From Iceland — Not Just A Pretty Place

Not Just A Pretty Place

Published October 22, 2013

Not Just A Pretty Place

We could all use a little more culture in our lives, and museum cafés are a great way of satisfying our need for aesthetic enrichment while also quieting the growl in our tummies. The Nordic House is a paragon of such cafés, surpassing mere cafeteria status to become a house of worship for faithful foodies. The house itself is something of a temple in its own right: it’s one of the lesser-known architectural feats of the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto.
The atmosphere was quiet and subdued when we arrived. A grand total of seven people were gathered inside—including the restaurant staff and a lone volunteer setting up a ticket booth for the Reykjavík International Film Festival. The décor was simple and elegantly clean: black tiles, white tablecloths, and classic Alvar Aalto armchairs. We sat by the window where, far away, we could watch the traffic streaming downtown, which was oddly relaxing. Our waiter poured us each a glass of golden champagne, the fancy kind where the bubbles politely massage your tongue instead of exploding all over the place.
For dinner, you can choose between three, five and seven courses, and for about double the price you can add wine pairings. We opted for the middle ground and chose the five-course menu and wine. Before placing our orders, the waiter brought us a little platter of tiny hors d’oevres, a piece of dried salt cod with mustard and rye bread with a burnt caramel mousse.
Next came a nest of malt-sourdough bread rolls with pine-flavoured butter and coarse salt. I don’t know how the pine-flavour works, but somehow, it does! It certainly doesn’t hurt that you’re buttering your bread on delicate Royal Copenhagen dinnerware either.
Our first course was the fennel salad with homemade pickles, which was good and tart, and a sprinkle of dried smoked arctic char helped to spice it up. Our next course consisted of baked yellow turnip swimming in cream cheese sauce, sour sprouts and Dill’s signature (dill) dressing—just the right combination of creamy and tangy, further abetted by a crisp, greenish Saint Clair sauvignon blanc.
The third course was from a heaven where great brunches go when they die: simple potatoes with a generous crumble of dried egg and bacon, paired with malty pale ale from local microbrewery Einstök. Viscous vinegar syrup brought out the highlights of each flavour and stuck out like a clear, high note and the end of an aria. This dish still haunts my dreams in the same eerie way.
Then came the main course, delicious lamb done three ways: lamb fillet, lamb shanks (an abysmally underrated cut), and crispy lamb fat topped with sweet carrots to bribe the jury. A smooth, fully rounded 2010 Gerard Bertrand Corbières brought the case to a close.
Dessert consisted of a refreshing strawberry and skyr sorbet with crunchy oats, freeze-dried raspberries and tarragon. Skyr sorbet is something of a has-been, but it’s never tasted better than at Dill, tart with none of the lactose-y dryness. This was washed down with a Peter Lehmann dessert wine that tasted like liquid autumn.
The service was very competent. My one quibble was that the wait staff mumbled so much that I often had to ask them to repeat themselves. But I was totally won over when they brought out the last tiny surprise—liquorice candy that looked exactly like a piece of black lava—and any misgivings I’d had melted away instantly.
Tip no. 1: If you’re dying to try some delicious Nordic cuisine but can’t afford to splurge on a multi-course dinner menu, try their lunch specials instead, which consist of a soup, salad and/or a meat or fish course. They are every bit as delectable as the dinner courses, but substantially easier on the wallet.
Tip no. 2: For a super-romantic date, walk to the Nordic House by way of the wooden boardwalk through the Vatnsmýri marshland. It starts at the bottom of the pedestrian bridge over busy Miklabraut and is the perfect way to work up an appetite, not to mention score a few points with your significant other.

What We Think:
 A deliciously unique experience
Local produce dressed up
Tranquil Scandinavian simplicity
Attentive and subtle
Price for 2: 5-course menu 9,100 ISK, another 9,100 ISK with wine
Rating: 5/5

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