From Iceland — The Ambitious Apótek: Racks Of Lamb And Painkiller Cocktails

The Ambitious Apótek: Racks Of Lamb And Painkiller Cocktails
Ragnar Egilsson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Located at Austurstræti 16, Apótek is a historical building cum hotel and restaurant originally designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, Iceland’s state architect and a dominant figure in Icelandic design of the 1920s and 30s. The building’s pharmacological past lives on in its name—Apótek means pharmacy—and the cocktail list, which is divided up into categories like “painkillers” or “stimulants,” exemplifies this. Granted, it’s a restaurant theme that seems to have caught on in just about every major city on the planet this millennium.

Big old space

The aforementioned extensive cocktail list one of three things that sets Apótek apart from other Reykjavík restaurants in the same bracket. The other two being an ambitious (albeit very mousse-forward) dessert list, and the careful sourcing and dry-aging of their beef.

The prices can seem as opulent as the surroundings but there are deals to be had. Keep an eye out for lunch offers, breakfast and afternoon tea deals and even the occasional twofer.


A wet lunch

The side of bread came out hotter than Dante in a bikini. A busy lunch hour meant it had barely had time to solidify. With it was the dollop of truffle butter that adorns every carbohydrate in Reykjavík these days.

“The building’s pharmacological past lives on in its name—Apótek means pharmacy—and the cocktail list, which is divided up into categories like ‘painkillers’ or ‘stimulants.'”

To go with the truffled bread, we picked up a pair of cocktails—the Black Death Negroni (,2790 ISK) and the Stranger Tides (2,890 ISK). The former is a twist on the Negroni, using Iceland’s aquavit-like drink Brennivín (aka “black death”) served with a whole star anise. The second was a blended malt with amaro and lime, served with a bouquet of mint. Both well balanced and avoided the all-too-common overt sweetness of the local cocktail scene.

The solids

This was followed by a sampler log of appetizers (3,990 ISK). A very gentle sous-vide arctic charr served on a crispy green apple, with a couple of sprigs of samphire supplying the salt; minke whale with crispy Jerusalem artichoke; lamb tartare with pickled onions and smoked cream cheese; and finally a puffin with goat cheese, berries and a dill emulsion.

My lunch date is one of the biggest spokespersons for a carnivore diet in the country so we stuck with the animal proteins. Mister Meaty McCaveman ordered a rack of lamb (6,390 ISK) with a handful of root vegetables. It was a good sized portion of lamb with a lovely grilled char, but it could have used more seasoning, and the celery root could have used another 10 minutes in the oven.

I had the plaice (3,890 ISK)—possibly the best fish on the planet and endlessly popular on both sides of the English channel. It featured the perfect Maillard brown fish skin and was served well by the citrus beurre blanc and samphire, but the potato mousse may have cost it some of its crispness. Still, it’s my go-to order on the Apótek menu.

To top it off

Neither of us were feeling the desserts after a big lunch, but to do honour to Apótek’s dessert-laden menu we indulged in a couple of macarons each. A salt-caramel one that was far too dense for the macaronsphere and nice, bright-blue licorice macarons which stained our mouths like we went down on a smurf.

Apótek holds its own as one of the key spots in the downtown high-end restaurant scene, with good-quality service and well-sourced ingredients. Some ingredients could use a few more minutes and a couple salt flakes, but I guess no one is perfect.

Visit Apótek at Austurstræti 16 and online here. You can also read more about Apótek here.

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