From Iceland — The Great Grillsby

The Great Grillsby

Published August 9, 2013

The Great Grillsby
Ragnar Egilsson

Grillið is where casual meets grand hotel fine dining. It has incorporated certain elements of the new casual dining style, but omitted others. Grillið has embraced the kabuki spectacle of the exhibition kitchen, they combine flavours and culinary traditions in novel ways, they source locally as much as possible, shirts and ties are optional and of course some of the plates are made out of bits of wood and lava rocks.
The service and décor stray from the path. White tablecloth shrouds the tables, the cutlery is arranged into complex sigils to invoke the ancient gods of upscale dining, table service is traditional. Dinner ends with the ceremonial wheeling of the digestif cart.
A long hallway, proudly displaying the hotel’s history, leads onto a round polka dot floor, beneath a halo of zodiac signs. It’s art deco by-way-of-the-‘80s. Think ‘Hudsucker Proxy’ with a Masonic flourish and a fantastic 360-degree view of downtown Reykjavík.
I swooped in, joined by a line cook friend of mine. There was a heavy whiff of old money and being seated next to the doppelganger of Roger Sterling didn’t help. So we felt just a tiny bit out of place.
But you’d never recognise us for the working class bozos we are from watching the waiter cater to our every whim. Our waiter, Guðmundur, might just be the finest waiter I’ve witnessed at work in Iceland. He’s been working there since the late ‘70s—in a field notorious for its high employee turnover. He was attentive but never overbearing, alert but never anxious and had a chameleon-like ability to adapt to the atmosphere of each table. He really has mastered this ambiguous craft.
The menu is refreshingly sparse: four starters, two main courses, two desserts.
We ordered the four course fixed menu with wine pairings. At some point the kitchen must have pegged me for a reviewer, as they soon started to sneak other courses into the mix with wild abandon.
The first appetizer consisted of a slice of cured salmon with mustard dressing, lomo embuchado with fantabulous chutney, a drizzle of bell pepper sauce and baked chips of queijo prato cheese. 
The second was a lamb tartar with capers, chives and horseradish. All of it thoroughly excellent and well harmonised.
To go with the appetizers, I picked an Old Fashioned (they said they didn’t get much call for it, which means they have only just started attracting the foodie hipster types like myself).
The first starter was composed of marinated prawns with an avocado purée, cod mousse and a Brazilian pepper sorbet. The sorbet was a particularly inspired touch and although Brazilian pepper is always a great choice for seafood, I’d have liked it just as much as a separate dessert. This was paired with a very fruity New Zealand white.
Second was the pickled mackerel with fermented garlic and green cherry tomato juice. The least successful dish of the evening. Nothing wrong with throwing a plebeian fish in with the high society ingredients, but mackerel is notoriously hard to get right. I loved the surprisingly delicate fermented garlic but throwing blackened garlic on top of that was overkill. This was paired with Skjálfti beer.
The first main course was a fried plaice with smoky cheese, broccoli ragú and toasted sunflower seeds. I love plaice, but I missed the charred fish skin. A delicious combination but the plating could have been livelier. This was paired with an Abadal Picapoll—quite fruity but drier and denser than the last one. Not out of place with the plaice (sorry).
The second main course was grilled tenderloin with Icelandic oyster mushrooms, pearl onion and spring onions. I was very surprised to hear they had sourced the oyster mushrooms from a local grower in Hafnarfjörður. The two-month dry-aged tenderloin was complex and mellow. Heavy on the onion flavour, but the meat could handle it.
This was paired with a 2006 Cune rioja. An excellent wine, but the least successful pairing out of the bunch—probably due to the onions.
Dessert was something between a fudge brownie and chocolate ganache, spread into a pancake/polenta/placenta with freeze-dried garden peas and white chocolate. I applaud the courage, but the peas didn’t quite hold up. The pea-mint sorbet was too light on the mint and a blanket of sweetness threatened to suffocate the dish.
The after-dinner Laphroaig toffees that followed was absolutely brilliant and I am drooling thinking back on them.
There were minor problems here and there, but overall I am impressed with Grillið’s ability to pair the new with the old and their panache for exploring new flavours.

What We Think: Fine dining done right.
Flavour: Nouvelle French, modern Spanish, seasonal local ingredients
Ambiance: A little on the formal side
Service: Spoiled me rotten
Four course menu for two (with wine): 33.200 ISK
Our Rating: 5/5

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