating Mussels!

No Quarter To The Seal-Eating Mussels!

Published June 1, 2012

No Quarter To The Seal-Eating Mussels!
Ragnar Egilsson

On a windy Reykjavík afternoon I entered the romantic harbour haunt Höfnin (The Harbour). Little did I know that 90 minutes later I would end up anchored at the marina by a restaurant slyly infusing me with butter and glaze.
There has been quite a lot of drama at Höfnin over the past year. After jettisoning the previous chefs—members of the Icelandic National Culinary Team—they have brought in a New Zealander to the helm. Finally, we seem to be experiencing a sense of stability by the deceptively still waters of the marina.
Höfnin is going for a Bretagne seaside flavour of mussels, beer and butter in the bucolic surroundings of dry docks and whale tour kiosks. The wine selection isn’t anything to call home about (not that it matters—we ordered the white of the day and a Tuborg Classic), but at least you are provided with your own plate and butter knife for fresh bread, which is surprisingly uncommon in Icelandic restaurants.
For the first course we ordered the lamb prime in breadcrumbs with a mustard-pecan dressing (2,790 ISK) and the beef burger with a white mould cheese and mashed potatoes (2,390 ISK). The lamb was brilliant; it was fatty but juicy, tender and bleeding beautiful. They serve massive portions, so be aware that their small bistro courses are too generous to qualify as appetizers. The beef burger was a let down; it was a meatball with capers shipwrecked on a sea of buttery mashed potatoes that tasted suspiciously powdered. A few days later at the truck stop diner Múlakaffi I had a better beef burger with mashed potatoes at half the price. This dish needs to go.
For the main course my date had the karfi (redfish) in a lemon crust with an herb salad…and shrimp salad (2,950 ISK). I had the bucket of beer-boiled Breiðafjörður mussels with three types of sauces (dill, mustard and butter-garlic) and French fries (3,990 ISK).
The redfish, like the beef burger, didn’t live up to my expectations. While not terrible, I was disappointed to see Icelandic redfish, which tastes wonderful when fresh, processed this aggressively. It’s a fish that responds well to gentle touches, so this whole layout makes me suspicious. The shrimp salad was completely superfluous, though I should note that my date quite liked it.
The mussels, on the other hand, were completely brilliant. Not only were they perfectly coloured and packed with flavour, but also they must have been the largest damn mussels I have ever seen in my life. I’m serious; they were the size of bell peppers. They were comically huge. My suspicion is that these are bioengineered monsters that have been taught to hunt seals for sustenance to fatten them up. And here those death-shells lay suspended, boiled in beer and served with mustard, dill and French fries. And I could taste the screaming seals on their sexually suggestive lips.
We topped it off with a split dessert, the chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet, chocolate ganache and marshmallows (1,990 ISK). More interesting than it sounds, the sorbet was sweetly packed with raspberry flavour and the ganache was delicious, but closer to a fudge brownie. All of it was very dainty and carefully arranged, although the presentation was a little out of character with the rest of the menu.
So I ate. And I ate. And I ate until my belt gave out and my pork belly spilled out over my trousers like a mutated muffin top. I truly put the ton in gluttony that day. I had to cover my face in shame and watered the lemon wedges with tears of disgrace. Höfnin is variably good across the board, but I can’t say I didn’t leave any less than content, and I could see myself going there again.
   Did I mention that those mussels were big?
Höfnin/The Harbour
Rating: 4/5
What We Think: Romantic seaside restaurant with a focus on seafood. It has potential to be excellent but is brought down by an uneven menu. Some of it is top notch, some of it is below deck.
Flavour: Bretagne by way of Iceland. Heavy on the seafood and shellfish, but lamb, beef and chicken on offer. Could benefit from a simplified menu.
Ambiance: Wedged by the window between two groups of businessmen I can’t say I loved the discussion of profit margins, but the set-up is in many ways ideally suited to a romantic night out.
Service: Two servers. One was anxious and looked like he was still finding his feet and stared at me in stark terror. The other was professional, friendly and knowledgeable.
(2 people with drinks): 18–20,000 ISK (Children from 5–12 years old get 50% off all courses).

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