From Iceland — Irreverent Adoration: Whispers Of Japan At Fiskmarkaðurinn

Irreverent Adoration: Whispers Of Japan At Fiskmarkaðurinn

Published September 3, 2019

Irreverent Adoration: Whispers Of Japan At Fiskmarkaðurinn
Photo by
Art Bicnick

It’s not easy to run a restaurant for over a decade in as fierce a market as Reykjavík and Fiskmarkaðurinn is celebrating its 12th anniversary this year, no small feat for any establishment.

The buttercup yellow house continues to draw locals and visitors alike. It’s 1891 heritage status adds its own quirky limitations on a modern-day restaurant; with only one common staircase through the two-storey restaurant. It is a common sight to see trays of food being sent up, even as one walks in through the front doors. A little caution is advised lest a newbie server drop something (it has happened to me).

None of the overdesign of sister restaurant Grillmarket finds its way here despite hints of it in the driftwood and moss accents. The seating is pleasantly clustered into zones—from the loungey upper floor to the more intimate kitchen-side seats, which are especially date-friendly. Service is eager without being overbearing and it is rare that there is a server who doesn’t know the menu or wine well.


Icelandic Japanese

Sure, Fiskmarkaðurinn does not call itself Japanese, but when more than half the menu is dedicated to Japanese dishes, it’s fair that they’re recognised as such. The food itself is loyal to neither Icelandic nor Japanese cuisines and therein lies both its attraction and fault lines.

Does the absence of a lacy whisper of starch still qualify deep-fried thingamabits as tempura? Nope. But like all things fried, the tempura shrimp (3,900 ISK) goes down a treat.

“Sure the restaurant does not call itself Japanese, but when more than half the menu is dedicated to Japanese dishes, it’s fair that they’re recognised as such.”

Lip-service taxonomy is largely justified in Iceland but, as history shows us, it wasn’t long ago that the country celebrated the opening of its first Japanese restaurant in 1994, Samurai. Consider its menu of yakitori, noodle dishes and sake, going beyond sushi and perhaps, beyond its time. In the absence of a puritan Japanese restaurant, Fish Market is a tolerable stand-in.

The sushi at Fiskmarkaðurinn isn’t a purist’s wet-dream, nor is it a stodgy assembly line of cold pucks of rice and sadness. Much like the California roll, Icelandic sushi is about the creamy and crispy and less about the fish. Most of the sushi here is rightfully then, uramaki style—rice outside, plenty of toppings and fillings and at least two kinds of sauces.

The Surf ‘n’ Turf sushi (4,900 ISK) is colourful, and notches above similar fare from other restaurants. Most are available as half portions and nigiri is offered only in pairs (ranging from 1,190 to 1,490 ISK). The sashimi platter (3,790 ISK) is Instagram friendly and still the best bang-for-your-buck offering in town. Bear in mind that the Sushi (5,400 ISK) and Sashimi platters have a generous overlap, a detail I wish the servers would be candid about.


More than sushi

The lightly salted cod (5,400 ISK) is considered their signature dish, and rightly so. With a base line of fork-tender cod, and a changing constellation of accompaniments, it is always a safe dish to bet on. I’d even recommend it over the meat options if you were to try just one dish here. I also like their silky robata grilled salmon (5,200 ISK). The generous hunk of fish is barely singed and makes for a satisfying meal with the Chapel Peak Sauvignon Blanc.

Restaurateur and head chef Hrefna Sætran has an uncanny ability to tap into the pulse of her target audience—well heeled diners who feel more worldly than their palates often are. To take the anxiety out of exploring the unfamiliar is a challenge well met at Fish Market by cushioning the new between generous slatherings of the familiar, albeit at the cost of diluted flavours or absent techniques distinctive to a dish. But the peppy service, bustling atmosphere and consistently delicious food makes this a keeper and repeater.

Visit Fiskmarkaðurinn at Aðalstræti 12, and online here.

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