From Iceland — Plain Sailing

Plain Sailing

Published January 2, 2013

Plain Sailing
Ragnar Egilsson

Skólavörðustígur has really come into its own lately as a bustling tourist street. It runs in a straight line down the hill from the church and is lined with design shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Still, the Seafood Grill is the only restaurant proper that’s offering full dinner service. It’s located not far down from the last remaining fish monger in downtown Reykjavík and a few doors up from where the fashionable farmer’s market Frú Lauga will be opening a new branch in an old stable.
The design of The Seafood Grill fits well into this discussion of new and old. Like The Fish Company, they’ve managed to strike a balance between the nostalgic farmstead look and a modern restaurant without getting too sentimental or naff. It’s a bit reminiscent of an upscale ski chalet.
My friend ordered the three-course lobster feast (7300 ISK) and I ordered the smoked puffin, whale and cormorant as a first course (2680 ISK) and the beef loin, oxtail and langoustine as a main course (6430 ISK). We split a small order of sushi and sashimi on the side (2480 ISK).
The lobster feast started with a grilled golden perch and langoustine with mussel sauce, sunchokes, apples and pearl onions. Perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned and low on the salt, it’s definitely recommended.
My puffin and cormorant were similarly great but I generally like whale served warm after a sear. And cormorant (European Shag specifically) is a very rare treat in Iceland, but this was a cold platter and is up for debate. So far so good.
Here’s where the missteps started. It seems a lot of the high-end places find it necessary to include sushi on a menu that otherwise features a completely different style of cuisine. It’s probably to appease the insatiable hunger Icelanders have for sushi these days, but the sushi was a letdown and didn’t belong on a menu that was otherwise resolutely New Nordic in style.
The main course in the lobster feast was a grilled langoustine and catfish with deep-fried langoustine, served with celeriac, barley and hollandaise. Each component was well-handled, the hollandaise was spot on and the fish was flaky and fresh. But the dish was far too busy with flavours and much too buttery. It’s the kind of approach you’d expect at TGI Fridays, not a place like The Seafood Grill.
On my end, the beef loin was a lot better handled but the lobster was far too salty (even taking into account my sensitivity to salt) and overall it could have used more subtlety. The cauliflower, mushroom and onion sides were delicious though.
For dessert, the lobster feast included the cinnamon crème brûlée with raspberry sorbet and caramel sauce. Individually everything was perfectly made but it didn’t gel together. Or rather it gelled too much since the sorbet cooled down the top of the crème brûlée and gave it a rubbery consistency.
I chose the ginger and thyme cake concoction with ginger ice cream. The thyme was an interesting idea, but overall the flavours were drowned out by the sugars. It is no longer on the menu. Otherwise, there were a lot of interesting ideas in the dessert department and they deserve praise for that.
Overall we were fairly happy with the meal and the service was great, but we both got the impression that the chefs lacked faith in their own abilities. Each element was perfectly handled, the ingredients were clearly fresh and everything was cooked to perfection (with the exception of the sushi). But it was as if someone forgot to tell them that. They need to take it easy on the fatty sauces, simplify and not be afraid the venture outside their comfort zone. This is one of the youngest kitchens in Iceland and these are talented people. Life’s too short for shortcuts.

Sjávargrillið (The Seafood Grill)
Skólavörðustígur 14, 101 Reykjavík

What We Think: Skilled kitchen making good food, using good ingredients, but relying too much on fat.
Flavour: New Nordic Cuisine
Ambiance: Comfortable
Service: Professional & friendly
Price for 2 (with drinks): 25-30,000 ISK
Rating: 4/5

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